The Free Motion Quilting Project: Last Wholecloth Finished

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Last Wholecloth Finished

This weekend I decided enough was enough and I turned off my computer (which NEVER happens) and went into my studio to get some quilts DONE (which hasn't happened much this year).

First off, I had this pretty little wall hanging under my needle ready to finish:

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis quilt was originally designed as a quick wholecloth gift for a friend. Then it became very obvious that I couldn't finish it on time because I'd chosen to quilt it on a microscopic scale. It was also clear that this quilt should complete and that makes for a very sticky gift. (Hey, here's a quilt for you, but do you mind if I borrow it to show for the next 2 years???")

So instead of finishing it late, it was folded up and put under the table. Under the table is where all my UFOs go. I guess I assume if I stick them somewhere I rarely go, can't see without effort, and try not to think about, then they don't count as UFOs.

But the other day I was digging around under the table and saw this little top and decided it MUST be finished THIS year.

So I pulled it out and put it on TOP my table and immediately remembered the reason why it was under the table before: I'm bored to death with stitching so densely.

Yes, it looks nice. Yes, it's sure to induce drool and amazement and maybe even rage at a quilt show ("How the *&$# does she get her stitches so SMALL!").

But it's also driving me up the wall that after 2 hours of non-stop quilting that all I have to show for my effort is 2 to 6 inches quilted. COME ON! If I keep quilting like this, I'll barely finish 1 quilt a year, and I'll be blind by the time I'm 40. I'll also be that crazy woman in the back of your quilt guild, obsessively ripping out stitches, muttering under her breath "it must be must be must be perfect..."

I'm just so darn bored with it.

Sorry to complain, but I realized the other day that I've been constructing and quilting quilts roughly the same way for around 3 years. No wonder I'm ready to tear out my hair and throw my sewing machine out the door - there's no challenge anymore!

To put it in another perspective - my original goal has been met. I set out in 2008 to make a show winning quilt. I naively thought that if I made a super awesome show winning quilt, it would tour the world, win at every show, and I'd support my family with the show prizes. He. He. He. He. He.

3 years later, I now know that it's not quite that simple. A quilt might win a major ribbon at one show, but only an honorable mention, or no ribbon at another show. There's no way to guarantee a win, and the cash prizes...well...let's just say it's usually just nice way to support your fabric or thread addiction.

But this year I met my original goal when I won Best Machine Quilting at AQS Knoxville with Winter Wonderland. This was a major win at a major quilt show, and it certainly felt great, but after the show I admit to feeling a bit lost.

It's hard to describe it, but it suddenly felt like I was quilting for the money, which I don't do. I don't make quilts to sell and I don't work on commission, but suddenly I felt....paid...(there's really no better word for it) to do what I do.

After reading "Drive" by Daniel Pink I realize that quilt shows with cash prizes might not be the best fit for me anymore. Basically getting a cash prize can really mess up the extrinsic vs. intrinsic drives behind quilting. The point can become all about the prize and the prestige and the cash, and not about the joy of making the quilt.

When I got home from Knoxville and took a hard look at my quilts and quilting style, I realized that that's exactly what had happened. I was making quilts that were specifically designed to win, or at least do well in shows. I wasn't listening to my feelings about the process anymore, most notably the screams from my psyche that this is getting DULL!

Change isn't easy. Even though I knew I was bored to death with quilting the snot out of my quilts, I continued to do it. It's hard to change your style overnight, and especially hard to stop doing something when it's working. What will happen if I make a quilt that isn't a show winner?! Perish the thought!

No...if I make a quilt that is quilted more openly, I might actually have FUN and enjoy myself! Isn't that a scary idea!

So this pretty little wall hanging will likely be the last quilt I quilt this ridiculously, at least for awhile.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI have to admit, it's awesome! I think this is probably the prettiest quilt I've finished in a long time and I played with a bit of couching in the center and outer edge. You can see the couched metallic thread better in this shot as it curves around the corner:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Overall, the couching was my favorite part because it was something DIFFERENT. I look forward to playing with it a bit more, but on a larger scale.

I guess it all comes down to what is necessary and what feels good. For a long time quilting densely felt necessary and good to me. I was just thrilled to be able to control my stitches so well and be able to produce these textures in thread. I don't regret it, but I do regret getting stuck in this rut and feeling trapped in it.

But now it's not necessary, and it no longer feels good. Yes, you can definitely look forward to many BIG scale designs coming up soon in 2012.

Now this pretty purple quilt has only the binding left to hand stitch in place and then it will be finished! Once it is out of my sewing room, I think I'll tackle the giant - Emergence. She was also quilted on a small scale and seriously needs to be done by January 1st.

Let's go quilt,



  1. It is lovely. SO very beautiful. With all the creativity you possess, I can see why you need to be changing and experimenting! More power to you, and I want to tell you how inspirational you are to me as far as having FUN with this endeavor.

  2. The quilt turned out amazing! I could never have the patience to quilt even 1 inch of that. I love your work and am sure no matter what you create, it will be spectacular!

  3. Adorable! Wonderful! Great job! Love it!

  4. Yeah! I am happy for you that you realized your need to "move on" to another style of quilting. And I am really happy it will be larger scale quilting as that is about all I am able to devote timewise to my quilts. I, too, get bored with densely quilting a project. Can't wait to see what you design!

