Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

staffstories paula Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness
pinit fg en rect gray 20 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

When Diane asked us to plan a blog post about our early machine quilting experiences, my first response was “Nooooooo!”

Really??? My first machine quilting (and all my early quilting) experiences were so, well, messy.

2014 02 04 09.12.53 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Wonky star

Here’s my story in a nutshell: I had a friend who kind of taught me to quilt, but she was kind of a bossy know-it-all, and those kind of people make me crazy. So I guess I kind of quilted in secret, so she couldn’t tell me what to do. Which means I often learned what NOT to do before I learned WHAT to do.

2014 02 04 09.14.07 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Wonky star

And I was a young mother with three young children. So we had no money for classes or buying books. All the quilt books in the library were from 1822, so I was mostly on my own.

2014 02 04 08.26.17 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Poor star.

And I’m kind of sassy and stubborn, so I refused to ask for help and figured “How hard can it be?”  I could figure it out on my own. Which means, well, you’ll see…

2014 02 04 08.26.31 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Still wonky

My very first project was a table runner. I’m so sad that I can’t find it. But here, pull up a chair and I’ll tell you about it. I cut every square and triangle of that table runner out with a template. EVERY piece. My bossy friend told me to. (See what I mean?)

After I pieced it, I proceeded to quilt it. Without lowering my feed dogs (what were those?) no pins (duh) and brown thread (it was a fall table runner, you know) which resulted in teeny weeny weeny BROWN stitches that were impossible to pick out, and wonky corners.

And then I cut 6-1/2″ binding strips (yes, true story) and bound it. You can imagine what the binding looked like on the back. (Apparently a little wide, but I thought it was a good place to start.) Then I put it on my dining room table and decided I didn’t like my table anymore and we needed a new dining set. My husband called it my “$1000.00 table runner.”

2014 02 04 08.27.19 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Getting a little better!

Then I moved on to a full size quilt. (How hard can this be?) I saw a picture in a magazine, figured out the size of strips I needed and made the top (really fast, ’cause I had little people who wanted to play with my strips).

2014 02 04 09.37.03 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

My second quilt

Then I had the bright idea that I should probably stabilize it with pins this time. So I proceeded to use straight pins (yes, true story). About a million straight pins. (See the pin in the photo below? Still there. Quilted in. From about 20 years ago.) And yes, my arms looked like I had been attacked by a dozen cats by the time I finished quilting this quilt.

2014 02 04 08.23.291 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

The pin. Still there.

I had heard by then that gray was a good color to quilt with, so I used gray. But I didn’t know that you were supposed to secure your stops and starts (and there were many!) so I have many a gray thread poking out of that quilt.

2014 02 04 08.22.08 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Gray threads

But I was so proud of that quilt. I bound it, (using 4-1/2″ strips this time – whoops, still too wide) and no, I didn’t know how to do the corners yet.

2014 02 04 09.44.56 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Sad, sad corners


We hung it on the wall, and my cat proceeded to chew on it.

2014 02 04 08.22.42 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

I eventually learned how to pin correctly, mark motifs and gained confidence. My quilting was still wobbly, and my thread color wasn’t always the best choice.

2014 02 04 09.05.28 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

And I still didn’t know how to bind corners.

2014 02 04 08.19.17 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Border and binding

And apparently I was in such a hurry to finish this quilt (below) I completely forgot to quilt the border. But look at that awesome corner!

2014 02 04 08.25.13 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Whoops! Forgot to quilt the border.

But I was in love. I had found my passion.

2014 02 04 08.57.26 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Loopy, echoed flowers

I practiced and practiced.

2014 02 04 08.58.09 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Loopy leaves

And practiced some more. And I learned to cut my binding 2-1/4″ wide.

2014 02 04 08.57.10 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

Echo quilting

All because I love it. Quilting soothes my soul and makes me happy.

Was your early quilting “messy”? I’d sure love to hear about it. Because we’re all in this together, you know. Don’t give up on your quilting—if I can do it, so can you!!

*     *     *     *     *

YOMQ button 450 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

pinit fg en rect white 20 Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

As part of Quiltmaker’s Year of Machine Quilting in 2014, staff members have shared their early machine quilting experiences. Read more Year of Machine Quilting blog posts. Find lessons, ideas and inspiration at



About Paula

I'm an Associate Editor at Quiltmaker in Golden, CO. I've been quilting for 18 years, including teaching, long arm quilting, designing, and stash building. I also love to read, run, stitch, play with my boston terrier and spend time with my family.
This entry was posted in Machine Quilting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Staff Stories: Early Machine Quilting Messiness

  1. Kathy says:

    Wow, so great to see that wonderful quilters started out like me. I actually did not know that there was quilting on top of pieced tops. I had taken my 1st class & the teacher took us to design and sewing the pieces. So after piecing, sandwiching, binding a mini quilt runner I thought it needed something…so in the squares (posts), I made free style “windmill designs” w/ baby triangles and thought if people saw it they would think I wrecked it by sewing on the finished quilt. Oh boy!
    Thank you for sharing your journey because we all are on ours.

  2. Becky says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! It gives me so much hope!

  3. Claudia says:

    Well, my first machine quilting project was in 1963 when I was about 16. Enuf said! After I had taken some quilting classes, my second “first” was to stitch in the ditch with lovely puffy poly batting. That was given to my mother-in-law who promptly “saved” it in the bottom of her closet. Was probably still there when she died.
    Like everything else, practice makes it all better. I seem to revert to the same three or four patterns I have accomplished. Time for something new.

  4. JessicaK says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think everyone who quilts has been there (and some of us are still there :D ). I love seeing the evolution to what you’re doing now.

  5. Ann Bowman says:

    I started machine quilting in 2011 and my first project was a lap quilt for my grand daughter. Your earlier pictures look pretty similar to my work and the back was even less perfect but I’m sure she was none the wiser and enjoyed it nevertheless. Practice makes perfect is a truism and the next quilt I did was a sampler of many designs that gave me lots of practice and I have improved. So keep on keeping on and you are never too old…I will soon be 74.

  6. LizA. says:

    Everytime I’m feeling bad about my own quilting I go back and look at some of my earlier work–cures my bad feelings everytime! Thanks for being brave and sharing with us.

  7. Tiffany says:

    Haha! This is awesome. I’m SO glad I discovered the world of online quilting blogs before I jumped in myself. :)

  8. Barb Johnson says:

    I made a bedspread for my college dorm that was a ‘quilt’. It was made out of polyester cotton fabric, and I did it “envelope” style with no binding. because I didn’t know about binding. It was made out of 9 patch blocks, with a solid sashing which I think was Symphony broadcloth. To quilt it, I just sewed through all the layers along the edges of the 9 patches after I had turned it and stitched the opening closed. So of course, the edges pulled in and got all wonky. The 9 patches didn’t line up with the sashings, but I kept going. It was a hot mess, but it was warm! So I think I made every mistake in the book, but it didn’t discourage me. I learned from my early mistakes and never looked back.

  9. This post made me smile, because my journey was rather similar. Especially about the straight pins! On one of my first machine quilted quilts, I used tiny applique pins, because I thought the smaller size would make it easier to manipulate the quilt! Yeah, still finding those pins in the carpet seven years later. . .

  10. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your early attempts. It’s good for those of us who are on the early part of the quilting journey to see that other people had shaky beginnings also.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>