The Free Motion Quilting Project: Lessons in Teaching and Learning

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lessons in Teaching and Learning

I'm back home from teaching a workshop to a wonderful bunch of students at Ye Olde Forest Quilt Shop in Greensboro. Getting home I'm always focused on returning the house to normal - getting my machine back in place, getting my tools back in order, unloading any treasures I picked up, and generally exhaling out any lingering stress from the drive.

It's a lot of work to travel and teach. That might sound a bit obvious, but I sometimes wonder if it's really understood just how much effort it takes to travel to an event, unpack, prepare, then stand and teach for hours and try to give every student the best experience possible.

When I first got into quilting and attended guild meetings, workshops, and quilt shows, I never really understood how much work goes into just getting the presenters, the teachers, the vendors all in place and ready to do their thing.

It was a surprise to me in 2010 when I started seriously traveling and teaching around NC and SC just how much work it was. It only took about 6 months for me to realize that a life on the road was just not for me. I couldn't relax, I couldn't find my balance. I found myself wearing thin and my patience and understanding a shorter and shorter fuse.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Yes, this is exactly what my feathers looked like
the first time I stitched them! Super thank you
to the students that donated their practice
squares. It helps to know exactly what you can
expect from the very beginning!
It was after a memorable quilt show vend when I heard the same question literally 50 times and felt no desire to answer it the last 10, that I knew I just couldn't be a good traveling teacher. I can try, but my personality is not suited for that much interaction on a daily basis.

But I still need to do this. Occasionally.

It's hard work and I'm tired, but I'm not at all resentful of the effort because I needed this reconnection with real quilters. I've come from several months at home where it's easy to forget what those early beginner struggles are. I love to get around real people, in person, and see and hear the issues that are happening right at the beginning and hopefully be able to supply the courage, confidence, and inspiration to keep working at it. It's because I do this very rarely that I can do it well and put forth loads of effort on demand.

Yesterday we broke darning feet, worked on speed control, practiced stitching on a line, then dove into free motion designs. This was the first class I've ever taught out of From Feathers to Flames, the first time I'd tried using printed practice squares from Spoonflower, and the first time I drew out feathers for each student to stitch over. Trying all these new things helped me learn more about teaching and gave me loads of ideas for improving my videos online and more projects we can work on together.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
These practice squares were simple, but a nice place to start.
I plan to play with more designs and larger sizes to see what works best.

Wandering through class, the thing I'm most reminded of should always remain the most obvious: every student is different. Every student has a different experience. There is not one single path, design, trick, or angle to mastery. We all must make our own journey.

So the advice I repeated to everyone is this: find ONE design that works for you and go quilt it.

Quilt it on everything and anything. Finish 3 quilts from your stash with that single design. Just QUILT and learn and grow with it. Ignore your mistakes and don't obsess about perfection. Just QUILT.

So that's what I'm off to do myself!

Let's go quilt,



  1. As a teacher myself, I enjoyed your post. You are absolutely right about every student being different. And they each want different things out of their experience too. Well done you for recognising that!

  2. Such a wonderful post, full of volumes of insightful info that I, too, remind myself of when standing before that room filled with excited, expectant gals (usually) who have high hopes and dreams of how they can improve their quilting and just begin!! It is a post full of 'heart' and that is the most important 'ingredient' in a successful teaching experience. Many hugs and thanks for all that you have, and are, contributing to the art world of quilting! Blessings, Doreen

  3. That is a good piece of advice - just find something you like, are comfortable with and make it work for you. Your way of doing the same stitch will be different then the way I do them, but if it works, it is right for me!! Just like yours is for you! I am still a novice at this, so, thank your for saying what you did - go quilt! That design, over and over - really make it YOURS!!!

    Good advice!!

  4. Hi Leah! I know first hand how draining and fulfilling teaching can be. I have been teaching Art to teenagers for over 15 years now and I still love it. I don't know how I would feel about teaching sewing/quilting. Teaching teenagers can be so different from hour to hour. I love the improvisational part of teaching. Preparation for classes will be different to a degree, but setting things up, planning, organizing will be the same I guess. I am glad that I do not have to move around with all of the "stuff" even if it is within the schoolbuilding.
    Hope you will have some great private sewing time!
    esthersipatchandquilt at yahoo dot com
    ipatchandquilt dot wordpress dot com

  5. I'm really glad you make videos. They're great because you can watch them over and over. I agree with the "just quilt". I like to give myself permission to do something badly when I'm learning something new. Have fun, enjoy the process and learn. If you keep at it you will get better.

  6. And you're right about people being unaware of what it takes for traveling teachers and vendors to take the show on the road. Kind of like quilters thinking it would be fun to own a quilt shop but not realizing all that goes into it. It's good you've found a balance.

  7. Great idea to show your first feather attempt. That keeps it real :-)

  8. this is EXACTLY what I needed to hear! And thank you for owning up to raggy feathers, I tried a few patterns from you page and they were similar! I Have lots of tops pieced but just need to DOOOO the quilting! xx

  9. Actually the feather wasn't mine, but donated from a student in class. I'll make sure to update the caption so that's clear!



  10. Delightful post, I am ready to quilt the three small quilts on the shelf for the DOGS.

  11. I love that you shared your first attempt to quilting feathers. It is an inspiration to know that we can achieve the same finesse!


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