Quilts Talk. I Listen.

by Featured

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Chevron quilt in pastel batiks with straight lines and feathers to really  show the pattern.
A Chevron quilt with very little contrast in pastel batiks needed custom quilting to make it pop.

Did you ever hear a quilt talk to you? I do. Sometimes I have to wait a day or two, and I always have to make sure that it’s nice and quiet so that the quilt can be heard. But, they do talk.

I not only quilt for myself. I quilt for customers. For nearly ten years, I have had the privilege of putting the finishing touches on the quilt tops that other people have spent countless hours sewing together. In the beginning, it was very intimidating. I was so worried that I would not know what to do, or would do something that wouldn’t look good. Very few customers had a strong opinion or idea of exactly what they wanted on the quilt. I often was told to “just do whatever you think will look good” with the additional instruction that they didn’t want to spend too much. So, I developed my skill of freehand edge to edge quilting from the front of the machine.

When I first took quilts out of the bags, 9 1/2 years ago, I would look at them and think about the 3 or 4 edge to edge designs that I could do relatively well from the front of the machine. Then, I would choose which of them I thought would look the best, decide on a thread color and go for it! Needless to say, as my skills improved, so did my choices in what I might do on the quilts 🙂 I took classes. I watched countless online tutorials and videos. I bought books. I read magazine articles AND…I practiced…a lot!

As time went on, I discovered a hidden talent. I could hear quilts talking to me. Well, maybe not audibly, but they did tell me what they needed. After all these years of experience, and hundreds upon hundreds of quilts, my brain is full of designs and ideas. Now, when I take quilts out of the bags, I look them over, and then I hang them up or put them back. I don’t start on them right away. I let my mind think and process the design and something happens…by the time I am ready to put the quilt on the frame, I usually have a pretty good idea of what the it needs to enhance the design of the quilt. As I look at it in the longarm frame, it “tells” me what to do.

Some quilts tell me that an edge to edge design is all they need. Texture will do them justice and be perfect for their fabric and design to look just right. Some quilts say that they need some custom treatment in certain areas to show that they are special. Maybe they just need a lovely feathered border or a motif in their blocks to break free from a general edge to edge design now and then as a wonderful little surprise. Then, there are those quilts that come along once in awhile and they shout, “Hey, just look at me! I took forever to make. I deserve to be a real show-stopper! Get out the rulers, and make me shine!”

As I said, I quilt for customers. Sometimes, quilts talk to me, and I have to tell them that I can’t listen to them because I have to listen to my customers first. It is, after all their quilt. The reality is that not everyone can afford custom quilting. I usually make sure that the customer is okay with paying for custom work before I do it because it can get quite expensive, especially on large quilts. Most quilts do not need a lot of custom work to make them shine. I actually do a lot of what I call “light” or “mid” custom, which is a combination of some organic design with some ruler work or custom in certain areas. It looks great on the quilt, and it keeps the cost down.

Some customers do have specific requests for what they would like on their quilts and what thread color they want used, and, of course, I do what they ask for to the best of my ability. Their quilt already told them what it wanted! After all, I’m not the only person that hears quilts talking 🙂 I have many customers that I sit and discuss or talk on the phone with about their quilt, and we work together to decide on thread color and what will be done with their quilt. I give them some of my ideas, and they let me know if they like them or not before I begin working on the quilt. That collaboration is always a great way to be comfortable that the customer will be happy with the end result. It’s always fun for me when I get to just “do whatever you think it needs” and that was the case on the quilt pictured in this post.

The back of Kathy’s Chevron quilt.

When I first glanced in the bag, I just saw a lot of the same value pastel batik, and I thought I would just do an all over design. However, when I pulled it out of the bag, and looked closer, I saw that it was a chevron. An all over design would have ruined this quilt! You would never have seen all the wonderful piecing that Kathy did on her little triangles. You wouldn’t have noticed that it was a chevron. The custom ruler work that I did, made the pattern of this quilt really stand out and enhanced all the tedious piecing that Kathy did. That is always my goal with my quilting. I want to enhance and showcase the work that the piecer did. I don’t want my work to overshadow the work of the piecer. It is their quilt…not mine. This quilt will go home prettier than when it came…my work here is done!

Sandi Griepenstroh

Sandi Griepenstroh


I started quilting in the early 90's as a young mom while I was still teaching high school social sciences and English. Now it is my full time job, and I love sharing the joy that quilting has brought into my life through lecturing, trunk shows, teaching everything from piecing to machine quilting, and longarm quilting the pieced quilt tops that others have made. I am a maker through and through, and I can't wait to meet my fellow makers and talk quilting!

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