100 Days of Farmer's Wife Quilting

A couple pretty big things happened in the last couple months that I've been slow to share. First, the completion of my 100-day project.

Yes! I did it! Woohoo! High five!

In case you missed it, back in April, I challenged myself to sew Farmer's Wife Quilt blocks every day for 100 days. Initially I thought I would sew a block a day, but quickly realized I had to give myself some grace there. If you've ever flipped through the Farmer's Wife Quilt book, you would know that some of those blocks are super complex and would require several hours of time. There's no way I could keep up that kind of intensity for 100 days. Plus, this was real life: in 3 months, there was sickness and vacations and doors needing painting.

But even if I didn't complete a block, I was always working on it: calculating quilt math, cutting out paper pieces, buying fabric. I even hand-pieced several of the blocks so that I could take it with me on vacation.

There were a handful of days, mostly on vacation, that I did nothing at all, but I tried not to beat myself up over those days (I added them on to the end). I'm not a machine. This project wasn't about cranking out a certain number of blocks. The goal was to surrender to the process, to see where a daily practice could take me.

I'll admit, some days were difficult. Days where I only had half an hour to sit down and take a breath, and I knew that half hour was also my only chance to sew, so I dragged my weary bones up to the sewing room. How was that helping anyone? But the majority of the time, I enjoyed having an excuse to sew every day, without thinking about all the things I "should" be doing isntead. At the end of each day, no matter what else happened or didn't happen, at least I did that one thing and I could be proud of that.

There were many things learned along the way, about both quilting and myself, but ultimately, my biggest lesson came from letting go, pushing perfectionism aside and placing greater value on a daily fresh start. Don't like the block you just made? Oh well. Add it to the stack, you'll make a new one tomorrow. It's only fabric.

Then, a few months later, something else pretty monumental happened: I was invited to display my blocks at Needlework as a special installation for Supercrawl! If you're not from the area, Supercrawl is a huge music and art festival held annually on James St. N. here in Hamilton.

I had only shared individual blocks up until that point, so it was pretty special to debut them all together in such a big way. We pinned each block up individually on the wall and the effect was pretty amazing. I always talk about how quilts can sometimes seem strange in pieces, but that something magically cohesive happens when they're together. On this scale, with 86 blocks, it blew me away.

In addition to having my work  on display, I was also personally on display. Liz and Kate set up two beautiful workspaces in the front windows of the shop, one for cutting and one for sewing, and I hopped between them for two evenings, demonstrating how I made the blocks. Haha! My introverted side was freaking out, but, honestly, once it got dark, I couldn't see out the windows and could just ignore the onlookers. Hopefully it helped people connect makers to finished products and the time and effort that goes into creating them. That was my goal, anyway.

I joked that I was happy to have the blocks on display as long as possible, that I was in no rush to start quilting. But, joke's aside, I enjoyed having some time to admire and celebrate this accomplishment before jumping into the next step. That's not something that we allow ourselves to do very often. It's not the most humble, but I think after 6000 hours of anything, we earn the right to admire our work for a second.

We haven't taken the blocks down yet, so if you want to see them up close and in person, get over to Needlework as soon as you can. And of course you can check them all out on my Instagram with the hashtag #100daysofFWQ.

Thank you so much to Liz and Kate of Needlework for the honour and to everyone that came by and offered such kind compliments and support!

Many of you approached me to tell me that you were inspired by my project to pick up your neglected Farmer's Wife Quilts or to start a 100-day project of your own. This made me so happy and was probably the best outcome of the whole shebang. To you, I say "Thank you!" and "Hell, yes! You can do it!" I will be your biggest cheerleader!

Here are some more practical pointers for things that worked well for me...

For the Farmer's Wife Quilt

I owe a huge thank you to Johanna Masko and her "Secrets of the Farmer's Wife" class I took back in 2014. I honestly don't think I would've got very far in this quilt without her help. If you get a chance to take this or any of her classes, do it. You will not be disappointed. She is a great teacher and really does seem to know everything there is about quilting.

There are 111 blocks in this quilt. It is very time-consuming. Efficiency should be your priority and your motto. Meaning...
  • Ignore the templates and do the math. Honestly, I really don't understand templates. They seem like such a waste of time. Even for paper piecing, I found drafting the block to be faster than tracing the templates. Occasionally, when I ran into problems, I checked my math against the templates, but other than that I ignored them.
  • This is not a scrap-busting quilt. I know, the pieces are so tiny, it would seem like a great way to use up scraps, but for many of the blocks, it's just not efficient. If you can cut 8 HSTs at once with a bigger piece of fabric, absolutely do that instead of fiddling around with little triangles. Save your scraps for foundation paper piecing or blocks with a lot of colour variety.
  • Keep your fabric sorted according to colour. This makes the fabric selection process way faster. I cut paper bags in half to make 5 baskets: dark, light, blue, green and turquoise. I also had a shoe-box-sized plastic bin of larger cuts sorted by colour.
  • Small prints are your friend. Personally, I found directional prints and any kind of fussy cutting to be more frustrating than they were worth as well and tried to avoid them. But you might be into that sort of thing.
  • Keep all of your materials together (fabric, rulers, rotary cutter, marking pencil, etc.), so they're ready to go whenever you have a spare moment.
  • Stick with it. It really does get easier and faster with practice. Patterns become obvious and formulas are memorized, so that breaking down blocks becomes almost second nature.
Finally, learn from my mistake and resist the urge to sew all the easy blocks first. When I started this quilt a few years ago, that's exactly what I did, which of course left me with all the difficult ones later. Future you will thank you.

For the 100-Day Project in General

Give yourself grace.

Keep your materials organized.

Have a routine and complete your task as soon as possible every day. On weekdays, I sewed immediately after work, and on weekends, first thing in the morning, whenever possible. This is easier said than done when you have many creative passions tempting you, especially around day 75 when you're starting to regret starting this project in the first place. Trust me -- get your project out of the way first and then you can do whatever the heck you want, feeling like a mega-accomplished superstar while you do it.

Choose a specific, structured task, and preferably one that will result in a finished product every day or two. I'm sure some people would revel in a more creative or vague concept, but for me, I know that this structure helped me stick with it for the long haul.  I went through the book in order, so a simple turn of the page was all it took to get started each day.  Having a new finished product every day made documenting the project pretty simple too -- it felt natural to take a quick shot of a completed block and I didn't have to worry about posting the same thing every day on Instagram. I don't think I would participate in the project again unless I could think of a similarly structured challenge. But that's just me. You do you.

{my scrap baskets}

And that's all I have to say about the whole crazy experience. The next time you hear about this baby, it should be a completed quilt! Until then, here it is laid out on a wall in my spare room, to give you an idea of the scale and how it might look. Gulp.

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