Removing the Stumbling Blocks of Quilting Perfectionism

I am putting the finishing touches on my next Craftsy class and it seems the world has been conspiring against me with a ton of things trying to happen all at once and vying for my time. So I've asked for a little help from my friends. My BQF (best quilty friend) Robin is a marvel and I convinced her to tell us how she gets so much quilting done.

Robin is a very generous, hospitable, and humble soul. She's also a lot of fun. It was almost worth it the last time I flew and got stranded overnight in her city's airport just to have a quick visit with her. She's a longarm quilter for the most part, but since we met several years ago, she's been free motion quilting on her domestic machine now and then. I think I'm rubbing off on her! She works very diligently to gift the people in her life (and those in the lives of her family) with beautiful quilts. I'm pretty sure she's more productive than I am.

 Hi Amy!  I’m so happy you invited me to be here.  I love your blog and often refer my domestic quilting friends to it.  I love how approachable and do-able you make free motion quilting on the dm.
So glad you asked me to share my recent reprioritizing of my quilting.  Briefly, my family recently experienced the loss of my mother.  I had planned on reproducing a piece of artwork she had made in high school, a pen and ink watercolor, in fiber art.  Unfortunately she passed away shortly after I started it and never saw the finished art quilt.  I was devastated that I had not made it a higher priority on my list of quilting projects.

Robin's re-creation of her mother's artwork. Yes, that's done on fabric.

Mom’s passing caused me to rethink and reprioritize my quilting.  Not just WHAT I quilted and in what order, but HOW I went about my quilting.  First, I reprioritized my projects in order of which projects I would be most devastated if the recipient were to pass away before I was able to finish it or something happened to me.  Macabre I know, but none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
However, I realized that just reprioritizing my projects wasn’t enough.  I needed to work faster and more efficiently.   I considered, “What are the stumbling blocks that keep me from finishing a project in a timely manner and how do I eliminate them?”

Stumbling Block #1a – Selecting a Pattern

In the past I had to find the PERFECT pattern and could spend days or weeks looking for the right pattern.  Perhaps the NEXT site/magazine/book will have an even better pattern.   I confess I’ve even been known to spend several months designing the PERFECT quilt for a recipient.  How was I going to eliminate that stumbling block?  I decided to set a time limit to find a pattern and at the end of that time limit, I had to choose my pattern from the ones I had selected during that time.  I put this into practice on the very next quilt ... a baby quilt for my son and wife.  One hour!  I had purchased some Dick and Jane fabric years ago with the intention to use it in a quilt for my son’s first baby.  Now I needed a pattern that would showcase that fabric to its potential.  I gave myself ONE HOUR to search online for a quilt pattern.

Stumbling Block 1b – More on selecting a pattern

I decided I did not necessarily need to create unique-just-for-you quilts.  I am so back logged on baby quilts I am in danger of having to say to a graduating senior, “Uh, here’s your baby quilt.”  Most of my friends/relatives with the babies/toddlers lived in different states and didn’t even know each other.  I designed a very simple quilt (14 seams!) and made 7 boy versions and 6 girl versions ... in 3 ... THREE ... days!  I will quilt the child’s name in big bold letters and meander relevant motifs from the fabric around the name and THAT is what will make it special to the child.  Booyah!  13 quilt tops off my list!

Robin's new go-to quilt for a girl

Stumbling Block #2 – Finding the PERFECT fabric

The pattern I selected to use for the Dick and Jane fabric needed a specialty ruler which I ordered.  Although I was making the Dick and Jane quilt for my son and wife, it was really for my son.  The fabric had images that reminded me of shared memories with him.  I decided I needed to make a second quilt for my daughter-in-law with her baby theme in mind ... jungle.  My modus operandi in the past was to visit several quilt shops in search of the perfect fabric.  No!  I looked in my stash to see if I had something that would work.  I found a bug fabric layer cake.  I thought, “Bugs live in the jungle too! “  So I decided to make a Bug Jar quilt for my soon to be grandson.

What ordinarily would have taken me anywhere from a day to a month ... or more ... to do for just ONE quilt, I had just boiled down to 1.5 hours for TWO quilts.  Yea me!

Stumbling Block 3a – Perfecting the quilt – piecing

I’m a perfectionist in my piecing.  I want my points sharp, I want my blocks square.  Most of my quilts are utility quilts.  They are going to be drug around, spit up on, thrown up on, used to make forts etc.  They’re not Paducah show quilts.  No more ripping out a seam because a point was a little clipped.

Stumbling Block #3b – Perfecting the quilt – embellishing

I am notorious for changing a pattern ... making a more elaborate border or adding details and embellishments that take the quilt to the “next level” etc.  Ok, that next level thing might only be in MY mind, but those additions/embellishments all add to the time it takes to complete a quilt.  I decided that from now on I would analyze how long I will devote to piecing a quilt and that was ALL the time it was going to get ... no matter how much embellishing I had thought of doing.  Of course for the Bug Jar quilt my mind went straight to appliqueing escaped bugs, a spider and web, a lizard eating an escaped bug etc.  I assigned it one week which was the time it would take for the ruler for the Dick and Jane quilt to arrive.  When the ruler arrived, the Bug Jar quilt would be done ... no matter how much more embellishing I had thought of or wanted to do!

