Stretch and Move – exercises for Quilters

I hate to admit that quilting can be painful.  Joint and muscle pains are a natural consequence from being in one position for too long.  Over the past several days of working on a king-size quilt on my longarm, I remembered to take many breaks to stretch my back.  Here are some resources with exercises for quilters to use as a quick reference guide. I am NOT a doctor so please consult your own physician for specific complaints.

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Stretch every day

woman stretching

Have you ever been to an aerobics class?  There are some basic stretches that come to mind from the good ole days when I went to Jazzercise several times a week.  I work my way from head to toe with neck stretches (ear to shoulder), torso twists and ankle rotations.

Grab some simple equipment

tennis ball exercises for quilters

I have found relief for specific back pain from a chiropractor.  An at-home exercise she recommended was laying on a tennis ball.  I use it for both my shoulder and my sciatic nerve. You can see a good description of the technique on this page.

Remember, the goal is to find a balance.  If I have been looking to the left as I guide my longarm over a pantograph, I focus on stretching to the right.  If I have been hunched forward, I spread my arms and lean backwards.  An exercise ball is a great tool.  Some quilters even sew while sitting on one!  I simply lay back on mine for about five minutes to relax my torso.

woman sitting on exercise ball

Keep Moving!

In addition to stretching, keep your body moving!  I cannot stand at the longarm for more than an hour, so I set a timer which reminds me when to switch activities.  With several projects going at once, it is never hard to move to the next task!  If I am piecing at my small machine, I have a steady rotation between the cutting table, sewing space and ironing board.  These small changes in position throughout the day make a huge difference by the evening.

Since I don’t have the money for a gym membership at the moment, I am taking advantage of the free option in my neighborhood – a walk around the block.  Several blocks, actually, since I have a route that is a little over a mile long. I drag my husband along and it’s becoming a nightly ritual that gives us some time to converse rather than stare at separate screens.  Speaking of technology, are you a Fitbit wearer?  There are many tracking devices and apps to encourage you to get your steps in! What are some of your favorites?  Please share in the comments!

Let’s stay happy and healthy by doing some stretches and exercises every day!

Free Motion Quilting – Practice Sketches

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Muscle memory is important for any repetitive task, and free motion quilting certainly qualifies! If you don’t want to spend the time and money creating practice quilting sandwiches out of muslin and batting, then grab some paper and doodle away!

Lori at The Inbox Jaunt has some great doodle exercises and free motion quilting tutorials.

Creating a Zentangle is another way to get into the creative sketching groove and play with designs that can translate into thread and fabric.

sketchbook tools

I bought a 5×7 artist’s sketchbook and some fine-point Sharpie markers to start my mornings with a daily sketch. (Check out my Instagram feed @truebluequilts for #dailysketchbook)  Some days I am in the mood for feathers and sometimes I divide the page to practice different fillers.

Related post: Free Motion Quilting – Starting on Paper

Dividing the page into different widths can help you plan border designs.

sketchbook quilting designs

Or work with circles.

sketchbook free motion quilting

Mandalas are another technique that can expand your creativity as you design a new element for each layer of the image.

Once you have a design on paper, it is time to see how it looks on fabric.  Some people recommend charity quilts or baby quilts as practice pieces, since the recipients are more forgiving.  (This is no excuse for sloppy work!  The comparison is giving a quilt to a non-judgmental child versus submitting your work to a show to compete for an award.)

Related Post: Free Motion Quilting – From Sketchbook to Finished Quilt 

Sketching gets the creative juices flowing and it helps cement a certain design into your memory.  Free motion quilting can start on paper!

Grab a pen and share your artistry with us by using #truebluequiltsketches on social media.


Free Motion Monday – Quilting Swoon Blocks

Recently I made a quilt for Quilts of Valor and then it was time to choose a design for quilting Swoon blocks. I considered the final destination and use of the quilt.  Is it for show or daily use?  Should I use an all-over pantograph design or heavy heirloom stitching?

swoon for Quilts of Valor

This longarm quilting project is a top made from Swoon blocks in patriotic colors. From the start, my goal was to donate this quilt to the Quilts of Valor Foundation. For this purpose, I chose a simple design that will stand up to daily use and multiple washings. A pantograph or all-over pattern would be fine but I decided to do a custom design because of the high contrast in colors and the various elements of the block.

