quilt desgin, quilting

I figure I’m about 1/2 way there


it takes 50 hours to become comfortable with machine quilting

it takes 500 hours to become proficient in machine quilting

it takes 10,000 hours to become a master machine quilter

While the principle comes from a work of fiction (Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell) the essence of the truth remains the more one practices machine quilting well, the more a quilting will improve.  When I teach I break this down into 50 = one work week; 500 hours = ten work weeks and 10,000 hours =well right now we won’t go there.  I’ve noticed that quilters (frequently including myself) seem daunted by the time it takes to build good skill and master the technique.  While I think this is more complicated than I have the wherewithal to cover in this blog I’m going to attempt to share some of my experience on my way to one day mastering machine quilting.

Saying:  How do you get to Paducah/Houston? Practice, Practice, Practice.

Benartex, Paula Nadelstern, Patternista

Practice is essential and there is no way to get around this.  Each quilt we make takes us through a learning process that allows us to learn along the way.  I’m going to focus on machine quilting as this is the skill I’m working on mastering.  Notice my language: working on mastering.  I haven’t mastered machine quilting though I’d say I’m rather adept at it.  The current quilt I’m working on has made it clear I’m not in charge, not just yet.

Challenge#1 – the need for a basic understanding of the mechanics of machine quilting.  I started learning at home without the benefit of a class.  While this isn’t necessarily a problem having an understanding of the mechanics would have helped the process along as I would have had the foundation in place to correct problems as the happened.  Having some experience while taking the beginner class helped an awful lot as I wasn’t particularly concerned about making mistakes in class.

Challenge #2 – a fear of making mistakes.  I did and still do have a fear of making mistakes.  Oh sure, I’ve embraced my seam ripper and sing it’s praises well.  One might say I like my seam ripper a little too much.  Well maybe not.  So what I’ve learned is that mistakes happen.  Sometimes we can work around them and sometimes not.  When I can’t work around them I can either put the project away til later or take out the seam ripper.

There came a moment where I chose to build enough skill to compete.  While choosing to compete is my choice and focused my effort on mastering machine quilting as quilters we can work on improving our skill.  The first step in this is to stop comparing our quilting to other peoples quilting.  Developing an appreciation for their work will help change our focus to something good.  By changing how we look at other quilters work we won’t be quite so daunted by he learning process.

zen tangle

Challenge #3 – figuring out how to build skill and by that I mean practice.  This actually took a while and some commitment on my part.

I have several ways I practice including practicing motifs with paper and pen with both dominant and non-dominant hand. Paper and pen is effective as it creates muscle memory and aids in figuring out a path of stitching that works for me as a quilter.  This stitching path may be different for you.  As a little aid I mocked up a paper version of two different types of feathers which can be viewed on the December Free-motion Quilting Challenge Bonus Tutorial.

Then there are border & kaleidoscope prints that offer great stitching paths.  Stitching the lines on these gives me time at the machine and lines to follow.  These can then be used to make totes, table toppers and wall hangings.

Jeanie Summrall-Ajero’s Kaleidoscope Kreator has so many options for creating stitching paths that a quilter can grow by leaps and bounds.

One block wonder quilts are an endless source of stitching path and offer enough ditch path that allows for ease of movement from block to block.

Get some solid colors, make 8″ quilt sandwiches and stitch for 20 minutes a day as warm up exercises.  Use stencils and grid lines at first then just go for it.

Bottom Line: there is no improvement without practice.

Remember we work 6″ from our quilting so we see everything and I do mean everything!

Practice effectively.

Seek advice when needed.

Be confident and don’t make excuses for your work.

Take photos and look for perspective – it really helps!

Just the other day I emailed a friend of mine for advice and not only heard what I needed to hear but got encouragement to keep going, that and a deadline will do it for me.  I still have a lot of hours to put in towards mastery but it sure is fun!

Have fun!

Happy Quilting!


11 thoughts on “I figure I’m about 1/2 way there”

  1. Encouraging words for all of us would-be machine quilters! Though I’ll be elated if I have 10,000 quilting hours left in my life account! Thanks for these helpful pointers and for helping us in the FMQ Challenge to increase our skills along the way.

  2. The quilt is ALWAYS in charge because it is always telling us how it wants to be quilted. . .although, I did chuckle at the 10,000 surely, we must getting close!!!!! Great blog today. . .thank you!

  3. Great post Teri. I definitely think anyone that practices 10,000 hours would most likely become a master FMQ quilter. While I don’t know what the exact time is, I have seen some amazing quilters reach this status, in much shorter time. My only guess is to focus on 3-4 designs and master them before moving on. So, maybe their is a multi-tier level of being a master FMQ quilter. Those that do beautiful FMQ, teach, win awards, but only have a handful of FMQ designs they are comfortable with vs the FMQ experts that have mastered a large portfolio of FMQ designs and they always look stunning. Either way, practice (or as Diane G says “repetition” is key). And, I enjoy viewing FMQ from all levels of quilters. It is just so amazing at what it can do to make a quilt, table topper, wall-hanging look spectacular.


  4. Excellent post! And the Malcolm Gladwell books were pivotal to me and in my mind, relate directly to quilting.

  5. Great advice! I’m printing this one out and putting it in my quilt journal to remind me of what I need to keep in mind as I begin to work on projects in 2013.

    Have a Happy New Year!

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