Night Noises

Night Noises


Just for fun . . .

This is a brief recording of night noises I heard from my sitting room late on the evening of May 28, 2015, remarkably captured by my mobile phone!

Please don’t complain that there are no pictures. The landscape was under a waxing gibbous moon, whatever that is, but it was definitely too dark to take pictures without a movie set-up. I could see even less than what the photo above depicts.

Listen to all the little creature night noises, too. Our tree frogs are right there, sounding for all the world like wind chimes.

Funny–as I play this back on my computer, my dog is barking furiously. Jonny says “angry . . . !”

Want to guess what’s happening?


Filed under Animals

Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 8

When you enter your studio, spend a minimal amount of time preparing to work. Starting with a clean, tidy and well-organized workplace, this action should take only a few minutes. The entire process takes me five minutes or less. Likewise, cleaning up at the end of the work session is quick and easy because I continuously tidy up as I work. Cleaning up, then, is merely the reverse of preparing a studio for work.

So, how do I do it? Easy!

First, here’s what you know about my studio:

  • A cutting table is covered with a sheet to keep it relatively clean. Under the sheet lie clean cutting mats and rulers.




  • The table has two shallow drawers. One contains my cutting tools, and the other holds rolls of paper and some fusing agents. Under the table are a padded stool and two plastic drawer storage units holding materials and any work in progress.




  • One sewing machine has a hard plastic cover that drops over it. The other one (left below with Ügli the cat resting on it) has a cardboard box that serves the same purpose, helping to keep the machine relatively clean and protected from dust as well as the cats. A serger sits out in the open (right) with a cardboard box over it. I don’t like the appearance of the boxes, but the cats pull any quilted or plastic covers off my machines and sleep on them. Covering the machines with boxes is something new for me, so if it does not work I must find another way to cover them. If it does work, I must find a way to make them more attractive to me without making them more appealing to the cats! Wrapping them with fabric is not an option; perhaps I might paint them . . .


Time-Saving for Quilters


  • The serger table doubles as a small ironing board sufficient for piecing. A padded board (center above with spray bottle on top) lies on the higher level table. This improvised ironing board flips over and is covered at night with a couple of quilted cat beds to keep it clean and protected. The iron sits on the floor beside the table when not in use. This position doubles as a signal that I have switched off the electricity to the iron.




  • A single power strip fuels all the appliances. That’s Kenya for you–the room has only two electrical outlets, one on the wall near the serger and the other to the right of the cutting table. This power strip holds each appliance cable with its own on/off switch. I use the switch to control the iron because it is quicker to flip that switch than to pick up the iron and wind the little dial. Using the switch also means the iron always heats to the same safe temperature unless I make a deliberate change in the setting.
  • The sewing table, a desk with storage from both sides, holds two sewing machines and a swivel, goose-neck lamp. Left side drawers in the sewing desk hold threads, arranged by type and color. On the right side, drawers hold all small tools and notions I use most frequently. The cats like the boxy feeling of the storage cupboards on the other side of the desk, so I keep those free of my things and with the doors slightly ajar. I can share my space!




  • My design wall covers two cupboard doors, so before I put work onto the wall, I must remove materials, tools and supplies I need from the cupboard. At the end of the session, the work in progress comes down for storage flat in another room, or if it is still in small pieces, into the drawer unit under the cutting table. A second design wall, much larger, is made from a sheet as a roll-up shade, great for leaving work on the wall where the cats cannot reach it! When I want to work on the piece it contains, I simply release the roll and let it fall. All pins holding fabric to it run parallel to the floor so none stick out of the work when it is rolled up.




  • An old specimen cupboard, two columns of eight small drawers, holds all small notions, beads, c-clamps and other such paraphernalia – things I use less frequently. Notice the labels to tell me what is in each drawer!




  • Supplies for surface design are stored on a bookshelf seldom bothered by the cats. Another shelf unit holds quilt and sewing books and magazines.




The room looks pretty bleak, nothing like the colorful and tastefully decorated studios we see in magazines and online, and nothing at all like the way it looked a few years ago, with jars, baskets, plastic boxes and tools scattered all over!




Nevertheless, my studio is now extremely efficient. Its minimalist style gives me plenty of space for working with everything I need at my fingertips. When I enter my studio, I know exactly what I’m going to do, what work I expect to accomplish. There is nothing to distract me or to impede my progress.

Upon entering the studio, I roll back the sheet on the cutting table. I remove the work in progress from the drawers underneath the table, and lay it to one side on the table, along with any fabric scraps I may still need. The open tablet and pen are there because as the work progresses, I take notes for use later for my online art quilt classes at QuiltEd Online.




