Learn from My Mistakes

Some of us are visual learners, some of us learn through hands-on experience.  As I have gotten older, I realize that the BEST way for me to learn is by making mistakes-- and boy oh boy, am I good at making mistakes!  As I collage quilter, I thought that it might be helpful for you to know about some of the mistakes that I've made along the way.  Hopefully, you will learn from me :)

Mistake No. 1)

I have a new long arm machine, and I really should take some classes to learn how to do things!  But, since I haven't bothered to sign up for classes or even to watch YouTube videos I made mistakes right and left on the first project I tried to quilt.  The biggest mistake?  Not making the backing of the quilt big enough to allow me to quilt all the way to the edges.  Whoops!  I had to reposition my quilt multiple times to quilt it and it wasn't until I added leaders to the ends that I was finally able to get it finished.  I won't do that again!


Mistake no. 2) 

Not studying the value transitions in my subject.  I have spent so much time trying to learn how to make a beautiful collaged flower!  Here is a photographic progression...

  These flowers have NO transition between values and the result is a very cartoon-ish image.  I HATE the way this turned out.  Here is another attempt...   


  I like this much better, but this went through multiple versions.  I pulled the yellow flower apart and re-did it at least twice.  The purple shadow in the middle of the daffodil is still a little harsh. 


Collage Quilter Peony

  With this flower, I'm finally starting to learn that the transition from shadow to highlight in the delicate petals of a flower needs to be soft.  This means paying attention to the subtle value changes in the subject.  The difference here, was that I selected a couple photos of a peony that I studied to really understand the subject instead of thinking that I knew what the flower looked like in my head.  


Mistake no. 3)

Being unorganized is a big mistake!  I used to think it was "artsy" to allow my studio to become a disaster.  I've spent enough wasted time now to realize that having a system to organize my fabric is the key for staying productive when I want to work.  Before and after each project, I force myself to re-asses and re-organize so that I always have some semblance of order and can understand what systems are working and what systems are not working. 

One system that I've decided that is not working?  Saving every single scrap of fabric.  Up until now I have been pathological about saving even small scraps.  Now, as I work, I try to use up the scraps.  If I don't use them all, I chuck them in the trash.  This makes cleanup and organization 10x easier, and that means getting to my next project quicker!



Comments (25 Responses)

04 January, 2021


I am new to this…am trying to learn to analyze what I see better. Nuances of color changes, variations of color due to light, it goes on and on. Looking at photos helps a lot right now. What’s in my head is not enough. I have to learn to see differently I think. Your workshops and support have helped so much! Thank you!

21 July, 2020

Manon Bimmel

Hi there
I saw your tutorial where you used ribbons and buttons which i cannot find anymore. I was also thinking could we not stitch ribbons buttons and other nice stitches to finish off the flower just on the back fabrick and then later add the batting etc and finish off meandering? It would save a hole lot of layers stichting the flowers
Kind regards

08 June, 2020

Kathleen Bungart

Oh Emily, you are my idol. I am learning so much from you. These items are so important to all of us. I am in Alaska and don’t get to do much of this. I am creative but have troubles bringing my ideas to fruition. Your techniques have helped me so much. Thank you.

07 May, 2020

Judi Thompson

It looks like you use all kinds of fabrics. Are there any fabrics you have tried and don’t like?
I cant wait to watch you, and get started! This seems like the perfect time. Covid, and I’m going through chemo at the same time.
I am a Christian and believe He has His hands on us. I appreciate you being a praying woman 🤗

02 March, 2020

Debbie Velacich

Thank you for sharing this. I have the hardest time staying organized, and end up spending too much wasted time looking for things “that I just had in my hand”, because my studio is such a mess. Will be following your tips to staying organized.

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