Thursday, October 27, 2016

Is it a "road block" or a "speed bump"?

That's one of the questions I ask myself to determine how to deal with my UFQ's!
"Road block" or "speed bump"?
It's almost that time of the year again when I take stock of my UFQ's and try to decide what to do about them.  I've made great progress over the past 4 years but not the progress I envisioned.

It's time for me to ask the question again -- at what point did I stop working on this project?
And hopefully that will lead me to a list that will give me a clue about "why" I stopped.
Then the trick is to decide if the "why" is a "speed bump" or a "road block"!!
Think about it.  
Speed bumps are annoying, they slow us down when we want to go faster, but they don't stop us.
Road blocks on the other hand are different -- we can't get through them for one reason or the other and if we're lucky someone will tell us where the detour is.

At my peak (?), I owned 72 finished quilt tops ready to be quilted.  It wasn't enough to just know how many there were (yikes), I needed to determine the WHY? behind that stack -- okay, those stacks.

My first excuse was that I don't like to layer quilts by myself. 
I'm capable of doing it certainly -- after all I've taught quilters how to layer their quilts for close to 30 years.
So this is just a speed bump for me -- it slows me down because I have to whine and fuss prior to engaging in the process. 
Good news is that I found a strategy or two that has helped this part of the quilt making process become less odious.  One is to ask for help and the other is to layer two or three at a time because the "hardest" part of the process is starting.

Help isn't always available and so I marked the center of my "layering" table -- who knew such a small thing could be such a big help?
My layering table is an adjustable height folding table with a hard plastic surface.
I set it up in the living room so I can watch TV and layer -- time passes enjoyably and I'm distracted from the "odious" task at hand.   As long as it's up right now, I'm going to cut out a blouse this evening to stitch up next week.
I layered this quilt yesterday afternoon while watching a new episode of Midsommer Murders!!
There's another small quilt that I'll layer before taking the table down for the weekend.
For the most part, I've eliminated this speed bump that kept me from finishing quilts on a regular basis!!

Then there is the "road block" issue.
How to actually quilt a top?
I'm talking about mental paralysis here!
I would just stare at a layered piece for days and try to figure out what to do.
What I have decided is that there were two issues -- first I don't believe I can "visualize" the end result and second, I didn't have enough experience to be confident about my quilting.

Since I teach quilt making professionally, I feel it's important for me to be able to discuss the "how to quilt it" question with students so I'm more inclined to quilt my own pieces rather than to send them to a professional quilter.  So over the past 5 years, I have worked hard to find alternative routes to get the quilting done myself!!

Since small quilts are easier to do myself, I've turned to doing the quilting in "sections" (or quilt-as-you-go) for my large pieces.  The first one I did was terrifying -- layered up the four sections and looked at it for a full six months before I actually started the stitching. 
Now it doesn't intimidate me as you can see in this POST.
Marti Michell's Machine Quilting in Sections is my "bible" for this process.  Between the alternative finishing ideas and the 14 reviews of quilts finished using this approach, I always find the help I need!  (Marti has a Craftsy Class on this topic.) 

BIG STITCH hand quilting has also provided an enjoyable alternative to finishing some of my quilts.  I enjoy hand stitching in the evening while watching TV and "big stitch" is a stress free approach.  There are lots of tutorials and youtube videos about the process -- I just found this one on the Auribuzz blog which has great step-by-step pictures.  I love the look of it for my "funky" stuff!  If you haven't tried it, go with a small project like a pillow cover and see what you think.

Finally, I've quit following the quilting escapades of professional long arm quilters!
They do beautiful work and it's really inspiring but it intimidates me. 
I don't have the patience or interest in spending hours creating detailed quilting designs.
I want to piece, piece, piece!!
So I now look to "modern" quilters for my quilting inspiration.
They tend to have a simpler utilitarian approach and I can do that!!
 The results of these three strategies are beginning to have a positive impact.  My pile of tops is dwindling steadily.  I'm not sure I've removed the "road block" but I've found three good alternate routes. 
I still get off to a hesitant start, but I'm realizing that quilting more quilts is making it easier to find solutions to that big question, "How should I quilt this?"