I open one table drawer and remove my cutting tools and a box of pins. I’m ready, then, to cut and pin. Then I turn to the electricity outlet and switch on the power. With a surge protector, it is a couple of minutes before the electricity reaches the power strip. While waiting for the electricity, I uncover and flip the make-shift ironing board and pick up the iron from the floor, throwing the power switch for that only as and when I need to iron.

I uncover the sewing machine I intend to use. I pull out the sewing table for my Bernina QE 440, and attach it and the presser foot knee lift. The machine is clean and oiled, threaded and ready for use. I connect the power cable and foot pedal, disconnected at last usage to reduce risk of having cats pull the machine off the table.

I hit the three switches (wall, power strip and machine) that control power to the sewing machine, the lamp and the transformer used with another sewing machine and the serger. I pull the accessories box off the back of the Bernina and set it up to the right of the machine.

I open the drawer immediately below that, and pull out quilting gloves, a pin box, thread snips and any thread I may have been using that is not already on the machine. Bingo! I sit down and go to work!

To shut down when I’m finished, I first clean and oil, if necessary, the machine I’ve been using. Then, I reverse the entire process: shut down the machine, put table, knee lift and foot pedal into a desk drawer, and replace the accessories box to the back of the machine before covering it with the cardboard box. I disconnect cables and switch off electricity. I put away all tools and materials on my cutting table, and cover the table. I quickly sweep the floor, and empty the trash as I leave the room.

In effect, I am in full control of the work process from start to finish, whether I have thirty minutes or three hours!

To recap, here’s what you can and should do to save time for quilting:

  • Tell everyone in your household you are about to enter your studio, no matter how humble it may be, and that you appreciate very much not being distracted while you work.
  • Set any mobile phone for silent running.
  • Enter your studio, where everything is clean, ready for work and stored well out of sight until you need it.
  • Find what you need quickly and easily with the help of storage labels and a studio inventory.
  • Know what you intend to do, how you intend to do it, and how much time you have available for each studio session.
  • Enter the studio with mindful purpose, quickly retrieve whatever project materials, tools and notions you need for the immediate tasks only, and set the studio for action in fewer than five minutes. Then get to work!
  • While working, keep your movements calm and gentle. Keep the space where you work clean and tidy, putting away each tool immediately you finish working with it. If things start to get out of hand, take time out for a Two-Minute Tidy-Up, and return all non-essential tools and materials to storage.
  • When finished, put all materials and small tools away, switch off and protect all electrical equipment, and quickly clean up the space.

The quilting work process is streamlined from beginning to end. The focus is on getting to work as quickly as possible, working smoothly and without interruption for the time available, then closing everything down and putting everything away to make the next studio session even more efficient than the previous one!

As you can see, it may take some time and some serious effort on your part to achieve maximum efficiency in your quilting. It is, however, worthwhile if you truly want to save time and make more time for quilting–and for doing other things, too!

If you like what you have learned in this series of articles, and you want to try my time-saving techniques for studio management, be gentle but persistent with yourself. Do not expect too much, too soon. It took me about a year to work out the storage and systems I now depend on for maximum efficiency.

Do, instead, whatever you can comfortably manage. If all you can do is to clean out one drawer, reorganize its contents and affix a label, do only that much. Be ever mindful of all the small ways in which you waste time while quilting, and make a conscious effort to use that time more wisely. Little by little, establish your own ways of working to increase efficiency, gaining more time for quilting by using the time you have in a better and more productive way.


Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-part series of blog posts, reprinted here with full permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.

Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notifications of other useful quilt blog posts. Next up? Money-Saving for Quilters!


Filed under Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Time Management

New Quilt-As-You-Go: Heart of Africa

Finished but for label and registry, Heart of Africa is #14 in the Redefinitions series. It’s 42″ x 47″–fairly large, but as a prototype for another quilt that will be much larger, it was big enough to test my ideas.

Highly experimental, Heart of Africa incorporated the use of quilt-as-you-go methods by disguising the sashing with patchwork. There is no indication of quilt-as-you-go on the face of the quilt, and only a curious backing–it worked! Clearly, though, the sashing has to look just like the patchwork design; anything else would stand out too much.

My method of setting the last “sashing” seams with quilting needs refinement. I’m not happy with the sloppy craftsmanship on the back, but with a little effort I can remedy that. Paying closer attention to how I prepare that last sashing seam before I quilt to secure it, as well as the manner of quilting, is a preventive treatment that I can easily employ in future work.


