The Free Motion Quilting Project: Fear of Time Wasted

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fear of Time Wasted

I think I touched on a thread many of us share in yesterday's post about hoarding craft supplies. One thing that has been nagging at me all day was brought up in a comment from Allison Reid:
My biggest fear is experimenting with a new technique and it not working to my satisfaction. And then it becomes a 'waste of time' and I so fear wasting time on something that doesn't work! I need to get my head around experimentation not being a waste of time but being an opportunity to develop creativity!
I'm with you Allison! I actually suffered this EXACT set back last night with my pretty felted soap:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

I believe I worked on this little sucker for about 1 hour following this excellent tutorial on felting soap "rocks" though I was using green wool instead of natural gray. The tutorial is excellent. The idea is very clear and the steps outlined thoroughly.

But I can't felt a soap to save my life! This is what it looks like right now:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

My soap isn't passing a "pinch" test of any kind. The roving easily pulled right off again and is bunching up around the soap shape like a weird lumpy sock. This does not look good, and as Allison mentioned, I feel like I wasted a solid hour of my life rubbing the stupid thing for no purpose.

Maybe I'm just not patient enough for this technique? Maybe the merino wool I'm using is the wrong stuff for this job? I have no idea!

Another punch to my creative ego is with the green roving itself. I dyed this wool in a crock pot and rinsed it thoroughly and thought for sure it was color fast. Again, I am wrong.

I saw my beautiful green roving start to bleed. And bleed. And bleed. If anyone washes their hands with this soap, they're going to end up with a nice green afterglow to go with it! I don't know about you, but that is a side effect of soap that not many people are going to like.

So what's a girl to do? I had the wool, I had the soap. Should I continue to try making this project work and learning how to felt soap or should I chuck this project in the trash and wash my hands of it?

Speaking in terms of fear - how much soap and roving am I willing to waste in this process? How much time am I willing to devote to this silly project?

I decided not to give up and continue playing with felting soap. There's just too many options I haven't tried. It could be the type of wool, it could be my patience level, it could be how hot the water was. I decided to give this 1 more hour of my time. In 1 hour, I will be able to say if felting soap is for me or not.

This was an easy decision to make - 1 hour investment because I asked myself a single simple question: how much do I want to learn this?

Do I want to one day be able to felt soap in my sleep and sell it by the truckful? No. Do I want to become a master soap felter (if there is such a thing)? No.

I would like to know how to do this so I can make some presents for friends. That's really it. This is not a lofty, ambitious goal, but it is important enough to me to give it 1 more hour. I'd like to be able to give someone something nice that I've made that isn't a quilt that's taken hundreds of hours to complete. A bar of felted soap seems to fit the bill.

So I pulled my materials together, plopped down at the kitchen table and here's the mess I've made:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Soap-wise, I pulled off almost all the green merino wool and replaced it with some very rough white wool (no idea what kind or prep) which instantly felted nicely. So I've answered one important question - it's not me, it's the wool!

Good to know! I'm really glad I stuck with this project. Had I given up after the green failure, I would never have realized it was the type of wool I was using that was the problem. Lesson learned!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

After felting the soap properly, I decided to try felting other shapes - balls and long twisty shapes too. These were less successful, but fun to experiment within that 1 hour time frame.

When it came down to it, this project leaves me really pumped to work with more new techniques. Instead of blowing up the whole project out of proportion, I'm now going to approach everything as a 1 hour investment.

See what happens in 1 hour. Is the project done? Has the technique worked or utterly failed? Do I like it or not? How can I improve?

At this point, I don't feel that I've mastered soap felting at all. I've managed to cover one soap bar passably well with white roving, but it's not very pretty. The thing I'm most happy about is the wool actually seems to be holding this time rather than falling right back off again.

But it will take another investment of another hour to make another soap, then another, then another until this is a technique I can trust to make decent felted soap for friends and family. This time will not be wasted, but I really can't logically expect my first 10 or 15 soaps to be all that great.

Ultimately I think we have to honor the spirit of learning. Time is never wasted if you have learned something new.  Materials have not been wasted if they have helped you understand what works and what doesn't.

So here's to the process! Life is hardly perfect and rarely pretty, but with time and patience, you will find what works. Or at least end up with very clean wrinkly hands in the process!

Let's go play,



  1. This whole line of thinking is more prevalent today, I thing. It kind of came hand in hand with the notion that machine quilting will save loads of time (is that really the point???) or a microwave will provide "instant" cooking/heating. Today's mentality seems to be more that if one tries and fails, then the classification/label is "failure". Just exactly "who" decided that, I want to know....I think it is the same person who said that a quilt is only a "real" quilt if it is hand pieced/quilted and a 100 yr old pattern was used with vintage fabric! Sarcasm intended! Just sayin.......we (myself included) must (re)learn to enjoy the process, learning/assimilating skills along the way.

