The Free Motion Quilting Project: FMQ Friday - Practice is Never a Waste of Time

Friday, May 17, 2013

FMQ Friday - Practice is Never a Waste of Time

This might sound weird for all I talk about the importance of practice and its necessity for becoming good at free motion quilting, but today I finally realized with a jolt like getting smacked in the head this simple truth:

Practice is never a waste of time.

I've been busy working on a project today that I can't show you right this second. It's definitely been a challenge and earlier this week I began getting obsessed with perfection. I found myself asking "what is the PERFECT design to use here? I CAN'T make the wrong choice!"

I honestly don't know a better recipe for killing creativity. Start with an ultimatum and ratchet the stress up a notch with a demand for instant perfection!

As I sorted through my feelings on this project, I began to see how silly I was being. I grabbed a piece of paper and pencil, sat down on the couch and said "Just play. I don't care what happens, just try something."

So I sat and drew and designed. I'd printed out plenty of paper so I could mess up again and again and it not matter. I got out of my way, shut up my mind, and just let loose with any idea that popped into my now empty head.

In the end I did finish my design, but I also became aware that what I had done was far more than just sketching - it was practicing.

I was practicing picking designs. This might not seem like something we would need to practice, but it is! Just like you gain skills in picking fabrics and finding color combinations you really like, we also need to find design combinations that are pleasing too.

This step is so often left out of quilt books (quilt as desired) that even I had fallen into the idea that I should somehow "magically" know which design is perfect in any given space. Guess what?! I don't know! I need to sketch it and audition it and argue with myself and see something else and compare and contrast and finally, in the end, PICK which one I like best.

Because there is absolutely NO PERFECT DESIGN. It doesn't exist! There is this design or that one or #325 or #15 and every single one of them will work in one way or another.

Just as there are no perfect fabric choices, there are no perfect quilting design choices. There is only the task of choosing.

And to choose, you have to give yourself time to practice, to think, to weigh the designs, to sketch, to play, and yes, to make as many mistakes as possible along the way.

I think from now on I'm going to sit down and say to myself "I need to make some mistakes today." just so I don't ever fall in this trap again of seeking perfection where perfection will never, ever exist.

Perfection isn't the point, and practice is never a waste of time. Two more golden rules I hope to never forget!

Now I'm sorry I can't actually show you what I'm doing, but suffice it to say you'll see it in a few months! So what have you been up to this week?

Simple rules for the FMQ Friday link up:

1. Link up with a post that features something about Free Motion Quilting (FMQ).
2. Somewhere in your post, you must link back here, or you can just post the FMQF button in your sidebar.
3. Comment on at least a few of the other FMQF links. Share your love of free motion quilting and make this weekly link up a fun way to connect.
Let's go make some mistakes!



  1. Hello Leah,

    A thousand thanks for your videos. They have been a tremendous help! Thanks to you I am now getting hours of fun and plenty of exercise doing FMQ on my treadle, and I am thrilled to bursting this week because I have a quilt in a national show and have got a Judges' Merit ribbon.

    When auditioning the designs for your project, why don't you draw one sheet of each of the designs you are thinking of using, make photocopies, and cut out shapes from the copies to place beside each other? It might save a lot of drawing time.

    Love from England,

  2. Most of what I read on your blog is "greek" as they say. I am a beginner quilter and still learning as I go. I'm not afraid to create and have made many simple patchwork quilts from scraps that I've just tied. I've never quilted one yet! I guess I don't even know what the term "free motion quilting" even means. I assume that it means to just sew a design on your quilt with no pattern, but I'm clueless. I am fixing to try and quilt some placemats as my first practice at quilting. If I want a swirling design - do I use a pattern? And how do I transfer it to the fabric? As of right now, I plan to just do straight lines that criss cross for lack of experience and knowledge. Sorry for my dumb post - but I'm really curious and clueless. Just love to sew, craft and create!

  3. Muv - That's an excellent suggestion for using sketches repeatedly and auditioning for specific places. I never thought of that!

    Linda Stevens - These are excellent questions, not silly at all. These were precisely the questions I asked back when I started quilting, and yes, it was just as confusing for me too. Let me shed some light on these terms:

    So free motion quilting refers to a style of quilting where you move the quilt on your sewing machine in all directions (free motion) and you stitch through all 3 layers of your quilt. You can mark the design, or you can memorize the simple rules of your spiraling design and stitch it free hand (no marking, make it up as you go).

    Starting with straight lines is an excellent choice. Never be afraid to try something new, but also understand that this will get less confusing with every quilt you make!



  4. Do you use EQ, Leah? I don't think I've ever seen it mentioned in your forgive me if it's been asked and answered. I agree with all the above comments----you're an excellent teacher and such a source of information....I think you must be an old soul in a new incarnation.

  5. Even though i dont own a sewing machine, i like reading your post. Barbara

  6. Practice is never wasted . . . words to live by. I finally decided to make practice a little more organized. I bought two yards of good quality muslin -- still cheap! -- and sandwiched it. This is my blank canvas. I am donating my practice pieces, including some really crappy early efforts on small, old quilts, to my local SPCA. They use them for bedding. Older animals, ones with arthritis, etc., especially appreciate them. And no human whom I care about will ever see them.
    Myra McFarland in Fort Wayne, IN

  7. Hi Leah, can you tell me where I'd find the FMQF code so that I can add the button to my blog? I can't seem to find it!

  8. Hi Diana - You can find the grab-a-button right here:

    You can also use the general Free Motion Quilting Project button on the side bar!


    Leah Day


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