Redefinitions XIV: Heart of Africa (back), art quilt by Dena Dale CrainHeart of Africa (back view)


No matter how hard I try to keep everything square and straight, my work still seems to come out wonky. This piece just about convinces me it’s better to be wonky–deliberately!!

I would love to show you more photos of this quilt-as-you-go method and how it works, some of the work-in-progress shots. Too bad for now, but you will have to wait until I write and publish the online art quilt class, Instant Patchwork, on QuiltEd Online. It is third on my agenda of online art quilt classes to publish. First, though, I must edit and publish Bind Quilts by Machine. Darned Quilts comes up after that one, and then I can focus on Instant Patchwork.

In the meantime, you might enjoy reading my next series of articles for QuiltEd Online News: Money-Saving for Quilters. It comes hard on the heels of Time-Saving for Quilters. I am having great fund researching and writing these two series of articles, so useful for anyone thinking of operating a quilting business from home!

It seems, these days, that I am always working! I’m either writing, publishing, working with photos, responding to students–or quilting! I love it!! OK, back to work now . . .  😉

Related Images:


Filed under Patchwork Quilting

Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 7


Lesson 7: Eliminate Distractions

What distracts you from quilting? Distractions might include a(n):

  • Friend who drops by without prior notice, then wants to stay for lunch
  • Dog who asks for affection
  • Telephone call
  • SMS message
  • Child with a skinned knee
  • Cat stuck on the roof
  • Washing machine load unbalanced, buzzer blaring
  • Cake ready to come out of the oven, bell tinkling

All these distractions are important, right? As family members, we each have a responsibility to the others we live amongst and love, whether human or animal. Family and friends are indeed important, and more important than quilting.

However, when we set aside time to quilt, there are many such distractions that can easily and properly be postponed. What follows are a few ideas to help you “switch off” from the world while you quilt.


People and Pets

Keep all other people and pets out of your studio space. I know this sounds harsh, but your time is your time for quilting, not their time for interacting with you.

Set aside other time to spend with loved ones, and make sure they know you spend that time with them on a regular basis, that they can depend on you to be there. That way, they won’t mind respecting your time for yourself.

You work with tools and equipment that can present health hazards for family and especially for pets. Which cat lover has never seen the look of fascination on her cat’s face at that amazing up-and-down motion of a sewing machine needle in operation? One quick swipe with a paw, and you could both be headed for the vet – unnecessarily! I don’t even want to think about cats and rotary cutters!!

Having other people talk to you while you are quilting is a distraction, no matter how slight. Whether those people are physically in the room with you, or only there in spirit (tv, audio books), they distract you from quilting. Try quilting without having others around you and see how much faster you move through the work!


Bells and Alarms

That mobile phone of yours? Switch it to silent operation. Periodically check the screen for missed calls and messages. Answer only those real emergencies, those where the person has made more than one attempt to contact you. If they tried to get through to you every few minutes or so, they probably really need to speak with you, so take time from quilting to handle that call. All others can await your convenience.

Coordinate activities that involve timers like those found on ovens, laundry washers and dryers. Every time you leave your studio, even for only a few moments, you lose time for quilting. It is best to make sure that no timer will interrupt your studio time. If that is not possible, force yourself not to become distracted for long. Go and do what you must to switch off the alarm, and take care of the food or clothing as quickly as possible, and then get straight back to your studio time.


Other Sewing Tasks

Do you also sew for yourself or your family? Have mending to do? Let it pile up, if possible, until you have a couple of hours. Then do all the mending at once, say, once a month. Your mindset then is on the mending, not on all the quilting things you would rather be doing. Have a single marathon session of mending, then move on to other, more fun, quilting projects!


If you find other things, people or situations distracting, stop working and figure out what is the source of the distraction and what you might do to avoid being distracted. Ask for help and cooperation from others, family or friends–you may be pleasantly surprised at how willing they are to help ensure your studio time remains your own and distraction-free!


Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson series of blog posts, reprinted with permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8.

Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notifications of other useful quilt blog posts. Next up? Money-Saving for Quilters!

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Filed under Time Management

Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 6

Lesson 6: Work with a Sense of Purpose

Not all studio time is spent making a quilt. Sometimes, we need to refresh our perspective on the craft, to find new sources of inspiration, or perhaps experiment with a new technique. Whatever you intend to do in your studio, whether it is quilt-making or any of the many peripheral activities that we need as artists, do it with a sense of purpose.

If you feel blocked, or simply want some time to play around with materials and ideas, do that. Set aside time to relax in your studio, become refreshed and inspired to tackle the next project. If you are relaxing, take it easy and enjoy it. If you are working, get on with the work. Try never to mix the two!


