All About Mysteries

I love a good mystery. The cozy up with a nice hot cup of tea kind of mysteries that keep you in a bit of suspense but still let you sleep at night. Those are my kind of mysteries.

When I first started quilting, I spent months just reading everything I could find online about quilting before I jumped in. I needed to be an expert before I cut into my first piece of fabric – I guess I thought that would make me successful. (Spoiler alert: my very first quilt was not an expert effort. It is a quilt in that it is three layers stitched together, but that’s about all that can be said for it. My mom loves it though.)

I remember coming across the idea of mystery quilts. It seemed so foreign to me – choose fabrics without knowing the final pattern? How could that possibly work? The planner in me who needs to know the final outcome so she can decide exactly where each piece of fabric goes did not care for that idea. Even then, I’ve often wished I’d changed fabric choices when I see them all together.

And that’s fine. It is absolutely okay if mystery quilts are not your cup of tea.

Now as a pattern designer, I see them as a different sort of challenge. It is much more fun for me to design a quilt, break it down into clues, and see how everyone interprets those clues.

I give a cast of characters (the fabric requirements) and a bit about their personalities – should they be dark or light? Big print or small? Somewhere in between? It’s so much fun to see the fabric choices that quilters make just given those few details. I had over 200 participants in my last mystery and almost as many different color combinations.

Then the clues roll out one by one. Like a good mystery author, I try to keep the suspense building throughout. I like to have all the parts and pieces assembled before the blocks are put together. It works differently than a typical pattern in which you make these parts to make this block and then make these pieces over here to make those blocks. It takes some faith – make all these pieces and set them aside waiting for the final reveal.

And finally, the mystery resolves – there’s the final clue with instructions on how to put all the units together into blocks, put the blocks into a top, and how to add borders. Here’s the thing I really love – my mystery quilters tend to put their own twist on the ending. They have changed borders from what I originally planned, added or subtracted blocks, rearranged the layout. I think it’s fantastic.

My next mystery quilt is with my pattern testing group now and I’ll be sure to share here when it’s live to join in. Right now, I’d like to share a few helpful hints on successfully completing a mystery quilt.

  1. Ask questions and be mindful of the answers. I welcome questions about fabric choices and I love providing feedback. Remember, each person’s tastes are different and while I might not pair fluorescent orange, lime green, and navy blue together, if that’s what you like – go for it!
  2. Follow the instructions, but be flexible. In many of my designs, I use traditional units like half-square triangles, flying geese, and hourglass blocks. There are multiple methods for making each of those units and I provide only one. If you are experienced enough that you’d like to use a different method to make those units – that’s wonderful! Just please understand that I cannot provide detailed instructions on each method in each pattern. Also, making changes to the sewing method may change fabric requirements and that is out of my control.
  3. Relax and have fun! As I mentioned before, I had about 200 mystery quilters in the group doing my last mystery. Some with sew faster than you and some will sew slower. Sometimes life gets in the way and you get a clue behind for a week. It is all okay. It is not a race to the finish line. Sew at your own pace and enjoy!

If you’re interested in getting more details on my next mystery quilt and joining in the fun, be sure to sign up on my newsletter email list. If you are a guild or a quilt shop looking for a mystery quilt a long to do with your group, please contact me at heather[at]coffeeandquilts[dot]blog.

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