  2. I know this is going to sound strange, but why felt soap?

  3. I'm with you on this! So many times I read on someone's blog or facebook that they want to try something but they're too scared to start. Trying something new can be tricky but the benefits of maybe discovering a new love way outweigh a little bit of time wasted. And if you find its not for you, well at least you can say, now I know this isn't for me and try something else. None of us would be quilting if we didn't try something new once and think of the void in our lives if we hadn't!

  4. I feel like that is where I am with my quilting right now. I dream of beautiful machine quilting that is not just stitch in the ditch or a grid with my walking foot. I have to work my way through the early steps where what I make will probably be functional, but maybe not beautiful. i think it is all part of the process though.

  5. Leah, your inner scientist is showing ; ) We all have this inquisitive nature ("What would happen if..."). Some people stay curious as adults and participate in continuous learning; unfortunately, many see this as an indulgence. I think it's more important than that.

    I love your suggestion to "give it an hour." It's very practical and doable and can apply to anything.

    Regarding treadlemusic's point about failure--I agree with you. In fact, my graduate degree in space physics is basically answering a question ("Can X cause Y?"), and the answer was, "Nope." This was something that needed to be tested, and as a bonus, we discovered evidence that we might have been looking at PART of a more complicated process. Neat!

    I'm not afraid of the negative result. We can't learn anything--whether it's physics or quilting!--without asking a question and investigating. And hopefully having fun along the way.

  6. Can you now felt a design on the outside of your Plain Jane? How did the green felt as a separate project? was it the dyeing process or it's Merino-ness that slowed you down? Interesting questions. I have always been one to say, why not try it. Of course I also have all sorts of supplies for all sorts of "other fiber arts" that don't really get used as I always really just return to my great love: sewing. k.

  7. I so appreciate your honesty, Leah, as you describe your frustrations and your elations. It has taken decades for me to learn that when I am in student mode (trying something new) I need to channel my teacher self and when I explain a technique to students, I need to channel my student self. In other words if I had a student who was timid and didn't want to waste her time or ruin her beautiful fabric I would encourage her to take the first step and then the next. I would remind her about learning curves. I would ask her to think back to a time such as learning to ride a bike, that wasn't natural at first but that she does with ease. I need to tell myself the same thing when I try something new.

    Quilting along with you for 15 months now, I have had to push past wasting fabric, thread and batting on numerous occasions. I am so, SO glad that I did. That persistence has paid off as I now FMQ with ease. It has also paid off for you, because many of my blog readers thank me for bringing you to their attention and recently more and more say I have convinced them to take your classes.

  8. I don't ever feel like I've wasted time when I try new blocks but I often do feel guilty about the messy house....

  9. You are right some wools felt and some don’t. Springy wools with lots of crimp felt the best.

  10. When I tried felting soap with store bought flaming pink rovings, I had the same problem with the colour running. I figured pink hands would not be appreciated by my friends,and went on to use rovings for small needle felted landscapes, decorating wrist cuffs, rug hooking etc. Experimenting can be fun even when it doesn't work. Sometimes it just shows us a direction we don't want to take.

  11. I had crocheted a nice cute something that might have become a tiny blanket, except I made a mistake at the end of each row: I picked up one to many loops (is that the right name?) - so the blanket became more and more distorted. I unraveled the whole thing after thinking about it for a long time. Then I used the wool for knittig -> I just learnt to knit last christmas so I am a total beginner. I tried to make a scarf. I learnt a whole lot in the process but now I don't like the look of the scarf - the color-stripes are just too wide. So far I couldn't bring myself to unravel the whole thing again. But I guess it will only take a few more weeks and then I will just do it. I won't finish it and if I would I wouldn't wear it, because I don't like the look of it. But it took me so long to make I just couldn't bring myself to unravel it so far.

  12. One thing to realize, you have not wasted time when you find there is something you 'can not or do not want to do ' You have learned something… I do not need this in my life, best wishes to those who do. It frequently gives us an idea how difficult others hobbies can be.

  13. You have not wasted time because you have found out you do not want or can not do something [it costs more in time and effort then we are willing to put into it] . You have learned where your emotions and /or talents do not lie. It also gives us a greater feeling for the difficulties others face when doing a project.

  14. My problem isn't the waste of time trying it. (I am a good time waster - e.g. here I am at my computer instead of a hundred other things that need doing) My problem... I don't want to use up my precious supplies! (It's weird to see this in writing). I also don't want to have an end result that is less than great. If I do have to use my resources, then I want the project to be stunning. Consequently I spend my time researching: watching videos, reading, and therefore, the new project gets pushed back - until something else catches my interest, then off I go again. Vicious cycle! (Hmmm. I wonder what a psychiatrist would say.)


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