Category Archives: Quilt Tips & Tutorials

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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

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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Filed under Freebies, Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Quilt Workshops

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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Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 3

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. Today, we go one step further and make sense out of the chaos!


Lesson 3: Organize EVERYTHING!

Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 3

Remember the adage by Benjamin Franklin:

“A place for everything, and everything in its place?”

Well, that simple guideline should underpin everything you have in your studio.

Take time out to organize all the fabrics, threads, notions, tools and equipment you have in your studio. Organization is a powerful time-saving tool that most quilters need to employ more often!

I recently re-organized my studio space. Some furniture changed, I got rid of a lot of unwanted materials and supplies, and I re-organized the remaining notions, tools, supplies and fabrics.

Guess what?!

Next time I entered my studio, I couldn’t find anything! There was a time lag between re-organizing the space and the time I returned to it to begin working. What happened? I FORGOT where I put things!!

That turned out to be a costly problem in terms of time-saving. I’m still looking for things I put elsewhere, some of which I got rid of entirely and did not remember doing so. This experience has been a huge time-waster for me!

How can you avoid this experience?

Plan a re-organization of your studio space. Whether formal or informal, large or small, it makes no difference. Your work space, whatever and wherever it is, is YOUR space, and you must be in charge of that space at all times, even if you have to close it down completely on a daily basis.

Don’t plan to re-organize your studio space while you are working on a quilt project. That’s like taking time out from watching a movie to do the dishes!

Either do the dishes first and then watch the movie, or see the movie first and then do the dishes.

Timing is everything!

Reorganize your studio space right before you begin a new project. Take a couple of hours or a couple of days to do the job, but when it’s finished, launch straight into that new project. Doing so helps reinforce your memory of where you put things.

Use the right kind of storage space for what you have. If you have a lot of little notions, store them in pocketed trays or a toolbox. Fabrics go in bins or on shelves. Cutting tools go into a drawer or other closed unit, away from sight by little people who might get hurt and from big people who might think to “borrow” your best dressmaker shears to cut nylon ropes!

In a large studio, store tools and supplies where you use them. If you need dressmaker shears on each side of a large room, have two pairs. If you need pins on a design wall, and pins by the sewing machine, and pins on the cutting table, have three boxes of pins, one stored in each place. Position a cutting table beside fabric storage, or add fabric storage to the cutting table.

Do whatever you can to reduce back and forth movement between tools and supplies and the places where you need them. If you want exercise, take a walk or join a gym and use it! In the studio, the emphasis is on saving time, not on keeping limber.

In a small studio, put all cutting tools in one place, all threads in another place, all fusing agents in another place and so on, each one in an appropriate receptacle. Beads and sequins? In one place! Hoops and frames? In one place! Ironing equipment? In one place! Get the idea? Time-saving for quilters!

If storage does not permit you to see what is inside, add labels to drawers and cupboard doors. Open shelving does not need labeling, as you can easily see what is on the shelves. However, if there are small opaque storage boxes on the shelves, label those boxes.

Now, here’s the kicker:

Make a general inventory as you go. List the kinds of tools, equipment and materials in your studio, not each individual item, and then note where you’ve stored them. With labels and an inventory list in hand, you need never be lost in your time-saving studio space again!



Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson 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 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 2

In Part 1 of Time-Saving for Quilters, we talked about the importance of preventive maintenance for all quilting tools, machines and other equipment. Today, we look at physical space and that storage hog, the STASH!


Lesson 2: Downsize That Stash


We all keep too much fabric in our stashes. We buy fabric because it’s beautiful, we love it, it’s on sale or an otherwise good deal, or we make a mistake thinking a particular piece is just what we need for that next project.

The truth is – we buy too much fabric, too many notions, threads, art supplies and all the rest!!

We’re brought up as consumers, right? So – there’s nothing we like better than shopping, and shopping for fabrics and art supplies is a trip to Heaven!

Can it!

Pull out all those fabrics and cull them down to about 25% of what you’re presently storing. Think in terms of how much fabric you can make into quilts in one year.

Think about how long you’ve been collecting fabric. Look at the pieces you bought over the last year. How different are those fabrics from the ones you bought during your first year of quilting, if you have any of those left? See how your eye has become more sophisticated, how you know yourself better now than you did a few short years ago?

Begin with the fabrics that have been around the longest. Chances are they are beginning to rot; nothing lasts forever, yes? And if you were ever going to use them, you would have done so before now.

