Tag Archives: Quilting problems

Obstacles that Quilters Face


Quilting is a joy, right? Yes, but maybe not all the time. What gets in the way of quilting joy?

The price of fabric and supplies. Thirty years ago, there was a Ben Franklin craft store in the next town that sold the most beautiful 100% cotton designer fabrics for $5 or $6 a yard. Now, basic ordinary quilting fabric starts at $8 a yard, with the good stuff $12 on up. Just buying the fabric for a bed quilt top can run you over $100, and that’s before you even start working. Then there’s batting, backing fabric, thread, needles, bobbins, and other essential accessories. If you’re making quilts for your family and friends, it’s an expensive proposition. If you’re making quilts to put food on the table, you’ll need customers who afford to pay for your time + materials, often amounting to hundreds of dollars for just one quilt. Ways to lower your costs are to take advantage of sales and store coupons, haunt estate sales and yard sales, or repurpose cotton shirts and linens from your closet or from thrift stores.

Underestimating the amount of fabric you need. Most of the time, printed directions give you the right amounts or even a little extra. But maybe you’re making a different size than the directions are for, or you’re making some design changes, or you’ve come up with your own design, or you’re using odds and ends from your stash and thought you had enough. Is there anything sadder than realizing you really need about 3/8 of a yard more of the yellow fabric? You go back to the store and they no longer have the same fabric, and you either have to make do with the closest approximation, buy all new fabric, or ditch the project. When calculating how much fabric you need, channel your high school geometry. Make drawings and cutting diagrams before you buy or cut. I almost always buy a little more fabric than I think I need, because I love scrap quilts and if I live long enough, any extra fabric will eventually get used.

Improper cutting. That old carpenter’s adage is good advice: measure twice, cut once. The cutting stage is probably the slowest part of my quilting process. But back in the day when I first started quilting, it took even longer. We didn’t have rotary cutters. We had to make templates out of cardboard, trace outlines on the fabric, and cut with scissors. (If you do appliqué or piece curves, you might still do that, unless you have one of those new-fangled Accuquilt or ScanNCut machines.) I do as much strip-piecing as I can, and I always double-check my ruler line before I cut, but mistakes happen. That’s why I always buy a little extra fabric.

Inconsistency of seams. The standard seam allowance for pieced quilts is a quarter of an inch. If your sewing machine didn’t come with a quarter-inch foot, it’s a good idea to buy one. Just a little inattention and deviation can cause distortion problems. (Secret confession: don’t tell my grandbabies, but one of them will be getting a quilt that is ¾” bigger on the bottom edge than the top edge, resulting in some unfortunately bubbly quilting.)

Machines that don’t work well. My first sewing machine was a hand-me-down from my mother. I never got it serviced, and it jammed a lot. I replaced it with a very inexpensive machine, serviced it once or twice, but was very stingy about replacing needles, and had lots of trouble with thread jams. I joined a guild in the 1990s, and my friends were all buying special domestic machines for quilting that cost $5000 or more. I couldn’t afford those, but I bought a Pfaff for $1800 that I still use for sewing and quilting. I get it serviced every couple of years and put on a new needle for each new quilt. My advice: buy the best machine you can and have it serviced regularly. Change your needle more often than you think you should need to.

Standard Book of Quilt Making

Acquiring quilting skill. Learning how to quilt takes time and deliberate practice. When I started quilting (in the early 1980s), there was essentially one quilting book, The Standard Book of Quilt Making and Collecting by Marguerite Ickis, published in 1949. I read that book cover to cover, but I never got anywhere until I took a class with a friend. My intention was to make a baby quilt for my second child. (That quilt is still unfinished, half-quilted by hand, tucked away in a box in the laundry room until I feel guilty enough to work on it.) But I still didn’t really get anywhere until I joined a chapter of the Arizona Quilters Guild around 1990. Everyone in the group mentored the new quilters and shared ideas and techniques. If you’ve never had any quilting training, I suggest you take a class at a shop or through a community adult education outlet or online; and/or watch YouTube videos (for piecing designs, I especially like Teresa Down Under; for free-motion quilting, I like Angela Walters; and there are millions of others); and join a local guild—even if you’re a beginner. And don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying new things. It’s a given that you’re going to make some big goofs. That’s okay! Jump in and try and try again.

