The Free Motion Quilting Project: About Us

About Us

Welcome to the Project!  I'm so glad you're here and ready to learn free motion quilting! You may also be interested in learning a bit about the quilter behind the white gloves in all the videos, so here's a here's a list of the most common questions and answers I'm asked in lectures, workshops, and interviews:

How old are you?!

This is the #1 question I'm asked everywhere I go for quilting!  Quilter's have guessed my age as low as 11 and as old as 19.  I guess I look much younger than I really am.

I'm actually 27 years old, a wife to an awesome husband, and mother to a sweet 4 year old boy. 

How long have you been quilting and why did you get into this?

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve always wanted to quilt.  As a kid, I’d managed to teach myself how to crochet, knit, weave, make jewelry, and sew clothing by reading books and looking at the pictures, but quilting was just too difficult.

I’m not a first generation quilter because my great grandmothers made quilts, but by the time I was ready to learn, there was really no one available to teach me.  So I tried to teach myself to quilt out of books all written B.R.C (before rotary cutters) and just never got the hang of it.

It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I put my foot down and bought myself a small quilting kit from Walmart for my birthday. I still didn’t manage to put it to use until after I got married in 2005.

Like any good southern girl, I wanted a Double Wedding Ring Quilt to celebrate my wedding.  Unfortunately I didn’t know anything about quilting, what materials I should use, or even how difficult this pattern can be.  I was clueless!

So I got started using scraps from my wedding dress (satin and silk), used a huge seam allowance, and ended up in a heap of tears. 

But I didn’t give up!  My husband Josh encouraged me to take a quilting class and even found a local guild for me to join.  Once I joined a guild and took a few classes, quilting became less difficult and a lot more fun.

While I still have never created that Double Wedding Ring quilt to celebrate my marriage, it's definitely on my list of projects I'd like to tackle in the coming years.

Do you have an art degree? 

No!  Absolutely not.  Art degrees and other assorted bits of paper are not really needed for quilting - except to use as stabilizer!

I did attend UNC-Asheville for 2 years, but my major was Biology, not art.  In the end, I dropped out because I couldn't see how that degree was going to help me with anything, except maybe strapping me with more student loans and debt that would have limited my abilities.

I've worked with professional, degreed artists and honestly, they spend a lot of time in class, and not very much time making art.  That seems like a real waste of money and time to me, and I've never regretted dropping out of college.  It was honestly one of the best decisions of my life, I just wish I'd done it even earlier!

How did you turn into a professional quilter?

Looking back, I think I wanted to be a professional quilter since my very first guild meeting where I saw a show quilt for the first time.  I wanted to make something fantastic like that quilt!  I wanted to teach and lecture like the quilters who came to our guild meetings.  

It started as a dream and I can remember being told "There's no money in this!" several times.  If that's true, how can so many quilters support themselves and their families in this industry?

No road is perfectly straight though, and really it took starting this project and focusing on quilting every day before I really felt comfortable calling myself a professional.  I still have a long way to go and I'm always learning. That's the way it is with all crafts though - true mastery is understanding that "mastery" is not the point.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration really is everywhere!  I keep my eyes open all the time - at restaurants, hotels, parks, even in my own house.  It's easy to miss textures you've lived around your whole life, then suddenly the lines connect and it becomes a potential filler design.

Now with over 365 designs created, the project itself is a source of inspiration.  One design can easily lead to three more.  Subtle changes in texture and shape, in the way the design is stitched can create an entirely new design.

When it comes to designing quilts, inspiration comes from my life.  I'm currently working through a series of goddess quilts and each one is designed to help me work through a specific issue.   Most of these quilts come into my mind fully formed, all I have to do is figure out the easiest way to make them reality! 

Do you sew other things or strictly quilts?

For awhile I did sew clothing professionally, and will still occasionally sew a skirt or an outfit for my son, but for the most part, I only make quilts now.  I like the simplicity of sewing something flat that doesn't have to fit a curvy body perfectly. 

I have made two quilted jackets, which is a fun way to combine quilting and garment sewingThis jacket was based created using a Simplicity Kimono Pattern #5343 .

It's fun to wear this jacket when I go fabric shopping because then I don't get questions like "Are you here with your mother?" or "Are you just getting started quilting?" because the jacket answers the question for me!

Why did you decide to start the Free Motion Quilting Project? 

Honestly, I was really seeking a challenge and an excuse to quilt every single day for a year!  At the time, I was already working from home online with my skin care business, but I really wanted to figure out a way to make a living with my true love - quilting.

I was also feeling frustrated by the lack of free motion quilting designs I could find.  I see these designs as different textures to be used over your quilt, almost like a painter using paint, only we're quilting different textures and adding movement to the surface of our quilts.

While I was quilting Release Your Light, the idea for this project popped into my head and I couldn't shake it.  I thought about it for a solid month, was advised to drop the idea by several people, but in the end, I simply had to go for it!

How did you learn Free Motion Quilting?

I first took a class on machine quilting and the second I tried free motion, I knew it was something I was going to love.  I wasn't great at it at all (my stitches were huge and clunky), but I really wanted to learn and I kept working at it.

