Not a darn thing

That's exactly what I quilted yesterday. Not a darn thing. Didn't even plug in the machine or turn it on. Well, I was working, but I wanted to let you all in on a little secret long arm quilters know about...

Not every minute or every day we work involves quilting. There I said it!

One of the most common conversations I've had with my own clients recently (many of them long term clients) has been about planning their quilting. That and the fact that many of them are still amazed I do everything free-motion or hand-guided. Here, we will touch on that part first. If I draw out the design in front of you, chances are my same hand will be drawing the design with thread using the machine... The only thing my machine does is control the stitch length - the rest is all me. Sorry, but it shocks me still that even my own clients think sometimes I just push a button and finish a quilt.

Which then leads me into why I worked without quilting yesterday. There are instances and some projects that the planning stages takes much much longer than you would think. Especially custom quilts.

How I like to work is fairly simple. As I'm working on a quilt, I pull out the next quilt in the lineup and lay it out so I can view it while I'm working on another quilt. That way I can get familiar with the next project, remind myself of the scaling and the colors, and if needed, finalize a plan to actually design the quilting. That way once I load it onto the machine I'm ready to go.

Some quilts are easier than others to plan. There are times that the instant I see a quilt I know what I would do and I have a plan. Other times I have to ponder and think and doodle and ponder some more. Sometimes it takes days. Other times it may take weeks. Sometimes even after pondering and doodling I can only come up with plans for part of a quilt - so what do I do? In that particular instance, I start with what I know and usually seeing the quilt coming together in front of my eyes opens avenues I didn't know existed.
This is an actual doodle I sent to a client earlier this year...

So yesterday I spent my day doodling and planning for quite an epic plan. This time around I have five quilts that all use the same fabrics to be used in the same room. Some will be on beds, some on walls and tables, but yet they all need to work together. Between the five quilts, three are the same pattern, but two are colored differently than the third. And then there's two other quilts to design and plan. That's five quilts in total with four different quilting plans that all need to work together but obviously still need their own identity to fit the various quilt patterns used. Confused yet?

I normally don't take this much time to plan and doodle, but as I said, I normally don't have a grouping like this that needs to work so well together. It's been a fun and creative challenge and I think I have plans for most of the parts. The first two quilts are planned out, the last three I'm working on, but I have some time to ponder a bit more and come up with the fine details.

This is where a good quilter should excel at their job (aside form the quality of quilting). With each quilt I get I try to ask:
* Who is it for?
* How will it be used?
* Will it be washed?
* What type of quilting did you have in mind?

If I get the key parts of the information needed above, I know better on how the quilt should be finished. A wall hanging may get quilted differently than a bed quilt just like a quilt for a 5 year old will get quilted differently than a quilt for a married couple.

There's so much more that goes into the quilting process besides picking a thread and batting. As a quilter, I think so much more about the quilt as a whole and I put that time and effort into creating a quilt design to enhance the projects you bring to me. It can be as easy as choosing a design out of a booklet like a catalog, but I like to think that even on the most basic project I can put a personal touch into your quilts.

I know there are simpler and cheaper options out there like pantographs (continuous line designs) or computerized designs, but they lack the personal touch a free-motion or hand-guided quilter can provide. Depending on the project, they may be they right fit, and I've used them on my quilts in the past too.

I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that like any artist - you're not just paying for the quilting you are getting when you hand over the check. You're paying for hours of practicing and doodling. You're paying for past failures that led to great ideas and advancements. You're paying for thoughts and dreams and imaginations that only exist in that one mind that can come out of only that one set of hands.

To wrap up - when you choose to use a free-motion quilter, you're paying for a service because you can't or don't want to do it yourself. If that sounds harsh, I'm sorry, but it's the truth. So please - the next time you get a quilt back from your quilter - think about all that goes on (and has gone on in his or her career) to get to the point their quilting is at today. Appreciate the artist they are and that they can share their talents with you and your quilts.

I would guesstimate that only about 60%-75% of my time is actually spent quilting. The rest of the time is mixed between planning, prepping, ordering supplies and chatting with my clients to make sure they are happy with the quilting plans and the quilts they get in return.

Does any of what I said above surprise you? Do you have any questions about the quilting process I can answer? Comment below and let me know your thoughts. I'd love to hear what you think.

Speaking of which, I need to go meet a client here soon and get started on those quilting plans I worked so hard on yesterday. I'll be back soon to play catch-up with all sorts of quilting photos and more! -Rebecca


  1. Hi Rebecca, I don't quilt for clients but I pretty much do exactly like you when I quilt each of my own quilts. I am known in my guild for being a great quilter, but that's because I don't take short cuts with my quilting or my designing. Of course as you said, it will also depend on who the quilt is for and what type of quilt it is. I know I could just stipple everything but how creative is that? Thanks for sharing your thoughts...I get it!

  2. I have been known to figure out all the different designs I'm using on a quilt, get the quilt on the frame and only 1 of the designs makes it onto the completed quilt! When the quilt yells at me, I have to listen and obey (one of the rare times I have learned to obey all the time)!!! I may spend hours playing with my erasable marker and plastic over the quilt to come up with designs that work for me and the quilt. Yeah, customers don't get that everything I have done and learned as a quilter goes into their quilt...every doodle, class, past quilt and all the blogs I follow to check out quilting...not just the 50 hours I put into their quilt! I love reading your blog and knowing that I am not alone in my love of FMQ. I feel surrounded by quilters who have computerized systems or who prefer to do E2E designs or only quilt with pantos...I love custom, hand-guided quilting...and lots of it!!!

  3. You've gotten me curious over those 5 quilts and their setting. Residential? commercial? size of the room?
    Totally understand what you are saying about the quilting process. The customization, thought and experience you bring to a quilt is extremely valuable. I recently finished a bunch of tops and am trying to sort them for the quilting options I am fortunate to have available to me. There are the ones I really love and that need a longarm artist's attention, those for which an edge to edge computerized design is appropriate, those that will be good practice and fun for me to doodle on on a rented longarm but for which I have neither the experience nor commitment to turn into a masterpiece and those I'll do at home on my domestic machine. It is wonderful to be the client of a longarm quilter you can discuss designs with and whom you trust to turn your top into an extraordinary quilt.

  4. Hi Rebecca, it's Sue Glass. Would you kindly explain the difference between hand guided and free motion quilting? I also wanted to note that the reason I use a professional quilter for my quilts is that I don't have the skill set or the equipment to produce such beautiful results.

  5. Hello, Rebecca!
    I’m novice quilter from Odessa, Ukraine. I bought my machine Freedom by APQS three years ago. The machine doesn’t have a computer so all the work I’m doing manually as you do. Rarely I’m using a pantograph.
    I really like your approach to work! So do I. First of all I think over about the design of stitch, look upon the quilt, take photos of it and draw different versions. This work takes a lot of time, much more than the process of stitch.
    Happens that the client has absolute trust in my taste and I’m enjoying freedom that is given to me. Sometimes the customer offers his own design of stitch. But most of the designs proposed by me don’t have corrections by the customer. So I’m very happy of this)
    My skills are growing day by day. I’m constantly learning from you and different masters of stitch. You may be said to be one of my teachers! Thank you very much. Your post completely confirms my understanding of quilter’s work.
    Sincerely yours, Alexandra


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