For one reason or another in the last few months I have had to cut back on my teaching schedule. It disappointed me greatly to do so but I hadn’t been well enough or robust enough to do the 6 hours of teaching and then the driving home at the end of the day. Some times the back pain would be so bad that the following day was spent horizontal.

So why did I put myself thru this torture?

I call it “the light bulb moment”. That for me is priceless, something beyond measure, a gift from the Gods and the Hallelujah Chorus all rolled into one. It happened again on Friday.

I had a class at Mill Rose Cottage which had been organised some time ago. It was an Introduction to Free Motion Quilting and is another of my most popular classes.


I truly believe that until you do all the different parts of making a quilt you can’t “own” it – if you piece it and then hand it over to someone else to quilt it you’ve only done part of making the quilt. If you piece it or applique it and then quilt it the quilt is totally yours. I find it still is a real buzz to do it all, design it, draw it up, applique it, construct it, and then quilt it. I can honestly say “That’s my quilt! Totally my quilt!” Whilst the design of a quilt might be beyond some and really not really necessary to be able to say it is totally your quilt, actually quilting the quilt is.

Free Motion Quilting (FMQ) is not something that is easy and often quilters get frustrated by the difficulty of it and give up. That’s why its so important to do a class on introducing FMQ. There are so many variables that can cause problems that an novice can’t either control nor necessarily recognise. Tension might be a cause of bad stitching or thread breakage, the use of wrong needles for the thread being used or poor technique all can cause frustration and the conclusion that its all too difficult and giving up.

I’m a persistant and tenacious bugger – ask Marcus – he’d probably say that I’m stubborn (actually I think I am!) but when I taught myself to FMQ I got my lessons from the net, books and pure trial and error. I recognised that there were so many quilts in me that I wasn’t going to be able to send them off to be quilted every time I finished a quilt top. It was going to be too expensive. I had to successfully quilt myself if I was going to go on with this new form of producing artworks.

I didn’t take a class until I started teaching so I am completely self taught and when I hit a problem I had to solve it for myself. My stubbornness coming out again. Some of my earliest works were terrible but I did have the sense of achievement of doing every part of the making of the quilt myself.

The biggest thing about FMQ is practice – 10 minutes every day for 6 months and you will be proficient, longer and you will be a good quilter. I practiced and practiced determined to get it right. When I perfected one design I’d go on to another and challenge myself. Feathers took a long time to get right, McTavishing even longer but with persistence I mastered them all. I knew that if I could do it anyone else could do it.

Having been successful at Victorian Showcase with a whole cloth quilt called “Our Lady of Shen Wan” only 18 months after I started FMQ I knew that I was doing something right. The quilt won “Excellence in Domestic Machine Quilting” and was runner up for “Small Quilts Amateur”. To say that I was delighted was an understatement but it was also a testament to my persistence in just practicing practicing practicing.


Then I was asked by some friends to assist them with FMQ and then I started teaching at local quilting stores where I passed on my techniques and the lessons I learnt from teaching myself. In these first classes I did I was nervous, didn’t really believe that I had what it took to be a good teacher but I did gain confidence but really drove me was the increasing number of “light bulb moments”!

When you have a student that is struggling and on the point of giving up, I let the others keep on going with what they are doing and concentrate on the struggler. They often only need to hear a kind word about the work they are doing and to reassure them that with the information I gave them and with practice they will get it. The one thing my classes can’t give is the benefit of the six months of practice they need to do to get good at it. But a demonstration, pointing out that if they were to change their technique it would be easier for them or getting them to change the needle and thread to a more appropriate combination can set them on the road to success.

On Friday one of the group was ready to give up. She had really tried but she felt she wasn’t getting anywhere. The pebbles were a bit square and the paisleys were a bit misshaped but it was after all her first attempt. I gave her a quick demo and changed a setting and gave her a new practice pad with different batting and let her have another go.

BINGO! The light bulb went on above her head and Professor Henry Higgins started singing “By George She’s Got It!” She had and she was so happy. She had gone from despondent and hating FMQ to delighted with the results and truly believing she could make this work and quilt a quilt.

That’s why I teach. That moment is pure gold.

I’m never going to have kids, my genes are never going to be passed on which is the normal way in which we achieve immortality. I will achieve immortality by teaching quilters techniques that will allow them to make family heirlooms which will be passed on from generation to generation. Without my help in teaching the techniques the heirlooms wouldn’t be made and quilted. That is my immortality and I am so blessed to be able to teach and pass on my knowledge and I love it all the more when I can guide someone to master a technique that they were about to give up on. I wonder how many family members will receive a quilt as a result of me showing and convincing a quilter that they can do it. I hope a lot, and for me that is better than having my genes passed on and that’s why I am determined to increase my teaching schedule hoping that I can teach more from my studio and continue to teach regularly at the quilting stores. Light bulb moments are addictive!


(Our Lady of Shen Wan is currently showcased in Australian Patchwork and Quilting Magazine Vol 23  No 12  )