To those, add the ugliest. Come on, you know they’re in there! Those fat quarters that came in a bundle you thought was glorious until you opened it? That piece you never did like but mistakenly thought it would enhance a work-in-progress? That one over there – see it? – it’s a misprint; get rid of it.

Carry on in this manner, truly, until you force yourself to respond to your newly refined tastes.

So, go on – clean house on that stash. Sell what you don’t want at your next guild meeting. What’s left over from that can be donated to a church, a self-help group or a school in need of craft supplies.

Write it off on your taxes.

Do whatever you have to do, but get rid of that unwanted fabric that you are never going to use!

Storing fabric is expensive. The fabrics deteriorate, develop permanent wrinkles and folds, and take up valuable space you could be using for something else.

Be tough on yourself for this all-important step. The outcomes are rewarding. You can:

  • Free yourself from a lot of (really) unwanted baggage; it’s very liberating to cut down on your stash!
  • Eliminate the hidden pressures to produce something out of all that fabric you no longer really like, making way in your heart and mind to work on the projects you truly want to complete.
  • Create a lot of new-found space in your studio. No matter how large or small your studio space, every cubic inch counts when we’re talking about storage, doesn’t it?
  • Finish with a selection of only gorgeous, wonderful fabrics that are truly worthy of your talents and your commitment to production.
  • Reach for what’s available and get on with the work. You no longer need to spend hours poring over your fabrics in search of the perfect ones to do a job. Learn to buy what you need, and to use what you have on hand.


How does downsizing a stash make more time for quilting? You spend a little time, a big investment actually, in making sure that you only stock those fabrics you truly love and are likely to use. This important step clears physical space in your studio or sewing corner, and clears mental space in your mind for thinking about present and future quilt projects.

After you complete this important but not difficult job, you have more time for quilting because you spend less time searching for the “perfect” fabric. You spend less time searching through fabrics in general.

Save time, and quilt more!


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, 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 Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Time Management

Time-Saving for Quilters, Part 1

Experience Behind the Tips

So you want more time for quilting? You read my earlier post 10 Tips to Make More Time for Quilting and you eagerly await the next installment?

Well, here it comes, but first, a caution:

Many of you will hoot and scream over this blog post series, I know! You love all the glorious fabrics you have collected over the years. Eye candy is of paramount importance. You are inspired by the vibrant colors, the subtle detailing, the feeling of the cloth in your hand, and the smell of it in your nostrils. You eat, sleep and breathe fabric for quilts, right?

Well, I’ve had to learn some important studio management lessons the hard way, lessons that have affected the ways in which I work and the efficiency with which I can complete any quilt. Let me tell you all about it . . .


The Cats

We have six cats in my family. We have two brothers Meinie and Mo, all that are left of the original foursome – you can fill in the blank names of the dearly departed.

Then, there are two sisters, cousins to the first set of two brothers. Their names are not important, but the fact that they are both small cats, related to the first two males, is significant. These little girls cannot defend themselves from the much larger, heavier and stronger males.

Then, we have another set of brothers. These started out as Oscar and Wilde, but the Kiswahili word for “wild” is kali, so they are now Oscar and Kali. They are all lovely cats, each with his or her unique personality, affections and demands.


Time-Saving for Quilters

Oscar and Kali


The trouble started with Mo, who was lost and absent from home several years ago during a traumatizing six months. When he returned to us, Mo could not bear the company of any cat other than his brothers. With only one of those left, Mo picks a fight with any of the other cats he comes across. For the little girls, this might well prove fatal.


Time-saving for quilters: Mo

Mo, showing battle scars on his nose


We had to make arrangements to keep Mo and Meinie away from the other cats. We solved that problem with an alternating inside/outside regimen.

Here’s the hiccup: When the two girls, with Oscar and Kali, are indoors, they stay in my studio. Normally placid, at night and with geckos on the walls, the two boys go nuts. They climb the curtains, walk the tops of the pelmets, push claws behind artwork on the walls, knock over lampshades, pull supplies off bookshelves and wreak general havoc.

I soon learned, to my dismay, not to leave ANYTHING out overnight in the studio and expect it to be in the same condition next morning. For the last several months I have been working extra hard at managing tools, materials and equipment to keep the studio, and more importantly, my work, cat-proofed.


