Machine Quilting: Practice, Practice, Practice

This is Quiltmaker‘s

Year of Machine Quilting!

YOMQ button 450 Machine Quilting: Practice, Practice, Practice

I want to share something inspiring with you today—a bit of encouragement on your journey to becoming an excellent machine quilter.

As I’ve started interacting with readers learning to machine quilt, I have noticed that they’re not cutting themselves any slack as beginners.

I hear them say, “I tried machine quilting but it didn’t look very good.”

“I can’t keep the curves smooth. I go all over the place.”

badquilting222 Machine Quilting: Practice, Practice, Practice

Early machine quilting is always rough!

“I machine quilted a wall hanging but it looked sloppy.”

“It looks awful—I hate machine quilting!”

All this self-deprecation started me thinking. I have a good friend named Diane Weston who is an accomplished pianist. She has an impressive resume of piano performance. On the spur of the moment, I asked if she’d do something for me, and she agreed.

Have a listen to this 21 seconds of my friend DW.

Now let me ask you: If a person you knew was a beginning piano student, and she played Row Row Row Your Boat for you, would you criticize her? Would you ask her why she can’t yet play a masterpiece? Would you point out that it’s hopeless and that she should just give up now?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d say, “That’s terrific! Way to go! Good job!” You would understand that it takes a lot of practice, and a lot of learning, and a lot of experience, and much more practice to become better, to become really good, to become a master. Right? Makes complete sense, doesn’t it?

Now listen to Diane Weston play again. After the first 25 seconds, keep listening, but go ahead and scroll down and read the rest of the post.

How do you think she got from the first video to the second? Do you think it happened overnight?

By now you have gotten my point. Learning to machine quilt is a lot like playing piano. You start out as a beginner and things are rough. It’s the same for everyone.

It takes practice and a lot of it to become really good. Beautiful flowing curves don’t happen overnight, just as Diane Weston didn’t become an accomplished pianist overnight. She practiced her heart out, and you’ll need to do the same with machine quilting.

So please cut your beginner self some slack. Pat yourself on the back for getting started. Embrace your first efforts as the Row Row Row Your Boat of machine quilting. Know that it will take some time but that you will get it. And keep on practicing.

Practice, practice, practice.

YOMQ button 450 Machine Quilting: Practice, Practice, Practice

About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email:
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41 Responses to Machine Quilting: Practice, Practice, Practice

  1. Pingback: Sew Long! | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  2. Kate says:

    I accidentally found a great way to make my practicing look better. I used a piece of pink camouflage fabric as my backing on a little girl’s quilt. I quilted it with the backing up and followed the camo design. The front had a really nice meandering pattern. Now I look for backing with large designs, florals or graphics and just follow the lines for interesting quilt designs on the front. This obviously won’t work on every quilt but it is good practice for muscle memory.

  3. Here’s a tip for people who are worried about messing up their nice quilt tops with their less than perfect machine quilting: Make some quilt tops that have only minimal piecing. Since you won’t have invested a lot of time in the piecing, you can feel free to allow yourself to just practice and grow your skills on them. A good quilt pattern for this is “Quick Strippie” which you can find here:

    I am a new longarmer, so your post was very encouraging. I’ll keep on practicing!

  4. Donna Smeal says:

    Running my own business means I have only one day a week to practice but, I have noticed improvement. I’m old enough to know that beating myself up is self-defeating and everything takes time…I run my own business and know how many hours spent building a business, so building good FMQ skills are no different. I am so thrilled at the thought of completing my own quilts from start to finish I feel it is worth the journey!! Good luck to everyone and remember…you can’t fail if you don’t quit!!!

  5. Shirley V D says:

    That was beautiful, both the illustration, and your friend’s playing!! Thank you both. I will have to give the free motion quilting a try sometime.

  6. Mary Green says:

    What a great comparison. I learned the piano when I was in grade school and tho I no longer play (no piano conveniently available), I remember it was always “practice, practice, practice.” I’ve been able to tell myself that about free-motion quilting. I figure whoever gets my quilts should just be happy to get them and not closely examine my machine quilting. It has gotten better the more I do it. I’m no where great – yet – but I can always hope.

