Advice for Quilters: Sleep On It!

This is my dad’s advice about what to do when you get frustrated. 

Sleep On It: An idiom that means to not make an immediate decision about a plan or idea, but to wait until the next day in order to have more time to think about it.  As in, “You don't have to give me your decision now. Sleep on it, and let me know tomorrow.”

He let me in on this little gem when he gave me my first manual transmission-driving lesson in high school.  Although there was never a second lesson and I still don’t know how to drive a stick shift – the sleep on it solution is a wise one.  It really works!

You’re wondering what all this has to do with quilting.  Well, I’ve found that quilting is fun because it is challenging.  Yet that can also mean that the challenges can be frustrating.  For every new technique or tool, there is a learning curve and with that may come some tearing of hair, some choice words, or even some tears. 

I’m a new quilter.  Around Thanksgiving I finally felt it was time to tackle my first big quilt project.  Well – not that big.  It’s a baby quilt for my husband’s pregnant niece; she’s due in mid January. So I picked an inspiration pic from Pinterest and drew out my quilt design in my notebook and figured out the size I needed for all the pieces.  I patted myself on the back when I cleverly remembered to factor in all those pesky quarter-inch seem allowances too. 

I bought my fabric, with parceled out coupons, including my husband in the process with, “Which yellow, honey” and, “What accent color do you like?”  For the back I stood in the Black Friday (actually Saturday) line at Joann’s to get some pretty, polka-dotted, gender-neutral Snuggle Flannel.  I pre-washed everything and then pressed it neatly.  With plenty of time on the books, I took care of Christmas presents first and rewarded my hard work with the baby quilt top, which turned out pretty well.  I even paper pieced an itty-bitty schoolhouse block (my favorite) and fit that into the quilt label on the back.  I documented this part of the process diligently with grainy Instagram pics uploaded to Flickr to brag.  Satisfied, I used the quilt sandwich tutorial at Oh, Fransson! With just a little bit of trouble since I have carpeted floors and pesky cats and some super stretchy (and pilled!) Snuggle Flannel to deal with.  (I stuck my cutting mat under the sections as I pinned them and that seemed to help.)  Then I waited a bit…until a day I set aside just for quilting. 

When that day came, I first drew out my quilting pattern on my notebook quilt and picked a thread color for the top and another for the bottom and wound a couple of bobbins.  Setting the stitch length to 3, de-linting the machine and putting in a new, number 90 needle, I did a test run with a scrap of batting and fabric which went well.  Then I set my ITunes to my favorites and, brandishing my Hera marker, made the first few lines on the quilt sandwich.  Rolling the right side up, I sat in front of my machine (which sits against a wall) and stitched about six inches out from the center of my quilt.

Here’s where the point of my story comes in.  The stitches were miniscule…so tight I wasn’t sure I would be able to rip them out without leaving a mark in the quilt top.  Horrified, I stared at it, pulled it out of the machine and ran my test sandwich back through.  The test sandwich came out fine with a second neat set of 3-millimeter stitches next to the first.  Was the quilt pushing up against the wall too hard?  Was the snuggle flannel too stretchy for the feed dogs to work? Was my machine not up to the task?

I wasn’t sure what was wrong and I felt frustrated and suddenly angry that I had a deadline to meet and that my mother-in-law knew about the quilt so I couldn’t just pretend there wasn’t one when this baby came around.  (I was considering throwing out the quilt!  I was resenting an unborn baby!)  Noting my increasing lack of reason, I turned off my machine, left my seam ripper untouched and took my dad’s advice.

The next day, refreshed, a little calmer, I talked to my mother (also a new quilter but a very experienced sewer) on the phone.  She agreed it was probably the bunched-up quilt pushing back from the wall and suggested a few other things but the magic words for me were, “bring it over and we’ll try it on my machine.”

The magic of photo mosaic: It eliminates frustrating mistakes from the process!
Everything worked without a hitch at her house.  And I also found that I was so relieved about the whole thing that I was much more forgiving about my little stitching mistakes here and there (including the cheap flannel and that first patch of stitching which I never did rip out.) After all (my quilty friends remind me) this is going to be spit-up on and dragged around on floors and tossed in the washing machine a hundred times…the important thing is to stay calm and to see the project through.  Although it’s not going to win any awards, it isn’t going to fall apart.  And the best part is, the kid can sleep on it!  That, my friends, must be the circle of life.


  1. Good advice! Seems like I remember reading somewhere that if you are using an all-over pattern you might want to flip the quilt over and put the challenging fabric on top?

  2. I love to "sleep on it"! It seems to work, to some extent, every time with quilts and life in general.

  3. Really worth reading!! Each quilt is unique. Each quilt represents its creator. Still, the quilting world is so accessible. Quilters reside throughout the world ready, willing and able to take the new comer by the hand and walk them, step by step through the process of self expression. Helene Goldnadel


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