These seem to be two big factors that constantly work against us when quilting: finding the time to quilt, and finding the break in the negativity that might be limiting the experience.
This weekend I received two great questions that have stayed on my mind. The first was from Mike Pearson:
I have been following along, but I have not been doing any free motion quilting :( I do have a question. I know practice is important, but I often find myself getting really good at FMQ while I am doing it, but then I start another project (mostly piecing) so that when it is time to FMQ again, I feel like I lost some of my improvement. Unfortunately, with my career (the one that pays for supplies for projects), I do not get to sew everyday. So, this can be a long time between FMQ. I do feel like I'm getting better, but it's taking a long time. Do you have any suggestions for this problem?This is a great point because free motion quilting really is a totally different skill to learn in comparison to piecing and applique.
With piecing and applique you can work on small projects - a single block at a time is common - and the stress of messing the project up isn't huge. If you mess up a block bad enough you just throw it away and cut a bit more fabric!
I also hazard the opinion that the skills required to piece and applique are easier to learn simply because you're using the machine in the typical way: feeding the fabric forward like the machine is supposed to work, so it's generally easier and decent looking stitches can be found within a block or two of trial and error.
Practicing free motion quilting can be more challenging because you might feel the need to have a finished project: a quilt or block to work on. As we all know, this isn't a requirement - a solid piece of fabric works great for practice and is an excellent way to build skills without stress.
Even if you don't put that kind of pressure on yourself, it's good to understand that free motion is a very different skill.
We're using the machine in a truly different way, not using the feed dogs, not allowing the machine to do the work, relying completely on our hands and foot to find a balance of speed and movement that produces great stitches.
It takes time and practice to find that perfect balance of speed and movement. Once you gain this control, free motion will be just like riding a bicycle and you'll be able to pick it up anytime, anywhere, and on any machine.
But until you GET that balance logged into your mind and body, you really need to practice free motion quilting daily.
Otherwise you may find, as Mike described, a frustrating cycle of building and losing skill. As you quilt a large quilt, you will definitely see your skills improve, but if you stop for several weeks to piece or applique, those skills you built may get rusty.
And this brings me to the second question I've thought about a lot this weekend. This one is from Catherine Smith on Facebook:
I read you blog and I'm so excited about going to quilt and then it happens..."why quilt, it won't turn out right? You always make a mistake." So Leah, how do I get over that negative thought?I so get where you're coming from Catherine! You've taken the time to piece or applique a project, it's all together and looking terrific, but...
What if I mess it up? What if I stitch something and it all goes wrong? What if I fail?
What if all that time and effort piecing this quilt goes right down the drain?
What if I mess this up so badly I can't even give it to someone I love? What if I'm embarrassed?
Do you struggle with these thoughts?
Guess what? I DO TOO!
Even now, even after stitching out over 400 designs, even after blogging weekly about quilting for more than two years, even after making countless videos, even after winning at quilt shows, I STILL FEEL FEAR ABOUT FREE MOTION QUILTING!
What the heck do you think this quilt was about?!
If you let it, fear will lock you into place quite easily. You've put time, effort, money, passion, and love into a project, and fear will drive you to fold it all up and stick it on a shelf, never to be finished and enjoyed.
Or you can choose another route. You can choose to stomp out this fear, to face it head on and walk INTO it rather than let it tear you down.
After all - this is just a QUILT! It's just fabric and thread! Are you really scared of a big ball of cotton?!
The fact is: No quilt can ever be ruined if you work at it with effort and attention.
But the more I think about it, the more I think we need a blueprint for dealing with both Mike and Catherine's issues.
We need to find a way to work at free motion quilting steadily enough so that skills are built without being lost, which will in turn eliminate fear which thrives in the abstract. Chances are you won't fear a task if you do it every day, and see yourself getting better at it weekly.
So here's the blueprint for Mastering Free Motion Quilting:
Cut a stack of 10 - 15 inch squares of fabric and batting and layer and baste them so they're completely ready to go. Start with a stack of 10 squares just to get started.
Every day for the next 10 days, pick up a square and quilt it. Stick with simple things: straight lines, wiggly lines, different shapes of stippling, and then branch out to other designs when you get bored.
Don't worry about it. Don't fret. Don't stress out. Don't pass go. Don't collect $200.
Don't try to make it something it's not. This will not be a quilt unless you WANT it to be a quilt. I give you permission to throw away these squares (or send them to me) after you've quilted them.
Just sit down, quilt the square, then go do something else. If you're in the middle of a piecing project - go piece! You're just taking the time to put in a bit of practice before getting back to your main project.
It may only be 10 - 20 minutes, but this little bit of practice can do a lot. It keeps you moving in free motion, keeps the "flow" going so you'll quickly find the magic balance between the movement of your hands and foot.
You think you don't have 10 minutes, but I challenge you to find it.
A good quilting friend Susan Brubaker Knapp makes gorgeous art quilts, but frankly admits that she has to make them around her family and busy schedule. 15 minutes might not seem like much, but she uses every minutes she gets in her studio to get one step closer to finishing a project.
This process can be made easier if you happen to have two sewing machines. Use one machine for your current project, and keep the other always set up for quilting with your tools in place ready to go. This will save you time getting started so all you have to do is sit down and turn on the machine.
If you really want to get the hang of free motion and you feel your skills yo-yoing like a bad diet, this is a great blueprint for gaining a solid base with free motion quilting.
Quilt your 10 squares and see how you feel. Can you do this for 10 more days? Do you feel your skills increasing? Do you feel more comfortable every time you sit down to work?
And as you feel more comfortable, is it easier for you to tell those fearful thoughts to take a hike?
I think I know what the answers will be, but it's up to you to try this idea out and let me know what you think!
Time to shut up and go quilt!