Once foundation paper piecing designer Carol Doak found her signature quilting technique, she never looked back. After designing hundreds of patterns and writing dozens of books, Carol continues to share her passion with a new generation of quilters who embrace the ease and accuracy of her signature techniques.
Tell us about your introduction to quilting. Was it love at first stitch?
My introduction to quilting occurred when my husband was transferred to the Columbus, Ohio area. I met a new neighbor who encouraged me to join her in a 7 week basic quilting class. Sewing had always been a practical exercise, so I went reluctantly. I discovered a passion for the creativity patchwork offered. I enjoyed it so much that I actually taught that class the following year when our teacher was not able to teach it. My passion for quilting came from finding ways to teach the students to succeed. I guess you can say I discovered a love of quilting in the first class and a love of teaching others the following year.
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How did you find yourself on a creative path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
My first teacher introduced the grid system of creating blocks (4 patch, 5 patch , etc.) and each week would encourage us to create a block within the grid. Then we would make templates and create our blocks. I discovered I loved graph paper and designing blocks and then full quilts to scale. Having that blank slate in front of me and turning it into something unique was love at first sight! I credit those exercises for my love of creating and designing for so many years. I can easily get lost in the creative exercise of design.
How did foundation paper piecing become your go-to quilting technique?
In 1992 I was teaching Beginning Quilter classes and stumbled upon a log cabin pineapple block stamp, whereby you could stamp the design on muslin and sew the block in a sequence. I loved the accuracy that I could achieve, but I was a hand quilter, so I really didn’t want the extra layer of fabric to quilt through.
Having a sheet of graph paper next to the sewing machine, I stamped the design on graph paper and sewed the block. I loved the accuracy, but I discovered that my stitches would loosen and the paper was not easy to remove. I then experimented with smaller stitches, larger needle and different papers until I had just the right mix to create accurate blocks and remove the paper easily.
At the time, I was writing articles for Quick & Easy Quilting magazine and wrote a column entitled Machine Paper Piecing. I designed a tree block, a house block and a boat block that quilters could sew in a sequence. Going from the log cabin concept to pictorial designs was a matter of problem solving a straight seamed sequenced design.
After I designed the first couple of blocks, I was so inspired to see just how many different designs I could create. Next came flowers, fans, animals, geometrics, etc. Before I knew it, I had created 160 block designs.
I proposed my first paper piecing book to That Patchwork Place in October 1992, and my first paper piecing book, Easy Machine Paper Piecing, came out in 1994.
The book was a huge success, so my next books, Easy Paper-Pieced Keepsake Quilts, and Easy Mix & Match Machine Paper Piecing followed shortly thereafter. I was traveling to teach and wanted to make some patchwork vests that incorporated paper-pieced designs. The vests were a hit, so Easy Reversible Vests was the next book. I soon discovered that paper piecing made miniature quilt making so easy, so Easy Paper-Pieced Miniatures was my next project. Easy Stash Quilts, 50 Fabulous Paper-Pieced Stars, Easy Paper-Pieced Baby Quilts, (our first grandchild was on the way!) 40 Bright & Bold Paper-Pieced Blocks, 300 Paper-Pieced Quilt Blocks, (I broke my leg so I stayed home and designed a few hundred more blocks!) Simply Sensational 9-Patch Stars, Mariner’s Compass Stars, and 50 Little Paper-Pieced Blocks.
Carol Doak’s Creative Combinations took paper piecing to a new creative level by designing rectangular blocks that can be used as half block or as a border. The Morning Rays quilt shows how one block can be used in both ways.
What inspires your quilt designs? Have you ever had an idea that stumped you to draft for paper piecing?
A need to be creative in a way that will permit everyone to succeed both creatively and technically typically inspires my quilt designs. For example, in the 50 Fabulous Paper-Pieced Stars book, I saw a need to create a LeMoyne star that can easily be paper-pieced with no inset pieces, so I drew up a framework that would work. From there, I experimented with a variety of options to create unique star designs to represent each of the 50 states.
I don’t think a design has stumped me, but sometimes I come to the conclusion that paper piecing isn’t the best method for the desired goal. I vividly remember seeing a paper-pieced teapot in a magazine that had a gazillion pieces. My reaction was: Why? A simple shape appliquéd on the background would have yielded a much better result and taken a fraction of the time.
How many books have you written? Do they all focus on paper piecing?
I have authored 21 quilting books. 16 of the 21 are about paper piecing. I wrote my first book, Quiltmaker’s Guide: Basics & Beyond, for the beginning quilter as that was my early focus. Your First Quilt Book, or it Should Be! came about in an unusual way. A beginning quilter emailed me about a question using freezer paper for an appliqué pattern in a beginning quilter book. I looked at the book in an effort to fully understand her question and was displeased with the written instructions that were supposed to be geared toward a beginner. I shared my displeasure with the publisher and they encouraged me to write a book that filled that need. Your First Quilt Book was the result. It became a best seller and so many quilters have shared with me that they began their quilting skills with that book.
What inspired you to create Carol Doak’s Foundation Paper?
When I began teaching foundation paper piecing, I was always looking for the perfect foundation paper. I actually wrote a series of articles for Quilters’ Newsletter Magazine about the pros and cons for a variety of foundation papers. I tested them for printing, the absorption of ink, how they held up through the process, did they curl from the heat of the iron, whether they were pliable, did the fabric shift, how they held up when joined and finally, how easy they were to remove? As a teacher, I wanted the best paper for my students, so I worked with C & T Publishing to find just the right paper and make it available in the marketplace.
