Starting from the Beginning with Free-Motion Quilting

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Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Even a blind squirrel gets a nut sometimes”?  It pretty much sums up my quilting career. Like most professionals in the quilting industry, I didn’t set out to be a professional quilter. It’s not as though that option is in the list of potential careers. 

I didn’t grow up with family members that quilted, and I was never crafty—well, at least in the sense of making things. In fact, I failed the sewing machine test in eighth grade home economics … twice. All I had to do was identify the parts of sewing machine; I didn’t have to actually use it! If I am being honest, the only reason I passed the third time was because the teacher finally took pity on me and helped “suggest” some of the answers. So when I say “If I can do it, anyone can,” you can take me at my word.

I didn’t actually know what a quilt was until I met my husband, Jeremy. His grandparents started quilting after retirement. It was quite amazing, actually. His Grandpa made quilts as a way to entice family members to attend the annual family reunion. He pieced and hand quilted a quilt for every generation. To win one of the quilts, a family member had to attend the reunion and could only win a quilt once. I would soon learn why these rules were so important. 

I wasn’t even married to Jeremy when I attended my first family reunion. It was there that I got the first glimpse of how coveted these quilts were. If you have ever been to a family gathering where things got tense over, let’s say, potato salad, you can imagine what happens when the stakes are as high as a quilt.

I won’t say that it was violent or anything, but there was a lot of passive-aggressive complaining. “Didn’t Aunt Martha already win a quilt?” and “Why does her family always win?” were just a few of the comments made. I remember looking around and thinking, “Geez, people! These are just blankets!” I know now that saying such a thing is sacrilegious in quilting. I just want to show how ignorant I was at the time.

Jeremy didn’t win a quilt at the reunion, so on a whim I asked Grandpa to show me how to make one. He assured me that even though I had NO sewing experience I could learn how to do it. One thing I want to point out is that he said “Yes.” He didn’t say, “Yes, but you need to make the quilt I want you to make using the fabric I like.” He didn’t judge my choice of fabric or pattern, which is something I think all quilters should do when sharing their love of quilting.

Grandpa started me off on a nine-patch quilt, and I remember making that first Nine-Patch block vividly. He had a 4˝ square template and taught me how to trace the shape onto the fabric, cut it out, and piece my first-ever quilt block. About an hour later, I held up my nine-patch (which wasn’t horrible, if I do say so myself). With his eyes gleaming, he exclaimed, “Wonderful job! Now let me show you the easy way.” Then he pulled out his rotary cutter and ruler. Thank goodness that he did, because I don’t think I would be a quilter today if I had to use templates! That first nine-patch quilt is still on my bed.

So it began: I was addicted to quilting. We hand quilted the first several quilts I made. Grandpa gave me a frame, and he, Jeremy, and I sat side by side and quilted. He would tell us stories and we would have a great time. I wish I had taken pictures during this time, but I was too busy enjoying the moment.

Editors Note: And look how far she’s come!

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