Sketch before you quilt

paper sketch quilting swoon blocks

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Rather than jump right into the quilting process, I used EQ7 to print out a diagram of the block. This gives me a practice sheet or coloring page to sketch my ideas. I started with the star and diamonds shapes and quickly found a continuous line design that I feel compliments the piece elements.  I wanted a simple background fill so I used wavy lines in the house sections of the block.

Related post: my favorite features in EQ7!

Final plan for quilting Swoon blocks

When I took this design to the quilt and started thinking about thread color, I realized that I did not want the houses and background to be the same color.  I substituted a loopy meander in the house sections where I can match thread color, and I kept the wavy lines in the background. I filled in the sashing with lines and loops.

alternate plan quilting swoon blocks
Longarm process… when I started quilting on a longarm, I would quilt all of one color throughout the quilt before changing thread colors.  This meant rolling the quilt back and forth several times. Recently, I began changing thread color more often so that I quilted all the colors in one row before advancing the quilt.  For this Swoon quilt, I am doing a combination.  I started with white thread, then changed to red and gold before advancing.  When I get to the bottom row, I will change to blue thread and work my way back to the top.

Using matching thread means that some of the quilting design is less noticeable, but it will still have great texture and I’m sure it will be a great quilt to cuddle under!

final quilting swoon blocks

What is your standard quilting design? Have you tried this popular Swoon block yet?

But I don’t have time to quilt! 4 ways to find more quilting time

How do you find quilting time? A common stereotype of a quilter is the retired grandmother who spends all day cutting up fabric and sewing adorable quilts for her multitude of grandchildren. The reality is quilters come in all sizes and shapes, but many of us have full-time day jobs so you won’t find us shopping at 10am on Thursday mornings.

Since time is at a premium for everyone, how can we find more quilting time? (Or knit, scrapbook, or just create!)

make time for quilting

#1 Create more quilting time with a 15 minute sprint.

      Many of us have those small spaces of time here and there in our schedule. The challenge is to use that time for creative pursuits and not just conquering the next level of Candy Crush. One way to make this happen more frequently is to keep your sewing machine and craft supplies set up. It is much easier to sew a block or two when the machine is ready to go. Too many times I have taken the tempting choice of vegging on the couch rather than take out my machine, gather fabric, thread, pins etc and sit down to work.

#2 Increase quilting time with “kits” on hand

    When your machine and tools are ready you need the fabric supplies as well, so my idea of kit is the pieces necessary for whatever project is in the works.  Paper plates or empty pizza boxes are a cheap alternative to the plastic craft bins, but they serve the same purpose – keep everything contained and ready to sew when you have a few minutes.  I also keep baskets of triangles, trimmed from binding strips, near my machine so there are always pieces waiting when I don’t have time for a more complex project.  save quilting time with precut unitsIf you enjoy handwork, English paper piecing (hexies) makes a great take-along project. A small tote or plastic pencil box is perfect for this type of sewing supply box.

#3  Get more quilting time by using precut-friendly patterns

Let someone else do the time-consuming prep work like cutting fabric. The ever popular Jelly Roll strips can be sewn into a variety of blocks.jelly roll rainbow quilt

 Strips sets with three or four colors can quickly become rail fence blocks.

kids rail fence quilt

 The Moda Bake Shop and Cozy Quilts offer patterns for a variety of pre-cut shapes such as charm squares and layer cakes. If you spend some time cutting fabric into sizes you most often use, you will be able to start sewing that much faster. Bonnie Hunter offers great tips on stash management and she has a number of free patterns on her site as well.

#4 Dedicated Quilting time: Plan retreat

    I realize that this conjures up travel and the associated costs of spending the weekend away from home.  There are many quilting retreat options if your budget allows such as Glamp Stichalot or on location with Judy Neimeyer. Traveling to a show such as Quilt Market or QuiltCon may give you the opportunity to take classes and see fabulous works of art in person.  If travel is not possible, treat yourself to a sewing staycation. Invite some friends over, make a crockpot dinner, and enjoy some un-interrupted quilting time.  This may require bribing family members to leave you alone, but I think it is definitely worth the cost!  


Any day is better when quilting, so find time to do what you love!