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Ann Brooks Tells Us How Long It Takes To Make A Quilt

Graphic: How to make the most of your quilting time with Ann Brooks. © Stephanie Boon, 2016 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Ann, An Expert Quilter, Shares Her Secrets For Making The Most Of Your Quilting Time

Ann Brooks, quilter and blogger at Fret Not Yourself is an inspiration to me and so many others. She lives and quilts in both California and Texas, but her Texas roots are strong (I can’t help imagining a wonderful accent!) and occasionally show up in her quilts. You’d be hard pressed not to recognise Ann’s distinctive quilts: there’s often  50 – 200 different prints in each one and the colours she chooses are very expressive. It’s easy to lose yourself in them wondering how she can make a quilt with such coherent designs using so many unique prints. The answer is a highly sophisticated sense of colour and value and undoubtedly her many years of experience. There’s another noticeable fact about Ann’s quilts: there’s a goodly amount of them!  Ann, it seems, is a very productive quilter.

Chinese Coins improv string quilt © Ann Brooks, 2015

Chinese Coins improv string quilt © Ann Brooks, 2015

When I asked Ann how long it takes to make a quilt, it wasn’t a surprise that 2015 was an exceptional year, but I was staggered to discover she’d completed a “record high” of 20 quilts. The year before was 5 – 10, but among them was her fantastic quilt Propellors and Planes (below), which she describes as one of her all time favourites (unsurprisingly!). The quilt blocks were begun in February 2014 and the quilt was finished and hung in a guild exhibition a year later.  (Ann posted an index to her progress on the Propellors and Planes quilt so you can see how it developed.)

'Propellors and Planes' quilt by Ann Brooks, 2015

Ann’s Propellors and Planes, begun in 2014 and finished in February 2015

‘Lobster Boat’ is another impressive original design that Ann made for her new (and first) grandson, which she began and finished in 2015. Some of the first things that strike you are the strong design (note the Texas flag!), thoughtful use of fabrics to suggest movement and distance and the skilful piecing that comes from years of dedication to quilt making. The quirky fabrics just make you smile – where on earth did she come across lobster fabric?! Just perfect. (Read more about it over at Fret Not Yourself:  Lobster Boat Quilt For A Special Person.)

'Lobster Boat', pictorial art quilt, © Ann Brooks, 2015

‘Lobster Boat’, © Ann Brooks, 2015

Ann usually drafts her own versions of the quilts she wants to make (I believe she’s very good at quilt maths!), but more recently she’s joined some online quilt alongs (like Quilty365) and bought two patterns to make a quilt from.  Even so, designing and making her own original work is still her preference. In 2015 she experimented a lot with improv quilting and her Tiger Stripes quilt (a graduation gift for her son) was inspired by Sujata Shah’s book Cultural Fusion Quilts. The blue and gold colours represent her son’s university colours and Ann has quilted some college chants in the zig zags to personalise it.

'Tiger Stripes', an improv rail fence quilt by © Ann Brooks, 2015

‘Tiger Stripes’, © Ann Brooks, 2015

There’s so much rhythm and excitement in this quilt it makes you want to get up and dance!

Deadlines Do It For Ann!

These two quilts alone would be a good tally of finishes for a year for some of us, but Ann completed 18 more (I’m gasping for breath here!).  I asked her what motivates her to get them done and she says that her goal is to get her quilts into use. Deadlines help her to make a quilt for special occasions, like a gift for a new grandchild, or exhibition opportunities. The flip side is that Ann says she’ll “expand any project to the time available” (who’s not guilty of that!). Her oldest UFO, which is being densely hand quilted, has been 26 years under the needle and is “still 3/4 finished”. She says it’s hard to finish when she doesn’t work on it at all, but she’s not ready to give it away!

These days Ann prefers to make a quilt by machine and it’s worth noting that she does all her quilting on a domestic machine (rather than send them out to a long-armer) and can make a quilt like a small baby or lap quilt in a couple of days, while large quilts might take a month:

“Once I start quilting that’s all I do until it’s finished.”
Her finished tops might go into a pile waiting to be quilted, which she describes as a bad habit. Years ago Ann knew Libby Lehman and wants to emulate “one of her many admirable traits” to make a quilt one at a time, all the way through. It’s a goal she’s still working towards: “Like too much fabric, too many UFOs stifle you”. That’s a very powerful statement I think: too many UFOs mean too much choice of what to work on and too much choice can lead to a lot of prevarication, making it difficult to prioritise. Sometimes, rather than prioritise, it can be easier to start a new project, which just perpetuates the vicious circle.

Book Study Groups

Some of us like to spend hours alone when we’re quilting and some of us love to make a quilt with others. Then there’s the happy medium where we get to enjoy the best of both worlds, and I think Ann’s found it. She’s been Programs for various Guilds on 5 occasions now (each one’s a two year stint and at the moment she’s in her second year SCVQA) and also gets a lot of encouragement and inspiration from book study groups, where a small group of friends meet and discuss the chapters of a quilt book in sequence, then go home to try it out ready to come back next time to share experiences.

