The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #32

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Question Thursday #32

It's Question Thursday time and this week it seems like everyone is split about 50 / 50 - half like Paisley better and the other half like Lava Paisley!

It just goes to show that stitching a single design will only teach you so much about any particular design family.  You have to play with a few different designs to see what feels easier for YOU.  It may be that the basic tear drop of Paisley feels more natural to stitch, or it may be that the wiggliness of Lava Paisley fits your brain better.

There's no way of knowing which design will work best until you stitch it, play with it, and try to find Flow while creating the design.

I love this definition of flow from wikipedia: "...flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning."

I find flow most easy to get into if I'm listening to a good book or music that makes me want to dance.  The book engrosses that part of my mind that wants to be critical and picky and allows me to just create and not stop and worry about what I'm doing. 

I get into flow so easily with quilting now, it literally feels like someone has thrown a bucket of cold water on my back when I'm interrupted.  Hence the reason why I recently hung this sign on my door (and why I built the sliding door this summer):

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The sign reads: PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. Only interrupt if your are dying. Everything else can wait!
This sign is not rude or mean to my family.  It's meant to be a reminder of how important my quilting time is, and a warning that I will not be happy if they kill my flow.  My rule is simple: everything else can wait while I'm on the machine.  Everything.

But how am I able to do this?  Aubrie from Teach n' Craft had a question along these lines:

When do you find time to sew, and how do you integrate it with work, kids, exercise, etc?

Full question: This week I'm really wondering when people do most of their sewing if they work.  Do you mainly quilt on the weekends?  Do you make sure to do a bit each night?  Anyone successfully integrating work, quilting, kids, cooking, etc...and still managing to exercise?

This is a great question because I think it's good to explain just how erratic my sewing and quilting has been over the years and how I've made a serious shift and changed my behavior just this month.

Many people assume if you quilt for a living, or have a related business to your craft, that you have all the time in the world to stitch.  This is SO not true!

Almost every professional quilter I ask struggles to make quilts for themselves on top of quilts for teaching. It's obvious the reason: exactly how much time would you have if you're on the road constantly and when you are home you need to cut and make kits or new patterns or new class plans?  At what point would you quilt for YOU?

That is one pitfall to turning a craft into a business and it's the major reason why I don't travel.  It would take me away from my sewing room and my family, two things I can't live without.

But even without travel, which I pretty much stopped in 2011, I haven't made many quilts.  Despite working on this blog and obviously loving quilting, I found myself spending more and more time bogged down with computer work: editing videos, answering email, writing books, updating the site, and less and less time actually on the machine.

It wasn't until I started journaling, as I wrote about in the UFO Sunday followup that I've dramatically changed my quilting habits.  Here's what my day looks like now:

I wake up at 5 am and write 3 pages of solid text.  Just whatever is on my mind, it gets put down.  What I want to do that day, what I'm worried about, whatever comes into my head gets transferred to paper.

Then I hit the computer and get most of my blog post written before I wake up James for school.  I have to be very efficient because I don't have much time, so the endless hours of horsing around online are over.  James and I have our time in the morning to sit and read and then I take him to the bus stop.  After seeing the bus pull out, I walk 2 miles FAST.  This is my exercise and it's made an enormous difference for how I feel.

For the last 3 years I've struggled with terrible headaches, largely caused by bad posture.  Walking with a stick and weights I'm correcting this issue and no longer have headaches at all.  The endorphins and adrenaline from walking also makes me feel terrific.

When I get home, usually around 7:40, I immediately get on my sewing machine.  The house is quiet, Josh is still asleep, and no one can interrupt me.  It's a magical time to quilt and get into that perfect flow state.

So that is how I do it.  I wake up very early.  I have a plan already made, already fully laid out before I even step into the sewing room. Before I would never write or work through my ideas and would always be walking in trying to figure out what to do.  I would waste tons of time just wandering around looking at all the junk piled, all the UFOs all over the floor, all the patterns on the table, and get so overwhelmed I'd walk right back out again. 

The fact is we ALL have a limited amount of time to quilt.