Push the Machine

Then, when you’re working, push for speed without sacrificing quality.

Increase the speed of the sewing machine. Learn to push the foot pedal all the way down. Shift any gearing mechanism to high speed. Sew as fast as you can while still maintaining control over the work. Push yourself just a little every time you sew. With practice, the speed will come without sacrificing quality.

Work with more than one bobbin loaded with the correct thread at a time. If you have two bobbins ready to use, you cut time spent shifting and filling bobbins almost in half. Leave an empty bobbin on the bobbin winder at all times, if possible, quick and easy to find when you need one!

All those special features on your sewing machine? Make time to learn how to use them so you never have to learn how to master a mechanical or computer feature when you want to work.

If your sewing machine has a knee lifter for the presser foot, learn to use it. If you have a walking foot but have never put it on your machine, do so and learn how to sew with it.

All special features, feet and stitches on the sewing machine are there to improve the nature, quality and speed with which you work. Use them!


Pin Efficiently

Do not use a pincushion. I know – you have one that is just SOOO cute, and you just love it! Well, set your pincushion on a shelf and admire it whenever you like, but don’t use it when you are working.

Dena Dale Crain Pins

I have a pincushion tacked to my design wall, so I don’t have to keep moving about the room reaching for pins while I try to hold a patch or section in place on the wall. Otherwise, I store straight and open safety pins in covered boxes. Add a silicon sachet to prevent rust, like those used for cameras, if you need one.

When ready to pin, tip a few pins out on a table or other work surface. Pick up a pin, put down a pin, quickly and easily, and without fussing about where to stick it into a pincushion. Sticking pins into a pincushion takes more time than sliding them off a table into a small container. Do not pick pins out of a box; you will get stuck–ouch!

Better yet – don’t pin! Apparel manufacturers require factory workers to sew without pinning, even for complicated tasks like setting sleeves. Put some of that pressure on yourself, gaining skill in controlling fabric with your fingers whenever possible. Pin only if you absolutely must do!

Similarly, learn to quilt without marking. Marking quilting patterns is a time-consuming task. If you can possibly quilt without marking a design, do so. If you must mark, seek the fastest ways to do that. I cannot help you with this as I gave up marking quilt tops for quilting many years ago. Discover and follow Leah Day avidly; she is the best!


Calm, Quiet Control

As you work, quiet your hands. The stereotypical patchwork quilter lays fabric on a work table, then strokes it to death. Have you ever seen any one of us do that? Are you guilty of it yourself?

How much time do you suppose you might waste stroking fabrics? Instead, develop self-awareness about all the wasted motions of your hands, not to mention feet, in the studio. Less movement means less wasted time.


Be Ready for Anything

Do you live in an area plagued by power outages? You sit down behind a sewing machine, eager to piece or quilt, and the power fails? At ALL times, have a hand-sewing project set aside for such moments. Whether the power is off for five minutes or for five hours, use that time productively.

The power fails. You pick up some handwork and get busy. A little time passes, and suddenly the power returns. Should you drop what you are doing and go back to the sewing machine?

Think quickly about the handwork. Continue working on it until you reach a logical stopping point. Then, quickly roll up the work with all its necessary tools (needles, pins, scissors), and set it aside to return to machine sewing. Next time the power fails, the handwork unrolls quickly and includes everything you need to carry on with the work.

Extend your studio. As remarked earlier, being in the studio is a state of mind as much as it is actual habitation of a workspace. Have handwork you can carry with you. Work while traveling by bus, train or plane, or while stuck in traffic, if you can. Work while you wait in an office for an appointment. Do hand sewing any time and place that is comfortable for you, but always do it in such a way that you do not make others uncomfortable.

These are but a few time-saving ideas for how you can make more time for quilting by working thoughtfully and with a sense of purpose. If you pay attention to your work methods, you can no doubt find other actions you can take to work more efficiently and save more time for quilting!



Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson series of blog posts, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and the remaining posts to follow in sequence in coming weeks. Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notifications of these and other useful quilt blog posts!

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Filed under Freebies, Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Quilt Workshops

Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 5

In Part 1 of Time-Saving for Quilters, we talked about the importance of preventive maintenance for all quilting tools, machines and other equipment. In Part 2, we looked at physical space and that storage hog, the stash. Part 3 was about making sense out of the chaos. In Part 4, we talked about making the workspace more functionally efficient by keeping it tidy. In Part 5, we get down to business!