The best decision I ever made was just to jump into it.  I pieced up a huge pink quilt and broke it into 6 pieces that could each be quilted separately, then put together in a quilt as you go technique.  I was quilting in a very tiny space next to my bed in a very tiny apartment at the time, so I had to work on small pieces at a time.

I decided that I was ready to learn Stippling and nothing was going to stop me.  Not ugly stitches!  Not imperfect stippling!  I was just going to stitch it and not judge it.

At the beginning, I honestly didn't have a clue what I was doing, but by the end of that huge quilt, I knew Stippling like the back of my hand.  Even now I truly believe this is the BEST way to learn free motion quilting:

Pick just one design and stitch it all over a large quilt.  By the end, you will have most of the basics figured out.

After finishing that pink quilt, I continued Stippling most of my quilts until I came across Karen McTavish's four awesome books on quilting.  

It was her book Mastering the Art of McTavishing that taught me a new design called McTavishing, and her book Whitework Quilting that taught me the basics of designing and quilting a wholecloth quilt and gave me the skills I needed to compete in my first show.

What free motion quilting questions do you hear most?

"Do you use a longarm?  Can I really do this on a domestic machine? What machine do you use?"

When quilters see my quilts for the first time, most assume I'm using a giant, expensive longarm machine.

But the fact is, quilting this way on a longarm is actually more difficult than quilting on a domestic machine!  It's easier to quilt on a smaller, tighter scale on your home machine because the quilt doesn't move very much as you make the patterns.

When I've tried to quilt this tiny on a longarm, I've struggled because the weight and inertia of the big machine was wanting to swing out and make huge shapes.

If I was in the business of quilting quilts for people, if I needed to quilt huge quilts on a very large scale, then yes, a longarm would be helpful for that, but it's certainly not required.

You don't need a longarm to be a professional.  You don't need a longarm to start winning at quilt shows. 

Look in any quilt magazine and what is the #1 thing advertised now?  Longarm machines.  There's been a really long and concerted advertising campaign from these manufacturers to convince everyone that they must have a huge, $30,000 machine in order to be a professional quilter, or to make show quality quilts.

But the fact is, you can free motion on any domestic machine. The machine is a tool, just like a power drill or a belt sander. What makes one person better at it is more practice, not a more expensive drill bit.

I truly believe if your machine is good enough for piecing, it should be able to free motion quilt too.

And since I'm sure you'd like to know - I'm now quilting on a Janome Horizon 7700, which I absolutely love.  

But I also own a Janome HD-1000, which retails for $299 and produces just as beautiful stitches for a 10th of the price.

Your favorite aspect of quilting?

Design. Absolutely positively. I love working with a blank sheet of paper trying to figure out how to create what is in my head and get it onto paper and then from paper into a quilt.

The longer and more involved I allow my design process to be, the better my quilts are. I experience an intense joy when I'm allowed to just sit at the kitchen table, spread paper and tracing velum all over the place, and just draw and plan and visualize the finished quilt.

I often find the quilts I have the most trouble with are the quilts I rushed through the design process.  This is very easy to do because I get so excited to see the finished quilt and want to hurry, hurry, hurry.

It's been a hard lesson to learn to just take it slow and easy and allow a design to fully take shape before moving to fabric.  I even plan out which quilting designs I'll use in each area of the quilt because these designs really are like paint - they cover each section with a specific texture that can dramatically change how the fabrics look.

How has the project changed your life?

Starting this project truly has changed my life in every single way you can think of.

Quilting wise, my skill doubled within the first six months.  By focusing on quilting, by giving myself permission to quilt daily, there was no way it could not get better!

Business wise, the project put me on the map.  It was only after starting the project that I started to get tons of emails and comments from supportive quilters asking for the tools and materials I recommend.  I launched an online quilt shop that now supports my family.

In 2010, my husband Josh left his job to start working with me so I could quilt and make more designs while he packs the orders!

We all work together in a basement office, where James can also play with his blocks and trucks.

As far as personal growth, being good at something FEELS good.  It's true I've had a talent for fiber arts since I was a child, but it was only after starting this project, connecting with and teaching so many people that I really began to feel good about my abilities.

Really I can link it all back to my very first quilt ribbon.  Holding that blue ribbon, it felt like someone was saying "Yes!  You're good at this!  Keep doing it!"  I'm just so thankful I was able to listen to that voice and kept quilting, even when it sometimes seemed like just an interesting hobby that was never going to lead anywhere. 

How big is your studio / what is your studio like?

Right now my studio takes up 2 rooms in my basement: a full kitchen, and a small bedroom.  The kitchen is an odd space because the ceilings are low and the cabinets take up a good portion of space, but I make the best use of the area I can.

In this room I have large tables set up for cutting and pressing, and two large light boxes for drafting designs and transferring them onto fabrics.  Both light boxes are homemade, and really make marking quilts much easier.

The small bedroom is used for sewing and quilting, as well as fabric storage.  I usually have two machines set up at all times, sometimes three so one machine can be used for piecing, one for quilting, and one for all the odd jobs that come in between.

