The Free Motion Quilting Project: Beginner Quilting Failures

Friday, July 17, 2015

Beginner Quilting Failures

Josh here, and today I'd like to talk about something we've all experienced: beginner failures, roadblocks, and hurdles that keep tripping us up.

Last year I embarked on my first quilting project, trying my hand at free motion quilting the Beginner Building Blocks quilt alongside Leah on printed panel fabric from spoonflower which Leah had pieced for me.

I had zero experience on a sewing machine--I could find the on and off switch and I knew what the pedal was for, but that was it!

Leah and I documented my beginner journey in 2014 and filmed my free motion quilting progress, block by block.

Free videos of both highly skilled Leah and my beginner self were posted weekly through 2014 to guide you through the process of piecing and then free motion quilting each block.
Continuing my story, I was a total blank slate when it came to sewing and quilting. My goal was to become comfortable with free motion quilting and ultimately I wanted to show quilters who were intimidated by free motion that anyone can do this!

When I first sat down at the machine and began stitching on my block, I was instantly surprised because I was expecting all of it to be so much more difficult, like playing the guitar for the first time and trying to strike chords. As I had zero frame of reference, I had no bad habits to unlearn.
I quickly bogged down, however.

That's my very first block, wiggly U's.

See my uneven stitching, the jolting points where I stopped the machine and then restarted? 

I felt like I was producing a whacked out spider web from an arachnid dosed on caffeine. 

That said, we all start somewhere, and looking back on my first block now more than a year later, I'm actually proud of it as I have the luxury of hindsight and can compare it to my final block:

Much more even stitching and so much better curves!

Speaking of curves, as you can probably see, they were the bane of my existence. Spirals in particular felt impossible to do in the beginning, and every time I made a circle I felt like it was a failure. In contrast was hard angles and and straight lines; they never gave me a problem.

I also had trouble with stitching in any direction that wasn't in my comfort zone, small 1/4 " scale, and stitching along the edges of the block. All of these things challenged me.

With Leah's tutelage and patience, I stopped thinking of these challenges as failures or impassable obstacles, but more as hurdles to jump as I gained skill.

So what are some of your beginner "failures?" (I put failure in quotations because it's truly a negative word and so far from the truth--when learning a skill, you really can't fail as you're gaining muscle memory and experience, and the only real failure would come if you quit entirely!)

What really drove you crazy when you were learning the free motion quilting ropes?
If you're a beginner like me and are just starting out, what's your biggest roadblock right now?

Leah and I would love to hear from you! Please comment below and share your own experiences.

Until next time, let's go quilt.



  1. Working for evenness of stitch--I burst out laughing when I pulled (about) my third block off the machine! No way was I going to rip it, though...I wanted to be able to see how far I progressed. It helped that highly-skilled, teacher/leader Leah posted a very early (first?) block of her own, which was...a place to start. (Please, laugh)

  2. I have sewn wedding dresses and children's clothing and done alterations for 50 years. The jerkiness of the stitching and the tension it has created for me is overwhelming. I have the Superslider and I just freeze up. I look at it as can't teach and old dog new tricks. Chris

  3. Probably 20 years ago I took a beginner quilting class. The only thing I remember from that class is using scissors and plastic templates to cut out and the teacher telling us that you "never, never, never, ever cross or go over your stitching line when you quilt." I now know that this is not the case, but it took me a while to get over that lesson. LOL

  4. I find keeping a consistent stitch length tricky. Especially when I change speed. And especially on any pattern that involves curved lines. Go to slow and everything looks jerky and clumsy. Go to fast and I get tiny ugly micro stitches. I'm using a thread that doesn't stand out to much while I practice on some placemats, so the unevenness doesn't stand out so much.

  5. I just made my 1st practice sandwich.... based on the U shapes in Leahs You-Tube videos from 3 years ago (this one

    My left to right lines look decent/even... my right to left lines look awful O.o
    Time for more sandwhiches/potholders!


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