Quilting in a vacuum. Any activity is more fun when you do it with others. Plus, other quilters will teach you things you didn’t know, and they will inspire you. You need your quilting peeps. Join a guild or a church quilting group to start building your community.

Now it’s your turn. Have you run up against any obstacles in your own quilting life? How did you overcome them? Are you up against anything I haven’t mentioned or addressed? Do you have any quilting-related questions? I am not an expert quilter or quilting expert, but I know where to find answers and I can research them for you for a future post. Share your quilting challenges, successes, tips, and questions in the comments below. I love hearing from you.

Quilting Frustration

Sheep quilt

I finally finished a baptism quilt (we Lutherans baptize infants) that I think I may have started at the beginning of the pandemic. There are several reasons why it took me so long. In between, I made two lap quilts for my sister-in-law and I pieced a bed quilt for my son. Also, I disappointed myself with my fabric choices for the sheep block (but not enough to remake it). The pastel pink gingham I picked for the sheep’s body doesn’t show up well against the white background. (That block, by the way, is from Lori Holt’s Farm Girl Vintage book. It’s a favorite of our quilt ministry.)

Sheep quilt

I thought this might be the time to learn free motion quilting–I could quilt fleecy-looking swirls over the pink gingham with brighter pink thread. Problem solved.

Sigh. Some people have a long learning curve. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’d read that it was a good idea to try out your design with paper and pencil before trying to stitch it. So I spent several practice sessions drawing swirls. I was dissatisfied with my results.


Maybe I could try stippling.


My stippling drawing was okay, so I started practicing stitching with scraps of fabric and batting. I don’t have a long-arm, but I know lots of people do beautiful quilting on ordinary sewing machines. I have a 30-year-old Pfaff Tiptronic 6270, which has been excellent for piecing and for in-the-ditch quilting. I am very good at straight stitching. I can sew garments that involve curves.

Stippling practice

Stippling is another matter. You need to be able to think ahead, to visualize how you want your stitches to meander. I don’t have that skill set. I spent a couple months’ worth of Saturday mornings working on my stippling. I can’t tell you how many bobbins I wound–they get used up really fast when you do free-motion practice. I never got the hang of it. I think part of the problem was I’d slow down, and then my stitches would get too large. I eventually used up all the fabric I didn’t mind wasting and all my scraps of batting. Did I really want to cut into my good yardage? No. But I read that felt squares are good for FMQ practice. Folded in half, they have bulk similar to cotton plus batting.

I decided to try random loop-de-loops. Maybe they wouldn’t be so hard to control. Alternate looping to the right and to the left. I practiced for a while, determined to make it work.

FMQ practice

And then my sewing machine threw a hissy fit. It made my top thread form a massive tangle on the underside of my fabric.

Now I know how to handle this. Usually, underside tangles are caused by one of four things: a bent needle; dust, lint, or thread fragments in the bobbin carriage; inferior thread; or lack of lubrication. So, I removed the throat plate and cleaned and oiled the machine and changed out the needle and the thread. Multiple times. But as soon as I started practicing my quilting again, tangleation! Maybe my machine needed repair. But I just had it serviced in January! It should be good for a couple of years.

Maybe it’s time to retire my Pfaff. 30 years is a good life. For the heck of it, I did some straight sewing. No problem.

I tried FMQ again, problem again!

I gave up on the idea of quilting that sheep and just left the outline quilted. Then I bound it, buried my thread ends, and pronounced the quilt done.

Baptism quilt

Now it’s your turn–help! I’ve decided that if I want to take my quilting to the next level, I need a long arm. I’m going to research what’s out there–and I have no idea how to begin. I know I don’t have room for one of those huge frames with the computerized machine. So, quilters, what machines do you use? What do you like about them? What would your dream machine be, and why?