Sherry Reynolds knows a thing or two about show quilts, that is, quilts made specifically to be entered into major quilt competitions. Her America, Let It Shine won best of show at the 2012 International Quilt Festival in Houston in addition to a number of other top awards. Known for doing all of her own quilting on a domestic sewing machine – she freely admits “more time is spent arranging the quilt than sewing” – the resident of Laramie, Wyoming, is also a wife, mother of three teenagers, devoted daughter, hunter, rancher and gardener, all parts of her life she frequently shares with friends on social media (of which I’m fortunate to be a part).
For the article “It’s a Long Way to Houston: 10 Months in the Making of a Show Quilt” in Quilters Newsletter’s August/September 2015 issue, Sherry was gracious enough to share photos and status updates from her Facebook timeline detailing the making of Eternal Beauty, which she began designing in January 2013 in memory of her mother and that just won Best of Show in the 2017 Pacific International Quilt Festival.
When I saw the news about Sherry’s win (Congrats again, Sherry!) in my Facebook newsfeed, I remembered working with her on the article and knew I wanted to share it. Her posts demonstrate both her self-deprecating humor and very real moments of frustration, sometimes in one update, and should be encouraging to anyone who’s experienced self-doubt while trying to make a quilt (*ahem*). It took over 4½ years for her to make Eternal Beauty from start to finish, taking breaks when life required her full attention, but she stuck with it and is now poised to reap the rewards. Trust me, the quilt world is going to be hearing about this stunning quilt for months to come as it appears in other competitions, very likely including Quilt Festival in 2018, a couple of years beyond Sherry’s original goal.
I’ve included a few bonus status updates we didn’t have room to include in the original article. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did; Sherry is a genuinely down-to-earth person who is also a brilliant artist, and this peek into her process is just plain funny. And check back here soon for an interview with Sherry in a future blog post about what happened after this article ends.
Here’s to a productive week free of “proquiltination!”
May 6, 2013
Sherry’s “Top 10 Genius Moments When Sewing & Quilting”
- Trying to pull the bobbin thread up … with an unthreaded needle.
- Threading the machine … and then remembering I was going to wind a bobbin.
- Spending 5 minutes trying to thread the needle … refusing to use the little needle threading gadget.
- Looking for my glasses … inevitably parked on top of my head.
- Continuing to sew … with an empty bobbin.
- When I actually run out of bobbin and I KNOW … taking a little break, coming back and start trying to sew … with the empty bobbin I knew about 5 minutes earlier.
- Getting distracted by a tiny piece of lint/thread on the quilt close to where I’m TRYING to quilt and veering off course.
- Getting distracted by a wisp of hair dangling in front of my eyeball when I’m trying to quilt … and veering off course
- Trying to quilt or sew the day before “it” happens … trying to do anything for that matter, lol.
- Starting to sew … with the pressure foot up.
The most Genius Moment of all though, is the ability to laugh at each and every one of these and constantly thinking, “I know what I’m doing, but what was I thinking?”
June 15, 2013
Woo-Hoo … I’ve finished 27 of the 48 “S” sections … 26 hours of work. Natural childbirth—for all 3 kids combined!—didn’t even take this long, nor do I remember it being so painstakingly drawn out! Lol … on the flipside, as I sat sewing seam after seam after 1½“ seam, I thought a lot about my mom, and the MS she struggled with for 40 years; the monotony of being in a wheelchair for 20 years and the daily struggle to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. She just kept plugging along, rarely complaining and ALWAYS finding something to laugh and smile about.
Now onto the last 21 “S” sections … did I dread childbirth as much as the upcoming sewing task??? NO!! Lol … just keep sewing, just keep sewing … hope everyone has a great rest of the day!
June 12, 2014
Unbelievably, it was a year ago that I pieced those 48 silk “S” thingys. I am now ironing the edges in prep for … EEEEK hand applique. I don’t even completely understand “hash tagging”, but if I did, I definitely think this would fall under #justshootmenow and #whatthehellwasithinking.
August 9, 2014
I’m currently in applique hell – and apparently, I will be here for the rest of my life. I keep singing Rodney Atkins … “If you’re goin’ through hell keep on movin’, Face that fire, walk right through it, You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.” … It’s not helping.
