How to Create Original Quilts

How to Create Original Quilts

I speak and teach about color, creativity, and my quilting techniques to quilters from all over the world, and one question I get asked a lot is-- how do you come up with the ideas for all of these different quilts? 

My answer-- I've given myself permission to make lots of "mistakes".

Our Brains HATE Risk

From an early age, we are trained to avoid mistakes at all cost! We are rewarded for an A+ paper that has no mistakes in it-- that is what we strive for in school. Often we shy away from areas and activities if we think we will not be successful. We don't want to risk failure!

It's not our fault, our brains have evolved to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort and risk. We are wired to conform, to do what we know will work; to do what feels safe and comfortable.

This was important when we were living in caves and fighting off lions; taking risks was dangerous!

But this is a problem if you want to make original work in your creative life. Your brain sees any uncertainty as imminent death. It freaks out. 

Your primitive "lizard" brain will think you are about to die, when really you're just trying out a new color palette!

In order to make something new and original, you have to try something you've never tried before, and when you try something you've never tried before, you don't know if it will work or not.

Sometimes it works beautifully, sometimes it doesn't.

You have to be okay with this if you want to make original work. Tell your brain to calm down-- everything will be okay!

Your Permission Slip

Give yourself permission to make “mistakes”. Lots of them.

It's in the new and uncertain where the magic can happen!

Sometimes the experiment is a total flop. Sometimes it turns out just "okay". But sometimes, every now and then, the result is amazing! 

This is the creative process, much of it is throwing a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. You try something, evaluate, learn, and try something else. Round and round it goes.

You’ll never get to the point where you’re 100% happy with everything you’ve made, that they are all masterpieces and perfect. If you did, it would mean you’re not stretching yourself or growing.

Experiment Small

I am always encouraging our Meander Guild Members to experiment small. We learn a new technique/style each month, along with some creative variations for those styles, and we always start with an "Experiment".

When they try something new, whether that is a new technique or style, quilt motif, whatever it is, experiment on a small scale. That way if it is a total flop, no big deal! Just move onto the next thing. You haven't "wasted" too much time or materials. Take the lesson you've learned from the "mistake" and do better next time.  


There is No Waste in the Creative Process

Know that all of the "mistakes" or "wasted" fabric or time is all for a purpose. Just like in life, you can learn from every mistake and grow to be a wiser person. The same is true of creative endeavors. You take what you've learned from that "failure" and tweak it, and try something new or go in a different direction. This is how you and your work evolve. 

If you only make things that you know 100% will work out, you are probably not growing. 

And if you've experimented on a small scale, you can make mistakes, learn from them, and try something new so much faster than if every quilt you make is twin sized!

If you like the idea of experimenting with different styles and techniques, I think you'd love the Meander Guild! It's an online guild where we explore different quilt-making styles, master color, grow creatively, all alongside other likeminded quilters from all over the world. Click here to learn more and sign up!

Alright, my dear, I'd love to hear from you! What insight stood out to you the most and how could you incorporate it into your creative life? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Just downloaded Round Pillows templates. Can these be reduced for a 14 inch round pillow?
I would appreciate this help. I’m trying to put in a zipper. Thanks!


I tend to learn more from my mistakes so I like trying new quilting ideas. I started quilting and sewing about five years ago. I didn’t know that you could buy a quilt pattern. I just made my own! Now I explore quilt patterns and adjust the pattern to fit my own style. Some quilt teachers get really upset with me adjusting their pattern or color. I am excited to hear that your guild encourages exploring options and leaving to follow your own personal preference.

Rachael Clark

The comment made by Valerie on June 20, says exactly what I wanted to say. I will add that my latest idea to try is fabric art for a picture to hang over my bed. Wish me luck!


I’m a new quilter but have been sewing for more than 50 years! I love this article and look forward to many more. We can always learn. I’ve been experimenting a bit so this article is perfect to encourage me. Thank you!


You are so right. We learn more from what we do wrong that from what we do right.


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