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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

I Kit You Not


A tug in opposing directions has characterized my quilt publishing career through the years. On one side, I am pulled by the needs of a broad range and huge numbers of quilters who lack the confidence to create their own designs, and so they look for designs they love to reproduce. In books, patterns, and kits, the quilting industry is set up to cater to these folks.

On the other side, I can’t deny a tepid feeling about a copycat quilt, one that’s perfectly faithful to the original. Even when the original is an amazing antique classic that has entered the public domain.

Maybe that’s unfair. After all, when I made the table runner pictured at the top of this post, I certainly started with inspiration: an ancient Sephardit design that originated in Spain or Portugal. The Etz Chayim—Hebrew for Tree of Life—is a symbol for Jews’ most sacred object, the Torah. It also represents family, growth, and strength.

I fully expect folks to start with an existing design–you have to start somewhere! This is exactly why I produced the book Quilt Blocks Go Wild!, which allows you to take a classic block and do something exciting to it, to make it your own. I simplified the tree for a second rendition, offered as a workshop for the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needleworkers.












For the first time in my teaching career, I was tasked with providing kits to the participants. With a little reluctance, I took orders for a honey, natural, or lavender linen-blend fabric. But I drew the line at including any other specifics, and merely set out stacks of different-color felt for tree trunks and piles of fabric fat quarters and scraps for leaves. I explained to the class my discomfort with straight copying, and my hope that they would each apply their own a personal stamp or different color palette, a unique perspective on the project. Students went well beyond my expectations, and I had the privilege and fun of helping each participant ensure a good contrast, balance, and the injection of her own personality. The resulting quilt tops present a varied grove, a treasure trove of uniqueness. Check out the fabulous, fused appliques below. Kudoes to those who cut an unusual, chunky tree, added a “carved” heart on the trunk, a bird’s nest of eggs, or unusually shaped leaves.

  P1010183 P1010185 P1010186 P1010187 P1010188 P1010189 P1010191 P1010194 P1010197 P1010199 P1010200 P1010201 P1010202

By the way, the how-to’s and the actual-size pattern for the Tree of Life pillow—no kit available! is on my website’s free & fun link; click here for that. But the Pomegranate people let me know they planned to use their designs for wall hangings, tabletoppers, challah covers, and other applications.

What do you think? What’s your take on patterns and kits? What inspires your creativity?

6 Responses to “I Kit You Not”

  1. Susan Rose says:

    Hi Ellie,
    Great to see our ‘works in progress’ from our workshop at the Pomegranate Guild Convention. I came home feeling very inspired and excited to take on many more projects. Your guidance with this design as well as the many other tips you shared has me looking at my needle crafts in a whole new way. Thank you!

  2. Eleanor says:

    Thank YOU, Susan–for the feedback and validation! Better than Roses, and beyond rubies!

  3. Donna Laing says:

    I have the same feelings about exact copies of a quilt, or making a kit. I’m not so interested in that. For me, half the fun is coming up with an idea and the other half is sewing it to see if it comes together the way it looked in my vision.

    • Eleanor says:

      Coming from a brilliant, award-winning designer, your comment has to be taken with a grain of salt. Did you at least start out by making cookie-cutter quilts?

  4. Sandy Ottenberg says:

    I am finishing my tree of life today. Had to buy the special foot and
    muslin. Now I am on my way to finish. the new foot is real cool wish I
    knew of it before. my question is do I put muslin in the back of the pillow
    also. this looks so nice think I will make a larger version and make a
    family tree out of it and hang it some place. Thank you for teaching both classes I learned so much from you.
    Sandy Ottenberg

    • Eleanor says:

      I personally do not care about the inside of my pillows…but an extra layer of muslin along the back would give it a bit more stability and polish for anyone peeking inside…not important to me, though!

      Thanks for your words of support, Sandy!

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