I am excited to introduce you to a friend of mine, Jessica J. E. Smith, also known as Jess,
who I met several years ago at International Quilt Market Houston. Jess approached me to share her two cents about a question I’d asked at a lecture we’d both attended at the show. After that, we spent the day walking the show floor, shared a meal at a Greek restaurant afterwards, and have built a great friendship ever since. She is bubbly, creative, and so much fun to share quilt-love with!
Jess owns The Quilt and Needle, an online an online quilting store and interactive community , She specializes in designing one-of-a-kind quilting patterns and hosting unique Mystery Quilt Weekend experiences to help quilters overcome their personal boundaries. I participated in one of these mystery weekends and, let me tell you, they are fun! Imagine receiving a pretty fabric bundle in the mail, getting online instructions every few hours throughout the weekend, and watching a beautiful design emerge as you sew–oh, did I mention that you are sharing this weekend in a forum with participants from across the globe? It’s totally fun! Welcome Jess–we are so glad you are here!
Mystery Quilts and Why They are Worth Making
I design quilts. I piece, I quilt, I show, I gift, I sell, and sometimes I even get to cuddle with my work. No surprise, I love what I do. But the best part of my job is designing and writing mystery quilt patterns. Why? To begin with, I adore surprises. Not just receiving surprises, but presenting others with puzzles and tricking (yes, misleading, fooling, generally hoodwinking) them so that they are truly surprised at the end of the process. That’s just plain good times. When I design a mystery, it’s like I am throwing a killer surprise party for every quilter who works on that project (only, way less clean-up is required).
For example, who would’ve thought that when you started out by sewing together these various squares with borders:
You’d get this quilt at the end? (These pictures were taken at one of our March Mystery retreats in Tomball, TX. The quilt pattern is Unexpected Twist.)
The fun of it all gives me a serious case of the warm and fuzzies.
If I am being totally honest though, the grand surprise of a good mystery pattern isn’t really the best part. Certainly, I started designing mystery quilts as a fun way to surprise my quilty peeps, but my true addiction to mystery pattern writing came when I realized that mystery patterns were an often unutilized tool to help quilters overcome their self-imposed limitations.
You know that quilt pattern you’d love to try, but you keep telling yourself:
“I am not good enough to make that!”
“I love that quilt! But I could never do that.”
“That’s just too much for me, I’ll stick with squares!”
“I’d never have time to do something like that!”
Anybody? Yeah, pretty much all of us, right? We come up with any number of excuses to NOT try that design that we are sure will defeat us. Put simply, we often fail at a pattern because we never allowed ourselves to try. For me, once upon a time, that unclimbable mountain of a pattern was a Feathered Star. But hey, look at me now Mom! I created a mystery pattern to help all of those quilters afflicted with the same irrational Featheredstaraphobia I once suffered from.
This pattern is Bella Cosa. There are no Y seams or similarly intermediate-level piecing involved, which is why this made a fabulous mystery pattern.
A good mystery quilt should lead the quilter through the process one simple step at a time, so the quilter doesn’t feel overwhelmed. If you don’t know the end product, you aren’t able to keep yourself from trying a fabulous design because of self-doubt.
Over the years I’ve often experienced the power of my mystery patterns helping other quilters achieve their own “unachievable”. In one of my first teaching gigs as a mystery quilt teacher, I met “Square Girl”. It was a six hour class. They came in with their fabrics cut, ready to sew, and completed a small top in a day. The mystery I was teaching was my pattern Phire’s Radiance, which is my take on a Lone Star. I walked past this girl while she was sewing and she was murmuring “I like squares… I like squares… I like squares…” as she pieced together this quilt full of strips, and diamonds, and triangles… maybe four squares in the entire thing. I was still pretty new at teaching and I remember telling my husband when I got home that I blew it… I would never see this girl again! I have to give her props though; she persevered and completed her small table topper in class.
This was her third quilt ever! Pretty amazing I think. Anyway, my next mystery program rolled around a few weeks later, and you wouldn’t believe who showed up to that class. Yep. Square Girl. And she was smiling. And she was motivated. She’d made a Lone Star and now she was ready to conquer the quilting world! She has signed up for every one of my mystery programs since then. She’s hooked. She’s a fabric addict. Now Square Girl is selling commissioned quilts to support her habit. She was recently commissioned to make the King size version of Phire’s Radiance (again, no ‘y’ seams or similarly intermediate techniques were harmed used in the making of these quilts).
Whoa. Just whoa.
So that’s why I do what I do. And that’s why it’s worth giving mystery quilts a try. You never know what you don’t know until you try something that you don’t know you are trying.
Jessica J.E. Smith, owner of The Quilt and Needle
Thank you Jess! What a great topic! And BTW readers, Jess’s feathered star, Bella Cosa, was created using a line of fabrics that I designed a few years back! What a sweet quilt!
Want more? Jess will be visiting again on Friday to chat about her Crossover Quilts. She will present Schoolhouse sessions on both Mystery Quilts and Crossover Quilts at Interenational Quilt Market at the end of the month.
Urban and Amish Giveaway Winner Here!
And we have a winner! Congratulations to Houston Quilt Lady.