So here are my list of top 10 things I really wish I knew before becoming a quilter or sewist. I just might have made some wiser decisions (and saved some money in the long run)! Here’s my list of 10, that if I could go back all those years and tell myself, I would!
1. Buy the best machine you can, but set a budget: Many people start out with a very basic, big box store machine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, if you take that amount of money and go to a dealer, you just might be able to get more machine, plus added service and education. Pick a maximum budget for what you can comfortably spend, then go find a couple local dealer and test drive a few sewing machines in that budget. Try different brands, different options, different styles. See what machine feels the most comfortable for you. Also look at machines that might be a little more in options than what you may be thinking you’d need. It allows you to grow into a machine. Of course if you ask me I’d recommend you go try out all the different Janome brand machines, but hey, I know what I love!
2. You really don’t need all the tools out there: Do you realize how many different types of scissors, rotary blades, mats, rulers, lights, etc there are on the market? There are so many I can’t even begin to name all the different brands and options. They are each great for their own reasons. Know another quilter or sewist? See if they will let you test out their tools to see if one is more comfortable for you. For example, rotary cutters are made in all kinds of sizes and shapes. I personally like a heavy weighted cutter than a super light weight plastic one. It took me quite a few tries to find the right one…and quite a few shopping trips. See if a friend is willing to share for a day of sewing, find what you like and purchase that one.
3. Invest in a sewing cabinet for your machine and notions: You may think you’ll be quite cozy on the kitchen table, but having a space that is fully yours is a wonderful thing. Having a one-stop place to put your items, and tuck your machine away can make the sewing experience so much nicer than having to rush through to finish a project so you can clear the table for dinner. Cabinets come in a huge range of prices, styles, and quality. Maybe a brand new table isn’t in your budget. That’s okay! Take a look on the marketplace for a used one that your machine can fit into. Don’t forget about the DIY option as well. There are lots of great online tutorials for how to convert tables and desk into a sewing station that allows you to recess your machine for a flat surface. Don’t forget to get an insert to fit around your machine to have an even and smooth surface. It makes sewing and quilting so much nicer when you aren’t having to fight gravity!
4. Get a quality chair: Know what can be just as painful as having to use your seam ripper to take out a long line of work…a painfully sore body from sitting all day in an uncomfortable chairs. Like machines and cabinets, there’s a broad range of chairs available. Go to the store and sit in each one that you like. Find one with a good back support that helps to keep you upright and your bum comfortable. A quality chair will keep you comfortable and sewing for long hours, but don’t forget to take your breaks and stretch!
5. Never stop taking the time to learn: Everyday we can learn a new technique or tip. There are millions of them just waiting to be absorbed. Take the time to invest in your own education. You might just be surprised how something newly learned can be a huge time saver for you. Thanks to social media we now have millions of lessons at our fingertips 24/7. Watch different instructors, see their tips and techniques, try it out for yourself. If it works, great, if it doesn’t…try another!
6. Start with something easy: You’d think this would be an understood thing right? Start easy and work your way up. Well it doesn’t always happen like that. Many a quilter and sewist get quickly frustrated when they take on more than they are ready for. You don’t have to jump in feet first into an advanced pattern and think you can pull it off. If you can…then consider yourself an immediate rock star! Find a pattern that is labeled for a beginner, even if you have years of experience in other textile endeavors. Start simple and then work your way up. The basics are there to get you started, you can always channel yourself into that rock star status later, there’s plenty of time. You will also find yourself so much less likely to give up on your dreams and goals compared to if you start a with a difficult project. After all…we first need to learn how to balance before we can really ride that bike.
7. Buy the best quality fabric and thread you can comfortably afford: Ok so this jumps back on a couple of other items, but really do put your money to the best fabric and threads you can purchase. There is a huge difference in quality between what you can purchase at a quilt store and a big box store in terms of fabric. Here’s a quick trip, when you pick up a piece of cotton quilting fabric, hold up a single layer towards a light. Can you see a lot or a little bit of light? If you can see a lot, then it’s a lot more open of a weave and usually less quality. Now look at that fabric that you can’t see much light through? That’s a heavier weave, and more often what you will see in quality quilt store fabric. There is definitely a difference in price though. If the only fabric you can afford today is the lighter weave…that’s okay…at least you are learning and working on a project.
8. WARNING: SEWING/QUILTING IS ADDICTIVE: Maybe you’ve already seen or heard me mention this before. Know what is a great confidence booster…finishing that first garment or quilt…even if it is a little wonky. Know what’s really exciting, that you did it all on your own. One day I’ll show you all my very first quilt from my very first quilting class. Compare the then to now and you can definitely see how I’ve grown in not only skill, but color, finishing, everything. Know how I did it…I spent a lot of time working at it. Quilting is addictive for me, but there are way worse things to be addicted to. Just don’t forget to make time for the rest of your life too…family doesn’t need to wait on you to finish that next seam, it will be there later.
9. Find a group of buddies: I have to admit there is nothing better than sewing with a fabulous group of friends. As a quilter, I’ve often found myself being the youngest in the group with other fabulous women who were old enough to be my mother or even grandmother. These were some of the most amazing women I’ve ever had the honor of spending time with. The stories, laughter, food, and just general camaraderie are worth their weight in gold. Take a class at a show or go on a retreat, even if you might not know someone. Guess what, you might just walk out later with a new best friend in tow. Don’t ever fill like you don’t fit in, and if the group makes you feel like you don’t fit in, just find another dang group!
10. Learn to laugh at yourself: Become one with the seam ripper! Seriously though, you will make a million mistakes and have an endless pile of unfinished projects because something turns out looking like it just went through an EF-5 tornado with a steam iron. That’s okay…just put it aside and come back to it on another day. Laugh at those screw-ups. Find a way to laugh and maybe cry a little when you use a serger and end up cutting off a part that wasn’t supposed to go away! If you can find joy in what you do, even on a bad day, then you’ll be successful. Don’t ever doubt the success that is in you. Learn to laugh at the failures and hold onto a few really bad ones to go back and look at one day so you can see how far you’ve come.
So what else would you tell yourself about your sewing and quilting adventures that someone else could benefit from? Feel free to drop it in the comments and share those invaluable lessons learned!
There are no quilt police, no right or wrong way. Do it your way.
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Such great advice Mitzi! This is the nudge I need. I’ve been planning my first quilting project in my head….
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When quilting a quilt sandwich, don’t stop and critique yourself, just keep going. No one is going to be as close to the quilting as you are while quilting i, inspecting it out all that texture and cuddly goodness. Be gracious with yourself, we are usually our own worst critic.
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Only purchase the fabric you need for the one project! Once finished THEN buy for your next project. You really don’t need to have a huge stash of fabric. It can be overwhelming. Believe me there will always be more beautiful ‘must have’ fabric, next month, next year and so on.
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I would have told myself never have more than 5 UFOs no matter how bored you get with a project or how shiny that next project looks! Finish, finish finish!! Also, it isn’t true that she who dies with the most fabric wins…don’t get in that race! You will be overwhelmed. Although, it is nice to usually find exactly what you need in that overwhelming stash. 🧐Yours are very good! I agreed with ALL of them, especially the first one. Most important to pick a good dealer and get the best machine you can afford. Hopefully, you pick Janome. I do own several different machines, but Janome is the fav! I have 5 up at all times when in my studio, only because of my business. Certain machines are set to sew certain items. When traveling to FL for winter I usually have 2.
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