I'm betting some of you have struggled with this aspect of making a quilt.  I hope you'll share your strategy for "just doing it" with the rest of my readers in the comments section!

Have a stitching good time this weekend!



  1. I just went through the 'how do I quilt this' with a mini round robin and when I sat down at my machine it all seemed to flow.

  2. I'm very much a beginner so I'm just trying out stitch in the ditch and curvy wiggles! I have found it helps if I'm gifting the quilt to someone who will never know the difference between super duper quilting and average quilting, that removes the pressure, then I can please myself with the degree of quilting:)

    1. Well said -- keeping it real is so important because it keeps you stitching and the stitching is what you need to do to build the skill!!

  3. Your insights summed up all the usual issues perfectly! Teamed with "The Quilt Notebook" UFO series at Lori Kennedy's Inbox Jaunt, every quilter can have tools to focus and conquer those nagging UFOs!

    1. There are so many resources out there to help us keep moving!!  Thanks for pointing that one out!

  4. Like you, Mary, sandwiches is a big hangup for me. Not that I can't do it, but I just don't like it, and I'd rather be piecing. And as for the quilting, I feel a lot of quilts don't need so much quilting that they require elaborate patterns and dense stitching. But to each her own. Marti's book has been a godsend to me.

  5. When it comes to deciding quilting designs, I put my quilt on a design wall, pin a vinyl overlay (clear painter's plastic) over it, and use a dry erase marker to draw possible quilting designs. This always gets me going!

  6. Wow! You should be a quilt psychologist! Your analyzed the problem, came up with several potential solutions and put them into action. I really admire that! I like your solutions too.

  7. Good on you for getting the pile to dwindle. Here was me thinking I had a few UFO's but I think I'm quite a few short of 72! I'm intrigued that you use a table to do your layering and pinning...I'm a novice quilter and thought doing it on the floor was best (as hadn't seen any alternatives) - does the weight of the fabric hanging over the edges help keep it all taut as you pin?

  8. Great post, Mary! I have fond memories of you telling me (encouraging me) to just start quilting and the rest will follow. That was in 2005 and to this day, when I load a quilt on my frame, I remember those words. BTW, how many UFOs do you have now?

  9. When I face a question of "how do I quilt this?" , I usually just start by using invisible thread to stitch In the ditch to secure some major sections of the quilt. As I do my ditch stitching I really look at the various sections and block designs or shapes to see if there are particular elements that I want to emphasize or contrast with a quilting stitch, Even if I just get one design for one section, that gets me started on that quilt's finish! The rest of the design somehow falls in place. Like you said, Mary, just get started!!

  10. I have stopped being in a hurry to get things done - seems that I still move at the same speed but I seem to enjoy the process more. Basting a quilt using the two board method and big stitch quilting helped me over some roadblocks.

  11. I prefer piecing to quilting too, and that is my speed hump. It is not a road block, just something that slows me down and encourages me to take another road (project). I would like to try the big stitch quilting. That might make quilting less odious and more fun.

  12. So helpful Mary! How to quilt slows me down, though I enjoy the sandwiching. Switching my machine setup if quilting something large is also a bump on my road. I just made a foam board "outsert" for my machine, to have a flat surface-that's helping a bunch.

  13. As far as layering, I've recently discovered a way that I think is really easy. Spread the backing out on the design wall. Spray (I like June Tailor) one side of the batting, then place it over the backing and smooth out. Spray either the batting on the wall or the top somewhere else. Lay the top over the batting and smooth everything out. Leave it there for a few hours to let the spray dry. This method makes it easy to line everything up and make sure it's smooth. This is an adaptation of Ann Petersen's method in the Craftsy class on Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine. The only drawback is you have to have a big enough design wall.