More Bad Quilting Habits (Part 2)

We hit the first ten bad quilting habits last week. We’re looking at the final ten this week. Who knew there were so many bad quilting habits?

  • I use too much low-quality thread and/or fabric.  Let’s be clear about this one – inexpensive or on sale does not always equal low quality.  Not by a long shot.  However, short-staple thread (generally considered not as good as long-staple thread) and thin, loosely woven fabric can cause lint build-up in your sewing machine and projects which don’t look as good as you’d like.  When I first began quilting, I couldn’t afford lots of quilting cotton yardage.  It was too expensive for a teacher’s budget.  So I opted for smaller projects which took less fabric.  Less fabric meant I could afford better fabric and thread.  I was amazed at the difference!  Quilting may be your hobby, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  Ask yourself if you wait a few weeks and save your money to purchase better fabric and thread, will it make a huge difference in your time schedule? 
  • Not washing my hands before I handle light-colored fabric.  Washing your hands before handling any fabric is a good habit to get into, but especially light-colored ones.  I solved this problem by keeping a container of wet wipes in my quilt room.  These are available at dollar store establishments, so when I hit the Dollar-Dollar-Twenty-Five Cents Tree store, I stock up.
  • Holding needles/pins in my mouth as I’m sewing or pinning.  Please, please don’t.  Just stop.  I’ve never had this habit, so I’m not sure what’s the best way to break it, but I have heard horror stories about pins and needles which were accidentally swallowed. 
  • I’m a speed demon.  I sew everything too fast and then I’m furious with myself when my blocks/quilts don’t look good.  I’ve said it before in my blogs, and I’ll repeat it here:  Speed is not your sewing friend.  Personally, I have always sewed at a slow speed because I make fewer mistakes this way.  And if I make fewer mistakes, then I don’t have to spend quality time with my seam ripper.  And I hate spending quality time with my seam ripper. 

  The easiest way to overcome this bad habit is to lower the speed setting on your sewing machine.  This is kind of like having a governor on your car – it can only go so fast. At first it may seem like you’re just plodding along, but you may be surprised at how much you get done because you’re not stopping to correct mistakes.  Slow sewing also:

  1. Allows you to stop before you sew over a pin.
  2. Keep seams nested so your corners match up.
  3. Helps you keep a consistent seam allowance.

  If you’re really a big fan of speed sewing, let me encourage you to make a test block (which everyone really needs to do before beginning a new project).  The test block will show you what areas are easy, and you can speed through, and which parts are a bit trickier, and you should plan to slow down.  

  • Even when I sew slowly, I have issues with my seam allowances.  Their widths are all over the place – narrow, narrower, wide.  I can’t seem to keep them a consistent width.  First, don’t beat yourself up if you have this habit.  This issue is pretty common with quilters, especially folks who are new to the craft. I came to quilting from a garment construction background and I was used to sewing 5/8-inch seams.  Quarter-inch seams just seemed so flimsy and narrow.  I had a difficult time adjusting.  There are a few tools on the market that can really help and none of them are terribly expensive.  First, there’s the quarter-inch quilting feet:

  Some have a phalange on the side you use to line up your fabric.  Others don’t.  Many of the newer sewing machines come with this foot, and if you purchase a machine geared especially for quilters, one of these feet should come with it.             

Next, there are tools such as the Perfect Piecing Seam Guide:

You line your sewing machine needle up so it cleanly pierces the hole.  Lower your presser foot to hold it in place, and then place a piece of Painter’s or Washi tape to the right side of the tool. You may want to place several layers of tape to build up a bit of a ridge.  Be sure to line your fabric up so the side of the fabric floats against the side of the tape.  This will give you a visual guide so you can sew ¼-inch seams.   

  • I don’t remove all the selvedge (or none of it) before I begin cutting and sewing.  I hate wasting that inch or so of fabric!  Okay, I feel you on this one.  Selvedges now are so wide they take away at least an inch or more of fabric.  Some are even wider than an inch I’m looking at you French General Fabrics.  We’re lucky if we even get 44-inches of useable fabric.  Even if manufacturers could produce selvedge-less fabric, we really wouldn’t want them to.  These have valuable information printed on them:  The name of the fabric house, the line of fabric, and those colored images show what other hues of fabric would work well with ours. 

  Selvedges are found on both sides of the lengthwise grain of a piece of fabric.  Colors of selvedges may vary.  Some are the same color as the fabric, and others are white-ish.  They are also thicker than the rest of the fabric.  This thickness is due to the way the selvedges are woven.  Bottom line, if you sew the selvedge to another piece of fabric that’s not a selvedge, your seam will look wonky due to the thickness differences.  Not only this, but if the selvedge is wider than your seam allowance, it will show on the right side of the quilt block.    The best way to avoid this selvedge slip-up is to remove all the selvedge from the fabric as you’re cutting and sub-cutting your block units.  Occasionally, you’ll miss slicing off a bit of it, but as long as that part falls in the seam allowance, your fine.   

  • I don’t bury my threads as I quilt.  I wait until the end, thinking I’ll get them all at one time.  By then either I miss a few or I’m too “done” with the quilt to even go back and try.  The only way to break this habit is to imitate Nike and “Just Do It.”  Yes, burying your threads isn’t the most fun part of quilting.  However, if you can bury them as you quilt, you’ll save yourself tons of time in the long run.  When I’m quilting either on my domestic machine or my long arm, I make sure I have a needle (my favorite are the self-threaders – they save you tons of time) stuck in a pincushion next to my machine.  That way I just have to reach for it instead of having an impromptu scavenger hunt through my studio to find one. 
  • I forget to take pictures of my finished projects.  I can identify with this.  I do take a lot of pictures of my works in progress so I can use them in my blogs.  However, it’s really surprising how few pictures I have of my finished projects.  The really bad issue with this is I keep very few of my own quilts.  While yes, there are a few folks I can go back to and get a pictures of the finished quilts (such as friends and relatives), this isn’t always the case.  I think the best way for me to remedy this is to make the picture-taking part of the process:  Bind the quilt, label the quilt, take a picture of the quilt.