It's a small window so make sure to use it wisely.  Have your projects planned and your expectations realistic.  If you're not sure how much you can finish, set a small goal, like getting 3 blocks pieced, or getting the center of a quilt quilted.  If you have time to create 1 more block or quilt more, that's even better!  It will be like a bonus that you got more done than you expected.

If you want to do things like exercise, make sure to do it early in the morning when you aren't dreading it all day.  Doing it first thing makes you feel great and gets it out of the way so you can do the other things you like to do better.

I also set the evening time aside for my family.  From around 4 pm, I don't get back on the machine because that time is for James and Josh.  I finally feel that all my bases are covered and the time I spend at any given thing is being used efficiently and effectively.  

Now let's switch gears and answer some questions about quilting!  This first is from Danielle Hudson at Fresh off the Spool:

I don't want to add more fabric so how do I quilt to the edges of my quilt?

Full question: Here is my quilting question for Leah. My Greek Cross quilt will be composed of 30 blocks. I hadn't planned on a border, nor did I really want one. Plus, I don't have any more of my background fabric. I did not plan ahead for extra fabric on the edge blocks. What should I do in order to quilt to the edge. Is there any option other than adding a border. I was actually thinking of using some sort of tape(like surgical tape.....I guess because its fabric) to tape the edges down(as close to the edge as I can) once I got close enough to them. I have no idea if this would work. I could do a multiple print border, but it's not the look I was going for.

It is most definitely possible to quilt to the edges of your quilt.  The problem is, it's not EASY.  That's why I always advise adding 1 inch of extra fabric all around the quilt so you don't have to quilt off the edges. a pinch, as Danielle is in right now, here's what you can do:

Quilt from the center to the outside edges carefully.  If you have a special border design selected, quilt it through the area, making sure to secure the quilt working from the inside edge to the outer edge.

This will push the fabric outward so if there's any excess fabric, it will simply slide further over the extra batting and backing on the edges.  As you quilt to the edge of the quilt, really put some pressure and tension on the quilt to keep the 3 layers together and flat and smooth.  Stop and smooth the quilt with your hands often and push any excess bagginess out to the edges.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Stitching right to the edge of a quilt is possible, but not much fun.
Take your time and work slowly outward so the quilt top doesn't get baggy.

Here's what NOT to do: Don't quilt around the edges of the quilt.

Why?  Because the quilt top will shift.  It will spread outward like a cracked egg.  If you quilt around the edges, it's like you've just built a barrier around the quilt, and any shifting will now have to be sorted out INSIDE the quilt.

Which means pleats.  Lots and lots of baggy pleats and puckers and bubbly nonsense.  No fun.

So take your time.  Work around the edges carefully.  Figure out how to place your hands to keep the 3 layers together and flat and the excess always pushing to the outside.

Now for a question from Pat at Color Me Quilty about my weird thread inconsistency:

Why do you use cotton to piece, but poly thread to quilt?

Full Question: If you FMQ with polyester Isacord, why do you piece with cotton Aurifil. Don't get me wrong, I love Aurifil thread, it makes a great seam because it's thin. But, what is the advantage to piecing with cotton?

Yes, this is true.  I like to piece fabric using Aurfil 50wt. Mako cotton, but I quilt almost exclusively with Isacord Polyester Embrodiery thread.

Why?  Well, there's a lot of reasons.  First off, I piece on Bernina machines because my Janome Horizon is always set up for quilting.  Maybe I'm lazy, or maybe I'm just picky about it, but I always piece on the Berninas, and for some reason Isacord doesn't feed well through those machines.  I'm not sure why, but it's a bit finicky and it doesn't produce as solid a straight stitch.

It also comes down to how I want the stitches to act.  With piecing, I want the threads to really lock together firmly, almost sticking together, so the pieces are firmly locked together and no stitching will unravel.

I find cotton best for this because it seems to naturally lock and bond with itself.  If I hate having to rip out piecing stitches because the Aurifil literally locks itself into the fabric, but this is what you want with piecing - a super secure seam that takes WORK to unravel.