What is the main takeaway you want readers to gain from your new title, Show Me How to Paper Piece, Second Edition?
Let me explain first how the first edition of the book came to be. After Easy Machine Paper Piecing was released, I traveled the country teaching. I would always begin a class by asking the students their name, where they were from and what did they want to learn that day? Most often the response was, I came so you could show me how to paper piece. Quilters are visual learners so that response did not surprise me. After getting that response so often, I went to the publisher and suggested we needed a visual introduction to the technique. Not a pattern book, but an inexpensive book that taught how to paper piece in a visual way. We included the foundations right in the book so it could support paper piecing classes.
Fast forward twenty plus years and I watched online paper piecing tutorials that suggested less than optimal methods such as “cut an oversized hunk of fabric”, referencing foundations as templates (a template is a shape you cut around, not sew on), using too long a stitch length, less than optimal methods for placing fabrics and joining blocks accurately. I could go on, but I was frustrated that new paper piecers were relying on these less-than-optimal instructions. These instructions often confused me, and I already knew how to paper piece.
I took my frustration to C & T Publishing and suggested we release a Show Me How to Paper Piece, 2nd Edition to fill this need. I wanted this new generation to have the tried and true methods that I have taught for many years. Readers will get the perfect introduction to paper piecing techniques which will provide for a successful paper piecing experience no matter what design they want to create. This a not a pattern book, it is a simple “how to” book. Once they master the technique, they can move on any of my other titles.
What is one of the obstacles that new quilters work hardest to overcome?
Lack of confidence! New quilters second guess their color choices and their ability to succeed. That is one reason why paper foundation piecing is so wonderful for new quilters. Cutting oversize fabric pieces and sewing on a line on the paper will produce success. Once a new quilter produces that perfect block, they are hooked! I love that about this method.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am definitely a planner. I plan the time to sit down and play with the possibilities within the scope of my goals.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I used to have a dedicated space when I was working full time. However, now that I am part-time, I have a space I share with my office and my sewing space. It is a bright and sunny space that encourages frequent visits.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
Organization and visibility are the two most important tips for storage. If you are not organized and you can’t see what you need, you won’t know where to find what you want.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Cutting boards, pressing mats, rulers, Add-A-Quarter ruler, rotary cutters, curved pointed snips and a sewing machine that encourages you to sew. The boards, mats, rulers, and rotary cutter provide for efficient and accurate cutting. The curved pointed snips let me cut the threads on the seams from the top and also cut the thread from the bottom at the same time. This saves me lots of time cutting threads. This is one of those tips in Show Me How to Paper Piece.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When I was making a dozen quilts for a new book, I was spending a lot of time in my sewing space alone. I definitely had on background music in a wide range of genres. I used to joke that when the music was fast, I would sew fast and when the music was slow, I would sew slow.
You have taught your techniques all over the world. What is the most unusual venue you have visited? Did it present any special challenges?
Yes, I have taught in every state in the US including Alaska and Hawaii. I have also taught in far away places like Australia and New Zealand. Probably the most unusual place that I taught was Dubai. I think initially the challenge I faced traveling to Dubai alone with the fear of visiting a foreign place where the customs were so different. However, I quickly learned that quilters are the same worldwide. The only difference is where they derive their inspiration.
I was teaching and judging the quilt show. One of the quilts at the show was a small girl in Iran looking at her reflection in the river water that ran through her town. The quilter described the scene as something she did when she had misbehaved and her mother wanted to teach her a lesson. She would tell her to go to the river and look at the person she was becoming. I always remembered that story. I regret that I didn’t snap a picture of that quilt, but this quilt shows inspiration from a Dubai quilter.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe every person has natural creativity. They are creative when they choose their clothes in the morning. They are creative when they put a menu together for dinner. And they are creative in so many other aspects of their lives. I believe what some lack is the confidence in their creativity.
For example, in my beginning quilting classes I would help students pick out the fabrics for their first quilt. They might say they are going to make a blue and brown quilt because someone suggested those colors to them. Then we would go over to the blue and brown fabrics and they would struggle to choose fabrics. So I would change tactics and ask them to pick out any fabric they really like. Inevitably it would be a totally different color scheme. They would stroke the fabric as they held the fabric bolt. That is always a dead give away! They would have no problem choosing their fabrics from that point on. I would tell them they should work with fabrics that they are passionate about. Creativity is making choices that make your heart sing!
Which of your creative accomplishments gave you the most satisfaction, and why?
In considering the answer to this question, I didn’t even consider selecting a particular quilt, book or one of the thousands of designs I have created because that would be like choosing your favorite child.
I think my creative ability to teach others to quilt and paper piece in such a way that they achieve satisfaction, success and pride from their projects gives me the most satisfaction. The reason that gives me the most satisfaction is because bringing joy and happiness to others warms my heart.
Tell us about your website. What will visitors find there? Do you lecture or teach workshops?
My website is www.caroldoak.com. If you visit the website, you will learn the latest news, read about paper piecing tips, and see projects made by others in the Show and Tell Section. You also can visit my blog. There is also a Free Patterns section where you can download a variety of patterns and directions. This Sunflowers Star quilt is there.
Traveling to teach and lecture is no longer on my schedule, but I recently had a book signing for the new book and did a demonstration for those who attended. I have to admit that I really enjoyed getting out and visiting with quilters again and teaching.
I enjoy interacting with quilters on Facebook via my CarolDoakQuilter page, and through my classes on Craftsy.com.
Interview posted March 2022.
Browse through more foundation piecing inspiration on Create Whimsy.