Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dr. Quiltlove: Or How I'm Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Free Motion Quilting: Day 1

So after my last post, I'm realizing that there's some serious machine quilting angst out there in blogland. I'm not calling anyone out - it's not just folks who read/comment here. Once I picked up on it, I started seeing it in a lot of the blogs that I read. Folks are scared to quilt their tops on their own machines. I'm here to tell you that it's okay to have angst. I get it. I wish I could tell you that I've arrived in some permanent state of free motion zen. But that's not true. I have (and still do) put off machine quilting some of my quilts for various reasons.


Exhibit A - My Bliss top was a beast. I knew that going into it - it was bigger than any other top I had put through my machine, so it scared me. It sat there in the corner of my sewing room for over a YEAR, all basted and ready to go, just taunting me, while I studiously avoided it and worked on a few dozen other projects.

granny squares quilt top in etchings 

Exhibit B - I had big plans on how I would quilt feathers on my Etchings top, but it was a design I've never quilted before, and I wasn't really sure how it would pan out. So I let it linger in my pile of stuff to be quilted for a few months.

Verna Nine Patch 

Exhibit C - Then there's the pile of tops (including this one) I've yet to start quilting because I just don't know how to quilt them.

So over the next few days, I'm going to be sharing my ramblings tips on pushing through when machine quilting is scary. I thought I could squeeze all this into one blog post, but once I started writing the post, I realized I have a lot to say, so I'm breaking it up into smaller posts. And I'll reiterate - please don't think that I've arrived and am an engine of free motion productivity. I'm preaching to myself more than anyone else this week.
Here goes...

I played piano all through school and my undergrad degree, along with flute through high school. I'm a big believer in the power of practice. Even on the days I wasn't "feeling it," I still showed up to practice, and after a few minutes, I would get into it and practice for at least an hour or more.

Kitchen Timer 

Machine quilting can sometimes be the same way. There are some nights when I'd much rather sit on the couch with my laptop, but I tell myself to just go upstairs and quilt for 10 minutes. I keep a kitchen timer in my sewing room for nights like this. I set the timer for 10 minutes, and if I'm not feeling it after 10 minutes, I have permission to do something else sans guilt. But usually by that point, I'm engaged enough to keep going.

It kind of reminds me of the Friends episode where Chandler flips out about getting married, so Ross convinced him to just take the wedding day one step at a time - first he just had to take a shower - no commitment there, right? Even if he didn't go through with the wedding, he was still gonna have to take a shower. Then next, all he had to do was dry off and get dressed, etc. It's described here, but the video doesn't seem to be (legally) available anywhere.

Getting started with machine quilting is similar. I don't try to psych myself up to quilt a whole quilt in one night, even though I know there are people out there who do that. It's just too daunting for me. Maybe it's just me, and I'm easily overwhelmed. Instead, I psych myself up to go quilt for 10 minutes. That's all. Baby steps = low-commitment. Some people would call this lowering expectations, I call it setting yourself up for success.

So in summary, tip #1: Just commit to practicing your machine quilting for 10 minutes. Seriously, right now. Go quilt for just 10 minutes. You'll feel better.


  1. I really appreciate your insight Megan. I'm one of those reluctant quilters you referred to - I'm not reluctant about straight line quilting, I've even done a queen size on my home machine, it's just the FMQ....

    Baby steps. You're right about that.

  2. Me three!! :) Honestly, I don't have the angst and fear that most do about quilting on my machine. My problem is more basic than that. More physical than that, and I can't seem to find any real help in any book. Sure, I can take a class on how to quilt a 10" square, but I need to know how to man-handle a bed-sized quilt through my home machine! The few that I've done at home have been very simple (wave) designs, and yet have been severe challenges for me, and it's a good thing my children weren't awake to hear my colorful language!

    I look forward to your future posts, though, and I'm sure I'll learn some great techniques!

  3. A great post in a field that is a talk about town for sure. I don't have the fear, just know the limitations of my machines (and my body). Anything too large just has to go to the long armer.

  4. Excellent advice. I really am not afraid to do it. I have quilted anew of my tops before. I just don't really enjoy it. I would rather spend the small amount of time I have for quilting doing the part I love than quilting the tops. The way I see it is that there is some one out there that actually enjoys the process, why not give them a little joy! Lol!

  5. I use this timer trick for so many things I don't want to do (cleaning for example), but it never occurred to me to try it for things I'm too nervous to do. You're kinda brilliant, you know that?

  6. Nice series, Megan - keep it up!!