  7. Eugenia Read says:

    Another comparison would be, if you are a knitter or crocheter, you know the importance of practicing to make sweaters, socks, slippers, hats, and afghans. I want to learn all I can about every aspect of quilting so I feel practicing is important. We continue to practice, practice and practice our piecing so why not practice our machine quilting. Yes, practicing is time consuming and frustrating but definitely well worth it. Just think of all the praise you can accept from others and give yourself after the project is completed.

  8. Becky says:

    I free motion quilted a couple of baby quilts last month. I was a little discouraged that the stitches weren’t more regular, some of the curves were a little wonky, etc., etc. Then a took a look at the first quilt I free motion quilted years ago and realized that I’m still not perfect, but I’ve come a long way, baby! :)

  9. Patti says:

    Thank you I have been so hard on myself because I haven’t made my free motion perfect I have been free motion quilting for a couple of years last year I took a class which helped and I can see progress so I will keep practicing

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I practice on small quilt “sandwiches” using orphan flannel fabrics on at least one side. Most are left over from previous projects. When I’m finished practicing I cut the piece into dishcloth size pieces and do a quick straight stitch around the edges. These are great for kitchen clean ups and launder nicely. Bonus….you can see how the quilting will look after it’s been washed ….before you do a whole quilt!

  11. Michele Dawson says:

    Thank you, point well taken. I’ll have to buckle down and get to that practice, practice, practice thing!

  12. Lisa says:

    For several years now I’ve been saying I want to get better at machine quilting (Free motion) and just not doing it. But this year I took the bull by the horns and just got on with it. I’ve done a crib quilt and several little mini quilts that I’ve had kicking around. My next goal is a lap sized quilt. I think one of the issues is that we see all these images of quilting that professional long arm quilters have done and we hold ourselves to that standard. My quilting is nowhere near perfect but I’m pleasantly surprised at how well it looks , and luckily for me I give all my quilts to non quilters so they are impressed with anything. It also helps if you work on a top that you don’t have a lot of attachment to (maybe one you’ve had for a long long time.)

  13. Diane Dashevsky says:

    My maching quilting still looks pretty bad…but I keep trying…each one is a learning experience – LOL!

  14. Linda A says:

    Practice, practice, practice! : )

  15. JOANNE says:

    Message loud and clear ! Thanks !

  16. Kathi says:

    Perhaps I’ll try machine quilting again. Practice, practice, practice.

  17. Carol Fisher says:

    Machine quilting was my New Years resolution last year, it terrified me! but i so wanted to do it, I could picture myself doing it and I even dreamt I could! I made my grandchildren new quilts for Christmas and decided this was it! I started with a flower on my grand daughters butterfly quilt and just put my foot down and went! what fun! I had a ball, of course it wasn’t perfect and some stitches were bigger than others but I enjoyed it so much that I did my grandsons one as well. I then did a queen size for my son and dil anniversary and I did feathers and all sorts!! I still have a long way to go but if you believe in yourself you can do anything!!

  18. colleen says:

    I have always wanted to play the piano and to try machine quilting. This will be the year I try machine quilting and maybe start looking for a used piano. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Every thing is practice, practice, practice!

  19. Marge says:

    I’m a retired high school mathematics teacher. The same principle applies with arithmetic and mathematics. The first step is to get (including parents) past the “I hate math” or “I can’t do it” stage.

    Frankly, it applies to anything that you are learning.

  20. Mary Colgan says:

    Point taken.

  21. Mary Colgan says:

    Point taken. I promised myself I’d learn machine quilting in 2014…but, have let my practice sessions take the back burner… I guess I need to make it a ‘scheduled’ event each day if I really want to see improvement.

  22. What a great comparison! I know this is true, as machine quilting is my roughest part of making a quilt, but with each quilt and each practice session it gets a little bit better. I don’t know if I will ever make it to the “big leagues” of machine quilting, but it sure it fun trying. I really enjoyed hearing your friend, Diane’s piano playing too! Have a super day!

  23. Denise Ward says:

    I’ve been told by many trying to learn machine quilting on my Janome would burn up the motor. It is a quilter but a small one. Baby quilts or wall hangings are fine but I could never roll a bed quilt tight enough to get it in quilting position anyway. So I have to save up for a larger quilter.

