I learned to free motion quilt at the very beginning of my quilting journey, seven or so years ago. I had completed three quilt tops but didn't know where to go from there. I had seen lovely long arm quilting on some of my grandma's quilts and by comparison straight lines with a walking foot just didn't seem right.
I happened upon a free motion quilting class to be held at the Northwest Quilt Expo and scraped together the money to attend. I brought my clunky cheapo sewing machine. It sounded so loud compared to the nicely tuned machines the other ladies brought! I felt very self conscious. I felt like an outsider.
For two mornings a woman named Kathy Sandbach taught our small group of quilters to free motion quilt. Kathy was very energetic and supportive. She acted as though we could do it, and I believed her. She treated me the same as all the other, more experienced attendees and I stopped feeling so self conscious. Kathy was a professional quilter, and quilted all her quilts on a domestic machine, not a longarm, which was very reassuring. I will always be grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to learn from her. I'm glad I didn't have time to doubt myself or think that free motion quilting was only for experienced quilters with longarm machines. There is a fearlessness to the "beginner mind". The belief that all things are possible is very powerful. I jumped right in.
“The thing is to become a master and in your old age acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing"
When I have taught friends to quilt, I've given them a quick hands on lesson and left them with Kathy's book. They have all done marvelously and I think that has more to do with her than me. When I decided to offer the free motion quilt along I went to look Kathy up, and see whether she would mind if I used some of the same exercises she did to teach the basics. I was feeling a little sheepish. What business do I have teaching anyone to quilt? Then I found her website, and on it, a letter from her children dated last year, explaining that Kathy had been diagnosed with a rare type of dementia, and that she is now in long term care. She is no longer quilting. She is no longer teaching.
The impact of this news on me was profound. Who can explain such a cascade of emotions? It stung to imagine this vibrant, confident woman toppled from within, and so much younger than anyone could expect. It emphasized my own physical vulnerability as well. And in a moment I went from feeling like an interloper, to feeling that I had a tremendous gift that must be shared.
Much of what I have to share about free motion quilting I learned from Kathy. She taught me these things, and I would like to pass them on, so they do not die, but instead continue on through the world. So they can grow, and change, and bring joy. If you are learning free motion quilting from me, I hope you will consider Kathy to be your "grandma" quilter. Kathy would tell you "you can do it!" and you can.