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Aug 27, 2010

Follower Friday Special: An Interview with Leah Day

Aug 27, 2010
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Welcome to a very SPECIAL edition of Follower Friday at Gen X Quilters! This week I have an in-depth interview with professional quilter Leah Day of Day Style Designs and 365 Days of Free Motion Quilting Filler DesignsShe graciously accepted this detailed look into her quilting life.  Grab a cup of tea before you sit down and read her fascinating interview.  Hope you like!

How old were you when you learned to sew?  Who taught you?

My mother taught me basic hand sewing when I was probably 5 or 6. I then annoyed her
constantly by wanting to play in her scrap basket!

Eventually we got an old singer sewing machine, but it was so old and horrible no one ever
really used it. It wasn't until I was in high school that I started looking for new feet and new
bobbins for it and eventually turned it into a pretty good machine.

I really wanted to learn how to quilt throughout my childhood, but the only books I had were
ones I picked up from thrift stores - you know, the ones that were written in the 1970s before
rotary cutters and during a time when everyone was color blind? HA!

So I didn't learn to quilt until I was 21 when I was getting married. I wanted a Double
Wedding Ring Quilt and decided to embark on that project 1 month before my wedding using
dress satin. Not suprisingly that quilt never did get finished!

Do you sew other things or strictly quilts?

Not anymore. I used to sew clothing and occasionally I'll put together a jacket or a big pillow
or something silly, but generally I stick with quilts.

When I was a kid, I always had 50 million projects from all different types of hobbies:
beadwork, knitting, sewing, crochet, weaving. I never really mastered any one of them
because I didn't focus on just one.

When I started quilting I was finally at the point in my life that I could choose one craft and not
feel horribly disapointed about the projects I wouldn't make with all the others.

Do you have an art degree? How did you turn into a professional quilter?

Nope. Art degrees and other assorted bits of paper are not really needed for quilting - except
to use as stabilizer!

I was a biology major before I dropped out of college, and I've never really bought into the
whole "educated artist" thing. I have family members that have masters in art and no actual
art to show for it. That seems like a real waste of time and money to me.

I became a professional quilter quite by accident really. I just got sick of feeling like I was
swimming around in the beginner / intermediate quilter crowd and finally decided to get

Quilting every single day will really improve your skill very quickly. So will designing and
creating a wholecloth white quilt! I took on that challenge and by the end of it, my skill had
tripled. I'd also figured out all of the little things like tools and machine setup that might have
taken me years to figure out otherwise.

I don't really think I was a great quilter (certainly not an "expert!") when I started the free
motion quilting project a year ago. My skill again went through a radical change stitching
through all the designs. It just made me think and move differently to have that challenge.

I still have a long way to go and I'm always learning. That's the way it is with all crafts though
- true mastery is understanding that "mastery" is not the point.

Where do you get your inspiration? Specifically, for the Goddess series we've all been watching....

My girls just pop into my head. I hate being vague, but that's really where they come from!
Usually I'll be thinking about an issue I'm struggling with and a goddess image will appear
fully formed.

It wasn't until I finished my first really big goddess that I realized that by quilting out the
image, the issue, whatever it was, also gets quilted out.

So I guess inspiration for the goddesses really comes from my personal, icky "stuff" and
trying to find some way to express it, and then in the process get the hell over it so I can
move on with my life!

My Cup Runneth Over

For the designs, I get inspiration everywhere. I follow every single "what if?" and keep my
eyes peeled at wallpaper, carpets, stair railing, etc. I also occasionally sit down with the
designs I've already created and flip through them to see if there's variations I've missed.
With 209 designs created, I'm not too worried about finishing the project because there's so
many designs still bouncing around in my head ready to come out!

How did you decide to do "365"?

At the time, 365 didn't sound like a lot. Naïve? Oh yes! Insane? Probably.

I just really wanted a challenge. If I'd set the goal for 50 or 100, it would have been a cool
project, but I wouldn't have followed every idea, every question, every design possibility I
could and because of that, I might have missed many designs that I now really love.

My understanding of FMQing has also really expanded. I can look at a space on my quilt
now and understand why one design works better than another, why some designs are a
total bitch to stitch, and why some are so super popular they've been overused for years.

When I started the blog, I didn't really get the difference between one stitch and another, but
by using them in my quilts over this last year, I've created a whole theory behind how to use

I guess it's kind of like an artistic study. I started wanting inspiration and a meal for my
creativity to munch on, and at the end I have this huge quantity of potential designs just
waiting to play with!

How did you learn Free Motion Quilting (FMQ)?

I took a class on machine quilting first, but the teacher really focused on using the walking
foot more than free motion.

So it wasn't until my 4th quilt that I decided I needed to learn how to stipple. I created this
huge pink quilt and pieced it into 6 sections so it would be easy to quilt. I was living in this
little apartment and literally quilting in the space beside my bed, so the quilt had to be in small

I wanted to stipple, but I didn't really know what I was doing. I just kept working at it over
each chunk of that quilt and slowly but surely, my stippling improved.

By the end of the quilt I was by no means a master, but I had stippling down pat. It really just
takes quilting out all those ugly stitches somewhere so you can find the good, even perfect
stitches once you get all the kinks worked out.

