Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Quilter's Mise en Place

I just finished watching this season's finale of Top Chef (No, I'm not going to discuss the winner; that would be the subject for an entirely different blog!).

But the show made me think about the similarities between the culinary process and quilting, specifically mise en place. This French phrase literally means "putting in place." In the culinary world, this term has come to represent the part of the process where the chef or assistants dice mounds of vegetables, prepare proteins, set out spices, utensils, and other equipment, and in general assemble everything they will need to complete their final dish. I recall last summer's Top Chef Masters, where noted chef Hubert Keller prepared a vegetable dish in which he scored the carrots before slicing them, so the resulting medallions resembled little flowers. His devotion to detail makes me think that he and other chefs take just as much care and pleasure in these preliminary steps as they do in actually cooking the food, plating it, and presenting their masterpieces to their diners.

Back to quilting. I must admit, one of my favorite parts of making a quilt is hand-stitching the binding to the back of the quilt. As I stitch the final edge of the quilt, I see my project literally change from a work-in-progress (or sometimes long-time UFO) to a finished quilt that can be hung on the wall, slept under, and generally loved and cherished for generations (I hope). I think of this step as similar to the chef's putting the final garnishes on the plate before it's sent out to the dining room.

But I also love getting all the materials ready so that I can start sewing my blocks. In my machine appliqué technique, this involves sending yards of bias strips through a bias-tape maker and cutting out every appliqué shape from freezer paper before ironing the shapes onto fabric, cutting them out, and gluing the seam allowances to the back of the freezer paper. This is the stage where I select the fabric that has the perfect color and texture for every element of the quilt, so it's artistically satisfying to see all those elements start to come together. Sometimes I do part of the work in stitch group, where friends and conversation sweeten the process.

Here's my mise en place for a red-and-green quilt I made a few years ago for our book Cranberry Collection. The quilt, which I named Abiding Joy, contained 520 3/4" berries and miles of 1/4" bias vines. I loved assembling these stacks of background blocks, design elements, and vines. I made many of the berries while sitting in the driver's seat of my car (not driving!), waiting in the parking lots of various ball parks while my son's team warmed up or practiced. It was so wonderful to have everything ready to create the actual blocks!

Here's hoping that you gain joy from each part of the process, too.



  1. The quilt is just stunning! Must find my book and look at it again! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Welcome to blogging. What a fabulous quilt you made, that's a lot of berries!

  3. Karla,
    What a great opportunity to follow your blog. I have a few of your patterns
    and love them. I will be delighted to see your posts. I also saw the
    write up of your quilting in Quiltmania. Love your dedication to traditional

  4. Welcome, Thanks for letting me know you are out there. I can't wait to follow along.

  5. That quilt is lovely and the picture of your prep work is amazing. I tend to prep only one block at a time. Looking forward to visiting your blog again.