  5. It is lovely though, really lovely! Hope you have lots of fun in the coming year whatever pieces you decide to do!

  6. is is the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen!!!!

  7. Wow- that quilt is amazing!

    But, I cannot wait to see the large scale designs you come up with!

  8. That is so funny. You're ready to do something bigger and I'm just getting down to the microscopic level. But, I already know that I don't want to quilt a lot of quilts that densely. But, it is nice once in a while. Thanks for what you've shown me. Have fun. It's the only way to keep quilting. Lane

  9. I think your quilts & quilting is absolutely gorgeous! But... You have to enjoy them and the process, otherwise whats the point? It sounds like you definitely need to take a break from your norm! I wish you luck & hope you find the joy in it again!

  10. Hi Leah - jus read through your latest post with a smile on my face. I could hear the disgust in your voice when you felt you were being "paid" - it brought to mind a sleazy, platinum blonde in a back room straightening her skirt & walking out of the room counting the money!!!!! I probably got a bit carried away there - but that was the image you invokved in my brain. Looking forward to seeing what is in the future for you. Chris from Australia.

  11. Leah, this is awesome news! I love quilting dense and love that I do not have to mark the quilt to do it. Whenever I open up your designs to make them less dense, they dont look right....its hard to freemotion larger designs without marking. And though I LOVE the dense stitching and can get lost in it, quite honestly, I get bored with it after about....oooh, 15 minutes! And then I alway ask myself how I am EVER going to finish the darn thing! I don't do art quilts or wall hangings, I dont compete in quilt shows and gosh if I even abandon my quilting group. But I love to quilt, I love to make gifts to be USED. Marking quilts has always been rough for me because most of my fabric is multicolored, the blue fine line doesnt show, the white gel thing doesnt quite show and the chaulk doesnt do well either. Ive surrendered and started using tissue paper. I trace the design on tissue paper and quilt thru it....and it works great but it really is a mess tearing it all away. I can hardly wait to see how you expand your designs into a fluffier finished product!

  12. Only thing to say is WOW!!! Just beautiful!

  13. There are a couple of things in this blog that really spoke to me:

    1) the feeling you came home with from Knoxville; perhaps it's not so much the competing as realizing that the dream of being able to support your family on the heels of winning at quilt shows that has come to an end. Competing nationally will eventually lead to teaching gigs but that's going to take a different kind of effort.

    2) Finishing the quilt you've been working on forever. Perhaps this quilt has taught you all it needs to and it's ok to move the quilt on for someone else to finish. We don't need to finish everything we start.

    Happy quilting!

  14. Amazing work Leah. I am looking forwars to where this next bend in the road takess you.

  15. Leah -- It is beautiful !! You are so very talented. Thank you for all the great information, tips, tutorials and reviews. Congrats on completing the quilt -- it really is very special.


  16. I really enjoyed this post. I think it's fabulous that you have realized something that was not working for you and are able and willing to take that next step. Congratulations and I look forward to what you come up with next!

  17. Leah,
    I have always hoped that you would create some free motion designs that are more open. You had specifically mentioned creating large scale designs in 2012 which is nice, but I'd like also to see small scale designs with more open space.
    Best wishes, Linda E in AZ

  18. Hello Leah, I cannot tell you how i admire how you tell your story in "about Leah" and the way you grow and the way you live and make your descissions in living.
    I made them to and almost nobody understand it how i can do it...
    But I think now , now i read your story that indeed it takes a strong being to live this life this way.
    I quilt, but on my own way....
    Love and Blessings from me...<3

  19. Ohhh and i love your last quilt....:)

  20. Yay I've been hoping for some large scale designs. Change is good.

  21. That quilt is so fantastic! I love it! :)

  22. To paraphrase The Spell of The Yukon (with apologies to Robert Service)
    I wanted the prize, and I sought it,
    I quilted and sewed like a slave.
    I wanted the prize, and I got it —
    Came out with a Ribbon last fall, —
    Yet somehow life's not what I thought it,
    And somehow the prize isn't all.
    Finding that the journey IS the prize takes some people their whole life. Congrats for discovering what you truly love and thanks for sharing with your readers.

  23. Thanks for visiting my blog recently... good for me as it lead me to your... Quite an experience reading through your posts and seeing your work. Awesome! I'm primarily a beader (bead embroidery), but I also make original design quilts, some with beading. Before reading through your posts and seeing your quilting designs, I was never very attracted to machine quilting, especially as a major design element of a quilt. This little quilt, boring as it was to make, changes my opinion. What I love most about this post, however, is your process, recognition of an almost unconscious desire to be paid to quilt and making pieces specifically for that purpose, that it was messing up your instinctive drives behind quilting. The Bead Journal Project (on-going for 4 years, and now just starting the 5th next month)has helped me a lot, keeping me from getting stuck in the bag o' same ol' tricks, bored. It also really helps me to tell my story with my work, my current story, whatever is really important to me at this time... that keeps my work relevant. Back to your post... lots of good point here! Thanks for writing it. I'm going to find and buy your new book when it's out.


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