How long did you work at (FMQ) or how many projects needed to be worked on before you felt competent in FMQ?

Competent? 1 full sized quilt. But that was only 1 STITCH - stippling. To learn McTavishing,
I had to quilt another full sized quilt.

I quilted maybe 20 quilts before feeling so comfortable with free motion that I was starting to
get bored. Then I started looking into show quilting, and that will really rock your socks off.
It's a whole different level of quilting!

On my first show quilt, I realized that going from bed quilts to show quilts is like learning how
to quilt all over again, only this time on steriods. It's so much fun though because you learn
SO much more with each quilt.

So far I've quilted only 5 show quilts, but by the end of the second one, I was ready to start
the project.

Now I learned show quilting from Karen McTavish, and she has a whole book on it if you're
interested. It's called Quilting for Show and that book is really what taught me how to design
and create show quilts.

 What FMQ questions do you hear most?

Do you use a longarm? Can I do this on a domestic machine? What machine do you use?

There's been a really long and concerted advertising campaign from the longarm
manufacturers to convince everyone that they must have a huge, $30,000 machine in order
to be a professional quilter.

But the fact is, you can free motion on any domestic machine. The machine is a tool, just like
a power drill or a belt sander. What makes one person better at it is more practice, not a
more expensive drill bit.

Your favorite aspect of quilting?

Design. Absolutely positively. I love working with a blank sheet of paper trying to figure out
how to create what is in my head and get it onto paper and then from paper into a quilt.

The longer and more involved I allow my design process to be, the better my quilts are. The
last quilt I created was Shadow Self and I literally sat on that design for 3 months before
moving on to piece it.

Shadow Self

Your favorite quilt you've done?

Hmmmm....I have to admit that I have a rather dysfunctional relationship with my quilts.

I love them when I'm designing them when they're just lines on paper because I'm having so
much fun just playing with the different possibilities.

Then I'm so ready to see the quilt in reality, I get ansy and try rushing the project forward. I'm
frantically wanting to see the finished quilt so I can love it even more!

So the design and piecing usually goes pretty quick. Then comes the trapunto and quilting.
I'm usually feeling lukewarm to the quilt by the time the first filler designs are going down.

By the borders, I hate the day I ever dreamed of the quilt. I dislike everything about it. I think
it sucks and it's the worse thing I've ever done and is full of horrible, very obvious mistakes.

Then I finally finish the quilt and usually soak it and block it at 9 pm when I haven't eaten in
the last 12 hours, I haven't bathed in the last 48, and I'm angrier than a cat caught in a dryer.

And then the next morning I go downstairs and it's like the last 2 weeks of hell haven't
happened and the quilt is FINISHED and I fall in love with her all over again.

So right now, at this moment, my absolute favorite quilt is called The Duchess Reigns. She
is currently in the design phase and I'm hopelessly in love with her!

Ask me again in 3 months and I will probably by hating her just as passionately!

What is your best advice for novice FMQuilters?

As my 3 year old says "Never, NEVER give up!"

Just stick with it. Don't stop for bad looking stitches. Don't stop for "ruined" quilts (sorry, but
it's IMPOSSIBLE to ruin a quilt, even with the worlds worst free motion quilting).

If you're really worried about every single flaw showing, use a cotton batting and it will shrink
after you've washed it, gently hiding all your threads within the shrunk wrinkles of the quilt top.

You can also match your thread. My videos show high contrast of white thread on dark
colors so I have to remind people occasionally that they DO have a choice!

Beginner Filler Designs Quilt

How can we encourage other Gen X/Yers to take up our beloved quilting?!

You know the most comforting sign for us 20-something year old quilters? The biggest group
of people on my You Tube channel is of course 55 years old and older.

But the next biggest group? 18 year olds and younger.

We have a crowd of very interested hobbiest ready to move into the quilting world in the next
few years.

I think the very best thing we can all do is share. Share our project, share our opinions,
share our creativity with everyone - young and old - and let them know that there is this
awesome thing called "quilting" out here just waiting for them to come join in.

I look at all we have now: high speed internet, you tube, blogs, etc, that I didn't have when I
was 7 when I really could have used someone to teach me quilting. Now kids can get online
and watch someone hand piece or hand quilt and they can go try it with just a needle, thread,
and some fabric.

Quilting has always been a free hobby shared amoung friends. I hope it stays that way with
more people sharing their knowledge and skills online with the whole world.

Many thanks to Leah for sharing with us.  Make sure you stop over by her blog and website to learn more!
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  1. Great interview. What a talented young woman! I can't wait to check out more on her blog and website. What a great resource for FMQ.

  2. great interview, I follow Leah's blog and she is always sharing, she has her thoughts and opinions...but states that is what they are, HER thoughts and opinions.There are lots of way to complete a quilt.It's nice that to see you don't need a long arm quilting machine to turn out nice quilts.

  3. Love Leah! She taught me how to quilt! I found her, exactly like she described, on YouTube. Learning how to quilt has been on my bucket list for a long time. When I saw what I thought was a good deal on a showing machine at Costco, I jumped in. Now, I have two quilting blogs to follow!


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