September 17, 2014
Not exactly the outcome I was hoping for – notice the huge sag in the bottom middle? Well it pretty much goes all the way around the middle ring … So yeah, I sewed the rings together, and then I had the biggest, worst pity party I’ve had in a loooong time. I tried really, really hard to put the brakes on but the train of self doubt was gaining momentum and I finally just gave in ‘cause it was moving way too fast to jump off. … If anyone thinks I just sit down and whip out quilts with the greatest of ease, that’s so not the case. I stumble, I fall, I make mistakes and wonder why I do this to myself. I do it because I love it, and because of the challenge to accomplish something I don’t think I can do … oh, and Janet Stone, thanks for not accepting my entire quilting room I wanted to ship to you when I had decided to quit quilting forever last night.
Now I’m deconstructing rings trying to figure out where I went wrong – likely when I had the brilliant idea to change the quilt mid-process and “I can figure it out, I don’t need to make a new pattern” submerged itself into my brain.
September 19, 2014
Yaaaaay … sag be gone! The green batik was indeed the problem. I cut it for a bigger ring then redesigned that section but never got to work on the quilt for several months. When I started in again I was just happy to sew apparently. Thank heavens I finally got it, ’cause I was running out of leftovers to throw on the table for dinner!
September 24, 2014
I no longer have a quilting room. I just have a “throw scraps everywhere, sit, stare, contemplate and accomplish nothing” room.
October 27, 2014
It seems I’ve had issues left and right on this quilt, so of course, I’ve come to expect them. In working on the border now, I cannot for the life of me figure out what I’m doing wrong … ‘cause everything is turning out right! What, it’s precisely to measurement!? Are you kidding me, it looks exactly like I want it to!? I’m to the point I’m paranoid to continue, ‘cause surely disaster is awaiting … or could it be that the quilt gods have had their fun and are finally granting me a little reprieve? More likely they are just tired of hearing me whine and moan and are like, “Fine, we grant you precision and satisfaction. Just finish it and be done already!” Okee dokee then, I’ll keep that ball rolling!
November 7, 2014
The Border War – so I finally finished piecing the 5,000+ piece border. I usually spend a lot of time “listening to my quilt,” however, I was so close to finishing this puppy I didn’t listen. I thought I had the border and it was relatively simple and quick, but it looked like crap. So I sat and stared at my quilt and waited for it to speak … and I waited some more, and then I threatened it: “If you don’t speak soon, you will have a 4″-wide piece of fabric to frame you!” And then it spoke. Well actually, “frame” clicked in my head and the wheels started spinning. And the quilt spoke again: “Square! I have not one single square on me!” Wow, you’re right and yes, I do think you need a square or two for the border. (Had I been listening better, I would have heard the quilt roaring with laughter. It didn’t want a couple of squares, it wanted 1,000s of squares! And so I gave it 1,000s of tiny 1/2″ squares set apart with 3/16″ crosshatch.) … I wanted all the seams of the squares to be turned under so they appeared to be floating. To set them off even more, they are cut on the bias and the crosshatch [is cut] on the straight of grain. … I know I spent more time pinning, matching rows and ironing than I did sewing, but I am extremely happy with how it turned out – and that is a pretty rare thing as I am always finding fault with practically everything on my quilts, lol.
January 15, 2015
I’ve doodled quilt designs for a week, I’ve actually practiced quilting a few. But mostly I have sat and stared at my quilt, contemplating my plan of attack and then getting intimidated by oh so many things – does this design “fit” the quilt, does it “flow” with the other designs, can I even quilt that design, should I overlay with peeled wool or not, who made this quilt so dang big (99″ x 99″), how much of a problem can eight seam allowances coming together be!? Did you even think this through, Sherry? And then I get all optimistic: yes, I thought it through; yes, I can quilt that; who cares how big it is – where there’s a will there’s a way. …
So, I have gathered my sandwich supplies – cotton batting, wool batting, pieced backing, quilt top and lots and lots of safety pins – today is the day!! So here I go … in a few minutes, and … okay, think this through, Sherry, are you sure you’re done staring at it on the wall? It might have more to say … and double check that design on the diamonds, it looks “off”… you sure you want that extra wool “poof”… you are running out of time today, it’s gonna take you 18 hours to sandwich it… .
