4 lessons I learned from quilting my first quilt

When I teach beginner quiltmakers, the No. 1 bit of advice I give them is this: "Learn to quilt as you learn to piece." That is exactly what I DIDN'T do, and 25 years later I find that I really want to quilt my own quilts!

Over the years I've dabbled in quilting - small things like potholders, coasters, very small wallhangings, etc. I even tried hand quilting. As my piecing, and later appliquéing skills got better, and with the advent of quality machine quilting for hire, I slowly lost interest in quilting my quilts myself.

Recently - inspired by the purchase of a new sewing machine - I decided there's no time like right now to finally jump off the deep end and start learning. Here are 4 important things I learned from quilting my first quilt...

Birds II 17" x 20"
 by Jenifer Dick
(My first quilted quilt!)

1. Start with what you have on-hand.

You need a quilt sandwich, thread and a machine. That’s it! Don’t feel compelled into thinking you need all the bells and whistles before you can start. Start simple and see how it goes. There are tons of products that seem so cool to have, but I think I'll hold out on some of them until I quilt a few more quilts to see if I really am going to stick with this!

2. Practice a bit first.

A practice sandwich is invaluable for getting your machine set up before you dive in. I practiced a little with my machine's built-in quilting stitches. I tried them all and tweaked the one I liked best.
My practice sandwich.
I made it from scraps of backing fabric
and batting. It didn't take long to figure out
what stitch I wanted and the length. 

I sewed a little on my sandwich and looked it over critically. I didn’t like the stitch length, so I increased it from 2.5 to 3.0. I also changed the pressure on my presser foot so there was a little more wiggle room. Once I was happy, I stitch in all directions to see how curvy I could get my even-feed foot to stitch. After a really short time, I felt ready!

3. Copy the masters at first.

Just like in art school, it’s okay to copy a quilter you admire. In fact, most teach their specific technique and/or have written books so copying their style is okay. But I was surprised how fast I felt confident to try things on my own! 
My master influencer is Angela Walters
4. Mistakes? What mistakes?

It isn’t about your mistakes – no really! A mistake doesn’t matter unless you define it as a mistake. 

For example, I wanted sharp pointy spikes for the centers of my circles. The center of the photo below shows what I got on my first try - not pointy or spiky! I marked it up to a beginner's mistake and went on. The next day I looked at it with fresh eyes and realized it looks pretty good! Is it what I thought I was going to get? No. Is it still good? Absolutely! 

Can you spot the mistake? Me neither! 

And don't forget to count your victories. It's easy to get caught up in what you're doing wrong and not take a minute to appreciate what you did right! 

I really like this section of the quilt. I count this a victory!

The takeaway is this: JUMP IN BLIND WITH BOTH FEET! The worst that will happen is you will have a finished quilt that you made all by yourself with the pride of ownership that comes with that!
Back side to see quilting around the birds.
About my quilt:

Birds II was quilted on my Bernina 740 the afternoon of June 23, 2017. I used the thread that I had on-hand – some was thicker than others and some didn’t match quite right. I used gray bobbin thread throughout rather than matching to the thread on top, so there’re issues on the back, but it is a good way to see where my trouble spots are! I found an old, mostly used can of spray baste to baste the sandwich so I didn’t have to pin. Next time I know what went right so I have a starting point, and I know what to do to improve the parts I'm not happy with!

The 3 Birds Quilt pattern is now available! Click here to order. And for an instant downloadable pattern, click here. 


  1. So, did you do this with a walking foot and not free motion? This gives me heart, if so - my machines are so old that I think the only way I can quilt curves is with a walking foot - I did very poorly with FMQ.

    1. I did use a walking foot. I have a free motion foot with stitch regulator, but honestly it intimidates me a bit! I decided to start with the walking foot since I understand it better. I plan on working up to FMQ in due time. I think curves are better if you don't try to make them too tight or too fussy. I have a casual style, so gentle, uneven curves work for me.

  2. Forgot to say how beautiful and professional your quilting looks! Great job.

    1. Awww, thanks! That is so sweet to say! It helps having my new machine and a bunch of beginner's confidence!

  3. Hi, I love this post of yours today! Makes me want to give it a try. I have just done basic quilting before but nothing very large. Thank you. Hugs,

    1. Glad I could inspire you. I say just do it!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Georgia, that means a lot coming from you!


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