Friday, August 11, 2017

Why I Almost Gave Up On Free-Motion Quilting

It's confession time. A year ago, I almost gave up on free-motion quilting. I had started learning it, and I was fortunate to not run into any common issues that other people ran into. I didn't have trouble with tension, didn't get eyelashes or railroad tracks, my stitch length looked decently consistent from the very beginning. So why did I feel so disheartened about it?

This is why:

Stippling (or meandering): a design that I absolutely, positively detest. And the reason is because it (still) is commonly taught and marketed as "the" beginner design. Anybody can do it! It's easy! Just wriggle and don't cross!

Well ... I wriggled and didn't cross. I followed the rules of stippling, so why does it still look so awful? I tried to compare my sample to the samples of pretty stippling, and I began to realize that there are more rules to stippling than the obvious, and that's what takes stippling from ugly to beautiful.

Rules of nice-looking stippling:

1) Wriggle and don't cross.
2) No wobbles or sharp points.
3) Keep even spacing.
4) Don't get into a pattern. Make it look completely random.

And this is why stippling is an awful design to teach to beginners. It's not just wriggle and don't cross. That part's easy. But all the other factors, the randomness of it that actually requires thinking ahead a bit, the even spacing, the steady hands, those are all difficult skills that takes a lot of time and practice to achieve. It's easy to wriggle and don't cross. It's hard to make beautiful stippling. I can't imagine how many people tried to stipple, thought their work looked ugly, and gave up on free-motion quilting forever because of the idea that "Stippling is the beginner design. If I can't even stipple then there's no hope for me." I almost became one of those people.

But just when I was about to give up, I read a book by Angela Walters where she said we should just practice the designs we actually like and want to put on a quilt ... and that she didn't like the look of stippling either! That's when it hit me ... I actually don't like the look of stippling at all! So I stopped trying to make myself practice it, and I went onto other designs.

A year and millions of free-motion stitches later, I still can't stipple. But I don't really care!

I've come across 2 articles by amazing quilters Lori Kennedy and Amy Johnson who both state how they dislike stippling (and how hard it is). Whew, so I'm not the only one!


  1. I was taught to make dog bone shapes. And if one gets stuck in a rut, branch out another direction. For me, quilting client quilts, if a quilt has a lot of ripples, meandering is my best bet to flatten a quilt out--one hand on the quilt and one hand on the machine.

  2. It's interesting how a design that's hard for one person is easy for another. We should all quilt what feels fun to us. I'm a born stippler and have no idea why. The shape just flows under my fingers. But paisleys are mutant blobs. I can do a very smooth loop-de-loop, but my feathers are strange, strange creatures.

    I'm so glad you had an "Aha!" moment with stippling, and cast it behind you :)

  3. I cannot stipple either, which may be due to the way I think-- it's hard for me to switch from left to right quilting over to right to left quilting, and I panic or something!!

  4. I love Angela's recommendation. It is so smart to quilt what you love and I agree, it is not my favorite pattern, but I prefer micro-stippling to large stippling - but we all know how long that takes. I also think machines matter for quilting. So glad you persisted with quilting as your work is gorgeous.

  5. You are absolutely right, Liz! Stippling definitely does take LOTS of practice for it to look good. I do love it (as I'm sure you know), but it took awhile to get to a place where I was happy with my results. Your quilting is just stunning, so it's clear that you're not missing out on anything whatsoever by not stippling.

    :) Kelly


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