For organizing my fabrics, I prefer to be able to browse through the stash, much like picking out what garment I want to wear that day, so I've hung all yardage up on hangers.

Smaller pieces of fabric, like fat quarters, are stored either in bins, or folded and hung from clips.  I prefer to use fabrics that read as solids, so I mostly collect batiks and solids.

While my studio might look large and expansive now, it hasn't always been so!

When I started quilting, I had a much, much smaller space.  We were living in a 500 sq foot apartment in Asheville, NC and my sewing space could only fit in this corner between the bed and Josh's computer desk!

All of my quilts had to be quilted in pieces to work in such a tiny space.  It just goes to show that you really can quilt in any space you have!

Wow! I’m impressed you’re still here!  

Here’s even more info about me (my official bio):

I grew up in a small town called Asheboro, North Carolina.  The youngest of three girls in a small house, I spent a lot of time keeping myself out of sight and entertained behind a big reclining chair.

I didn't have access to a lot of materials like fabric or yarn, but I did have a lot of paper and scissors, so the first thing I learned was origami.  My dad has always said he knew which table was mine in school because it was the one surrounded with a mess of paper clippings embedded in the carpet!

I spent a lot of time with my dad, who was a blacksmith and woodworker.  My earliest memories are sitting in his shop, watching him shape metal at his forge, or sitting in my spot on the steps of his wood shop, smashing my fingers to bits as I tried to nail boards together. 

It wasn’t long before I realized that I could make money with the things I created. My very first business started in 1st grade when I sold origami boxes to kids in school for $0.05 each.  I can remember the first time I had enough nickels collected to buy ice cream - I felt rich!

As I got older, I gained access to better materials like fabric and yarn and began crocheting and knitting in class.  While some teachers didn't like this, I explained that keeping my hands busy actually allowed me to concentrate better and not get sleepy in their boring classes.

While I was a good student in school, I never felt really smart, probably because my best friend always had the highest GPA (and liked to rub it in).  For college, I wanted to go to Haywood Community College, a community college that had the best lapidary (jewelry metalsmithing) program in the US. Looking back again, I wonder if I would have ever gotten into quilting if I’d gone to that college.  It was one of those big decisions I look back on in my life and wonder about.

But my parents really wanted me to attend a four year traditional university, and maybe even be a doctor one day, so I ended up at UNC-Asheville, totally undecided about what I wanted to do.

I took a variety of classes and ended up as a biology major because it was easy and I vaguely liked it in the beginning.  But during this time, I was always sewing in my dorm room, knitting in class, and making jewelry on the quad.

I did meet my husband, Josh, at UNCA, and for that alone, my college experience was worth it!  Josh graduated in 2004 and began working online for his dad, Chet Day.  It was seeing Josh work online that really got me thinking about what I wanted from my life and how I wanted my days to run.

I began to see that a biology degree wasn’t going to get me anywhere; in fact, it was going to set me back and pile on loads of debt.  So in 2004, I dropped out of college and began working from home.  This remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, and I strongly encourage all high schoolers to take a few years before running off to college.  It’s just not all it’s cracked up to be.

Working from home, I focused first on making custom garments for kids, like christening gowns and princess dresses.  I never had a demand for these garments, and never sold even one of them.  I think I was just blindly going into it, and focused entirely on what I thought would sell, not what I really wanted to make, or what I was passionate about. 

Josh and I got married in March 2005 and it was around this time I learned about a company in my area that made clothing for women, but contracted the labor to sewers working from home like me.  I thought this was my ticket to working from home successfully, and this would be the way I could make a living with my craft.

It’s sad to say, but that company was every nightmare come true.  Have you ever seen The Devil Wears Prada?  That is how hard I worked, every day from 7 am until 10 pm, sewing 10-12 garments a day.

As you can see from this photo - I just wasn't happy.

It wasn’t just the number of garments, but the level of detail that went into them. I had to make sure every seam was perfectly serged, then top stitched. A mis-snip with my scissors or an incorrectly stitched seam would result in a totally ruined garment.

I learned a lot during this time.  I learned about sewing fast, but with high quality workmanship.  I learned loads about my machines as I broke two machines and two sergers during the year and a half I worked this job.

The most horrible thing about it is I didn’t even realize how bad it was, how much I was killing myself to succeed with it, until after it was all over! I lived in a daze of fatigue, driving myself to work faster and more efficiently.  It makes me so sad that I don’t remember much of the first two years of my marriage because I spent so much time working, working, working.

By the end, I could stitch a short sleeved top in 45 minutes, and a pair of jeans with pockets in 1 hour with intense concentration.  I had it down to a science, but I was still only making about $4.00 an hour.

Experiences like this are so important, though, and I don’t regret taking that job or working at it for so long.  I worked harder than I ever had in my life, but when it was over, I had learned an enormous amount about myself, my strength, and how I wanted to live from now on.

I knew that I didn’t want to sew garments for a living. I loved sewing and working on the machine, but I really didn’t like trying to make garments fit perfectly.  I’d gotten into quilting during this time, and I loved the flat simplicity of a quilt.  No darts, no pleats, or fitting in collars on a quilt!