Improv curve quilt © Ann Brooks, 2015 www.fretnotyourself.blogspot.com

Ann’s dazzling ‘Improv Curve Quilt’, 2015, inspired by a score in the book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

At the moment her group’s working through Sherri Lynn Wood’s book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Belonging to a group like this is a good way to learn new techniques and gain insight from the author and other group members. Maybe it doesn’t directly influence the how long it takes to make a quilt, but over time it’ll give you the confidence to pick the right technique for the job, which will definitely mean less unpicking in the future!  It goes without saying that inspiration and creativity are sparked by discussion with others and there are some great posts on Ann’s blog Fret Not Yourself where you can follow along and share in her discoveries.

On Being Organised

Lists

If you’re one of those super organised quilters that writes a ‘quilt plan’, a step by step guide to making each quilt, you’ll be surprised to learn that someone as organised as Ann doesn’t use them. A list of ‘in progress’ quilt tops, ideas and events that need a quilt is a good enough reminder of what to work on next and keep on track, especially for special events like births and quilt shows. Spending life writing lists and publishing plans is definitely not a priority and any she does make are for personal use – and kept strictly off line!

Fabric

Ann’s fabric stash occupies nothing more than a few clear tubs stacked on the floor, which might seem a little sparse to an over zealous fabric hoarder (you know who you are!). But, Ann has a fundamental belief that “over abundance stifles creativity more than any other aspect”, and I agree.  I love her guiding principle of “make do with what’s on hand” (it costs a whole lot less too). If you deliberately limit your stash, how long it takes to make a quilt could be a lot less: you’ll spend far less time organising it and more time actually quilting! Ann says that her small fabric stash sparks ideas and gets her brain going, and that you can apply the same principle to a large UFO pile: “sort them into ‘finish’ and ‘giveaway’ piles. Move them out”. It’s not really minimalist, but it certainly makes your quilting space a distraction free zone!

Ann Brooks fabric stash for quilting © Ann Brooks, 2015

Ann’s entire fabric stash fills just a couple of boxes

Time

Time for quilting is something that’s close to all our hearts. Many of us feel that if we don’t make that time, we’re somehow not complete; it’s what makes us tick and function ‘normally’ in other aspects of our lives! Ultimately the time we have available for quilting determines how long it takes to make a quilt and how many we might finish in a year. So what about Ann? Ann recognises that she’s at a very fortunate time in her life with grown children, a new grandchild far away, she’s healthy and retired: Ann says she gets to do what she wants! But, she has a profound awareness that she’s “spending her life” and “no one lives forever”, so she asks herself “what do you want to do now; what legacy do you want to leave?”. It’s a way of crystallising the most important things in life and ensuring that if quilting is important, quilting gets done.

Blogging

I asked Ann how she balances her quilting with her blogging and social media activities, a juggling act most of us find difficult to get right. Is she strict about the time she spends online? “Not strict enough!”, she says. She enjoys talking with people, so her replies are usually online (unless they’re personal in nature) in the hope that others will join in, or at least find something interesting. Her blog Fret Not Yourself “puts all the information in one place”, which she says helps productivity.

 

 

Ann’s Tips

Ann shows us that how long it takes to make a quilt depends on lots of factors, from prioritising and defining what it is you want to achieve to organising yourself accordingly. What’s very clear is that it has absolutely nothing to do with how fast you are on a sewing machine!

Finally, I asked Ann what tips she’d give to a quilter that wants to get more done. She says you should ask yourself what your goal is: “if you want to make more you should probably choose easier designs, and if you want to make more complicated designs you should expect to finish fewer of them. Ask yourself  ‘Are you happy?’ If so, keep on. If not, what can you tweak to become happier?”.  Ann quotes St Francis: allegedly when someone asked what he’d do if he knew the world would end tomorrow he replied “finish hoeing this row”.  Ann says

“Choose with deliberation.
It may not be quilting,
but you’ll be happy you’re doing what matters most.”

***

I’d like to thank Ann for agreeing to share how long it takes to make a quilt with us, especially for the time she took away from quilting to do it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and found lots to inspire you. Ann’s certainly helped me understand how loving what you do and focussing on what you want to achieve, really honing that until it’s crystal clear, is the way to make sure you achieve your goals.

Don’t forget to head over to Fret Not Yourself to follow Ann (if you don’t already) and to come back next Monday when I chat to Kaja of Sew Slowly to find out how long it takes her to make a quilt.

You might also like these posts

How Long Does It Take To Make A Quilt – links to the whole series

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Linking up with Lorna at Sew Fresh Quilts for Let’s Bee Social.

