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The Creativity and Camaraderie of Quilt Alongs

The Creativity and Camaraderie of Quilt Alongs

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

Laurie Simpson's blocks in her Minick and Simpson fabrics

One of the best things about social media is its ability to connect like-minded people from far-flung locales. And one of the growing trends in connecting quilters are on-line Quilt Alongs.

Laurie Simpson's blocks in Bella Solids

Similar to BOMs (blocks of the month), Quilt Alongs (from here on out referred to as QALs) give instructions for blocks at regular intervals, enabling everyone to complete a block before starting the next, with the goal of creating a quilt. If you’re reading this blog then you’re familiar with the Moda Blockheads 2 QAL. It’s the second time for Blockheads and this time 13 designers are designing blocks and sharing them, along with tips and encouragement, via blogs, Instagram, and Facebook. A new block is released each week for 48 weeks, which is a big part of what makes QALs so enticing.

This assortment of Corey Yoder's blocks includes fabrics from her lines Flower Mill and Sunnyside Up.

“You don’t have to think about what to make or where to start,” says Carrie Nelson, who’s running Blockheads 2. “You don’t have to go through your books and patterns, just pick a favorite fabric bundle, make a block and BOOM! You’re done!”

Randi Hodson pieced Block 10 with a combination of Robin Pickens Poppy Mae fabrics and Grunge dots.

QALs are a great way to learn new techniques. Jan Patek is known for her appliqué skills and her Block 8 featured a pineapple. But it’s also a way to learn how to get a similar  effect with a variety of techniques. For those who don’t take pleasure in appliqué, Corey Yoder offered an alternate pieced pineapple.

Jan Patek's appliqué pineapple block

Vanessa Goertzen's version of Corey Yoder's pieced pineapple

Some of the blocks are simple, taking longer to cut out than they do to sew, while others are definitely more challenging.

Block 5 pieced by Donna Rowe from the Blockheads Facebook page

I got a chuckle out of Donna Rowe’s comment on the Blockheads Facebook page. Donna posted her finished Block 5 and deadpanned “Wow, this was a booger.” In her block she upped the difficulty by adding fussy cutting and log cabin corners, and that gets to another aspect of QALs that’s so satisfying—by varying the fabric a quilter makes her version different than any other, and by altering an aspect of the block, it becomes even more personal. Carrie, who is known for tweaking patterns, says that it’s inspiring to see the range of choices people make. “You see that simple changes can make a difference, and in some cases a big difference.”

Camp Oda May quilt by Mary Andra, one of the seven "counselors" who designed blocks and borders for this QAL

Speaking of making it your own, there’s another QAL that’s been happening this summer with that very theme. It’s the Oda May’s Summer Camp Choose Your Own Adventure. Rather than instructions for blocks, this QAL featured a medallion quilt with a center block and borders designed by seven counselors (designers).

"Counselor" and designer Jessica Dayon's Camp Oda May quilt on its way to completion.

At each step there were instructions for two different options and the results were as varied as the quilters who stitched them. Blocks and borders were shared via social media and on the counselors blogs and Instagram feeds, as well as on the Moda Bake Shop Facebook page and the Moda Bake Shop blog.

Lindsay Mayland of Happy Hour Stitches drew inspiration from the Camp Oda May Dresden center, but created her own version. In addition, she combined block options in one border and gave other borders her own twist. 

“The finished product was a total mystery and that meant people didn’t have control over the design, so they were going for the experience,” says Moda Bake Shop chief chef Lisa Calle. ‘You might make some blocks that were outside your comfort zone and try something you never thought you would do.”

Kathy Rutter (@cowboyant on Instagram) made her Medallion quilt with a stash of American Jane fabrics. She loves the scrappy results.

Lisa also points to one of the best parts of these online QALs—the community. “It’s exciting and inspiring to see what others are doing,” she says. “Usually when you’re quilting you’re home alone, but this was like being on a retreat without being on a retreat.” People supplied encouragement, answered questions, and shared tips via their posts, and inspiration galore could be had by clicking on Instagram through hash tags like #chooseyourownadventureQAL and #campodamay. Kathy Rutter (her quilt is below) said she made some new friends via Instagram during the QAL. "It was fun following their progress and cheering each other's successes," she says.

"Counselor" Sharla Krenzel designed this label for the Camp Oda May quilts.

If you missed out on either of these QALs, you can still join in. While Camp Oda May has had its closing ceremony (along with instructions for a special label to commemorate it), the instructions are available here . And Blockheads 2 still has many weeks to go so it’s possible to join in at any time. You can start with the current block and go back and finish the rest, or begin at the beginning. You won’t regret the opportunity to try something new, meet new friends, and complete a quilt. A comment by Raylene Eichorn on the Blockhead Facebook posts succinctly sums up the quilting and camaraderie—“I tried a few different versions, too! I think that’s the point of this journey. To learn, to discover and to have FUN! Love your colors!”

How about you—did you participate in these or any other QALs? What have you enjoyed about it? Would you do it again?