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A quilter says THANKS to her mentor: The Dresden Plate

by Pam Voth

My Dresden Plate

Over the years, I’ve been mentored by some really remarkable people. As I get older, I like to think I give back by doing a little mentoring myself. The influence and support of a mentor is invaluable. I’ve had the importance of mentoring reinforced through quilting, as I’ve worked my way through various projects – the fat quarter baby quilt, the hexagon table runner – just to name a couple.

Now, still separated physically from my quilting group, I forge ahead. I still consult them regularly and we have a weekly show-and-tell and discussion of next steps on ZOOM but, thankfully, my confidence is growing and I continue to expand my must try projects. So, I landed on the Dresden plate. I found a Dresden Plate Table Runner tutorial on the Fort Worth Fabric Studio blogIt seemed like just the kind of challenge I needed to get me through the social-distancing days of May.

Close-up of Dresden Plate

I also decided I want to use this project to thank a mentor who has been in my life for over 30 years. She is turning 80 this summer – although, she maintains she stopped counting birthdays at 59. I am determined, despite all the craziness in the world, to give her a birthday to remember.

We met at my interview for a teaching position in 1985 and she mentored me through my first years of teaching, and then through the loss of my mom when I was newly married and a new mom and just 31 years old. She has become a grandma to my boys and she deserves way more than my quilted Dresden plate table runner but, I know she’ll appreciate the time and love with which this project has been made. This is a person I would do anything for – and so I have chosen a project that will fill her life with bright colors and hope, friendship and love.

Zach and Sebastian (my sons) with my mentor Helen at their Grade 12 Graduations

No shopping these days, however; a friend with a recently closed quilt shop offered a selection through Facebook Messenger and I did a porch pickup and I was all set. My friend Helen is resourceful and hardworking. I have rarely seen her daunted or upset. She takes life as life comes and is very straightforward. Many of the women who have mentored me (including my quilting mentors) are like this – they are strong women who have dealt evenly with all life has shown them.

Fabric for my Dresden Plate blocks

Now to research the Dresden plate. Again, I looked on QUILTsocial and I found some additional tips to use with my pattern – so, after doing a little reading and watching, I started cutting, sewing and ironing until I had three sets of 20 Dresden plate pieces.

Fabric is cut and ready to be quilted

OK,  I did jump ahead a bit, it’s a great project but, I don’t want anyone thinking I just masterfully put it all together in an evening. If I’ve learned anything from my friend Helen, is that life is not always easy and anything worth doing is usually hard work and takes time and effort.

When I was preparing the ties to sew together, I folded each tie at the widest end (right sides together).  I highly recommend pressing them closed. I have learned that pressing is like mentoring – you can never get enough of it. I sewed my ties with a ¼” stitch along the top (right sides together – you can never say that enough).

Strip of ties ready to be cut apart

Assembling the ties into a Dresden Plate

Once they were in a long strip of ties, I cut them apart, flipped the end the right way and ta-da, I could press it into a tie…ready to sew to another tie to make my plate. I’ve a really hard time seeing how things like that actually work and why but, I’m really glad they do. I, again, pressed each piece and then sewed together (¼” seam) into a beautiful circle. I’ve learned when you break life goals up into very small steps, you can do anything. Even when I’ve had harder and sadder things to deal with, I break everything down and set goals to get through – day by day, hour by hour, sometimes even minute to minute. Quilting is an amazing example of following small steps to reach goals. I love lists and breaking things down into their achievable parts – and when I get stuck or discouraged, I can always find someone to help me through.

Dresden Plate with blue thread

Assembling the Dresden Plate

I love the planning part of quilting. As a young teacher, I spent many hours with my mentor Helen, creating resources and talking about how to reach our young students (we taught primary grades). We would sip wine and eat chips and I was very often fed delicious food during our planning sessions. Now, I spend time planning how my quilts will go together and this one was no exception.

