Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Conquering Fear.... Tips to get you past fear and on to quilting your quilts

How do I overcome the fear of ruining a quilt top/making mistakes while quilting?
every blog post needs a picture, so here is a cute one of my buddy Moose hanging out in the sunshine, he isn't afraid of free motion quilting, but baths totally freak him out!

Recently I posted on my Facebook page that I was wondering how all the new fans and followers of my book were doing and what questions they had about quilting that I might be able to help with.  I got two questions and both shared the same theme. 
"How do I get over the fear of making a mistake?"
"How do I get over the fear of ruining a quilt top?"
It seems there are definitely some of you out there that are really struggling with this- and to hear that makes me a little sad, because really quilting is supposed to be fun, free motion quilting is included in that, and to hear fear is keeping someone from enjoying quilting- well that isn't a good thing!  So I thought even though only two asked, that likely many more were struggling with the same fear, so what better then to face our fear, address the issue- and well, get over it- which is the ultimate goal!
First let's think about what fear is-
Fear is defined "a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid" on Dictionary.com
So how that relates to free motion quilting- "the distressing emotion aroused by the perceived impending threat that your quilting won't be good enough, that you might make a mistake, that your imperfect stitches may ruin an otherwise perfect quilt top etc."
Okay, so now we know what we are afraid of- "the perceived impending threat of failure".
Good news is, we as humans are born risk takers, and if the threat of failure ever really stopped us from doing things, we wouldn't have come very far as a society or species.  We take risks every single day.  You get in a car, you take a flight, you bring children into the world, you apply for a new job, you move  to a new neighborhood, you introduce yourself to strangers, you try new foods-  and every single one of those things are just as dangerous, or more so, then free motion quilting.  So every one of you has the ability to look danger in the face and shrug it off- perceived impending threat of failure be damned.
Now we know what fear is, how it relates to free motion quilting, and that we possess the strength to look our fear in the face and get over it.  Let's figure out a plan to face that fear.
If you break down the problem and really look at it we have one of three possible outcomes -
1. Your worst fears are realized, your quilting doesn't look good to you, and in your mind you've "ruined" your quilt top (even though if you stitched three layers together in a way that keeps them like that then technically you succeeded in "quilting" it no matter what it looks like)
2. The opposite happens and you do some of the best work you've ever seen yourself produce, things go so smoothly you feel like you found your calling and will be on to masterpieces at any second…
3. Something in between the two happens, and you experience moments of highs and lows, you have some problem areas, and areas you are happy with, but you are proud of yourself for giving it a shot, and feel like you really learned something.  More so you can't stop thinking about how good it felt to actually free motion quilt your own quilt, and how you want to do it again, and how silly it was that you waited so long to take the plunge, and how all those mistakes and problems disappear when you are more than 12 inches away from the quilt… and how many compliments you've gotten from friends and family… and more.
I think 99% of all of you who are afraid to try will find yourself in scenario 3 when you start quilting your own quilts.  Especially if fear has been keeping you quilting practice squares for a length of time- because that means you've already had lots of practice and are more than ready for the step you've taken. 
That said, I have to recognize that just telling you to try it doesn't mean you will if fear has been stopping you.  Here is some good practical advice to help set you up for success, and armed with a few new ideas and my guarantee that there aren't any monsters hiding under your feed dogs, will help you have the courage to get over your fear and start quilting all those quilt tops you have stacking up. 
1. Make sure you have a very solid plan.  Spend the time with pen and paper to sketch out roughly your quilt and then practice filling in the designs in continuous line form (not letting the pen leave the paper) just like you are quilting- figure out where to start and where to end up- what designs go where, make sure you are feeling very comfortable with your plan, and don't stop drawing until you are. 
2. Warm up first.  I find I make most of the mistakes I make in quilting during the first few minutes of a quilting session when my brain isn't fully warmed up and wrapped around the task at hand, especially if it's been a while since I have quilted anything.  I think it is a very good idea to have a scrap quilt sandwich ready to practice on, and to spend a few minutes quilting it before you move to your project- so if you forgot to set anything, or there is a tension issue etc. you will figure that out before it happens on your quilt. 
3. Wait until you are in a good, even, relaxed mood to try it out for the first time, and add music or an audiobook or podcast or something relaxing for you to the scenario- keep your shoulders loose when free motion quilting and your jaw soft, no teeth clenching!  Your quilting will look so much better if you are relaxed.
4. Quilt barefoot- make sure you can feel the pedal and all its speed variables, start slow, no pedal slamming- and quilt at a steady smooth pace- set the speed setting on your machine if you have it somewhere in the middle- so you can't go too fast- and just chug along at an even speed- this has always been the best way for me.
5. Don't overdo it- if you feel your shoulders getting sore, or your mind wandering, or the task becoming tiresome then it's time to stop.  It's okay to take as long as you need to finish it, but it's shouldn't feel like an endurance race, and I can see the quality of my own quilting decrease when I am tired, so I have learned I just can't quilt tired, and by knowing that I avoid a host of problems.
I hope you'll find some of these tips useful, if you have the book you've heard some of them before, but they really are the tips I use to get myself ready to do my best quilting.  If you are scared of ruining a quilt top you've spent a lot of time and money making, then you are right to be afraid of that, it absolutely isn't the place to start.  Make a simple quilt, don't spend a lot of time piecing it, and don't use precious fabric- plan on donating it to charity or giving it to a child who won't be judgmental of your work- and let that be your first project- the pattern I give in the book is a great first quilt to quilt, as it is so easy to piece, and gives you lots of areas to practice different designs.  Save the best quilt tops for when you've quilted lots of quilts and are very comfortable with what you are doing, and will look forward to the challenge.  And if you'd just get over the fear of it all and get started that day will be here sooner than you think!  :)
If you have any questions about free motion quilting feel free to email me or leave a comment on my facebook page - I would love to hear how you are doing and if there are any other things I can address on the blog that might help you and others in your journey to become a free motion quilter.


  1. Thanks this is really helpful. I love you book because if i do a small project i feel like I can do a small amount of quilting on it it is not so overwhelming.

  2. This is such good advice! I love what you said at first
    'technically succeeded in quilting".