Lesson 5: Intention and Focus

To use studio time most efficiently, it is essential to know what you intend to do before you get there! Wandering into your private space/time for quilting without a clue in your mind as to what you intend to achieve is, if not a thoughtless waste of time, at least not a directed and intentionally good use of it. And probably most of us hardly ever do that!

We most likely have some idea of our direction before we enter that place of creativity. We have seen something online, at a guild meeting, or in a magazine or book that caught our eye and we hope to explore that idea further. Perhaps we have a bit of new fabric to enjoy dreaming about, or maybe we are already busy with a project that is well along its way to completion.

Dreaming and thinking time is every bit as important as planning time and doing time. Each of these activities is part of the whole creative process of making patchwork quilts, whether as fine art or as soft furnishings, and no part of the process should be shortchanged.


Think ahead

While you dream and think about your next quilt project, think ahead about the planning and doing parts of the process.

If you have only fifteen minutes in your studio, make every minute count. For example, in fifteen minutes, you might measure a piece of fabric to make certain it is enough for a project you have in mind. You might check your supply of notions to see whether you have any red ribbon to finish off a work in progress. You might spend that time sorting and arranging threads by color so it is easier in future to find what you want.

Spending fifteen minutes actively engaged in any of these or similar constructive studio activities is time well spent, not time wasted.


Time-saving for quilters


Then, it is one thing to find yourself with fifteen minutes of unexpected free time and quite something else to plan ahead to include those fifteen minutes into your schedule. Schedule if possible, of course, but be prepared to use unexpected free time wisely.

How? By thinking ahead!

Every time you leave your studio, your private creative space, think about what you intend to accomplish next time you enter that space. Carry with you, either mentally or by writing it down, an agenda of activities that need doing.

For example, as I write this article, I am working on a wall hanging quilt already titled “Heart of Africa.” I remember exactly what I did the last time I worked on the piece, and I know exactly what I need to do next. I also need to drop back to Part 2 of this series, and spend some time cleaning out and reorganizing my fabric stash.


Heart of Africa, a Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain (work in progress)


The next phase of work on the quilt needs about three hours to accomplish. I could easily spend a full day sorting out my fabric stash, but if I work on it shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer, I can accomplish much in smaller chunks of time. Whether I find or schedule time in my studio, and regardless of whether I have fifteen minutes or five hours, I already know what to do when I get there.


Plan ahead

Think about when you might next be able to spend time in your studio. If you do not keep a calendar, give it a try. Keeping a calendar and setting up reminders may prove more useful and productive than you expect!


calendar photo


If you keep a calendar, add studio time to it. Set reminders to alert you when it is time for you to be in your studio, and resist the temptation to ignore those reminders.

We all tend to rank studio time lower than many other activities, especially those that are family and household business as well as outside jobs. Your creative time is important, too, and if scheduling studio time helps accomplish creative goals, then do it.

Plan ahead for shopping, too. From one brief work session, you may learn you need some yellow fabric. Plan ahead to buy that fabric when you shop for household furnishings or groceries, or when you pop out for a haircut or other trip that takes you out of the house. Doing so means you neither delay work on a project nor have to make an unplanned shopping trip–a real time waster!

If a project calls for special materials, tools and supplies, plan ahead to source those things in advance of the time you intend to spend in your studio. There is nothing more frustrating than having to stop work while you shop for materials or have equipment repaired. We already discussed keeping machines and tools in good shape, well serviced and prepared for hard work.

Forgetting to buy materials simply because you neglected to write down a shopping list is equally inexcusable in terms of efficient use of time. Keep a written shopping list, on notepad, tablet or phone, handy at all times. Write down whatever you need to buy, and then forget about it until you shop again. Buy only what you need and get out of the shop as quickly as possible. “Free” shopping time is a luxury for another time, not a purposeful quick purchase of only what you need now, and it can prove expensive in money as well as wasted time!

The common theme of all this discussion is to do all dreaming, thinking, planning and shopping in advance of the time you intend to do the cutting, piecing, quilting, finishing and embellishment of a quilt. When you enter your studio to take action, the space should be fully stocked and equipped. Likewise, your mind should be clear about what you intend to do and how you intend to do it!


Stay Focused

Know, before you get to your studio, what it is you plan to do there. Have a specific project or task in mind, and go to your studio to complete, or at least move forward with, that activity.

Know how much time you have to spend in the studio for your next session there. Is it thirty minutes, or three hours? Know in advance how much time you have, and set realistic goals of accomplishment for each time period.

Goal setting need not be a complicated process. It may be as simple as saying to yourself “I want to put the binding on the current project quilt today” or “I want to spend an hour reading my new magazine and looking for a gift idea for my cousin’s wedding.”