January 21, 2015
So what am I thinking right now, besides “where the hell is the end of the circle!?” I’m thinking, “guess we will see just how good your hand applique is after all this cramming, squishing and otherwise rearranging the quilt.” Oh, and I said “we” because I was letting both the “queen of doubt Sherry” and the “somewhat confident Sherry” know. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open between them like that.
January 27, 2015
All I’m sayin’ is this: for those who are interested in seeing my quilt FINISHED, we should probably start looking for the fountain of youth.
February 6, 2015
WANTED: someone to come SID [stitch in the ditch] center mariner’s compass. Must be willing to cram and turn 99” x 99” quilt through 9″ throat space 64 times. Must have a vast array of “colorful” language and the ability to use it loudly. Knowledge in rolling office chairs is also helpful but not required. If you do not have the knowledge of how to slide forward while seated and avoid the ironing board leg, you must have bounce skills, i.e., with one foot on the ground and the other wrapped around the chair base, you will bounce 3-4 times, slightly up and down on the chair. On the up you quickly rotate base so it will scooch past ironing board leg; quilt is to remain in your lap during this process. Must provide own forehead shield as the SID work is best done 6”-8″ from needle and injury to forehead from thread-taker-upper-thingy is likely to occur. Diving skills also required, as you will occasionally have to go under the quilt and check tension; quilt is to remain under the needle so as to avoid start/stops. All applicants can apply at Just Shoot Me Now Quilting.
February 7, 2015
Finished the SID on the center mariner’s compass. It’s flat and still round … what a bonus!!
February 10, 2015
Dearest quilting gods, if you will just let me finish SID work on the spikes, I promise I will NEVER proquiltinate again, I promise I will change my needle often, I promise I will use up all my fabric before I buy any more and I promise I will never curse again while sewing. Sincerely, Sherry
February 17, 2015
And here we have the not-so-joyful quilter working on the center. One question I’m asked a lot is, “how do you do the center?” You are at maximum under-the-arm bulk, and it is THE hardest part. No, it’s not a whole lot of fun, but it is doable and it’s not like it lasts forever. Basically, you just muscle your way through. The cramming of the quilt is not difficult, it’s the result of the cramming that makes moving the quilt a challenge – your walking foot is advancing, but alas, the quilt is pretty much sandwiched under the arm and not advancing, thus it is easy to start skewing the fabric. Best thing is to just slow down, take a few stitches, stop, shove the underarm bulk a little ahead and take a few more stitches … constantly muttering “this too shall pass” is also beneficial.
February 25, 2015
If this quilt ever actually makes it into a show, I wonder how many shows will grant my request that it be hung where viewers and judges will be asked to ride a galloping horse past it. … This is what’s KILLING me. I keep snagging one stupid thread when I’m SID, and I have found to rip it out and redo it is not the answer. The silk then just looks like crap, so it is what it is … saddle up and gallop on by when you look at the rings.
February 27, 2015
Sometimes, there is no “joy in the process.” There is sheer frustration, combined with oodles of doubt, bucketloads of colorful vocabulary… and lots of alcohol to be consumed at a later date with fellow quilters. Find and use humor when the going gets tough and remember, there are no “failures” – only the failure to try.
March 4, 2015
If anyone needs me, I’ll be out in the garage (wintertime expansion fridge), eating pumpkin cheesecake, the ultimate comfort food.
March 13, 2015
Does anybody wanna come to my party? Eight weeks – eight loooong, grueling, whiny weeks of SID work is FINALLY done, except for the border, but I’m doing that later. WHOOOP WHOOOOOP!
April 21, 2015
Quickie recap … I’m a wee bit bogged down lately, but fine…. Quilting is not going nearly as smoothly as it should – I don’t even play “out of sight, out of mind” with the seam ripper anymore, I keep it within arm’s reach at all times – mostly it’s been in my hands lately. I managed to skew the center and had to rip some of the SID work and get it straightened out. … One thing’s for sure, as I’m only now just past the center mariner’s compass: the Houston deadline is not in sight. Well, it is – it’s just 2016.