Trying to Improve Your Quilting? Just Relax!

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Is there any worse advice than “just relax?!?”

Hearing those words gets me more agitated than I was to start with, and brews up a healthy dose of resentment at the person spewing said advice.

Because seriously, if I’m that wound up about something that people are freely giving me advice, the odds that I can “just relax” about whatever it is are slim to none.

Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

What does this have to do with quilting? I’m getting to that.

If you look for guidance or advice on free-motion quilting, one of the most common things you’ll hear is that you should just relax, play, and enjoy the process. Which for the most part, I agree – I mean, why is anyone sewing or quilting or doing anything else by hand if they don’t actually enjoy the process? Enjoyment should be the name of the game.

But that doesn’t mean that quilting (or knitting, or painting, or whatever) is always easy. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially if you’re making something for someone else (like a wedding gift, AHEM).

It took me a few days to decide on how I wanted to quilt this quilt. I knew in the back of my head that I wanted something swirly, something with nice round lines, something that evoked movement and rhythm. So I set about to draw it on paper first.

Paper Drawings

 

Eh, that didn’t go so well. So I tried again, and tried again, and tried again. I tried different variations of swirls, hoping to get one just right. It took a few days of stops and starts, but eventually I got to the point of drawing something I was happy with.

 

Practice

 

So I grabbed some scrap fabric and tried out my swirly stitching and ahhhhh, yes, I was pleased! Onto the real quilt!

 

In The Machine

 

But before sitting down to tackle the whole quilt, I grabbed something else.

 

Headphones

 

They’re cordless headphones that are paired with my computer (which is where I keep my whole music library). I punched up some music on my iTunes and started singing along.

 

Stitching1

 

And frankly, I was amazed by the results. It took me a while to realize that my quilting was actually different than usual. Maybe it took me 15 minutes or so to figure it out?

As I’d stop and examine my work so far, I was definitely more pleased than usual with my ability to make swirls and hooks and waves and other rhythmic shapes. My stitches were much more even than they usually are, my circles were rounder, my designs just looked better. It struck me that I felt a lot better about the process – I was definitely enjoying it a whole lot more than usual.

And honestly, I think it was what I was listening to. Any guesses? (I’ll shock you with this revelation – it was NOT Hamilton!).

I was listening to the soundtrack from Les Miserables.

It’s been years since I’d listened to Les Mis and lately I’ve been telling my daughter about how gorgeous the melodies are, so that’s what I put on while I quilted.

And I felt my whole body get into the music – it’s impossible not to with such a moving story and lyrics and the beautiful singing – and I kind of forgot about my quilting. I just moved my arms and body along to the music and sang to myself and the lovely whirls and swirls appeared on the quilt in front me. Crazy, right? I know. Crazy!

I think it also helped that my cordless headphones really block out other noise as well (not so great for my family calling me from the other room and I have no idea what so ever – well, not so great for them but pretty sweet for me), including the sound of my sewing machine, whirring and quilting and reacting to every move of my hands. I didn’t hear it at all – and that was a pretty cool thing. I’d never realized how much of a distraction it is to hear myself sew – I mean, that’s kind of counter-intuitive – but regardless, it made a huge difference. Really huge!

Stitching2

 

So it seems that the combination of drawing my designs out for several days until I felt confident in one of them, putting on music that I found to be beautiful and engaging, and blocking the sounds of my sewing machine was some kind of magic combination. The whole experience felt much more natural, much more relaxed, and I was much more happy with the results.

Maybe learning to “just relax!” wasn’t such bad advice after all!

 

p.s. – I would show you the picture of the whole quilt, but on the off-chance my bride-to-be friend sees this, I don’t want to spill the beans! I’ll make the reveal after she’s seen it, promise!

 

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