Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting
It's Not a Question of IF You Can Do Something. The Question is, HOW BADLY DO YOU WANT IT?!
There’s a phrase that’s often uttered in the quilting world, and often heard among the many admirers of quilts at a quilt show. I’m sure you’ve either heard it, or said it yourself when admiring a lovely quilt. That phrase is, “I could NEVER quilt like that!” Whether it’s someone admiring hand quilting, machine quilting, piecing, or applique, we’ve all thought ourselves incapable of such wonderful work. But when I hear someone say that, I simply turn to them and say, “Of course you can do that! But are you willing to do the work to become that good?”
Seriously, that is true for most things in life. Think about it, barring any physical limitations or handicaps, you can do whatever you set your mind to. But there will be work involved! For instance, I could run a marathon if I really set my mind to it. It would require a strict workout program and I’d have to set a time limit and a goal date. So right now, I can’t even run a mile without keeling over! But if I decided I wanted to run a marathon, then I’d have to start out by running a half of a mile, then maybe the next week increase it to a mile, and so on. I know I could do it. HOWEVER, I have no desire to do so! But if a person really wants to do that, he or she certainly could.
I remember early in my machine quilting career the first time I saw a quilt by Diane Gaudynski. I was dazzled, to say the least! Inside my head, I said, “Someday I want to be able to quilt as beautifully as that!” Certainly a lofty goal, but I bought her books and took classes from her. And I tried to absorb some of her talent, and I listened closely to her advice. I also kept several little clippings (photos) of some of her beautiful work next to my sewing machine to inspire me (those photos are still right next to my machine). It wasn’t that I wanted to exactly copy her work. I just loved her beautiful quilting and wanted to be able to quilt my own quilts in a similarly beautiful manner. All these years later I think I do a decent job of quilting, but I still don’t quilt as beautifully as she does. But I can keep trying, and I will! Her work is so precise; it just leaves me shaking my head every time I see her photos. And whenever I see something of hers on Pinterest, I instantly recognize it as hers. She has a unique style that I can easily identify because I am so impressed by it!
Another example of something I conquered in the quilting world is hand quilting. I bet most of you had no idea that I actually can hand quilt. I just prefer not to. But a long time ago I was tired of being “pigeon-holed” as a machine quilter, so I decided to prove that I could hand quilt too. So I hand quilted a Baltimore Album style quilt, and I won a “Best Hand Quilting” award for it. Mission accomplished! It only took me three years to do the blasted thing, and I haven’t hand quilted since then, but by gosh I did it and proved to myself and others that I was capable. I guess I wanted it badly enough, right?
I have a friend who has only been quilting for about three or four years. When she started quilting, she was green just like the rest of us. She did 9-patch quilts, rail fences, etc. And her colors, piecing, etc. left a lot of room for growth. But she was learning. The first year she entered one of her quilts in a local show she didn’t win a ribbon, but she paid attention to her comment sheet from the judge, and she improved exponentially! This year she entered a small quilt that took her almost a year to make. And guess what; she was awarded a blue ribbon for it! Her workmanship, color choices and placement, quilting design choices, and her uniquely pieced binding all added up to create an award winning quilt. I think she was thrilled, and now realizes that all that perseverance over the past year paid off. I can’t wait to see what she enters next year!
Many quilters are often good at knitting too. Wish I could say that for myself! I would LOVE to be able to knit, but I don’t want to put in the years to learn to do it. I wish I could just pick up some needles and start knitting cable sweaters within a few weeks! Ha ha! That’s not going to happen! So even though I’d love to be able to knit beautiful things, I’m not willing to put in the hours of practice. But I know that if I really set my mind to it, I have the capability to do so. I just don’t want it badly enough.
So what do you want to achieve in your quilting? Do you want to be able to applique beautiful Baltimore Album quilts? If you do, then you have to buy some books on the subject, take some applique classes (from someone whose work you admire), watch some on-line quilting videos, and practice, practice, practice! You can achieve this goal if your desire is strong enough.
Maybe you want to be able to learn to do precision piecing. Then you need to learn from the masters. I took a week-long class with Sally Collins and that was the best piecing class I’ve ever had. I learned so much from her that carries over into all of my quilts. That class was invaluable. But even if I couldn’t take that class in person with her, I know that I could learn much by buying her books or seeing if she has an on-line class.
I really think that in this day and age of on-line classes, we are truly blessed. We can learn any technique we want with our favorite teachers. And the classes are almost as good as actually being in a classroom with the teacher. In fact, sometimes I find them to be better because you can see up close (through the video camera) the demonstrations (it’s better than trying to crowd around the teacher). These on-line classes are relatively inexpensive and they are great value for your money. You can also watch them over and over. And best of all, you can take the class in your pajamas! And you don’t have to haul your sewing machine anywhere.
So the next time you are admiring another quilter’s work, and you think to yourself, “I could never do that”, stop right there and say, “Yes I can!” And then you just have to decide how badly you’d like to be able to do that. Just know that you are completely capable if you want it badly enough.
***Speaking of on-line classes, it would be silly for me to not mention my three on-line machine quilting classes. If you want to improve your domestic machine quilting skills and learn directly from me, I hope you’ll check out my classes on my website!
“30 Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting” (lecture/demo style class; in this class I share with you thirty different tips that can make your machine quilting easier, prettier, more comfortable, and much more successful)
“Successful Machine Quilting; Basic and Beyond” (hands on class with lessons; this class is great for beginners and covers all the basics of domestic machine quilting, including how to handle large quilts easily on your domestic machine)
“Machine Quilted Stocking Sampler” (hands on class with lessons; this class teaches you many different fun and easy background filler stitches that will make your quilts even more beautiful!)