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Helen Kelley Patchworks

Quiltmaker, Teacher, Lecturer, Designer, Author, Judge

How long does it take to make a quilt? – Step 1

Step1vision_2 January 5, 2005 – Now that the holiday clutter is cleared away, it’s time to focus on finishing my South Dakota postcard quilt.  So, how long does it take to make a quilt?

Step 1 – The vision.  I get a germ of an idea.  It stews and brews in my head for months, maybe years.

How long does it take to make a quilt – Step 2

Step2research_2 January 9, 2005 – Step 2 – The research. All the time that the new quilt idea is cooking in my brain, whenever I see a book, an article, a picture, a fabric that relates, I file it away for reference.  Sometimes I collect whole notebooks full of pertinent creative thoughts.

How long does it take to make a quilt – Step 3

Step3pieces January 12, 2005 – Step 3. I poke through my collection of the miscellany over and over. I sort.  I sift.  I measure it.  Slowly, slowly I let it stew.    How long does that take?  Until that picture begins to gel and until I get the courage to begin.

How long does it take to make a quilt – Step 4

Step4experiment_1January 16, 2005 – Step 4. I lay out my collection of fabric and pictures and sort out my head. I get out a big sheet of table cloth paper, full size and I begin to sketch. I draw.  I smooth and sharpen my lines.  I begin to clip out patchwork pieces and make applique shapes.  Some seem right.  Some go straight into the trash.  Experiment, experiment.  Hate it, love it, hate it, love it.

How long does it take to make a quilt – Step 5

Step5assemble_1January 19, 2005 – Step 5. I begin to assemble.  I tweak and add. I lay it out on the floor and squint at it.  I move my pieces around. I patch and worry my way through crisis and recovery. 

How long does it take to make a quilt – Step 6

January 23, 2005 – Step 6 – When to call it done?  At this point, the quilt is usually radically different from what I had sketched.  Same elements, same fabrics, but the design shifts and moves.  I have learned not to be distressed that it is different.  Usually it is better than I  first planned.  The quilt tells me when it is right, when it’s done.

How long does it take to make a quilt? Step 7

January 26, 2005 – Step 7 – Reconciliation. Once I have quilted and bound off my quilt, we (the quilt and I) often aren’t close friends for a while. Maybe it’s because we have been so close, so intense. I know every flaw, every change, every ache and stress. Like raising a child, it takes me a while to reconcile the new reality to the original vision. And then, another month, another year, I look at that quilt and I am surprised to discover that it has a spark of my heart in it.

So How Long Does It Really Take?


February 2005 – I first had the idea for my South Dakota postcard quilt in 1989. I played with the idea for 15 years. It took me that long to figure out how to put my trademark rectangular door into a tepee. I finally began cutting out my fabric in December of 2004. Now, eight weeks and a lot of angst later, the top is almost ready for the quilting frame. It’s not done yet. So much happens in the quilting. But, soon….. soon…..

South Dakota Becomes a Post Card


March 6, 2005: It’s Done! Hallelujah! Now you can figure out how long it really takes to make a quilt.

My set of 24 Post Cards is finally complete.