I was probably about nine months into my quilting journey before I heard the term “mystery quilt.” For those of you who don’t know, a mystery quilt is designed by a person or group, and the instructions for each quilt block are handed out to the participants at periodic intervals. The participants don’t know what the overall quilt is going to look like until they receive the final set of instructions telling them how to put all of the blocks together.
It’s a very fun concept, and it’s a way for people all over the world to share an experience together at the same time. Most mystery quilt challenges have a Facebook page or an Instagram hashtag that participants use to post progress photos, and you get to see the different color choices everyone made while you also guess about what the overall design is going to turn out to be.
I decided to sign up for the National Quilters Circle mystery quilt challenge in the fall of 2018. It was designed by Toby Lischko, and we received new instructions once a week for about nine or ten weeks. I signed up because I wanted to find out just how a mystery quilt worked, because I thought it would be a great way to use up some of my stash, and because this particular one was free. Yay!
Our first set of instructions told us that the quilt was going to be a medallion quilt, meaning you start with one large block in the middle and then piece a variety of borders around it for the rest of the quilt. I had never done a medallion quilt before, so I got excited about that. The instructions also gave us yardage amounts and a very general color guide — so many yards of a dark color, so many yards of a complementary light color, so many yards of a neutral, etc.
I decided right at the start that I was going to try to only use my stash if at all possible. The tricky part was that most of my stash consists of fat quarters and a few half-yard packs, so I wasn’t going to have enough of any one particular fabric to use it throughout the entire quilt. So that meant I was going to have to get really creative about the colors I used. On the one hand, I always love thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to color. On the other hand, by the time the quilt was finished, I definitely would have made some different color choices had I known how the blocks were going to end up being placed.
I really enjoyed the overall process of the mystery quilt challenge. This particular quilt is filled with stars and really forced me to get serious about keeping my points. I learned so many new techniques with all of these blocks.
However, the reason why I probably won’t do another mystery quilt challenge again is because I had a bit of an epiphany once I put the top together. This was something that had been simmering in my subconscious for a while, but it really hit home with this quilt. As much fun as I had putting the top together, the prospect of putting it all together as a quilt sandwich and quilting it did not excite me in the least because it wasn’t my design. I realized that at this point in my quilting journey, I only get true satisfaction from quilting when it’s my creation from beginning to end. Maybe that will change over the years, but for now it’s just the way it is.
Even though I made that realization and even though I dragged my feet a bit, there is a larger part of my personality that cannot keep a project unfinished. So I did eventually put it all together and quilt it. This was by far the largest quilt I’ve ever made, and the fact that I was able to free-motion quilt it all on my little Janome DC2012 made me realize I could really do anything on this baby.
Once I finished quilting it, I kind of had no idea what I was going to do with it. I finally decided to gift it to my grandma for her 94th birthday. I’m hoping the bright colors will brighten up the upcoming gray days of winter. So while I have no intention of participating in a mystery challenge anytime soon, I am very happy I completed this one.
Have any of you participated in mystery challenges? What are your favorite kinds of quilt challenges? Do you prefer working from someone else’s design or creating something completely on your own? We all work differently and I’d love to hear your stories. Happy crafting!