Confessions: The Ugly Duckling Stage

Hello! Welcome back for another Confessions post. Again, if you're new to my little blog, this is a weekly series where I try to share some of the behind the scenes happenings in the life of a machine quilter and attempt to clear up the confusion that exists in the quilting world. There are too many instances quilters find themselves in and even with all the books and blogs and tutorials available, a lot gets skipped over because everyone ASSUMES everyone else knows how to do everything. I'm trying to whittle my way through all of these topics and use this as an outlet to help-me-help-you. I hope that makes sense.

Today I would like to discuss the ugly duckling stage. It doesn't happen to every quilt, but most quilts... And sometimes it can happen multiple times to the same quilt.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That statement has never been more true than in quilting. Everyone has their own style and likes and dislikes and they can change often. Quilters can experience the ugly duckling stage in different ways. Today I'm going to talk a bit about what happens on the long arm side of things.

I have been quilting a ton of custom quilts lately and I love it. It keeps me on my toes and challenged creatively and I'm always coming up with new ideas. Every once in a while a quilt will stump me for a bit, but then once I figure out the way to get my plan to work it's like magic.

With custom quilts I rarely give away my entire plan to my client beforehand or during because:
1. I may not have the entire plan yet
2. I don't like to show my secrets (sometimes I have a trick or two up my sleeve I like to hold back)
3. The plan may change and alter slightly once I actually start on the quilt (the doodles and the real life quilt can look completely different sometimes)
4. The Ugly Duckling Stage

As of late with all of these custom quilts coming, I have had a lot more requests to see pictures of the quilt "in progress" and that always makes me nervous. I know my plan. I have the vision. That's why you send me the quilts.

You don't know the plan. You don't have the vision. That's my job. And when you see the quilt "in progress" it could be in the ugly duckling stage. It's kind of like when you fix up your house and you get new furniture, but then the new furniture looks so good it makes the walls look bad and dingy and now you want to touch up the walls and paint... Same principle. With only parts of the quilt finished, it can make the unquilted areas look ick.

Usually when I do send clients pictures of their quilt "in progress" it's because it's coming along even better than I anticipated and I'm so giddy I can hardly stand it so I have to share the excitement. But the quilt isn't finished yet so some areas may be bare or still in progress too. Sometimes when this happens I have a lapse in judgment and I send off a picture so giddy to get a response. And then it happens...

I get the "I like _____ but I'm not loving ____" or "that part will get quilted and look better, right?" and nothing gets mentioned about the reason I sent the picture in the first place and my heart sinks. Truly it does. With a job like this you pour your heart and soul into these quilts - you have to have a passion for this because it shows - and sometimes getting that response knocks the wind out of my sails and then I get anxious and nervous that they don't like it and I start to second guess myself when I was so passionate about the plan I had a few minutes ago and excited for how it was turning out...

And then I don't want to work on the quilt anymore because what if they don't like it and blah blah blah. Gosh darn that ugly duckling! Seriously, there are some quilts that behind the scenes I will consult with some of my long arming friends on ideas and plans and there will be this whole nervous breakdown over the smallest detail and my clients have absolutely no idea. It's nothing against their work or their quilts, it's all part of the artistic process.

So that's when I take a break, walk away for a bit, maybe play with Maura or go grab myself an adult beverage and come back to it refreshed and relaxed. Usually that is enough to brush aside any residual anxiety and get back to work.

And you know what happens? The quilt turns out amazing, sometimes even better than I could have imagined and life goes on. Sometimes even the part that people complained about initially then becomes their favorite.

This is where the ugly duckling stage can happen in quilts too. Maybe sometimes it's a bundle of fabric that has that one piece in it you can't stand but if you take it away, the rest goes blah. Maybe it's that block you had trouble piecing and you're sick of looking at it. Maybe it's just that quilt that you don't like but you started it and you're bound and determined to finish it even if it'll kill you. Don't write off the whole project and toss it aside never to see the light of day again. Maybe, just take a small break, come back to it after a bit and try again.

If you still don't like whatever was bugging you after that break, rip it out, start over, throw it in the trash. But give it a second chance! Try to push through and get to the finish line before you officially don't like it anymore. I LOVE when clients bring me quilts that they finished and they don't like it anymore - that's my chance to help them fall in love with it all over again and realize why they started it in the first place!

Ugly ducklings don't stay ugly forever!!!


  1. I probably have the "ugly duckling stage" on all of my projects (even at the end). Nice post.

  2. Another great post, and very true for me too sometimes. I take it pretty seriously that my customers trust me with their quilt tops, I want to make the quilt sing and my customer delighted with their new look quilt! Someone called the quilting the frosting.......I like that term.

  3. So very true, Becky, when I am in construction stage (usually near the end??) and I hate how something looks. Often better even the next day, if I just step away.


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