(This information also appeared as an article for Make Modern Magazine, Issue 24.)
You spend countless hours choosing fabric, fussy cutting, matching points, ripping out missed seams and squaring up the most amazing quilt top ever. You admire it. You make your family run into the sewing room to see every stage. You photograph it. Post it on Instagram with #makemodern. You watch the “likes” come flooding in. You feel proud. Accomplished.
And then, it sits. It sits because your mind tells you, “if you quilt this, you will just mess it up.” It sits because the thought of quilting the top is daunting. Piecing brings peace. Quilting brings stress. You look at other quilts on IG and long to quilt like “they” do. So, what do they have that you don’t have? It isn’t skill. Skill is learned. What they have, is an awareness for their body and attitude, which can also be learned. Great news, right?
Practicing motifs repeatedly isn’t enough to make us feel confident, if we can’t break down the “feelings” and “actions” we use at every level of our quilting. Some people do this instinctively. Others need to learn it. I taught pottery for 10 years. The success of the student was directly related to their ability to “feel” the clay. Successful students could feel the connectedness of their own body, and they could “feel” that connectedness in relationship to what the clay was doing on the wheel. When I transitioned my teaching style to teach students how to “feel” their bodies and the clay, the success level in my classes increased significantly.
I loved teaching pottery, more than creating, if I am honest, but sadly had to sale my pottery studio in 2015. After two years of unexplained debilitating nephropathy and pain I was finally diagnosed. Tarlov Cyst Disorder, which meant I would never throw pots again. It was a painful grieving process, and quite frankly, I never believed anything would give me the “feeling” of fluid self-awareness in an art medium again. I floundered around with knitting and wet felting, and eventually gave up and resided myself to sewing clothes. Through a winding wilderness, I made my way to quilting. Thank goodness for magazines and guilds and Craftsy and YouTube. The very first time I sat down to “quilt” my own quilt, I immediately “felt” it. That “feeling” of fluid motion and connectedness to my body. I was forever hooked. Forever in love with the quilting part of quilting.
As I began to post and share, I was shocked to learn that some (most) people don’t like to quilt their own quilts. Wait?! What?! The more I listened to my friends and watched them in quilt classes, I realized, they don’t love it because they can’t “feel” it. Out of this reality, was born my Quilt Yoga concept.
At its core, Quilt Yoga, uses drills to help you become more mindful of your body in relationship to your machine as you quilt. Some foundational components you can try at home or at your next sew-in include:
- Stress will steal your ability to feel anything but fear. So, start with practice sandwiches, not that quilt top you just posted on IG.
- Your “yoga mat” is your machine and your tools. Have your space ready so you can relax. Clean your machine. Oil it if required. Replace your needle. Thread it correctly. Check it on a swatch sandwich for tension issues. Don’t start quilting anything without all these kinks worked out. These kinks nothing to do with your “ability” to quilt, but they are the first reason quilting “looks” bad. They are confidence stealers.
- Now, I am no medical doctor and with my own disorder I have to be careful, so adjust for yourself if necessary for you to be safe.
- Roll your shoulders 15-20 times front and back.
- Hold your arms out in front of you and stretch the fingers on one hand back lightly with the other hand.
- Roll your neck in both directions 5 times slowly.
- Stand up and slowly rotate your torso and arms from left to right keeping your feet in place.
- Bend down and touch your toes a couple of times.
- Everyone will be different. I don’t care what anyone else tells you, what “feels” right to you will be different than others, even the sewlebrities. To find YOUR best quilting posture, ask yourself,
- Am I slouching to reach?
- Can I see the needle and the quilting stitches?
- Are there discomfort spots in my shoulders or elbows?
- Is my neck in a natural position?
- Hand position. This too is different for everyone. The basic premise is that you need to move with the quilting, but in relationship to the needle. You don’t need to strangle the quilt, but rather provide enough pressure that it is flat under the quilting foot and moves with your hands without effort or struggle. For some of my students, they need to be on their fingertips to not strangle. For others they need their palms flat to maintain control.
- Yes, it is that simple. If you don’t do anything else, just breath. Flash back to Ever After here. Close your eyes, sit up straight and breath in and out slowly a couple of times. Be mindful of your teeth. Are you clenching them? Does your jaw hurt from worry your quilting won’t be perfect? Breath. Breath until you don’t have to think about breathing.
- Switchbacks have it all. Begin with the same motif over and over until you learn what your body is or should be doing for you. With Quilt Yoga you aren’t practicing motifs to learn them. You are using a single motif to learn your body. Switchbacks are great because they have straight lines, curves and repeats. You can also adjust the size to fill in different spots of the quilt. Being consistent will give you a better pulse on your body because the only variable you are changing is you. As you repeat switchbacks ask yourself some simple, but critical questions:
- What are my hands doing?
- Am I looking at the needle or the quilt or the foot?
- What are my toes and heels doing?
- What are my elbows doing?
- What are my shoulders doing?
When you can “feel” these answers, then you can repeat them. Then you are ready to dive head first into all sorts of motifs.
If you would like a Free Motion Quilting lesson, I would love to come to your guild or shop. For more information visit my workshop listing.