The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #10

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Question Thursday #10

After a full week off from the Quilt Along, we should have many questions for today's Question Thursday!

But looking through all the linked up blogs, we only have one question today from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

How much free motion quilting per day or week did you do to get so good so fast?

Was there a point when you had a break through (what was that?) and thought, wow, I can quilt anything? Did you take a lot of classes or mainly just practice at home? At what point did you start entering quilt shows? Did you enter local shows? Did you get any feedback from entering shows that helped you become a better quilter? I know that without your blog and videos, I would not have progressed nearly as fast as I have to this point - Thank You!

Wow! Thank YOU Pat for such a wonderful question and compliment. I'm so happy you've found the free motion quilting project to be such a helpful resource.

To answer your question simply: Quilting Daily, not really for any particular length of time, just getting on the machine a bit every day, is the key to mastering free motion quilting.

Personally, I learned free motion by mastering one design at a time. I learned Stippling from the first machine quilting class I took back in 2006, and pretty much stippled every quilt I made for 2 years.

This is a large reason why we've stuck with stippling for so long this year. I think it's a great design to start with and can cover so many bases for learning free motion.

I stuck with that single design until I found Karen McTavish's books in 2008 and learned McTavishing. I'd say that was a huge turning point - reading Quilting For Show, a book that is basically a blueprint for creating show winning quilts.

Up until that time, I'd bounced around with quilts of all styles: art quilts, bed quilts, etc, but that book really focused my attention solely on quilting for show.

I thought if I could make a fantastic quilt, it would show around the country and I'd win cash prizes and help support my family. It was my idealistic idea for turning quilting from a hobby into a business without having to actually sell my quilts or quilt for service, two things I didn't want to do.

So another turning point was The Duchess, my very first show quilt, and the first wholecloth quilt I ever tackled. Aren't you glad I didn't decide to use this pattern for our Quilt Along wholecloth?!

The Duchess is very elaborate and was a huge challenge to design and quilt. I worked on it daily for several months and, by the end of the process, I had definitely seen a giant leap in my quilting ability.

That is the nature of a challenge though - to force you to grow and change and adapt. When making The Duchess, I was still using cotton thread, still dropping my feed dogs, still doing lots of things that made quilting more difficult.

By the end, most of those habits had gone, replaced through trial and error with new materials that worked better. Trust me, you can't make a quilt like this when your thread breaks or nests every 5 seconds!

While I'd entered shows before, entering The Duchess was like walking into a gun fight armed with a Uzi. I knew she was a knock out, and wholecloth quilts generally do well because they don't have a lot to complete against.

In the three shows this quilt competed in, I did learn a bit from the judges, but it certainly didn't change my quilting. Mostly their comments enlightened me about competing and what judges see and don't see.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThe Duchess wasn't perfect. I'd accidentally scorched the dead center of that quilt when attaching hot fix crystals (you can see this in the close up image above), but the first judge didn't even see the mistake. It was good to learn that judges won't see every mistake because they don't know where to look!

Of course, the real turning point for free motion quilting is most definitely starting this project. The challenge of stitching 365 designs forced me to quilt every single day, and to start playing with the designs more creatively in quilts.

I'm not being modest when I say that I wasn't that great at free motion quilting when I started this project. I really wasn't! But stitching new designs every day was a terrific way to learn and grow with this skill.

And growth never really stops! Since starting the Quilt Along in January, I've learned LOADS about free motion quilting by quilting on a larger scale. You're not the only one learning new skills here - I am too!

There is always something new to learn, and no matter what you want to do with this craft: show quilting, bed quilting, art quilting, you can always find challenges to push yourself to the next level.

So if you're really wanting to see a lightning fast explosion in your quilting ability, try quilting every single day for an entire month.

It really doesn't matter how long you quilt, or if you even get a project done. The key is just getting on your machine every day.

So that's it for this Question Thursday! Have fun preparing your Heart and Feather Wholecloth and I'm sure there will be many more questions next week.

Time to shut up and go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. What a gorgeous quilt! I have to admit, it took me looking at the closeup for several minutes to see the scorch. Never would have seen it if you hadn't told us!

  2. I wish I could do it everyday, but I just don't have the time to do any sewing during the week. I love my job, but it takes up most of my weekday time :( But, I can see where doing it everyday would make you get really good, really fast!

  3. Just when i thought you couldnt be any more amazing, you post about the Duchess. That is a beautiful quilt to say the least!
    I know my quilting has improved because of your designs too. I kind of avoided machine quilting because i didnt know what to do anymore.(There is life after stippling) I am now getting through my quilt tops. Doing different things depending on what the quilt is for. I am doing a sampler quilt right now so have been pouring over the example you have posted before. Trying different designs. It is going to be my own quilt so am using it to experiment, (poor baby) but i am learning alot.
    Thanks once again, Leah. Oh and congrats on the nomination!

  4. Hi Leah....Just wanted to share with you that I've had great results using tissue paper on wall quilt size. You can spray the top with water after quilting (concentrating mostly on the quilted lines), wait a few minutes and the paper can be removed without a seam ripper. Also, I haven't used transfer paper for years but couldn't one tape those sheets together as well to transfer markings to a small quilt without the problem of constantly moving the paper from one area to another? I'm excited about the next 2 weeks of this project. Thanks again for all you do....and congrats on the nomination, as well.

  5. I love the comment about the challenge-"to force you to grow and change and adapt". Sewing sure has done that for me, as well as in my job as a sub-teacher. I love to sew everyday, but have not liked the quilting part of making a quilt. Maybe doing a little each day, will make a difference, instead of a full day of quilting.

  6. Yu are so right, Leah, it takes time to master anything and FMQ is no exception. My DH is currently reading "Outliers." It is a book that questions why some people succeed. The simplified premise is that it takes 10,000 committed hours to become proficient and shine. Thank you, for guiding us through so many hours.

  7. Oh Leah, I just read the Dutchess story... What a sad sad story... Oh my such a beautiful quilt, and so many hurdles to complete! Your attitude and fortitude to continue even with such disappointments is something to behold! you are quite a young woman! Learning from you all the time, even still in the heartbreaks we quilters face. thank you


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