I realized, as I moved forward I still needed some fabric..for the binding and to make the squares to sew my plates to. So, I did some research and found that Fabricland was doing curbside pickup. I sent a picture of the colors to match and they did an exceptional job. I was now ready to sew my Dresden plates to the squares.

Backing and background fabrics for tablerunner

I pinned careful – two pins to each tie – this is a very important tip. It helped my plate lay flat and allowed me to blind stitch it successfully to the background. 

Dresden Plate pinned to the background fabric for sewing

Now for the center of my flowers! I had planned on gray – I am really not sure why. One thing I’ve learned about life and quilting is you can change your perspective very quickly and a second opinion, from a mentor, is always in order. I tried a bunch of different colors in the center and finally landed on yellow – bright, sunny and a perfect match for my plates. I thought I knew how to make the centers so, I tried the same method I had used for my hexies. This did not work!!

So, I looked it up – sought some help – and used a gathering stitch around the outside of the circle (with a cardboard circle in the middle) and pulled the fabric around to make a perfect circle. Using a mixture of 1 tbsp of cornstarch to 2 cups of water (warmed until dissolved), cooled and put in a spray bottle to secure the circles. They were pressed and blind stitched to the center of the flowers.

This felt like a journey – I questioned my own wisdom several times but, through perseverance and knowing mistakes are part of the process (good mentoring teaches you that) – I did it. A little feedback from my mentor (quilting, that is) also helped.

Yellow center on Dresden Flower

I pieced together fabric I had for the backing – I had planned to use the striped fabric only but, it wasn’t long enough so, welcome to improvise. In the end, it turned out beautifully – you never know where the journey is headed when you start a project so, just hold on and stay positive and ride it out – the destination is always worth the trip. 

Almost ready to quilt

Machine quilting is something I have really been working at. My mentors have always encouraged me to try new and challenging things. Fear is limiting and my friend Helen is not fearful – she tackles anything – she doesn’t suffer fools lightly and she makes you feel strong and capable. A good dose of positive mentoring always goes a long way. I tried more complicated machine quilting than I have ever tried before. Slowly, patiently and confidently, I worked my way through the challenge.

Machine quilting on Dresden plate

Fancy quilting on Dresden plate tablerunner

All quilted, ready for the binding.

My finding is that putting on the binding – making it, attaching it – was such a daunting task in the beginning. I’m not saying that I don’t still rely on YouTube and advice from mentors, but, I am much more confident now and every time I do it, it gets better. When you have mentors in your life, you can usually hear their voice in your mind, encouraging you and making you feel like you can do whatever it is that you need to do.

Binding attached and ready for blind stitching

Another completed project! This one is all the more special because it’s completed for someone who has been my kindred spirit (see Anne of Green Gables) and soulmate for a very long time.

How many people in your life do you trust with the deepest secrets of your soul? Living your truth can be very fulfilling and having someone who understands you and shares that truth with you is even better. I’m so grateful for the many areas of my life I have been mentored and I’m grateful for the opportunity to mentor others.

When you face a challenge, whatever it is, you have to know yourself, be patient with yourself and have those around you that you trust to support you along the way. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones.

Finished Dresden Plate tablerunner

As I look to my next project, it’s time to take a breath. I have found the pretty patchwork bag…a zipper pouch. I’m going to make several…use up some scraps and have some fun gifts to give to some of my young friends who are graduating this year.

I leave you with a quote from :

The most golden rule is –
Do not ever ignore advice,

Whether you feel it is good or bad.
Listening never harms anyone.
It is how you take it, apply it, and use it that matters in the end. 

I have never regretted listening to advice from a mentor. I don’t always move forward or do things exactly as they would but, that’s the finding out part of life. Sometimes it works and sometimes you wish you had listened and applied. My stitch ripper often reminds me of how much easier or faster my project would’ve been if I had just heeded my mentor’s advice.

Thank you to Helen – my inspiration for this project and for many of the best parts of my life. 

Stylized Dresden Plate tablerunner


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