I also knew that selling the items I made was not the best way to make money with my craft.  I’d watched my dad struggle to make a living as a blacksmith and wood worker, and I had struggled to make a decent living at sewing garments, and the combination of those lessons taught me to never sell my work.

After quitting that job, Josh and I moved to Shelby, North Carolina and bought our first house.  We moved here to be closer to his parents for the business, and because we knew we’d never be able to afford a house in Asheville, NC.

While looking at houses, I began to think about how much space we would need.  I wanted a room of my own for sewing and quilting, Josh needed an office, and oh yeah, I’d gotten pregnant right about then, so we also needed a nursery!

It became obvious that we needed something bigger than a typical 3 bedroom, two bath house, and luckily we were able to find it.  We bought a house with a partially finished basement, which we could renovate and improve to make enough space for an office for Josh and a sewing studio for me.  I was done sewing in a 3 ft corner!

Over the next six months we worked on the house, and I finally had the time to focus on quilting exclusively.  I also began practicing yoga every week and this helped me adjust to my body being pregnant.

It was during this time that I also began to see and acknowledge my issues of low self esteem and a toxic inner negative voice (INV).  I began to work these issues out with my first goddess quilt, Life and Fire, which I completed right before James was born in February 2007.

To say that James changed my life, well, that is an understatement.  It’s like I could see my life, the long string of decisions and choices I’d made to get me to that point, but I could also see just how far I wanted to go.  I held my little boy in my arms and I vowed right then that I would become someone my son could be proud of.

But life after having a baby is never easy.  I sunk into a deep depression after James was born, mostly because I kept looking at the past, all the mistakes I’d made and all the ways I’d failed.  I just felt like a loser!

Finally I saw that the only way to dig myself out of that horrible place I was in was to start working again.  I decided to start my first official business as a beauty consultant for L’Bri Pure n’ Natural products.

I’d been helping Chet out with his L’Bri customers for about a year, so this was a good fit for me.  I made it clear from the start that I wasn’t interested in holding shows or parties or doing anything in the traditional direct sales way.  I was going to build a website and sell products online.

This worked out very well and Chet helped me establish my business and taught me basically everything I know about internet marketing.  Within one year, my business was ranked as one of the top 10 in the company, and it has remained so for the last 3 years.

But selling skin care products, while it did bring in some extra money, it was just not what I was passionate about.  Pretty soon I realized that all the extra money I was making with skin care was going straight into quilting!

By 2008, I knew I wanted to focus on quilting full time and figure out a way to build a sustaining business.  I decided the way to do this was to make show quilts and to compete for the top prizes of big quilt festivals.

The only problem was - I really didn’t know how to make a show quilt!

So I set about learning exactly what it took to win a ribbon in a quilt show.  From Google searches I eventually found Karen McTavish and her four excellent books which basically taught me all I needed to know to get started show quilting.

I decided then and there that I was going to create a white whole cloth quilt and compete with it.  I had just seen the movie The Duchess with Keiran Knightly and read the biography of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and I was obsessed with the idea of creating a quilt with all the frills and glitz and glamour the costumes had in that movie.

I set about creating a design using Georgian wall paper designs.  During this time, I fought an important road block - one of my sisters had always been the “artist” of the family and it felt weird to be drawing and designing this way.  Finally I realized I had to give myself permission to be an artist too.  It sounds like a simple thing, but it really was a pivotal shift in my thinking.

Once The Duchess was designed, it took several days to transfer the design onto white fabric.  Already I could tell this was going to be one amazing quilt!

But I was also making mistakes I would regret later.  Josh and I were pretty strapped for cash during this time, so I scrimped on the fabric.  I used white backing fabric, which is cheaper and lower quality than normal cotton.

I also ran out of water soluble pens in the middle of the night while marking the quilt surface, and rather than wait and get a new pen, I grabbed another marking pencil, and without testing it, I marked the rest of the quilt.

The next steps went easily.  I layered the quilt with batting, stitched the surface with water soluble thread, and soon discovered one of the greatest loves of my life - clipping batting away for trapunto.  I swear, if I could clip batting every day, I would be the happiest person in the world!

Once the trapunto was in place, all I had to do was baste and quilt it.  This was the hard part - quilting The Duchess took months.  It was agonizing.  I got bored and soon found that quilting white thread on white fabric is a great way to go completely blind.

It was during this time that I attended an excellent local guild meeting where Mary Ray gave a lecture on her beautiful quilted garments.  I went home with my head buzzing, filled with a crazy creative energy.

I felt very frustrated and I remember laying in bed that night wishing I could share my creativity and my quilts with the world.  Suddenly I saw the image for Release Your Light pop into my head: a huge goddess, surrounded by a ring of flames.

I visualized my creativity as a small ball in the center of my heart, all wound up and tucked deep inside.  But once released, it’s not a small thing - it’s an explosion!

I got out of bed that night and sketched Release Your Light on a piece of paper.  The next morning I hung her on the wall next to my sewing machine and I knew that would be the next show quilt I would make.

The next few months I focused entirely on The Duchess and I have to say, making an all white wholecloth quilt with an 18 month old in the house is a great way to go insane!

