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Journaling is very popular right now. Many people keep diaries of their thoughts, funny experiences, and even day to day tasks. I love to read the diaries of 18th and 19th century women as they recorded their pioneering lifestyle. It gives me a glimpse of how different things used to be. Sometimes I wish they had written more. "Worked on quilt today," one woman wrote long ago. That statement teases me and makes me wonder what did your quilt look like, what colors did you use, why didn’t you tell us more?

Have you ever thought of keeping a quilt journal? This is a great tool to track your journey as a quilt maker. It can give you perspective down the road and show you how much you have improved. It can give you inspiration when you feel like you don’t have any good ideas left. t can remember all the plans for quilts you want to make "someday." In many years to come, it will let your descendents know a little bit about your interests — tell them more!

A journal can be as simple as a three-ring binder with sketches of quilts and quilt blocks, scraps of fabric that you like together, inspiring magazine articles, photos from quilt shows, quiltmaking hints, and class samples. Fabric samples are nice to include in your journal. Certain stores, like Hancock’s of Paducah (800-845-8723), can mail you a monthly selection of the newest designs. By adding these swatches to your quilt journal on a regular basis you will be able to see how colors and fabric styles change over time.

Since I mostly make wall quilts from my own original designs, I have also journaled on the back of my quilts by writing extensive comments on a sewn-on, cloth label. One quilt in particular changed so much from the original idea that it no longer bore any resemblance to the source of inspiration. Next to a picture of that initial design, I chronicled how the quilt changed and progressed. The added bonus to this type of journal is that it can’t get lost.

Sample blocks are another type of journal which have been popular at various times. This is a great way to experiment and stretch your comfort zone. These samples may be new blocks you have always wanted to try, made with a color scheme you don’t typically use. They can give you the opportunity to learn new techniques like ruching, reverse appliqué or fabric dyeing. It used to be common to combine all these different blocks into one sampler quilt, which would be the last quilt that quilter made. Or, you can add these blocks to your regular journal. I did this once by sewing three buttonholes along the left side, spaced so they would fit into my three-ring binder.

Any of these types of journals can help expand your skills as a quiltmaker. A journal can let you see the overall picture from many different angles and it can also help you focus on your next masterpiece. What more can you ask for?

Article originally published June 2000

© 2000, Maria Elkins