Time-Saving Lessons

Out of that experience come the following lessons about time-saving for quilters. What cat-free time I have in my studio is precious, and the lessons I share with you here ensure that, whenever I find time to work, I maximize that time in the studio. These lessons about time-saving for quilters almost certainly will not be popular with everyone, but I can tell you for sure–they work!

If you are the kind of quilter who oohs and ahhs over beautiful books, fabulous fabrics, tempting threads and extravagant embellishments, you may be excused from reading forward.

However, if what you really want is more productive sewing and quilting time, please carry on and at least hear me out.

Whether your studio is a detached outbuilding or the corner of a guest room, these guidelines apply. The smaller the physical space available, the more important these tips are. Your studio, your place for creating wonderful quilts as gifts, household furnishings or works of art, exists more in your mind than it does in the 3-d space of your home or other location. Apply these lessons to your thinking, and watch them manifest in your physical surroundings!


Lesson 1: Get Ahead of Maintenance

“You’re only as good as your tools.”

Nothing slows a quilter like tools and equipment that do not work well. Tool and equipment preventive maintenance is an important time-saver for quilters. It is far better to exercise preventive maintenance of tools and equipment than to stop mid-way through a project due to an almost predictable break-down.

Depend on Murphy’s law:

If anything can go wrong, it usually does.

Inevitably, that kind of thing always happens when you are under a time deadline of one sort or another. Preventive maintenance saves lost time when you can least afford to waste time.

Let’s look at a quilter’s studio maintenance inventory, and consider what maintenance can help avoid costly repairs or replacements, as well as saving time:

Cutting tools

  • Dressmaker shears, embroidery scissors, thread snips – need sharpening by a professional. Never drop these tools, as a hard impact does much damage by bowing and nicking blades.
  • Rotary cutter – needs blade sharpening or replacement, cleaning, oiling. Ditto for dropping it!
  • Mat – needs threads removed from cutting slices in the surface; may need replacement.
  • Ruler – needs non-skid attachments added or replaced. Handle added or replaced. Rulers cleaned and replaced when necessary.

Sewing tools

  • Pins and needles – Learn not to mix up pins and needles; otherwise, sort by type, and check for bends, snags and rust. Discard in an environmentally friendly manner; thanks!
  • Rippers – clean and sharp; hook well seated in handle; test cutting ability in the curve of the ripper blade.
  • Awl – as sharp as you like and without barbs. Consider using an eco-friendly manicure orange stick instead of a metal or plastic awl.

Quilting frames, hoops

  • Check structure, tension, rust, damage, general condition


Sewing machinePhoto by deejayqueue

Machines (Sewing, serging or other)

  • Machine servicing – timing, parts replacement, engine brushes or overhaul; general lubrication, timing and tension settings checked by an authorized dealer/service repair person

Pressing tools

  • Iron: electrical wiring check, faceplate cleaned, temperature test
  • Ironing board: check sturdiness of legs, condition of iron rack, oil sliding parts, check for rust; board well padded? cover clean and without holes?
  • Pressing cloths: clean? holey? gummed up with fusible adhesives?
  • Pressing aids: non-stick sheets damaged?


Always use the right tool for the job. Tool substitution can result in damage to the work, and worse yet, injury to yourself or others.

Using the wrong tool wastes time. Even if you must delay a task until you obtain the correct tool, that time is more productively spent working on some other project in the interim than to pound away at a task with the wrong tool, risking harm to the work, damage to the equipment and injury to yourself, not to mention wasting more time.

Any equipment that needs servicing, take it out for maintenance and repairs now, certainly within the next week. While the equipment is being serviced, tackle other time-saving procedures which have to do with cleaning house and getting organized. Then, when you have everything ready to quilt again, your machines and tools will be in good nick and ready for work.

When you collect machines and tools you took out for repair and servicing, ask the repair person what steps you can take to reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the equipment. Also ask when the equipment is likely to need another service. Whatever the repair person says, make notes. Add the dates to your calendar and set reminders to have the equipment serviced, then take action when the reminders pop up.

In six months or a year, when the equipment is due for attention again, have it serviced immediately. This saves time, and often money, over having equipment break down when you need it most!


Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson series of blog posts, reprinted with permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive in QuiltEd Online art quilt classes. This is Part 1, with the remaining posts to follow in sequence in coming weeks. Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notification of the rest of the series of posts.


Filed under Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Time Management