Eventually the quilting was complete and it was time to soak the quilt to remove the markings.  Forgetting about the extra pencil I’d used, I dumped the quilt into a bath of steaming hot water.  All the water soluble pen marks immediately disappeared, but the pencil marks were now heat set into the quilt.

Devastation doesn’t describe the feeling I felt.  I just couldn’t believe the marks wouldn’t come out, but no matter what I tried, the light blue and pink lines remained.

I’d always planned to go over the top with this quilt, just like the costuming in the movie The Duchess, so I started by applying beads and lace around the center circle.  Once that was complete, I felt the quilt still needed some bling, so I tried iron on rinestones.

The only problem was, I didn’t bother to buy the right tool to put the rinestones on, and ended up singeing the center of the quilt!  Ugly mark #2 in the smack dead center of the quilt.  The judges would have to be blind to miss it.

Again, I tried everything to cover this second mistake.  I couldn’t believe I was so clumsy!  No matter how much paint, ink, or pen I applied, this singe mark would not come out.

Still I continued to add more beads, lace, and crystals to the surface, hand stitching everything in place over the winter months while my family had a cold.  I must have been running a fever myself the night I decided to stitch a single bead into the center of every crosshatch square in the middle section of this quilt!

Eventually The Duchess was entirely done and despite the mistakes, I was very proud of this quilt.  I packed her up and sent her off to Denver National Quilt Festival in the spring of 2009.

I was on pins and needles to know what was going on at the show, but no news was published, and it wasn’t until I received the quilt back and found a blue ribbon inside that I realized I’d won my very first quilt ribbon!

I can’t explain exactly what this ribbon did for me.  It was validation in its purest form.  I just finally felt like I’d found the right craft, and I was doing the right thing.

Unfortunately The Duchess wasn’t reacting very well to traveling.  The cheap cotton backing fabric I’d used to save money was showing every smudge of dirt.  I asked around and several quilters told me to use oxyclean to clean the surface of the quilt.  Then they would immediately say “Well, you could always use hydrogen peroxide since it’s basically the same thing.”

So I tried it.  I soaked my quilt in hydrogen peroxide, and once dry, I packed the quilt off to go to North Carolina Quilt Symposium where she won a second ribbon!

But at symposium, I could already tell something was seriously wrong with The Duchess.  Certain areas were starting to discolor, and the beads were starting to pop off in certain places.

Concerned for my quilt, I took her home and stupidly treated the discolored areas with more hydrogen peroxide, not knowing that this chemical was the reason for all the problems.  It turns out that this chemical weakens cotton fabric and thread.  Since the cotton was already low quality, it wasn’t long before the chemical ate through the surface completely.

The Duchess showed one more time at National Quilting Association show, but this time the judges caught every mistake, every flaw, and wrote a critique that made me cringe.  Looking at the quilt, I knew she could never show again.

To have this happen to my first show quilt was crushing.  I almost stopped quilting because of it.  I had to put The Duchess in storage because looking at her is really upsetting.  It just makes me very sad to see that quilt and how I ruined it.

But I didn’t stop quilting.  I dug myself out of that hole by starting Release Your Light.  This time I decided to appliqué the body of the goddess over a white background, but then quilt in all the other details.  Since I’d learned my lesson with white quilts, I also planned to cover the whole quilt with paint.

Working on this quilt was also a marathon session.  Everything seemed to take months, rather than days or weeks.  Everything was time consuming and meticulously done.

During this time I began focusing entirely on quilting.  My L’Bri business was established to the point that I really didn’t need to focus much on it.  James was attending preschool for a few hours each day, and would happily play next to my sewing machine while I quilted.

It gave me a lot of time to think about the quilt I was working on and the major issue I was grappling with - connecting with quilters.  I knew I wanted to focus entirely on quilting, but I didn’t know how I would be able to do this if it wasn’t making at least some form of income.

When I started Release Your Light, I only knew about four free motion quilting designs: stippling, mctavishing, pebbling, and paisley.

I could really only quilt Stippling and McTavishing well, so I used them both all over that quilt until I reached the outer ring of flames.  By this time, I was so extremely sick of these two designs that I wanted to stitch ANYTHING else!

I complained about this issue to a quilting friend and she mentioned using Paisley and I explained that I didn’t think that texture matched the overall design of the quilt.  She responded with “Why don’t you change it a bit so it works?”

My instant thought was, “Is that allowed?!”

But I immediately tried it.  I took paisley and elongated the design into a flame shape, changed it up a bit, and created Flame Stitch.  I then quilted this design throughout the flames of Release Your Light.

I still had a month of quilting left to go and that gave me plenty of time to think about that design and how easy it was to create a new design.  How many designs could there be?

It was around this time I read a book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price.  This book is really interesting and basically explains how people have used the price of $0.00 to establish such huge brands as Jello, Gillette razors, Google, and YouTube.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew I wanted to create new designs.  And I didn’t just want to create 50 or 100, I wanted an excuse to focus on quilting for an entire year.