If you do not accomplish as much as you had hoped during one session, simply pick up where you left off, with a modified perception of how much you should accomplish, in the next session. In this way, the work always moves forward.

Consider carefully, before you get to your studio, how you intend to accomplish that task. Is there more than one way to do the job? Is the method you have chosen the best choice? What difficulties might you encounter as you do the job in that manner? You can answer questions like these as you take laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer, while cooking a meal or while standing in line at a check-out counter at the local supermarket.

Once you commit to performing a particular task in a certain way, do not deviate from that decision unless it is truly necessary. Backtracking is a huge waste of time.

Your time is better spent thinking through all potential obstacles before you arrive in your studio than to begin working in one way, then decide that is not the best way, then choose another way and perhaps have that method fail as well.

Make up your mind early about what is the best way to do the job, and then do it that way! If you make a mistake, you know it and you learn from the experience.


One at a time

It is far easier to begin a new project than it is to complete an earlier one. Why is that? Because, for many of us, the dreaming, thinking and planning parts of the process are more fun than the cutting, sewing and finishing tasks. Everyone loves to dream. Books and magazines are lovely to see, and imagination is king!

There is a cure for this potential problem, though. Dream, think and plan as you will. Then, schedule the work for some time in the distant future, say, six months to a year from now. Or, simply know that when the project you work on today is completed, you can choose from amongst several new ones you already evaluated.

Postponing projects until you truly have time for them works on your behalf in several ways:

  • It gives you new projects to anticipate even as it encourages you to finish the current project so you can get to the next one. Your interest level remains high, and there is some pressure to get on with the work at hand and finish it. This is healthy discipline; use it well!
  • It helps refine your interests. Projects that look so good today might not be so appealing in six months or a year. Those that are truly wonderful are the ones to launch and complete when time permits. The others naturally fall by the wayside.
  • It gives you time to source materials and supplies. Be careful about this, though. Do not immediately rush out to shop for fabrics you may not use because you changed your mind about the project. Wait to shop until your current project is near completion and you know for certain which is the next project you intend to make.

If possible, never begin work on a second project until you finish your current work-in-progress. Instead, work on one project at a time from conception through completion. This keeps all materials and tools needed for that job close at hand, keeps you mentally focused, and reduces the number of UFOs.


Many at a time

If you are a prolific quilter, you may increase the number of works-in-progress to three, but no more! You should never work on more than three quilt projects at a time. That is plenty of work for any quilter! If you truly want to save time, reduce that number to one and stick with it.

For example, an art quilter might have three projects in the works, only because some design challenge arises that needs mental time for resolution. While dyeing for or piecing a second project, the artist’s mind is on the design problem of the first one that is at a later stage of development.


Urban Africa, a Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain (work in progress)


Leave such work in progress on a design wall, where you see it every time you walk past. The mind percolates information and perceptions change subtly with time. When the time is right to return to the work, you will know better what needs to be done next. That knowledge prompts you to re-engage quickly with the work and move forward with it.

If you follow this pattern, you may also define the projects by task. For example, you might work out the mathematics of one project by measuring, calculating and figuring fabric requirements and a cutting layout. A second project may be at the piecing stage and a third one ready for handwork, perhaps awaiting completion of a binding or attachment of a label.

Even so, it is easy to see how a quilter’s priorities can become muddled, work gets set aside, efficiency falls dues to confusion and the stack of UFOs grows exponentially!

In truth, you can work on only one project at a time, so why clutter your studio, your mind and your efficiency jumping from one to another project?

Pick a project, assemble everything you need to complete it, then set to the task, keeping 100% focused on that project until it is finished. When the first project is done, be ready to begin immediately on the second project. Keep clear-headed and stay focused on the work at hand!



Are you the kind of quilter who has several projects in process at once? Are there projects that stalled for one reason or another? If so, how does that make you feel? Do you have a sense of stress about finishing any of those projects, or perhaps only need to clear some storage space in your house?

If you have UFOs at the moment, choose one and move forward with it. Make a decision either to complete the project or to dispose of it. For the decision to complete the project, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the work salvageable?
  • What will it take to finish the project?
  • Do you have, or can you get, everything you need to finish the job?
  • Will you love the quilt when it’s done?

Perhaps the UFO is an old project, something you would never initiate today. If finishing this project is a matter of duty or obligation, if you are not excited about completing the quilt, or if you have no other good reason to do the work, seek and find an alternative solution.

