From piecing to quilting to binding, finishing a large quilt is a massive undertaking. Just in time alone, my fastest bed-sized quilt–Elizabeth Hartman’s Fancy Forest (a 67″ x 91″ beast) for a friend’s last minute wedding present–took one entire month. To do this, I worked nearly every night after work and the entire weekend. It was a lot. I got such bad tendonitis in my thumb I had to wear a brace. The more sensible pace I took to finish my Space Travel quilt had me finishing in about 6 months–literally a trip to Mars.
Then, beyond the mere time commitment, you need the patience to deal with all the little mishaps: broken needles, tension problems, sewing the wrong piecing together, cutting the wrong piece size. No wonder its so easy to get overwhelmed. And once that happens, you start avoiding the project until it ends up a ball in the back of you closet. But don’t let it! Here are some of the ways I use to actually finish a large quilt.
Have a reason to make the quilt.
Before you even go looking for your large quilt pattern, start thinking about why you want to make a large quilt. Is it a present for a wedding, Christmas, a new baby? Have you been dreaming about a pattern forever? Or do you want a specific look to spruce up your bedroom, table, or couch? It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. It just needs to be a reason that’s important to you.
Having an important reason to finish your large quilt lets you set a goal that will nag you back to your sewing machine until you actually finish. It helps you set a timeline to finish by, learn a new skill, or at least makes a promise to yourself to finish before you buy that gorgeous fabric you’ve been eyeing.
This reason will help convince you to try to fix your sewing machine when it stops working rather than throw it out the window. It will send you back to JoAnn to get more fabric you’ve unwittingly made too may cutting errors. On a project this big, you need the motivation to keep going. Find yours before you start.
When you get that new pattern with a big stack of fabric, the feelings can be overwhelming. If you’re anything like me, you might start sewing in the morning and find yourself still working come dark… or maybe even into the wee hours of the next morning. You might even do this for a few days. But then, inevitably, life happens. An overwhelming work project, an exhausting illness, or that new Netflix show–and your attention is diverted. Before you know it, it’s been weeks since you’ve last touched your sewing machine.
Pacing yourself prevents burnout and keeps the project progressing even when you may want to take a break. And it’s easy to start. You just need to set goals for yourself. Maybe you’ll make one block a day… or even a week. Maybe you’ll quilt a quarter of the quilt today. Or maybe you decide to work for two hours one night a week. Setting these goals keeps your quilt progressing, but also keeps you from quilting so much the fatigue and stupid mistakes sneak up on you.
Sewing on a sewing machine is not an intuitive skill. It takes a lot of work to get consistent piecing that all fit together perfectly. Quilting is an even harder skill that’s like drawing by moving the paper instead of the pencil. If your quilt isn’t coming out remotely like your Instagram post inspiration, it can be easy to want to give up.
But sewing doesn’t need to be fancy or tricky. There are many quilt top patterns and quilting techniques that are accessible to beginners and experienced quilters who want a challenge. Start with small quilts with simpler techniques (like traditional piecing that only uses straight seems and diagonals seams), and practice.
Practice makes perfect–or at least pretty good. When you’re pretty good, you can sew a lot faster. Not only will you be able to use the highest speed on your machine, but you also won’t need to stop and fix mistakes.
When you’re well practice and confident in your skills, you won’t be bogged down with doubt about completing a section of your quilt. It will give you the experience to know what to do when you develop problems with your sewing machine or if the blocks end up being different sizes. Practice makes perfect–or at least the ability to know your quilt is good enough.
Know when to scrap a project
Wasn’t this article about how to finish a large quilt? Yes, but knowing when to call it quits is an important part of moving on to new projects you actually care about.
I once got stuck on a project that used tiny repeating pieces that make a more old-fashioned style quilt. I suffered through piecing it and then thought I would have fun quilting astronauts and rockets on it. But it didn’t turn out like I imagined.
Not only did the back start to get all wrinkled from my imperfect basting, the sharpie I used to trace out piece shapes, starting leaking throughout the quilt. I sat stuck on that quilt for nearly a year. It kept me from moving forward with other projects, because I didn’t want to waste a quilt I had spent all that time on.
It’s important that you’re able to recognize when a project is actually getting irreparably damaged or would cost even more money to fix. It’s okay to stop, salvage the batting and fabric you can and move on to a new project.
Finishing a large quilt: takeaways
Finishing a large quilt is huge task that can seem overwhelming at first. But having a reason to finish the quilt, setting timeline goals, and practicing your skills can help you get there before you know it. Even then, sometimes things just go south. You may need to let the quilt go out to the curb, and that’s okay. Just don’t make it a habit.