The Free Motion Quilting Project: Slowing Down to Speed Up

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Today is Wednesday which gives me a terrific excuse to jump into my studio and share the photos of my jacket which is ALMOST done!

Monday night I finished quilting all the pieces of my jacket, two sleeves, two front pieces, and one back.

free motion quilting | Leah DayTuesday was largely spent online catching up on many different projects, but I managed to get off the computer and back into the studio in time to get all the pieces together. Here is the front trimmed down to the exact pattern size:

free motion quilting | Leah DayBut with a double sided garment, getting the pieces together is only part of the process. Finishing the seams smoothly and, for lack of a better word, seamlessly, is the real challenge.

There's just no way to get around it. In order to create a truly double sided garment (at least with this pattern), you have to do a lot of hand work.

Have I ever mentioned that I positively love hand work?

Of course, I do very little hand work these days, but once upon a time hand work is all I did back when I stitched individual beads together to create jewelry and art. There is a certain peace and slowness to handwork that is both relaxing and restorative at the same time.

Here's the process I'm following in order to finish this jacket:

- First, in order to quilt this jacket I marked the piecing and cutting lines on the front of the fabric. I then marked a 3rd line 1/2" inside the seam allowance line.

I did not quilt beyond the 3rd line so I would have plenty of room to turn the seams and reduce the bulk of the quilted material.

free motion quilting | Leah DayFrom here on out, the blue side will be referred to as the lining and the red side will be the outside of the jacket.

- So to piece the back to the front, I first pinned down the blue fabric to get it out of my way. I didn't want to stitch through it because it would be used to cover and bind the seam later.

free motion quilting | Leah Day- Next I stitched the seam stitching through both the red fabric and the middle layer (I used lightweight flannel as my middle layer).

free motion quilting | Leah Dayfree motion quilting | Leah Day- Finger press the seam open using a pressing tool or your fingers. It's not really necessary to go to the iron to press this open so long as you get the seam nice and open at your sewing machine.

free motion quilting | Leah Day- Trim the middle layer down right to the seam line. Trim the red fabric down by half. Finger press open again to ensure the seam is totally flat and no wrinkles, lumps, or wiggles in it.

free motion quilting | Leah Day- Unpin the blue fabric on one side of the seam and lay it over the seam. Trim slightly if needed and pin in place carefully, again making sure to keep the seam totally flat and wrinkle-free.

free motion quilting | Leah Day- Flip the whole thing over and stitch in the seam in the ditch from the red side. You might want to use a walking foot for this because it involves so many layers. I stitched over my pins very carefully so I wouldn't have to take them out and potentially shift all the layers

free motion quilting | Leah Day- Flip the garment back to the blue side. Now you have a stitched line marking where the seam is and the blue fabric is encasing one half of the seam, keeping all the raw edges inside. Now take the blue side that's left and fold it under and pin it in place to rest right over that stitched line. This will be the part you hand stitch in place to secure it completely.

free motion quilting | Leah DayNow, reading through this, yes, you could machine stitch this last line, but those stitches will show up on both sides of the garment. Experience has taught me that I can never make these stitches look good enough on both sides at the same time, particularly in very hard to stitch areas like the arms and arm hole seams.

So I hand stitch it all down. The shoulder seams are the shortest, the long neck seam is the longest, the arm pit area is always a real pain, but if you take your time, pin and pin and pin obsessively, this can be a really fun hand stitching project.

Now to explain the weird title of this post! Today I got back to yoga after missing it for more than 5 months straight.

During the summer, I kept beating myself up for not going to class. I felt lazy and guilty and just plain bad about skipping out, but every time I considered going, I made a long list of excuses: too busy, too tired, too stressed, etc. Every time I thought about getting back to my old routine, I kept feeling the same thing: dread.

To say the very least, that's a really weird feeling to have about yoga. Well, that's a really weird feeling for ME to have about it because I love tying myself into pretzel shapes and standing on my head. I love to stretch and pull and feel my body grow softer, longer, and stretchier than it was before.

At least I used to. I did before this summer, before creating Shadow Self, before I dug out my negative inner voice and replaced it with something gentle, kinder, and far more peaceful.

Before, I would attend yoga classes like a junkie in need of a fix. Get me out of this life. Get me out of my head. Let me escape. Let me escape. Please let me escape!

By August I'd had enough. I firmly declared that I would not be attending yoga again OR beating myself up about not attending until I could get my brain around this issue.

Because yoga is not about escape. It's not about disconnection, it's the complete opposite!

Being present and an active participant in every cell and muscle twitch of my body. Being HERE, not digging up a memory from last week or projecting an idea for next year.

