quilting, teaching

Slower is actually faster

sewing and day out 025Last night emailing a friend she’d had the “aha!” moment that when she slows down the piecing and quilting actually flow better.  It’s not an easy thing to do.  In fact slowing down and being mindful of the process is quite challenging.  (What she didn’t know as we chatted is that the essence of the conversation would become a blog topic.)

When most of us start learning how to machine quilt there is a thought in our brain that going pedal to the metal is the way to go.  There are quite a few problems that happen going pedal to the metal

1) teeny tiny stitches, stitches so tiny that the seam ripper can’t get under them.  Teeny tiny stitches are a pain in the posterior to take out.  And no matter how good you are the stitches sometimes have to come out.

2) it’s harder to control where the stitching goes.  Imagine trying to stitch in the ditch going full tilt, working on coordinating your hands at the speed the machine is going, staying in the ditch and trying to keep the stitch length consistent.  In my minds eye I can see the pig tails (technical term for a string of stitches) building on the back of the quilt.

3) eyelashing on the back of the quilt.  This is where the stitches on top look great and the stitches on the back look like eyelashes.  This usually happens when going around a curve.  While it looks pretty one good tug on the top thread and all of that stitching will come right out.

4) toe nail catchers aka stitches that are too long.  While teeny tiny stitches are more common toe nail catchers happen as well.  These stitches come out easily and will catch your toe nails in bed.  I do have a quilt where the stitches are too long and they’re starting to come apart.  It doesn’t make me happy but I’m not in a hurry to fix it because it’s something I can show my students what not to do.

Stitching at a medium speed allows the quilter to control the stitch length, where the stitches are landing (i.e. in the ditch or where you want them), the stitch quality will be good and it’s less likely that unquilting will happen.

Tilde tilde border close up

Slowing down often offers us the opportunity to see when things are working great or aren’t working well.  Perhaps its the wrong color, the wrong thread pairing, not a good fill for that particular area of the quilt.  When I quilted Tilde I unquilted 240″ section (60″ on each side) of metallic thread because of a poor thread pairing that I knew wasn’t going to work but went with it anyway.  I had metallic in the top and cotton in the bobbin.  It never works and I know it. My intention on this quilt was to use a turquoise on the back of the quilt essentially creating a whole cloth version of whatever I did on the front.  Cotton is very fibery and therefore grabby.  When the stitches form the cotton tends to pull toward the back.  The thread pairing did what I knew it would do, the metallic was pulled to the back.  I took out my favorite seam ripper and spent 2 days unquilting what took me hours to quilt.

It always takes longer to unquilt.  Always.  That said it’s often worth the unquilting process.

Back in 2008 I wrote about the time I learned how to bake bread.  I can remember the warmth of the day.  Carrying around the bread in the sunshine walking around with my friends.  I can still see the loaf coming out of the oven at the end of the day.  I think it’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

What does this have to do with quilting?  It’s a process.  There are steps taken to ensure a good end result.  In bread baking there is a clear a – z process to ensure a good tasting product at the end.  There is the science of baking and then there is the art of baking – making changes to create different flavors or styles.  Understanding the science of baking allows the baker to engage in the art of baking.   If you’ve ever made a loaf of bread by hand you know that certain parts of the process can not be rushed.  The yeast needs time to multiply and there is no getting around that.

So where does that leave us?  Slow down, it’s actually faster.  Use the a – z of quilting to problem solve when the quilting isn’t happening as you imagined.


I’m teaching April 12th & 13th at New England Quilt Festival.

Friday I’m teaching Beginner Free Motion Machine Quilting and Saturday will be From Inspiration to Quilt, Exploring Whole Cloth with a Twist.  On Saturday you get to bring your machine so you quilt on a machine that you’re familiar with.

There’s still time to comment for the Blog Give Away.


Happy Quilting!


7 thoughts on “Slower is actually faster”

  1. Excellent post Teri! I sure agree with all you said. I don’t even understand why any beginner thinks her work will be better going fast. Well written-thank you!

  2. Wise words that we need to post right above our machines! And who loves unstitching anyway? In my book it’s right up there with ‘utility stitching’ aka mending!

  3. So very, very true! When I started FMQing, I found that very fast worked best for getting the pattern right. But as I have progressed, I’ve found that by slowing down a bit, I get more control both in placement and the stitch length. Quilting IS all about the process!

  4. My old boss is a Buddhist. When he does a procedure, his movements are always purposeful, not automatic. He is aware of what his hands are doing. He is in the moment, not ten steps ahead. I TRY to do the same with my quilting!

  5. Aha moments are sweet and best shared! Ditto to your post. It is all about how you view the quilting process. If you think you are going to have a bad time you will, if you think you are going to have a good time you will. Slowing down, getting into the design will bring you happy success!

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