Sampler Secrets

Sampler Album Quilts
by Judy Butcher
(Published by Greenhouse Penguin Books Australia Pty Ltd)
© Judy Butcher 1992

I wrote Sampler Album Quilts from the class notes I had put together for beginners during the 1980s. The book was published in 1992, at a time when the quilting techniques were about to be revolutionised by rotary cutters, self healing mats and perspex rulers.

The instructions are written for making templates to cut individual pieces, to be hand or machine pieced or appliqued, and for hand or machine quilting when all machine quilting was done on a domestic sewing machine.

The full text of the Introduction is below.


How often have you looked with admiration at exquisite, old fashioned quilts, made by hand and incorporating beautiful designs and colours? The art of quilting is not a difficult one to master, so if you have ever coveted such a quilt on your bed or hung on the wall as a decoration there’s every reason to make your own. Quilts can be very sophisticated design statements or extremely personal works, for in their blocks you can incorporate designs ap­propriate to your family – houses, people, animals, plants and symbols – while many traditional patch­work blocks, although apparently random, convey specific messages within the language of their design.

It’s an enormous thrill to begin one’s first quilt. Don’t be put off by the amount of work involved. The making of the patchwork and applique blocks is a gradual process and then – almost without warning – there are enough blocks ready to make the quilt and you can put the whole together. Making a quilt is a bit like doing a fabric jigsaw, from choosing the fabrics to putting it on the bed. The first block is a terrifying experience, but knowledge, confidence and excitement grow quickly with each new block and each new technique.

This book is intended to take the beginner step by step through the making of a ‘sampler album’ quilt. A sampler quilt is a collection of different pieced patchwork blocks put together to make a quilt top, while an album quilt is made up of different applique blocks, so a sampler album is a mixture of the two.

A sampler album quilt introduces the beginner to a wide variety of quilting techniques, but this book was not written only with the beginner in mind. Ex­perienced quilters are encouraged to have another look at sampler quilts as they offer wide scope for experimentation in design and colour. The block patterns are all new, and there is help in planning a quilt to record family history within the framework of a sampler album quilt.

The most thorough way of learning patchwork, applique and quilting skills is to make a sampler album, incorporating as many different techniques as you can. By the time you have finished you will have the skills to make a wide variety of quilts in the future. You also will know what methods you most enjoy, and have the knowledge of others if you need them. You will have, as a bonus, a warm, practical and unique bed cover.

Aim at achieving perfection – sometime – but don’t let perfection get in the way of enjoyment. Too much emphasis on perfect results leads to frazzled nerves and worn seam lines that have been unpicked too often. Also, imperfections are much less visible when you stand back and look at the overall effect. No work of art is meant to be viewed from a distance of 15 centimetres.

A single bed quilt with 15 blocks is a good size to start with if you are new to patchwork. It is big enough to try each technique at least twice, and you will learn a lot about how fabrics work together in different combinations. If you start instead with cushions you will have about a dozen cushions by the time you have mastered the possibilities of quilting and will still have to tackle handling a large project. It is probably best not to aim for a king-size masterpiece as a first effort, but don’t underestimate what you can do, either. Set yourself a challenge and you will be surprised at what you can achieve.

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