My yoga practice up until this time has been all about escape and disconnection. I started attending when I first moved to Shelby, NC. I was 23, a new wife, home owner, pregnant, and extremely stressed out, lonely, and unhappy. Those yoga sessions were more about getting away from everything that made me upset and they did help me muscle through that difficult time.

But my life is very different now in every single respect, so it was long overdue for my yoga practice to also change. No more escape, no more disconnection. I now want to attend yoga to get further into my life, further into my body and mind, not farther away.

So I stopped attending and stopped beating myself up about it, firmly declaring that I would attend again only when I really wanted to go and when I wanted to go for the right reasons.

What a surprise it was last night to sit up in bed and declare suddenly that I wanted to go back!

And it was wonderful to return with this new awareness and dedication to be present. My yoga teacher rewarded me with teaching a new practice called Tai Chi Chih, which is a simpler and easier form of traditional Tai Chi.

I must say, this is the practice for me! It is a series of simple, slow, repetitive movements that charge the body with energy.

What struck me more than anything else was the slowness.

I don't do anything slow. I don't eat slow. I don't really walk slow, and I definitely don't quilt slow. It seems as soon as I start a project I'm hankering for it to be done right NOW this instant!

Because I'm always concentrating on speed, I very rarely actually enjoy the journey, or the taste my food, or see the beautiful landscape, and what is the point of that?

But standing and moving in these simple, slow positions reminded me that I CAN slow down. I can move slowly. I can flow instead of force.

And what did I find once I'd slowed myself down? That it actually makes me faster!

After class I returned home and got to work with more focus and attention than I've had in many days. I moved slowly from task to task, but with more energy and therefore more dedication to getting each task done.

So today as I sit and hand stitch all the binding down on my jacket, I will not push to finish, rushing with big stitches and distracted mistakes. Yes, I could try to machine stitch down all the blue fabric lining, but I know that this need for speed will just end up slowing me down in the end.

Instead I will take my time, moving slowly to complete each seam and enjoying the process every step of the way.

To slowing down!

Leah Day


  1. Leah,

    I love your jacket. It will be so cool finished.
    Your earlier concept of Yoga was interesting to me. I always did Yoga and other exercise as a way to calm my nerves. I'm an old lady and until recently didn't understand going into that black place that you talk about. Right now I'm watching my granddaughter, who is only a child, struggle with life. I wish she could find a way to channel her unhappiness. We have tried crafting and art, but she attacks it rather than embraces it.


  2. What a lovely blog entry. You've shown wisdom beyond your age in the self-examination you've done regarding yoga...and you've been kind and open enough to share it with your readers. These are insights we can all use.
    I've loved following along with your free motion project and want to thank you for the contribution you've made on so many levels. Hope to meet you someday. I'm in Atlanta.

  3. Love your jacket, Leah, and a great tutorial! Thank you!
    I have a question I'm hoping you can help me with. I have a Juki TL98E, which I know is similar to what you used until recently, so wondered if you'd had a problem I'm having.
    When I free-motion quilt, going forward is no problem, but if I go backwards very much, the machine starts skipping stitches. It didn't used to do this, but has been doing it the last few months. I've cleaned everything, kept it oiled, I tried with feed dogs down and feed dogs up, loosened the tension, tightened the tension, tried different threads, different needles, tried slowing down, speeding up... I've made sure there are no loose threads in the tension; I use a Bobbin Genie I got from you, I even purchased a pigtail bobbin case to see if it helped. It is still giving me fits! Then, because of all the loose threads, something catches on the thread and a needle breaks! I've broken 3 needles in as many days just trying to practice on my feathers!
    Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer. -Cathy N

  4. Hi Cathy - Uggh! I know exactly what you're talking about on the Juki. I found that it only stopped skipping with Isacord thread and size 80/12 needles.

    Keep playing with different combinations of thread and needles and maybe get the machine serviced. I finally pulled mine out of the table the other day and nearly threw it out the window.

    When you've had enough, you've had enough!

    Good luck,


  5. Hi Leah,

    Great job on the jacket. Did you mark your feathers? I'm loving your tutorial and seeing the progress on your jacket.
    Laura T

  6. Leah, the quilting on that swirl is quite lovely! Thanks for explaining your process.

  7. I really enjoyed reading your post today. The jacket detail is looking lovely. I love the feather design down the front.

    I am a busy lady like you. I don't stop and I really enjoy slow excersise. I love doing pilates but since I got the swine flu last term I have had no motivation or enegy to start back up again. you have given me a little more motivation to start again and a little less motivation for beating my self up for not doing it. Thanks.


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