  • I don’t think about how I want to quilt my quilt until the last minute.  Then I stare at it with a deer-in-the-headlights look and either settle for straight line quilting, meandering, or just tell my long arm artist to do whatever she wants.  Honestly, I think most of us can relate to this, simply because most of us have lots of hurdles to jump when it comes to quilting our quilts.  I was incredibly guilty of this until I started quilting my own. 

In an ideal world, we know exactly how our quilt will turn out before we make that first cut in the fabric.  And technically this is a really great idea because it would mean there was no hesitancy between steps to think things over.  We’d just keep stitching until we took the final picture (see what I did there – I decided we all would take pictures as part of the process).    However, I have quilted for over 35 years.  During this time, I’ve talked with hundreds of quilters, and most of them struggle with finishing their quilt.  I did, too.  And it wasn’t until I began quilting my own quilts that I got over it.  First I scoured Pinterest to find motifs I could quilt with my walking foot because the thought of dropping my feed dogs freaked me out.  I did walking foot quilting for a while, but finally one day I attached my darning foot, dropped the feed dogs, and began meandering.  From there, I gained more confidence.  The more I practiced, the more I loved it and the better I became.  I developed favorite motifs for half-square triangles, pinwheels, and four-patches.  Now, whether I’m quilting a quilt on my M7 or my long arm, I generally have an idea from the beginning about how I’ll finish my quilt.  I’ve also found many quilt patterns (especially those in magazines) offer quilting suggestions.  Take those seriously.  They’re a great jumping off point. Long story short, the best way to break the habit of a short-term freak out when it’s time to quilt your quilt is to start quilting some of your own.  This process breaks down the creative wall.  And even if you don’t quilt all of your quilts, it helps you know what to discuss with your quilt artist.   

  • I can’t seem to throw anything away  — patterns, projects I don’t like any longer, or fabric which no longer brings me joy.  I had this problem, too.  When I first started quilting I was scared to let anything go.  I might need it.  So I developed two really bad habits with this point.  First, I purchased fabric much faster than I could sew it.  Second, there are way too many quilts I want to make.  My pattern collection far exceeds my life expectancy. 

Thirty-seven years later, I can tell you with all honesty, Elsa was right. 

Let. It. Go.  

For a lot of quilters, it’s hard to be creative when you have stacks of fabric, books, patterns, and notions scattered everywhere around your sewing area.  For those folks, it’s pretty crucial to their creative process for their quilt studio to be semi-neat.  These are the folks who generally clean out their studios once a year (at least) and purge what they’re not using or no longer want.  I am not one of these people.  My studio consistently gives off the  “There appears to have been a struggle”  vibes. I usually have at least three (usually closer to five) projects in process at the same time.  I am shooting photos for my blog and reviewing patterns.  I have inherited three stashes from quilters who have either retired from quilting or passed away.  And for a long time I thought it would be disrespectful of me to give away anything I inherited from them.   I’m over it.  And I don’t think I woke up one day and subconsciously made the decision to purge.  I think it was a gradual process of not being able to find things when I needed them.  I purged my studio and I feel like I can breathe again. 

So let me throw this out there to you if you’re struggling like I was:  If it doesn’t bring you joy, it’s time to remove it from your sewing space.  This means fabric, patterns, books, and projects.  Yes – projects.  Even if you’re in the middle of it.  Life is too short to work on quilts you don’t absolutely love.  If you’ve been waiting for permission to purge, there it is.  You have it from me.  Go forth and throw out.  Give it away.  Sell it.  Do whatever you need to do.  

I hope these two blogs help everyone realize we all have bad quilting habits.  And like any bad habit, it takes time and patience to break them.  There are tips and tricks you can do to make it easier, but it really all boils down to a determination to make a change, and knowing this change can make your quilting life easier.  

Until next week, Remember the Difference is in the Details!  

Love and Stitches,


4 replies on “More Bad Quilting Habits (Part 2)”

I have two comments. Regarding selvages, I love the wide ones. Riffle Paper’s are so pretty I cut a little extra off the fabric part for seam allowances and sew strips of them into zipper pouches. (I will admit it is my favorite thing to sew so strictly a quilter may feel they are a waste.) I also get a kick out of how original they are becoming. Instead of circles, I’ve seen sewing machines, birds, flowers, dinosaurs etc. I typically save them and have flat tackle boxes I organize them by color. Sewing them together for a scrappy pouch is easy, (maybe a little mindless) sewing. Secondly, I am very organized and clean but destashing is still hard. I remember purchasing fabric when my kids were young and it was expensive but I wanted to make things for their class, teachers, scouts or hobbies. Some did not get made and I know the time of that project has expired ( I took them both to college yesterday). I consider other young Moms who are in the same situation and will be pleased with a cheap fabric find. The more I declutter the better I feel. I have donated patterns, fabric, scrapbooking papers, leather sewing and stenciling and jewelry making to charity quilters and the thrift store nearby. Someone will give it use and love and that thought makes me happier than keeping it.
I enjoy your thoughtful articles. Thank you.

Thanks for taking the time to read and for your thoughtful reply. I feel the same way as I’m de-stashing. We have several new quilters in our guild and I’m aways super happy to see them walk away with stuff I’ll never use but they will.

Learned a lot from tour post. My montra is to not buy a lot of material ahead , its money in the bank. I buy when I’m doing a new quilt or male a quilt from my stash. I will use the info you mentioned to learn more about quilting. Thank you.

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