  24. Mary Spencer says:

    I’m ready to try again but I think that it is more frustrating than when I learned to play the piano. Maybe that is because I’m afraid of ruining all of my hard work that I put into making the quilt. Learning to play the piano just hurt my ears.

  25. Ruth Power says:

    I already subscribe to Quiltmaker and love it! I would sure like to win the fabric bundle!

  26. ivy gabbard says:

    I would love. to win fabric bundles

  27. Shelby says:

    That was a great encouragement ..I love free motion quilting. I only do baby quilts, placemats, wall hangings and small stuff…I have my larger bed Quilts done by a professional … They take so much time and I can be sewing more great things…
    Ladies don’t forget to wear your Quilting gloves as they make a big difference in moving the material.. Happy Quilting!!

  28. Linda G says:

    I so appreciate your encouragement. I also appreciate the classical/hymn arrangement that was played. I don’t know how many recognized the hymn portion, but, as a Christian, I am so excited that you chose a piece that magnifies God.
    As a pianist, I know the years of practice that go into “getting it right.” As a quilter, I have not yet tried this method of quilting. Perhaps in the near future.

  29. Barbara Stewart says:

    I needed this encouragement for my free motion quilting, I had just about given up but this blog really helped me to see in is not something you can learn overnight.So I am determined to learn it in March 2014!

  30. Ellen says:

    Thanks for putting things in perspective. I have much more practice to do.

  31. Darcy Duke says:

    Thank you so much for putting things into perspective. I am a piano player and a teacher and my words are practice practice practice. We have to walk before we run. I, too, get frustrated with my quilting, but each project gets better. We need to keep encouraging each other. After all, why do we quilt? For others’ enjoyment or ourselves? Thanks again and have a beautiful day.

  32. Rachell R says:

    Thank you Diane! What a great comparison! I needed that, even though I feel like I’m slOwly getting better. If I had more time and $ to finish more quilts, I could practice more! And I still wish I had more space to quilt with than my 5″ on my domestic small Bernina./..the more space you have, the smoother my lines are.

  33. I’m never going to just give up. Just like in the beginning, my squares didn’t make perfect blocks, so it goes for quilting. I’m getting better every time I try. If anyone wants to criticize me for my work, the shame is on them. At least I tried. Failure is the result of giving up!

  34. Edath Feston says:
    I would like to try machine quilting. I have been doing a little of it with my Bernina sewing machine which has a “stitch regulator” included. Anything as big as a lap quilt, however, I have found too cumbersome and awkward to hold onto and push around under the needle. What is your opinion of the product at the website I’ve posted above?

    • Try placing your ironing board beside your sewing machine to hold the bulk of the quilt. I’ve managed to get a king size quilt done using that tip.

    • Claudia says:

      I purchased one of the Flynn frames. For small projects, it seemed to work well. I think I tried it on one baby quilt. It is limited by the throat distance of your machine–needle to the area on the far right of the needle. I also do not have arms as long as John so it was difficult to reach the fly wheel of the machine when sitting at right angles to it. I found it worked better for me to stand up and use it than sit down.

  35. Sherri N. says:

    I had given up. Thanks for the ecouragement! I shall get back on that preverbial horse!!

  36. P Pardue says:

    Timing is everything, isn’t it. I had started to have doubts about my abilities with machine quilting because my free motion work for lack of a better term looked like crap on a stick. Thank you for this article. I guess I will stick with it.

  37. Barbara says:

    Yes, thank for the reminder. As children we learn that to do something well, or I should say better. We need to practice or do it over and over till we have the basics in memory.
    I fine myself looking my work over and saying to myself, will you ever get it. Just relax and start over or keep going.

  38. Oh this is so encouraging, thank you! I took piano in elementary school and wasn’t interested. As an adult I got the interest and began to play all the time – and was surprised as how much better I got. So that is a very good lesson about learning to machine quilt! P.S. your friend is an amazing pianist!


  39. Diana C says:

    Just the encouragement I needed to keep practicing! Thank you!

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