 

Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnchorusStudio.com

27 replies
  1. Ann
    Ann says:

    Stephie, I’m so flattered you wrote an entire post about me. I sound so much more intelligent and organized than I am in person. That’s totally your journalistic talent. Thanks for such a lovely piece.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Ann, you sound intelligent and organised because you are! I wouldn’t have a clue where to start with being as organised as you. And it was totally my pleasure to write this article, I admire you and your quilts so much – and I’m sure I’m not the only one 🙂

      Reply
  2. audrey
    audrey says:

    Loved reading through this, especially the ‘Choose with deliberation’! Ann and I have such a different approaches to quilting, but in that we are very similar. I am so fascinated by how it all works. Thanks for this very interesting series!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Audrey, the differences are the beauty of it aren’t they! There’s no one right way and we can all learn something from each other. Oh, and ‘choose with deliberation’ is SUCH a wonderful motto to live by isn’t it – thank you for that one alone Ann! (I’m going to print it off and stick on on my wall.)

      Reply
  3. Shasta
    Shasta says:

    Wow that’s a lot of quilts in one year. I agree that having too much fabric and working on too many projects at once can be a hindrance rather than a help. Putting that in practice is difficult for me though. That is a great takeaway “choose with deliberation”.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Hi Shasta 🙂 Putting things into practice is hard for anyone when it means going against our usual habits isn’t it? I hope I can learn from Ann and be more focussed with what I want to achieve – and that’s the hard part for me…even knowing what I want to do! ‘Choose with deliberation’ seems to be at the heart of what Ann does.

      Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      The mind boggles when you look at that quilt doesn’t it Kitty! It’s beautiful and so unique. I love a small stash too, I think it helps lessen the stress of what to choose to work with!

      Reply
  4. Doris
    Doris says:

    Thank you Stephie for this post. So interesting aspects to ponder over. And Ann is really an incredible talented person. Quilds that make happy.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks for reading Doris 🙂 Ann is indeed an incredibly talented quilter and I’m so happy she agreed to share her process with us – it’s wonderful to get such an insight.

      Reply
  5. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    This is a wonderful post. You managed to draw the information out and present it in such a clear way. Very inspirational.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Lisa – I think it’s all down to Ann’s excellent description of what she does. I’m really going to try and work out what I want to focus on now. What do you think you’ll be inspired to try?

      Reply
      • Ann
        Ann says:

        Stephie, I agree with Lisa. This article sounds so good because you pulled the information out and then reworked it into a fabulous article. I wouldn’t have thought of the questions and couldn’t see how my answers would make anything more than a statistical report. You have such journalistic talent – in addition to painting and quilting. A trifecta.

        Reply
  6. patty
    patty says:

    Thanks for such an interesting post about Ann. I found Ann’s blog not too long ago. She has these posts where you can link your improv work which I have done several times. It was wonderful to find a “support group” for us improv quilters that don’t fit in with the modern quilters or the traditional groups. She has made me feel welcome and gave me a sense of belonging.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I’ve found exactly the same Patty, a real sense of inclusiveness. Ann and Kaja had such a great idea with the link up. Ann’s so full of ideas and lots of great advice for people starting out on the improv path – the way she just encourages people to jump in and experiment is liberating. Which of Ann’s improv quilts do you particularly like?

      Reply
  7. jonistro
    jonistro says:

    I love Ann and her work. I’m so glad you presented her quilt style and intelligence so perfectly. I have so much to learn from her about working with prints and and composition. She is the scrap master!

    Reply
  8. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Such an interesting read…thank you! You’ve given me something to think about. I have a huge stash of fabrics that just don’t interest me anymore. I say I’ve gone through the fabric-change-of-life. My colours used to be country colours…brick red, gold, indigo. Now I so much rather enjoy bright joyful fabrics…ie:Tula Pink. Seeing Ann’s small stash has got me thinking that it may be ok to wean the stash!

    Reply
  9. Monica
    Monica says:

    Really excellent article, Stephie, and a great idea for a series as well. I’m looking forward to reading more!

    It’s so interesting to read what works for others, and compare it to what works for you. I think we are all constantly adjusting the process as we go. 😀

    Reply
  10. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    Great article! It was really interesting to learn more about the way Ann works and about her thinking. I love the ‘one quilt at a time’ goal and have a lot of sympathy with the feeling that too much stash stifles creativity and seeing those things expressed here has definitely given me food for thought. You write very well.

    Reply
  11. Lara B.
    Lara B. says:

    This is a wonderful write up Stephie! I’ve admired Ann for so long and it is really fun to get a deeper glimpse of her process and the way she thinks about quilting and life. To be able to create such incredible quilts with such a small stash was not something I thought possible, LOL. It is a great piece of wisdom to take away that “over abundance stifles creativity”.

    Reply
  12. Mary Huey
    Mary Huey says:

    Ann’s comments on her stash are thought provoking. I have the same attitude as she about my UFQ’s but hadn’t extended that strategy to the fabric stash — hmmmmm??

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Ann’s such an inspiration isn’t she? Like you say, she gives us lots of things to think about. Was there anything in particular you might try?

      Reply

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