I wanted a reason to come downstairs and quilt and do what I loved rather than get on the computer to sell skin care products.  I needed an excuse, a goal, because blogging without a purpose had really not worked for me.

I also knew I wanted to do it all for free.  That was a sticking point that a few members of my family didn’t understand at first.  Why give something away that could be sold?

But I knew better.  I was entirely unknown. No one knew Leah Day, and who would publish such a crazy idea, especially when it wasn’t even done yet?

The ONLY way to do this was to share it all for free, and not just photos but videos as well.

I’ll be honest - I didn’t know if this was going to work.  I didn’t know if anyone would care or even pay attention.  I just knew I had to do this, I had to start it, I had to try.

I thought about the idea for almost a month.  It worked on me and I worked on it, until finally I launched the project on August 14th.  I just wrote the intro post, then the rules, then posted the first design.

When Josh came downstairs, I told him what I’d done and he looked at me like I’d grown an extra head.  He still didn’t really think it was such a good idea, but I’d started the project and it was too late to worry about that now.

In the beginning, I just posted photos, but soon found that writing out a description of how to quilt a design was far harder than just editing and posting a video on YouTube.  I also really didn’t know what I was doing as far as fabric or thread goes.  I just used whatever fabric was in my stash that I didn’t have a plan for, which meant that many of the first designs are really difficult to see.

After only one week, I could see that I need to start working ahead of myself.  I started the project with only 7 designs stitched out and ready to go, and it was a scramble to make more quickly.  I had a few very crazy days where I shot a video, edited it, uploaded to YouTube, and wrote the blog about it all in one day.  It was crazy and chaotic, but I quickly learned to always have at least a weeks worth of designs.

Since I was posting new designs daily in the beginning, the project grew very quickly. By September, I was getting emails from quilters asking questions about quilting, watching the videos, and sharing the project with their friends.

The thing that blindsided me the most was request for books and dvds.  I just never considered the idea that readers would want books or DVDs when the designs were all posted online for free!

But the request kept coming in, along with questions about what tools and materials I was using for my quilts, and with the economy taking a nose dive, Josh and I were already seeing that Chet’s business might not be in the position to support both of our families for too much longer.  It was time to open an online quilt shop to run alongside the project.  This would be what funded the project and ultimately, would soon support my family.

Starting a business is surprisingly easy.  In order to purchase wholesale from a quilting distributor company all I had to do was list my business with my state and request a resale tax ID number.  Once I had my number, I could then purchase wholesale products to sell online.  I specifically look for products that were lightweight and could be packed in bubble mailers rather than boxes so it wouldn’t cost as much to ship.

It isn't an exaggeration to say that I started the quilt shop with around $300 I'd made from my L'Bri business.  This money paid for just 9 products, and I would only buy 10 of each item (sometimes less) at a time, so our inventory stayed low.  Being online, it didn't matter that we only had a few items on the shelf!

During this time I also produced my first DVD, Volume 1, which contained the first 20 designs from the project.  I really wanted to include more, but the disc only had space for 20 videos, which taught me a huge lesson about just how much volume I was going to create with all 365 designs.  Suddenly the size of the project was starting to sink in…

Along with Volume 1, I decided to create a workbook of the designs with graphs so quilters could practice drawing out the designs on paper. Unfortunately I didn’t know anything about graphic design, so all the graphs were hand drawn on paper, then scanned into the computer. 

The results were pixilated and, truthfully, not very professional, but it was the absolute best I could do in such a short space of time and with the limited resources we had.  When I think back to those months in September and October 2009, all I remember doing was either stitching designs, editing videos, writing, or working on the book or DVD.  I’m not even sure I slept much during that time!

Free Motion Quilting Fillers Volume 1 launched around Halloween and the response was really overwhelming.  Going from being virtually nonexistent in July to having a business bringing in real money to our family was really unexpected and quite overwhelming at times.

Even with Volume 1 launched, the requests kept coming for more books, more DVDs, more information about free motion quilting.  I began working on Volume 2, again working almost entirely on my own as Josh was still spending most of his time working for Chet.

Again, I didn’t have the greatest software, or the best idea of how to do this, but I used what I had and made do.  Volume 2 launched before Thanksgiving and the two workbooks and DVDs together were a great success.

While I might sound critical of these workbooks and DVDs, I was actually very, very proud of them when they came out.  They were absolutely the best I could do at the time and I learned so much by creating them.

But by this time I was utterly exhausted.  I never expected the blog to take off like it did.  I expected I might get book requests at the end of posting all 365 designs, not right at the beginning!

It was overwhelming and the fact is, I wasn’t ready for any of it.  I had to take some time, slow down, and try to get ahead of myself on the project. 

So by November, I stopped posting daily.  I had to admit to myself and everyone else that I just wasn’t Superwoman.  I took the entire month of December off from posting new designs and focused on getting ahead of myself so the project wouldn’t be so stressful. I decided I’d put off making more books and DVDs for the time being and spend the winter relaxing.

What I’ve learned since this experience is the fact that I have a very hard time saying “No” to anyone who wants me to do anything.

I’m like a little puppy that’s bubbling with enthusiasm “You threw the ball for ME!  I LOVE YOU!!!  I MUST go get it for you!  Will you throw it again, PLEASE?!”

