Challenge yourself to learn a new technique. Find a pattern or book that teaches a technique that you have never tried before. You only need to make a small project to see if you want to continue to make a larger quilt or not. You may be surprised that you enjoy the new technique or you may find you never want to do it again! But you will only have tried it on a small project so you don't have a large investment in fabric and supplies.
Try curved piecing
Several traditional blocks include curved piecing. Winding Ways, Wheel of Mystery, Curved Two-Patch system, Glorified Nine-Patch, Drunkards Path and Double Wedding Ring are a number of blocks that include curved piecing. Many acrylic templates are available for these blocks to help speed the cutting process. There are special feet available to help with piecing.
Lemoyne Star, Carpenters Wheel, North Carolina Lily and many other traditional blocks include Y-seams. Some quilters use the term "setting in". The difference between "setting in" or Y-seams and straight piecing: when stitching y-seams you start and stop at the marked seam line rather than stitching from edge to edge on the patches or Y-seams or appliqué. It takes a little longer to start and stop but the results are definitely worth it.
If you always piece quilts, try appliqué. If you always appliqué, try piecing. There is no limit to what techniques you can try that you have never tried before. If you paper foundation piece, you can achieve the same results by piecing on a muslin foundation. The muslin foundation doesn't need to be removed but can be left in the quilt. English paper-piecing is an alternative method where the pieces are stitched together over card stock.
Participate in the next guild challenge. Following the required guidelines, work with a color you usually don't use. If you prefer to quilt with bright colors try a small quilt with muted or darker colors. If you usually use muted colors in your quilts, try a small project with bright colors. If you like floral fabrics, try working with solids or geometrics. Every new technique you try will teach you a new skill that may be used another time in another project.
Finish a UFO (un-finished object)! Do you have a large section of pieced blocks stitched together in your UFO box? And you know you'll never finish it. Press it well and lay it out on your cutting mat. Cut it into horizontal, vertical or diagonal strips. Mix up the strips and stitch back together. Or stitch a solid color between the cut strips. You could also offset the strips before stitching them together. An art quilt is born!
If you usually have a very planned and controlled quilt with only a minimum of fabrics, try a scrappy quilt. Place light value fabrics in a brown paper sack and your dark value fabrics in another brown paper sack. Sit at the sewing machine and chain piece them together using them as they come out of the bag. Don't exchange one piece for another. Just stitch them together randomly and you will be amazed at how beautiful the overall appearance of your finished top.
Don't limit yourself. If you see a curved piecing pattern and think it is complicated -- go ahead and try it! It is easier to begin a small project of a new technique and see how you progress rather than to look at it and worry about it being hard. Most quilting techniques are not hard -- only new. If you try a new technique in a very short time it becomes easy and fun!
Remember you don't have to use your favorite designer fabrics to experiment with new techniques. Just use some scraps or sale fabric. Some of your small exercise projects may never be finished! That is Ok because you learned from the process and not every project has to be finished. And it's OK to leave something for the next generation to wonder about.
Foundation Piecing On Muslin
Do you enjoy paper foundation piecing but dislike removing all those little paper fragments with tweezers? Try piecing on muslin. Muslin doesn't need to be removed and can be left in the quilt to make it more stable. When foundation piecing we don't always pay attention to the grain line of the small pieces of fabric so the edges of our foundation may be on the bias and cause stretching. Muslin foundations will keep the block edges from stretching.
Muslin foundations don't need to be hand traced. They can be made on the copier. Simple directions for making your own muslin foundations are listed below.
To make muslin foundations
You will need lightweight inexpensive bleached or unbleached muslin -- 40" wide, freezer paper, rotary cutter, mat, 12 1/2" or larger square ruler, and an iron and ironing surface.
Rough cut freezer paper into approximately 9" x 12" sheets. Most freezer paper comes 18" wide so this is fairly simple. Fold a length of freezer paper in half lengthwise and cut into 12" lengths with a rotary cutter or scissors. Then cut at the fold. Remember to use a rotary cutter with a dull blade or paper scissors to cut the freezer paper. The paper only needs to be rough cut at this stage.
Set the iron to wool setting and allow it to heat. Iron the long edge of the shiny side of the freezer paper to the muslin parallel to the selvage. Do not use the selvage area. Place the next piece of freezer paper about a half inch from the first one. You can place three sheets across the width of fabric with little waste at the opposite selvage edge. Continue ironing more rows of freezer paper to the muslin. After two or three rows you might want to rough cut the muslin apart with shears. You only need to cut the muslin between the freezer papers -- again a rough cut.
Go back and iron each sheet thoroughly. You need to have a good fuse between the freezer paper and muslin so it will go through the copier without jamming.
Take the ironed paper and muslin units back to the cutting table. Use a large square ruler. Carefully trim all four edges with rotary cutter and ruler making the paper/muslin units exactly 8 1/2" x 11". These will go through the copy machine. Don't handle the sheets excessively being careful of the edges so the threads don't begin to fray. Once they have been through the copier you don't need to worry anymore about the edges.
Look at your original foundation pattern. If there are dark numbers on the pattern and you are going to use a light colored fabric in your piecing you need to remove these numbers before copying. You can either make one accurate tracing without the numbers, or use typing correction fluid to cover the numbers before copying.
Take your original foundation pattern and the prepared muslin/paper sheets to the copy machine. A standard copier is fine. The toner is heat set so even though the ink may not be permanent it will last long enough for your stitching to be completed.
If the copier that has a "bypass" feed or a "sheet" feed -- this would be ideal as the muslin/paper sheets do not have to be loaded into a tray below and then curled as they come into the copier. With muslin side up, feed the prepared muslin/paper sheets into the copier using the bypass or sheet feed option. Feed ONE sheet through at a time. Don't try to stack the sheets. The muslin/paper sheets are allowed to go directly into the copier and don't need to turn over as they come through a feeding system. The printed muslin may be heat set if desired but is not necessary.
If the copier does not have a "bypass" feed or "sheet" feed -- simply place one muslin/paper sheet face down in the paper tray. If you stack the muslin/papers the copier could take more than one sheet and cause a paper jam.
An inkjet printer will work as well but the ink would need to be heat set if you wanted it to be more stable but it is not necessary. Many inkjet printers need to have the muslin be face down and then turn over before it is printed. Remember to only place one sheet in the feed tray at a time to jams.
After copying is finished the freezer paper may be peeled away. The freezer paper may be reused for other projects or discarded. You now have your printed muslin foundation. Use these muslin foundations in the same way as paper foundations. You just don't have to remove all the paper fragments and your piecing will be stabilized by the muslin.
I have another idea that works. Buy a hot iron transfer pencil, usually a magenta color. They are on the notions wall, less than $2.00. Draw one accurate pattern piece. Iron it on your white muslin and you can use it for many copies. When too light, redraw on the same pattern for accuracy, and iron again for several more.