What Would You Do Differently?

How long have you been sewing and/or quilting? Five years? Fifteen? Twenty? Thirty? What would you do differently if you did it all over again?

I have been sewing for close to 65 years. By hand to start, of course, starting somewhere in my 5th year. And then by machine staring around 13 years years old. (Mother would not let me near her machine until after I took Home Ec in 9th grade. Well, there was an “incident” with her Featherweight when I was about 10, but that is another story.)

Today I was wondering “what would I do differently”with the wisdom, 20/20 hindsight and hubris of my 70 years.

  1. When I could afford it, get a better machine! For over 40 years I sewed on the machine I bought in my early 20’s. It was a White and a good machine when I purchased it on layaway. The White and I made wardrobes full of clothing together…men’s wear, dresses, children’s halloween costumes, children’s clothing, skirts, tops, prom dresses, wedding dresses. Even recycled denim clothing for pay! Yes, we went through a LOT together and I am a loyal person. For decades, I couldn’t afford a new/better machine. I could also oil and clean it thoroughly myself and it only visited a pro twice for spa day in all those years. But I hung onto it longer than I should have. My first purchase after giving it up was a vintage Bernina. Wow! A whole new world. That led to my purchase of a used modern Bernina 350 SE. Double wow! I still have several vintage machines, but I now know how to use and greatly appreciate my more modern machines.
  2. Give up my “old” way of thinking about sewing tools much sooner. Following right along with clinging to my old machine, I embraced tools and accessories of my youth…threads, cutting tools. It took me way too long to give up my old Coats & Clarks cotton thread. Much too long. I would have progressed faster in learning free motion quilting if I had invested in good quality poly quilting thread much earlier. (Or even good quality cotton thread!) Modern manufacturing improved poly thread decades ago and my strangle hold on “use only cotton thread” almost derailed my quilting and appliqué career before it really got started. Rotary cutters? They were frightening. Well, they still are, but an ounce of fear and caution is not a terrible thing. Now I love my rotary cutters and would not part with them under any threat.
  3. Start quilting sooner! Here we go with “sooner” again. Enough said! If it interests you, even mildly, if you feel a spark…Shibori, applique, apparel, bag making, paper piecing…GIVE IT A GO.
  4. Use that special fabric! We all have it! “Special” fabric. It might be a vintage piece of fabric, or an incredible piece of modern quilting fabric. Maybe a long departed relative gifted it to us, or we stumbled upon it in a little shop on our travels. It is natural to cherish these items, and to want to visit them and appreciate their beauty. But what if I am gone before they are used? They would likely wind up in a Goodwill or a landfill some where. In the past few years, I quilted up some of those old Special fabrics and what a wonderful feeling it is to pass these treasures onto a younger relative or friend. Now I know they will live on and bring joy.
My brother picked up the hand dyed center batik in Senagal 35 or so years ago ago when he was in the Peace Corps. I finally gave it an applique update a couple years ago and gifted it back to him.
The background is a vintage piece of silk, gifted to me by a family friend over 40 years ago. I made Esther Aliu’s Cherish pattern with it, using Dupioni silk for the applique components. A daughter now has it displayed in her home.

What did I do right?

  1. Never stop sewing. Many life events conspire to make us stop sewing. Full time jobs, child birthing and rearing, grief…It is a long list. I took a couple “vacations” from sewing through the years, but always picked it back up. Halloween? Sure, I can drag out the machine and make a costume. Prom? Well, I guess we could sew something up. Nothing feels as wonderful as visiting our old friend, companion, and creative outlet. We may get a bit rusty, but our skills are always there waiting for us. And once the kids moved out, it was open season on sewing!
  2. Learn to FMQ. I dabbled in quilting along the way, but made it a mission to learning to make a “real” quilt about 20 years ago. And that lead me to think about learning to FMQ, once I learned that such a thing was “a thing”! It took about 3 years of effort to get reasonably adept at it. I am glad that I did not find applique prior to my quest to learn FMQ. It would have derailed my efforts as I love it so. The first year learning FMQ, I made 34 quilts. Yes, 34! Some of them were terrible, no good, very bad quilts. Some had redeeming features. But they all served a purpose and at least a couple of them are still treasured by the people they went to live with.
  3. Join some (really fabulous) FB groups. Really, this revolutionized my quilting. I did an in person class at a local shop early in my quilting journey. I’m afraid the other gals stink-eyed my ancient White machine, asking a few pointed questions about my “real” machine. This was just prior to the development of social media. Once I was up and running on FB, I found a really good quilting group. A group where you will be mentored, encouraged and nurtured makes all the difference.

For the future…

  1. Try new techniques, tools and ideas. Sewing is a never ending story of learning. We try, we fail, we try again. We adapt and adopt new techniques and ideas to our style and aesthetic. This is what fuels the fire of our love of sewing. Try those new things. If they don’t serve you, jettison them. If they do, add them to your toolbox and keep going. What if I had never attempted appliqué? It does not bear thinking about.
  2. Sew what you love. Sew what you love to sew. Do people want to commission things? Do you have family requesting a certain item? Pressure from co-workers, old students, friends, friends of friends? It is easy to get side tracked into doing sewing favors for others. Some of us are not good at saying “no” or deferring requests. There are always exceptions…I will always respond to a request from a daughter to repair a stuffed animal, alter clothing or make a quilt. But increasingly, especially now with health issues (always a good “excuse to say no”), I am deflecting requests and sewing what I want to. How many years do I have left to sew (maybe I am being too expansive there, you never really know) what I really want to? How much time to sew up the fabulous fabrics in my stash, not to mention my new finds? How long to finish my pattern bucket list? Now I just offer an item from my small pile of homeless creations if someone expresses an interest. Or I give them first dibs on whatever new quilt rolls off my machines. I want to sew what I love for the people I love and I think I have earned it!
Wedding dress for a daughter.
Hand sewn and embroidered block from crazy quilt wedding gift for a daughter. Made in 2000/2001.
Another block from the hand sewn crazy quilt. A friend gave me some vintage lace to include!

Happy new adventures in sewing!



  1. Among the machines I would have also purchased a serger. I was gifted one about ten years ago and have wondered why I never got one sooner.
    When it comes to machine quilting I am just beginning to learn it……as I just spent a lot of money having a very large quilt professionally machine quilted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I picked up a serger about 5 yrs ago and it is really nice for apparel sewing and clothing alternations. Keep practicing your free motion quilting. Itakes concerted effort but is well worth it!


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