Stumbling Blocks 4a and 4b – Quilting choice and quilting quality

These stumbling blocks are a variation of 3a and 3b.  No longer was I going to search for the perfect quilting design.  Finding a quilting pattern would also be assigned a time limit and I would have to choose the quilting design from what I had found during that time.  Nor was I going to rip out stitches because there was a wobble or a bobble in my quilting.  Remember, most of my quilts are utility quilts.

Stumbling Block 5 – Binding

No longer was I going to hand stitch my binding down ... which I rarely did anyway.  From here on out they are going to be sewn to the back, folded to the front and top stitched down.

Well, that is my new approach to quilting in a nutshell.  It doesn’t mean that I will never ever again take a long time to make a quilt.  I’m sure there will be special quilts that come along that will demand a little more attention.  This was a huge change for me in my approach to quilting.

We lost Mom Thanksgiving morning.  Since then I have pieced and quilted 32 round table toppers, pieced 3 table runners and quilted 1 of them, pieced a wall hanging, pieced the Dick and Jane and Bug Jar quilts, pieced 13 additional baby/toddler quilts and made a fun body bib for a child with cerebral palsy to protect her clothing when she ate.   Without these changes I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish a tenth of that.   Next month I’ll quilt some of those before I go meet my new grandson ... in Brazil.

Some of the 32 round table toppers Robin made recently

Happy quilting everyone and thank you again Amy for letting me share this.


  1. Loved your comments about finding the "right"... I also make utility quilts and try to keep them simple so I can make more.

  2. Great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I might have to adopt parts of this approach...the amount of stressing about the little things is just holding me back so much. Thanks Amy and Robin.

  4. Wow, Robin! I thought I recognized your face before I started reading. I totally agree, you are fun person full of life. You are one busy quilter! Your method of getting over your stumbling blocks is wonderful. I have long said, finished is better than perfect! Thanks, Amy, for sharing Robin's special talents with your readers.

  5. Great ideas for overcoming your stumbling blocks!

  6. I love these ideas! I think I can use a few of them to speed myself up too!

  7. Interesting post - and great food for thought; maybe I need to let a few things go!

  8. I enjoyed reading that! My machine piecing isn't brilliant - my preferred way is by hand and that takes so long. I started my daughter's quilt when she was about 8 and now she's 24! Bed sizes grew and I gave up now she has a double and I've only done as far as twin. I'm now thinking enough is enough and I don't know about finishing quilts before the recipient trots off to the pearly gates - more like me making that journey first!

    Thank you so much for such a brilliant reminder that it's OK not to try and be perfect - you make something from your own hands and from the heart that people will love and enjoy and that's what counts.

  9. Thanks Amy and Kim, what a great article. I can think of so many areas in my life where I can apply these "rules"! Starting today I'm going to start making these changes and hopefully they become as automatic as breathing. Maybe I will finish the sweater I was making for my Mom before she passed - a heavy load of guilt. Wise words of wisdom Robin. Thank you.

    Kathy in the Great Lakes

  10. Holy smokes. Just what I needed to hear today. I'm starting to quilt a quilt for a friend, my first quilting for someone else's gift, and I'm nervous about not getting placement right, not having the right proportions, not being consistent with my stitching. It's a baby quilt, and all the things that babies do will occur on it, so I know I really shouldn't worry. This article has helped get things in perspective. Perfect timing, and great ideas all around. Thank you!

  11. Excellent advice--thanks for sharing!

  12. I loved this post! I'd also love to see pictures of the finished quilts especially the 13 toddler quilts. Are you, Robin, on instagram? Thanks, Amy! Tammie

  13. Hi Carole!

    Kathy, you are so absolutely spot on. I, too, have taken what started with increasing my quilting efficiency and started applying those ideas to other areas of my LIFE too.

    Tammie, I'm not on Instagram and am barely on FB. (My ddil texts me that she put something on FB for me to read so I'll go read it. lol) Amy and I will figure out a way/place to post the pictures. (Did I mention how much I love that woman?) I won't be quilting those particular quilts until I come back from Brazil.

    Thank you so much for all of your kind words and I am so pleased that you have been able to get something from little ol' me's lessons. :)

  14. You have no idea how much this post meant to me. I've been stuck in a rut. I lost my Dad on Valentine's Day last year and my mom had a stroke at his funeral and passed the next day. I have more than a dozen of her quilt tops to finish and even though I purchased a longarm after their passing I've been in a sort of "paralysis" as to even start on them...wanting to pick out the perfect design...the perfect backing, etc. Thank you.

    1. kupton, I can so identify with all the feelings you are going through. They're mine, yet magnified because of your double loss. Finishing my mother's art piece was a cathartic and healing experience for me. I hope it will be the same for you as you complete your mother's tops.

    2. I am so very sorry for your losses. I can only imagine how hard this has been for you. Big cyber hugs to you! I'm so glad you found Robins post encouraging.