My self esteem and self worth was so tied to what other people wanted, to what made everyone else happy.  My happiness, well, it just didn’t matter as much, wasn’t as important.

Over and over as I’ve worked on this project, I’ve had to return myself to my original focus.  I’ve had to remind myself “Why did you start this project, Leah?  Who did you start it for?”

I started it for myself, so I could have an excuse to quilt every day, but it’s so hard to keep that in perspective.  So few people have wanted me or valued what I could do, that it’s really hard to not agree to everything that’s handed to me just because it makes me happy to be wanted and be useful.

It was even harder to keep the original goal in mind when I began getting requests to lecture and teach in guilds.  By November I’d been asked to teach in California, the Bahamas, North and South Carolina. 

I agreed to do almost every single local workshop or lecture I was request for.  I signed contracts booking my months through all of 2010 before that year had even started.

But it was when I was asked to book into 2011 and 2012, that I finally started to think straight.  James was not yet 3, how could I know what was going to be going on with our family in two or three years? 

I had to return to my original focus and intention to work from home, online, and to quilt daily.  I can’t quilt when I’m on the road.  I can hand piece or hand appliqué, but I can’t quilt, and I have to admit I’m a really terrible traveler.

I’m not terrible in the sense that I get sick or anything, I just have bad traveler amnesia.  I easily forget how much I hate it, how much it tears up my stomach, stresses me out, and really wrecks my style for about a month straight.  I forget how it makes me feel until the day before I go somewhere and then I’m a total mess until a week after I come home.

But I absolutely love to teach.  I didn’t realize how much until my first lecture for the Concord Quilt Guild in January 2010.  I was nervous getting up in front of a full house of quilters, but as soon as I opened my mouth, I knew this for me.  I like to tell my story and I love to show my quilts.  It’s fun and hearing people laugh - that is just plain addictive.

It was around this time that I found the polling feature on the blog and began to run polls asking different questions.  One that totally threw me off was the question “Rate your level of quilting” in which I expect that most quilters following the project would be intermediate to advanced - quilters who wanted to quilt show quilts like me.

Oh, I was so wrong!  More than 55% reported being Beginners and another 18% reported being Utterly Clueless.  That changed my perspective on who was reading the blog overnight.

Suddenly I saw that beginners really needed more help, more information, and more guidance to getting started.  I ran a few more polls and every time the answers came back requesting more information about free motion quilting and how to use the filler designs in actual quilts.

Eager to please, I immediately started filming Free Motion Quilting Basics for Beginners, a DVD that would cover all the basics to free motion quilting.  Again I was running off on a tangent, like a chicken with her head cut off.

It took a month of filming which was much more difficult than the other DVDs because I filmed a lot of myself speaking directly into the camera, which made me fanatical about how I looked.

Halfway through the filming, I got sick, but rather than take time off like a normal, sane person, I instead set up my laptop in bed with my external hard drive connected so I could edit the videos for the DVD and rest at the same time.

That is, until I needed to get out of bed and forgot about the external hard dive, which happened to contain all of the videos I’d created up until that point.  You know what happened next - it crashed to the floor and took all the videos with it!

It’s a very good lesson to learn - when you’re sick, just go to bed and stop working!

Luckily I only lost three videos for the new DVD, but I lost all of the videos for the free motion quilting project.  I’d already edited videos for Volumes 3, 4, and 5, but after the crash I pretty much decided I was not going to continue to publish the designs in volumes.  It was too expensive and way too time consuming.

Eventually Free Motion Basics was ready to launch and I was so happy when it was met with a good response from quilters.  I was less thrilled when the reports started coming in that the DVDs were faulty.  Actually a better description would be crushed.  I was utterly crushed that this happened.

My DVD manufacturer, which had previously been great, suddenly ran through a batch of very cheap, faulty DVDs, which corrupted half the discs of the first batch.  My sample had worked just fine, so it totally blind sided me when the discs started having problems.

Immediately I began looking for a new company to produce the DVDs, and alerted everyone to the issue on the blog.  It was embarrassing and humiliating and made me feel terrible for months.

My inner negative voice (INV) was always strong, especially when I was down, and took on a whole new edge that spring.  It just wouldn’t stop cutting me down, glorifying my failure, and reminding me of my every flaw.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I sat at my dining room table and I looked at Release Your Light, a quilt that symbolizes creativity and freedom and the power of sharing.

I looked at this quilt and I wondered if it was possible to design a quilt about my INV, and by symbolizing it, I could make it less powerful.

I decided it was worth a try so I began designing Shadow Self in the spring of 2010.  This quilt would mark a huge change in my design and quilting process as I designed the entire quilt on a small scale, then blew it up to the full size, and then quilted it using over 40 filler designs.

During this process I found many books that helped me understand and see myself better.  Two of the most important were “I know I'm In There Somewhere” by Hellen Brenner and “Truth Heals” by Deborah King.

By reading these books I finally began to see the truth about my INV.  Truth heals, but it also hurts.  My mother was largely the source of my inner negative voice.  About 90% of the destructive and abusive things that rattled through my head on a daily basis weren’t my words at all, but hers.