Isacord, on the other hand, feel slick to me.  It's the shiny nature of the polyester thread and it looks great with quilting, but with piecing, it just doesn't feel secure to me. 

Please understand that this is pure opinion speaking.  I'm sure if your machine likes it, it would be fine to piece with any thread you want.  The tradition is cotton, yes, but that doesn't mean it's all you can ever use.

I use it because it feeds through my machine wonderfully.  It's super thin, so it doesn't take up room in the seam so my blocks are more accurate.  It locks together so the stitches are almost impossible to remove without effort.  All these things tell me this thread will be great for piecing.

Is it the only kind of thread to use for piecing?  Nope.  It's simply the right kind for me.  Try it out, play and experiment and see what thread YOU like the best and ask yourself what you're looking for from piecing thread or quilting thread.

So that's it for this week!  It's now time for me to jump back on the machine and find that flow state again.  I guess I'm could call myself a Flow Junkie - I can't get enough!

Let's go quilt,



  1. Great post Leah!

    I've taken the stance that even if I can only go down and sew for 10-15 minutes, I should go down and do that. (I actually have read on the blog of another quilt teacher to NOT do that- if you only have 15 minutes, clean the machine, you need more time to quilt. But the short time frames work for me.) Sometimes I find I can actually stay down there for longer, it is just hard for me to get down to the sewing room, but even 15 minutes of quilting makes some progress.

    On a side note- I have a Bernina (430) and it loves the Isacord. I piece with Connecting Threads Essential because it is inexpensive and seems to work nicely, but I have had no problems with great stitches from Isacord. It is actually what my dealer recommends for embroidery.

  2. Leah, your comment about your Bernina not liking Isacord was very helpful. I have an old Bernina 1008 which now quilts beautifully due to not dropping the feed dogs and other helpful suggestions from you...BUT it will not quilt with the Isacord. It does quilt with other thinner polyester threads, like the Superior Metallic. Go figure.
    I am not wanting a second machine so one can be set up for piecing and one for quilting. That idea makes so much sense. Thanks for being you, and sharing with us.

  3. I've had people say to me I must have all the time I need since I don't have a "job". I am sure they mean well since I do have a job I just don't get paid for it :). I have a busy household with 3 active girls (and their friends..), hubby and a large house & yard to maintain, nope I don't have a lot of time unless I make it, so I do laundry in the evenings, my sewing table is set up in the basement with the washer and dryer that way I get to keep the laundry under control and quilt at the same time. As for exercise, I really have to get back into the habit of walking on a daily basis, for a long time that just simply was not possible and a very low priority. These days we are still discovering our "normal" and learning to work with it.

    I use a 3 ply polyester thread when I piece, it's not as shiny as a other types of polyester and it makes a good tight stitch (and most importantly it's a heck of a lot cheaper than cotton thread :D) I do use a smaller stitch when piecing, most people I believe use 2.5 I usually set my machine to 2. I just like the feel and look of the stitches that way.

  4. Leah, thanks for taking time to detail your schedule: I waste a lot of time, and I do love hearing about how other people organize their day. I am trying to get better and being part of the UFO project is helping. Less time on the 'net is my next goal.

    I'm so glad you mentioned the Isacord/Bernina issue: my machine seems to hate poly thread, with one exception: Madeira's PolyNeon. I took a class with Hollis Chatelaine, who uses it almost exclusively. I used it for the pink shell motifs on my storm at sea UFO, and it worked great. I mostly use Madeira rayon, but my UFO has two weights of silk, rayon, cotton, and the poly. Whew!
    Thanks for being in my world,
    Tina in San Diego

  5. My usual response to the chaos that goes on sometimes with 3 kids: "Is there blood?" Anything else means it can wait. I have a day job too so I tend to quilt at night (10pm-1am) but I'm trying to move my time to just after dinner so it doesn't get so late. My Bernina 150 is a sweetheart and seems to like most anything I put on her. I piece as well as quilt smaller projects on her. Bigger things go on the longarm. BTW, there's only been blood once. lol

  6. I wanted to comment on The Artist's Way. I've been doing Morning Pages for at least 6-9 months. It is hard to figure out exactly when because I journaled on my computer before I started the hand journaling in books and I started Morning Pages before I had The Artist's Way because I'd seen them somewhere else before.