Either give the work to your local guild or quilt shop and let them be creative about finishing the work for charitable uses, or dispose of it in some other constructive way. If the project is not a love of your heart, it does no good to force yourself to complete the quilt. You finish something you neither like nor care about, and what good is that? You will give it away in either case!

If the project is worth saving, the first step to completion is to discover what factor caused this project to stall and become a UFO. Perhaps it’s a shortage of a particular fabric, or maybe you lack the technical skill to complete the work. It may be that a design issue is unresolved, or perhaps you lack a special foot for your sewing machine.


Liquid Gold, a Redefinitions quilt by Dena Dale Crain


Figure out why you stopped work on this project, and then tackle that problem, not the project itself, head-on. Once you resolve the problem, the reason why the work stalled, you can return to the project and move forward with ease and confidence. For more about how to resolve and complete a UFO, see Quilt Chop and Liquid Gold.

Finishing UFOs is like unblocking a stalled production line in a factory. It eases the forward movement of the work stream by opening physical space in your studio and mental space in your mind. It lifts the burden of obligation that can depress your efficiency. It lightens the load, both of mental pressure and the amount of work to accomplish, so that you can move forward to embrace new activities without feeling guilty about the ones you left behind!


Working with all these ideas in mind, make more time for quilting by using the time you have more efficiently and effectively:

  • Think ahead: use free mental time to dream and think about what you want to accomplish.
  • Plan ahead: keep equipment and tools ready and do all necessary shopping before you begin a new project.
  • Stay focused: work on one to three quilt projects at any given time, but give each one your total concentration for the tasks at hand.
  • Finish those UFOs: one at a time, complete or discard every UFO in your studio to make a clear space, a clear time and a clear mind ready for work on current projects.


Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson series of blog posts, reprinted here with permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 and the remaining posts to follow in sequence in coming weeks. Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notifications of these and other useful quilt blog posts!

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Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 4

In Part 1 of Time-Saving for Quilters, we talked about the importance of preventive maintenance for all quilting tools, machines and other equipment. In Part 2, we looked at physical space and that storage hog, the stash. Part 3 was about making sense out of the chaos. In Part 4, we talk about making the workspace more functionally efficient by keeping it tidy!


Lesson 4: Clean Up Your Act

Minimize confusion, clutter and movement to save time for quilting. Then, use the time you save to work out at the gym, take a walk with your children and pets, or try out that new recipe. Or, do some more quilting!


When you begin

Clear your cutting table. Put away all pencil jars, vases of flowers, magazines, pincushions–that’s all clutter and it interferes with your ability to see the work, much less to work on it!

In the feature photo for this post, you see my cutting table as it looks when I’m working on it. The only fabrics on the table are the ones for the immediate project. There are two plastic bin storage units under the table. Two drawers contain this work in progress. When ready to work, I pull out those two drawers and work directly from them. Nothing else distracts me.

This is what my cutting table looks like when I am not working:


Quiet cutting table in quilter's studio


Whatever is on top of your cutting table can easily be put away somewhere. Only a cutting mat and a ruler or two remain on my cutting table at all times; nothing else! Even those things can be put away quickly and easily should they interfere with the work at hand.

When you are ready to find and use those fabrics and notions, spend only a few seconds reaching for them. In the meantime, the whole cutting table is free for work.

You do not lose scissors under a stack of books or fabrics, waste five minutes looking for them, getting distracted by other unexpected discoveries along the way. There is plenty of space to lay out the blocks or sections you just pieced and quickly see how they look before returning to the machine.

Clear the area around your sewing machine. Pins and thread snips are all you really need alongside your sewing machine.

Feet and special attachments should have storage units that came with the machine. Keep those tools in storage where they belong unless you are actively using them. Your machine can only have one foot attached at a time. Put the others away!

Ditto for bobbins, rippers, small rulers and everything else you might use occasionally but do not need right now.

Put away any fabrics you do not cut or sew at this time, even if you put them onto the design wall so you can anticipate what is to come.

Do not merely set aside fabrics you deselected for your current project. If you do, you’ll waste time punishing yourself, wondering whether perhaps you should have used that piece of orchid novelty print when you chose the roses instead. You will waste time looking again and again at those rejected (for this project) fabrics. Instead, make your fabric choices, commit to them, and put all other fabrics out of sight!

Put everything else away where it belongs. If you cannot find a place to put those things, then you probably have too much “stuff” in your studio. Go back and read this series of articles from the beginning to make sure you understand what the goal is (to make more time–space?–for quilting), and follow the instructions in Part 2 for downsizing your stash.