And the other 10%?  Those words came from my sisters or toxic childhood friends.  It’s like I was some kind of negativity sponge and I’d soaked up every bad word said about me and stored it in my head to come out and haunt me at the worst times.

As I worked on Shadow Self, as I explored the light and dark sides of my mind, I suddenly found more space, more peace, more quiet than I’d ever had before.  I could hear the difference between my thoughts and those negative voices.  I literally quilted my inner negative voice out of my life, out of my mind.

I gained so much freedom after finishing Shadow Self that I celebrated by completing My Cup Runneth Over, a quilt I’d started, but not finished in the winter.  This quilt was a celebration of light, love, and life, and it felt wonderful to work without the constant negative drone buzzing in my ears.

But the underlying cause was still my abusive mother and sisters.  Around this time, my mother left my dad after 30 years of marriage.  She then attending a quilting function and behaved so badly, and treated me so terribly, I finally had to draw the line.

I began making a list of all the words that hurt so much, all the phrases and sayings that had cut me for years.  I designed a new quilt called Sinkhole to hold all of these words, to trap them where they couldn’t hurt me anymore.

Working on this quilt forced me to face many truths.  The truth that my mother was an alcoholic and abusive.  I had never put those words to my mother before, but as soon as I made the connection, I knew it was true.

I also knew that I didn’t have the space in my life for an abusive alcoholic.  I lost my mother in 2010, not because she died, but because I knew it would kill something in me to keep our relationship going.

I also decided to sever my relationship with one of my sisters, and the other quickly followed a few months later.  I took a stand by saying “This will not be tolerated.  You must treat me with respect and kindness.” and they couldn’t deal with it.

While I know it may be hard for you to understand why I made this decision, or why I absolutely don’t want anything to do with these members of my family, all I can say is I tried.  I tried for years to be what they wanted, but I realized in 2010 that what they wanted was for me to be unhappy, broken, and utterly dependent on them.

Abuse continues because cycles exist that allow the abuse to perpetuate.  By severing the contact with these members of my family, I have stopped this cycle of abuse, and saved myself from teaching it to my own son.

I also made a hard decision in June 2010 to discontinue Volume 1 and Volume 2 and replace them with Beginner Free Motion Quilting Fillers.  I did this for a lot of reasons, but the biggest was the quality of the DVDs.  By this time I had a learned more about making videos, and I knew I could do a much better job.

Almost as an afterthought, I decided to self publish a physical book of 50 designs to go along with the DVD.  This project suddenly was twice as big, twice as complicated, and I basically spent the entire summer on the computer working, working, working.

Finally, just as things began to take shape and From Daisy to Paisley and the new DVD were ready to launch, I reached the end of my rope.  Luckily Josh was ready and willing to step up to the plate.  He stopped working for Chet and within a week took over the customer support email and packing all orders.

Looking back, I am a little surprised I got through 2010 with my brain still intact.  Traveling each month, dealing with the emotional turmoil of cutting off half my family, blogging daily, writing my first real book, creating two DVDs, and running an online business - that was a lot!

I am a strong person.  I've known this since I made it through that first year sewing for a living, but I don’t always make life easy for myself.  I try to do too much, I work too hard, and I have trouble keeping everything in perspective.

But I wouldn’t trade this life for anything in the whole world. 

I haven’t finished Sinkhole yet.  There are some words that are so dark and embedded they take time to work out.  There are also some lies that take time to stop believing.

In the winter of 2011, I decided to start a new quilt called Hot Cast because that’s exactly what I wanted to do to myself - cast myself anew.  When I was in high school, I worked with my Dad at a bronze foundry where we cast bronze sculptures.

That idea, being cast again with new metal, was on my mind a lot and I designed quilt to symbolize casting your body with love, allowing it to infuse every section with molten heat.

Working on this quilt has been hard.  It’s not easy to go from hating yourself to loving yourself overnight.

As I work towards finishing her, I know this journey isn’t over.  It’s only just begun.

Now the last question I often get asked is how and why I share so much personal stuff about myself.

Most professional quilters have About Me pages that are only a few paragraphs, if that.

I find these condensed biographies very frustrating to read.  When I'm interested in someone, I want to know more about them, and if we have anything in common.  More than anything else I want to know WHY someone quilts and if it is similar to the reasons why I quilt.

I also find it difficult NOT to write and share about myself.  I feel that if I gave you only new designs and happy, smiling photos, you might leave thinking I'm some kind of superwoman freak who does it all, never gets overwhelmed, never gets frustrated, and never has a bad hair day.

But that isn't ME!  I regularly get overwhelmed, frustrated, and my hair always looks terrible, which is why I wear it up all the time.

I just can't be fake.  Life isn't all flowers and sunshine all the time, and my blog isn't either.

I figure if you're interested enough to read this entire long post, then chances are this is exactly what you wanted to find here - a true connection with a real person. 

I do appreciate your interest and if I haven’t covered something here, and you have a burning question to ask, please feel free to email me.

Let’s go quilt,

Leah Day

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