    It changed my life. She created the system to unblock creativity, and it does that almost automatically. I wasn't doing much of anything, and now I quilt pretty consistently.

    It is also one of the best grief workbooks I've ever come across because she asks the hard questions and if grief is what is blocking you, those questions get answered too.

  7. I agree that 15 minutes of quilting each day is a great practice and certainly get me used to just quilting and not angsting about it and the frequent practice makes a good baseline for longer quilting sessions.

    Getting up early is great (not that it feels that way when the alarm rings). I would find my mornings were just one big rush before I could leave for work, but now I get up at 5:30 am and have a nice run or walk with the dog (freshest time of day in Singapore) and as long as I get to bed early it isn't a problem, and I find having an extra 30/45 minutes means I can do a bit of quilting or some meditation or sun salutations or simply sit with my coffee and breath and I leave for work calm and feeling like I've already had some time for myself rather then wishing the day away until I can get my own time.

    Sadly it isn't possible to get Isacord in Singapore so I use Gutterman cotton with my Bernina 430 and sometimes it works great, sometimes not but I do love the colours.

    Thanks again Leah for the thought provoking post.

  8. Darn it - I forgot to say that if you are struggling with neck and shoulder tension Leah that causes the headaches, then I really recommend trying some sun salutations in the morning. They don't take up much time and I guarantee that you will feel your spine stretch and lengthen from the base up to the neck and is just great for quilters and computer workers who can spend all day hunched over a machine.

    There are loads of you tube clips, but I have some very nice ones if you want.

    I used to suffer horribly from those headaches and now if I don't do yoga for a week they come back with a wham, so lesson learned there for me.

    Oh wait, I can hear the Formula 1 cars very faintly from my sitting room doing their practice (its race weekend here in Singapore).

    Happy Weekend.

  9. Ach darn, darn and double darn. Sorry I know I'm horribly pushy here, but this post has raised so many things where I go "I struggle with this too". Final words I promise.

    I started running/walking/quilting with audio books a year or so ago and they are my lifeline.

    I recommend big sagas and old favorites. I've listened to Lord of the Rings about 4 times and unabridged is a huge quilt worth of quilting. I've found myself vowing to quilt for only 20 minutes and continuing for 2 hours because I just have to help Frodo and Sam get out of Mordor.

    New books which are complicated or entralling are not so good, as I find myself stopping quilting and just leaning forward to engulf myself in the story and make sure I don't miss anything.

    As I restrict myself to audio books only when doing these activities I actually find myself making excuses to walk/run/quilt so I can get on with the book.

    For book and quilt lovers this is a real win/win.

    Going to bed now, promise!

  10. I have a tip about "trying" to quilt a straight line and/or stitching in the ditch free-motion...I get my needle on the line and start quilting but now I look about 2-3 inches ahead of where the needle is. As the needle gets close to my imaginary spot, I move my eyes down a few more inches. Amazingly, the line is straight and I am still in the ditch!!

  11. Leah, I detect another Artist's Way fan. I've been religiously doing morning pages for 15 years. After that I answer my e-mail, then exercise. I hit the studio by 7:30 three days a week and handle business one day, all day and family finances, laundry, etc. on the fifth day. I'm a little looser on the weekends but still start with morning pages and exercises.

    The best thing I initiated this month is NOT to answer the phone during my three studio days. I just let it go to voice mail. Amazing how much of life can wait a few hours.

  12. Had to laugh at the sign on your sewing room door: when I was in college and my kids were little I did my reading homework while soaking in the tub. I put a sign on the door: "DO NOT KNOCK on this door unless your hair is on fire and you've already called the fire department." Only our German Shepherd ignored the sign -- she'd press her nose to the bottom of the door and do her best to "sniff" me right out of the tub, under the door, and back into circulation, LOL!


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