Earlier this week on the Handi Quilter sit-down model Yahoo! group, Emily asked me how long I’d been quilting to ‘get this good’. In my long reply to her (and the group), I outlined my quilting journey in recent years.
However, that journey actually started back in 1986 when I lived in Canada for a year and saw my first-ever Mennonite quilts at a local fair in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario. I purchased a dahlia quilt pattern for a queen size bed at that fair, but to this day have never made it When I returned to Australia in 1987, I hunted out a store that held patchwork classes and made a couple of quilts as a result. Life got in the way from about 1990 until we moved from the city to the country in 2007, and then the next stage of my quilting life took off…
Here’s my long reply to Emily — bottom line: practice is the key!
The key is practice! Everyone says it, but it’s really true in the case of FMQ. My first attempts at a stipple in early 2007 looked like jagged, pointy brain coral – my friend and dealer taught that class and she will attest to my very pathetic efforts I never thought I’d get smooth curves and was ready to give up there and then.
I played with FMQ on and off from then on, getting a bit better all the time. But my first quilts were still quilted by a local long-armer. It wasn’t until late 2008 that I felt I had enough confidence to do some very basic FMQ on a ‘real’ quilt: http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2008/09/20/quilt-workshop-cosmic-curves-convergence-quilt-finished/
I was still pretty much at the stippling level (I could get curves now!) and continued that way until mid-2010 when I attended a 2-day FMQ retreat/workshop run my my lovely dealer (http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/photos-from-the-retreat/). We were FORCED to practice all sorts of FMQ designs. I was getting better, but was still disappointed in many of my efforts. Tension was a big issue for me with things like metallic threads, but Michelle was patient and full of knowledge, so I got there. And I got the bug! I practiced some more and got better each time.
I found the Leah Day 365 days of FMQ website (http://www.daystyledesigns.com/365project.htm) and decided to make samples of all her designs (I did most of them on my domestic machine, with the last ones done on my Sweet Sixteen: http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/my-leah-day-project/).
In March 2011, I attended a quilting workshop in the US when I was there for a conference and tried out the Sweet Sixteen. I was smitten . Another friend in our local group bought a Sweet Sixteen around that time and I just had to try it for more than 10 minutes! She was going away for two weeks so generously lent me her ‘Queenie’ while she was away (http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/testing-the-beast/). Oh boy! That did it. In that 2 weeks, I quilted about three UFOs I had, including one where I quilted a different motif in every block (http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/challenge-quilt-2011-the-finished-quilt/). I was totally hooked and bought my own machine a few weeks later (http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/my-very-own-bee/).
Last year (2012) I participated in the 2012 FMQ Challenge (http://sewcalgal.blogspot.com.au/p/free-motion-quilt-challenge.html) and that pushed my boundaries even more. I forced myself to make each month’s practice piece, even if I wasn’t keen on the technique or felt I’d never use it again. Some of my efforts were less than impressive (http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/2012-fmq-challenge-summary/)
Then in June 2012, I offered to quilt community quilts. I figured if I was ever going to master FMQ, I had to get a lot more practice. I knew I couldn’t make quilts forever – just not enough friends and family to make them for; and besides, I wanted to practice quilting, not piecing. As I said in the previous email, quilting community quilts has been a win-win – I’ve had heaps of practice and they’ve got finished quilts to donate to the various charities, hospitals, cancer support groups etc.
You don’t get to 6 million stitches in a few hours . Some smaller quilts with a simple motif take me an hour or so to quilt; others take me several days depending on the size of the quilt, how I decide to quilt it, whether I use more than one thread colour/type or threads that break (I avoid these now). For example, McTavishing takes FOREVER as it’s so dense and goes into every corner, whereas the various headband motifs I use – and large stippling – take me far less time. I’m up to 60-80% speed on these motifs these days as I now have the ‘muscle memory’ for them from heaps of practice. I think Malcolm Gladwell said in one of his books that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery – I think he’s right, though I wouldn’t call myself a master .
And yes, I have a day job, and no, I don’t quilt at night. However, I try to only work three days a week in my day job, which leaves four days for quilting Some weeks I’ll quilt a bit on every one of those four days; other weeks I might only quilt for an hour or so on one day of the four – it depends on what life is throwing at me at the time. I don’t have kids, grandkids, or pets, and I have a low maintenance husband – as a result, I don’t have a lot of external demands on my potential quilting time that others have.