The Free Motion Quilting Project: Teaching a Workshop

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Teaching a Workshop

So today is Anything Goes Thursday and since I'm in the middle of preparing for a workshop in Greensboro, I thought I'd take a day and talk about the way this works for me.

free motion quilting | Leah DayOf course, I've only been teaching for 6 months so I'm not the most super qualified quilting teacher in the world by any means, but I do really enjoy teaching and, so far, my students have seemed to enjoy learning from me.

Typically when planning workshops and lectures, I think about the quilting things I could talk about easily for hours. Free motion quilting? Yes! Design? Yes! Needle turn applique? Not really.

The next step is figuring out a small, feasibly finish-able project for students to work on.

This has been a big problem for me so far as free motion quilting is not something most students grasp in 3 or even 6 hours unless they're already are pretty comfortable with it.

So instead I've started teaching my classes to focus on the technique, not necessarily a finished quilt by the end of the day.

Let's face it, I know I sure couldn't sit down in class and quilt a whole quilt in free motion, so why put the pressure on students to do the same?

By focusing on the techniques instead, students gain a better grasp of an idea and then can take that idea and run with it at home, creating all sorts of creative projects.

For example, in my Fantastic Filler Stitches workshop, I teach filler designs. I've learned from experience that many of the quilters attending are still very stuck in the mindset of "Don't cross your lines!"

I bust that mindset bubble completely with some basic free motion designs like Tree Roots and Brain Coral, where it's necessary to not only cross, but travel stitch right on top of the quilting lines.

Giving students this knowledge, then showing them that filler stitched on a 1/8" scale (super tiny), a 1/4" scale (still ridiculous), 1/2" scale (more normal), and 1" scale (bed quiltable) shows all the different things you can do with the filler, depending on HOW you stitch it.

I can see this same idea being used with needle turn applique, even if it's not my most favorite thing in the world. Teach your needle turn technique on both small, itsy bitsy pieces, AND on huge pieces so students won't feel like the technique is only used for one certain type of quilts.

Now on actually teaching a workshop, I like a handout. When I'm a student I like to get a handout and as a teacher I always provide one.

I just think it makes the class flow a little better, gives students something to take notes on, and the refer back to after the class is over.

I've kept the handouts I've received from workshops in a binder where I can go back and look at the information sometimes years later.

Of course, not everyone will value the handout and that can be a bit frustrating. If you find students leaving them sitting around, not valuing them enough to really even care what happens to them, consider charging a $3 supply fee for the paper and time cost of printing them out.

It's surprising how much more people will value something even after paying only $1 - $3 for it!

For the workshop, I also type up an outline for myself to follow that runs along with the handout, but includes extra tips and reminders for myself.

I don't like to get too specific, but I do like to have a general idea for how the meeting will flow: What will we learn before lunch? Will we cover tools and materials before or after everyone starts quilting? What will the workshop finish with?

All those little questions need to be answered, and the clearer you are on it, the better the class will flow.

I also like to end with a nice finish to the day. Some teachers leave the end very open so some students start packing up 2 or 3 hours early because the end of the class just feels like "free time".

I prefer to pack in as much info into the time we have as possible, so the end of the class is always demo. I stitch through as many filler designs as I can in the last hour, showing how the design is created, some tips for using it, and where it will work best in a quilt.

I think that just about covers my workshop tips. If you have any tips from teaching or from being a student, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

Let's go Quilt,

Leah Day


  1. You teach in Greensboro??? Where? When?? I'd love to take a class (or 50)! :)

  2. Leah, I am linking your blog to my new quilt club members. If you do not approve please email me. Our club meets at the local library and we have 8yr olds up. About a dozen show each Thursday night. We are having a great time. I have started trying to free motion with your tutorials. They are great. Me, not so much. Thanks for sharing.

  3. glad you have handouts. Sometimes I have been to classes and none where given. I kind of feel ripped off then as I can't remember all the stuff taught, I need the notes to remind me what I have seen and hopefully learnt!

  4. Hi Mel - I teach at Ye Olde Forest Quilt Shoppe! Get on their email list and Kelly will send out an email whenever we're scheduling another workshop.

    Ceamz - Great! Feel free to link and share the videos!

    Leeann- I totally agree. Handouts rock!

    Let's go quilt!

    Leah Day

  5. Leah, I know because of family you don't stray far from home to teach. Oh, maybe one day you'll zip across the US and be a guest speaker/teacher for quilt guilds.

    I recently discovered Zentangles and your FMQ reminds me of it. I recently tried my hand at making Zentangle postcards with thread on fabric. Oh my I have become addicted, it is so much fun, AND great practice for FMQ.

    warm quilt hugs, sue in CA

  6. That sounds like a very solid plan and so interesting, just reading about the teaching side of it! Obviously you have designed yourself a fully structured plan that works, in the short time that you have been giving workshops. I would definitely sign up!

  7. I think you've got it, Leah. Love to have a handout - I write extra tips of ah-ha moments on them, working in a block as opposed to a big piece of fabric is good, and having an idea of what you should come away with at the end is great! Wish I could attend, but I'm tooo far away :-(
    All the best.

  8. You sound like a great teacher! I'm in Canada, but would take a class if we were not so far apart. Love this blog!

  9. Sounds like a great workshop and I love the part about how you use the last hour. As a student, I also appreciate some overview of what to do next when I leave the class - for the filler class, it would be great to leave them with a list of the intermediate designs they could try once they master the beginners.

  10. Your class plan sounds great, you shouldn't be dismayed if some folks don't take your handouts - it may be that a handout doesn't suit their learning style. e.g. they may learn by doing rather than reading. Or they might just see it as just another piece of paper e.g. info. overload.

    If you specifically let the class know your intentions for providing the handouts, that they can refer back to them at a later date you may also find they are taken up more. As one of the other commenters suggested, perhaps you could include further ideas to try at home, to give a further use for them?

    More on learning styles can be found here:

    BTW it is great that you are reflecting on your teaching practice and shows that you really care that your students have a good time when they are with you.

    I'm just learning about teaching too :) I would definately come to one of your classes if I was on the same continent and I like a handout, it suits my learning style too ;)

  11. Great class on Saturday - Leah! Everyone loved it! We're already booked for the next one. See ya soon!

    Joanne Jones
    Ye Olde Forest Quilters

  12. My daughter was born in Greensboro! Wish I was still there only to take a class from you. You sound, from your description to be my ideal teacher. Love handouts, end of the day WOW watching the teacher do what you have only begun to learn. Your dedication to your teaching skills are admirable. Do you ever get over to the west coast to teach? Thank you for all your efforts to teach us to do free motion quilting.

  13. It sounds like you are on the right track. I agree, students like the handouts. They can appreciate them more if you refer to them in class and point out what is not included so they can add it in their own words. When I teach from my books I do this, though it is usually all there! In that case the handout is often just another design using the techniques just taught.


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at