This takes real discipline, I know; so much discipline it seems to hurt! Every quilter I know loves to revel in her fabrics, stroking, petting and hugging them into ravelings. She loves to surround herself in an ocean of color, and to create an attractive, comfortable workspace where she feels warm and coddled. All too often, though, it’s a real miracle she can see what is right in front of her, with so much other distraction in the room!


While you work

As you work, throw bits and pieces you don’t need straight into the trash. I keep a trash basket on top of my cutting table or on the floor beside it at all times, and another one near my sewing machine. As I cut, the scraps too small to use go straight into that basket, and it gets emptied at the end of the day, replaced fresh and ready for work the next morning.

Don’t allow scraps to pile up on your cutting table, as you think “Gee, I wonder what I might use those for?” Make an immediate decision about whether a scrap is useful for something else, and then dispose of it accordingly. If you are a scrap collector, have a box or bag handy to put those bits of fabric into and out of the way.

If the floor in your studio space is hard flooring without carpet, toss the bits on the floor as you work. At the end of the day, sweep up the bits. It takes only a minute or two to do that, and can actually save time, especially if you can bear to live with the snippets on the floor for more than one day at a time.

Learn to place tools like thread snips, bobbins and pins in the same place every time you work.

If you need a special tool for a one-off task, find and use the tool, then put it away again immediately. Do not leave it lying on a work surface for later clean-up.

Keep your work space completely tidy and see how much faster you get on with the job!


After each task

At each new task, clear away everything you needed for the last task but do not need for this one.

OK, so you’ve been rotary cutting patches. That task is finished, so you grab the patches and head for the machine.

The rotary cutter, hopefully with blade closed, is still on top of the mat alongside your ruler. The pattern cutting instructions are there as well.

Alongside that is the pincushion, a packet of needles, the threaded needle you used yesterday for that little bit of hand sewing you did, your favorite thimble, the book you’ve been reading, a stack of videos you intend to watch while you’re quilting, your tablet, a real paper notepad and pen – the list goes on and on!!

While working on the quilt in the feature photo, I did not clear my cutting table every time I sat down to sew a seam. My process was rather to move back and forth between the two tables and a design wall. Nevertheless, you do not see anything on my cutting table that I was not working with at the time. And this photograph was not a set-up; I shot it as a candid photo while working on the quilt and thinking about YOU!

When the clutter begins to intrude on your process, take time out for a Two-Minute Tidy-Up. In a two-minute tidy-up, you clear away everything you left out but do not need right now.

Clearing away means returning all tools, notions, threads and other supplies and fabrics back into their proper storage places. It does not mean swiping your arm across the table to shove everything aside or onto the floor!

Put away everything you are not using at the moment for the task at hand. That way, you know exactly where to find what you need without wasting time looking for something that has gone astray.

You can see exactly what materials and tools you’re using now, without wading through all those you used yesterday or may use tomorrow. There is nothing else to distract you. The quilting becomes “in the moment,” in every way, and that has to save time!

The work is before you, so you get busy doing the work and you’re not smothered in UFO’s, delinquent projects, future projects, other people’s dreams or your own tools, materials and equipment.


At the end of the day

Clean and, if necessary, oil the sewing machine. Thread it for work for the next session. Put the correct presser foot on the machine, then lower the feed dogs to relieve pressure on them from the lowered presser foot. Drop the needle into the shuttle area so the needle tip is safely tucked away, and switch off the machine. Disconnect the power lines and switch off, at extension cord or wall if possible, any electricity source.

Cover the machine to reduce dust collection and protect it from pets and small children. This way, when you walk into the studio next time, the machine is ready to use. You may have to reset stitch style, length, width and presser foot pressure, but much about the machine’s settings is already correct.

At the end of the day, put EVERYTHING away. There should be no small tools, fabrics, thread spools, pincushions or the like anywhere visible in the room. When you next enter the room, you should see only sewing machines, ironing equipment and a clean work surface.

Quickly sweep the floor if it is hard. A table brush and small dustpan can help with this little job. I have a set that hangs from the end of my cutting table. If the floor is carpeted, more care with thread clippings and scraps while working spares you from this task. Empty the trash and replace the trash baskets.

The quilting for the day is finished, your studio is clean and tidy and ready for your next sewing session. Pat yourself on the back, sit down with a cuppa, and pull out your latest quilting magazines. Relax in clean comfort, knowing you’ve done a good job and the next quilting session will be even better!


Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson series of blog posts, reprinted here with permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and the remaining posts to follow in sequence in coming weeks. Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notifications of these and other useful quilt blog posts!


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Filed under Freebies, Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Quilt Workshops