Another Special Gift

I told you last week about a wonderful gift I got from my friend Denniele when we met with our other friend, Kelly, in Greenwood. But I didn’t tell you about another really special thing I got.

Kelly, as you may know, is a superb longarm-quilter. Lately, she’s also become something of a cover girl for Handi-Quilter. You can see her in their ads in magazines and brochures. You may also have seen her segments on QNN-TV.

Here’s Kelly in the Handi-Quilter ad in the latest issue of American Quilter

If you’ve followed me very long, you’ve seen some of the quilts she’s quilted for me. (Go here and here to see a couple.) The very first time I met Kelly, we talked about quilting vintage things. I had been making quilts out of orphan blocks and old linens for years (and had recently lost my usual quilter) and I knew she was going to be the perfect person to do those things for me. In fact, I distinctly remember saying to her, “Oh, Kelly, I need you.” If she thought that was a little weird, she had the good grace not to say so.

What you may not know is that Kelly has now joined the world of ruler-makers. She created these wonderful rulers to use while longarming.

You can order these rulers here

When I first saw them, I said I wanted a set. I think I puzzled her because she knows I am a pretty lousy machine quilter and, while I’ve played with longarms at shows, I don’t see much of a future for myself in that.

She brought me a set to play with on Friday, though. She gave me a quick tutorial on using them, and talked me through a couple of questions. I didn’t comment on them earlier because I hadn’t had a chance to try them out yet, but now I have.

AnotherI have been working every day on my machine-quilting skills, just creating little exercises for myself. While we were in a store in Greenwood, Kelly and I saw a display with an old Big Chief tablet in it. Remember those? We both laughed at how big our first-grade selves thought we were, once upon a time, armed with our Big Chief tablets, pink erasers, and big fat pencils!


Learning to free-motion quilt is sort of like that, I realized. Way back when, all I could do was make poorly-shaped letters on the page, but after much practice, I could make things look pretty good. Today, after years of practice, I write pretty well, in my own style. With that in mind, I am practicing, practicing, practicing, in the belief that, in time, my chicken-scratch stitches will look better and I’ll develop my own “signature.”

There are a lot of things I need to work on, to include, first and foremost, control. That’s a big thing. My machine doesn’t have a stitch regulator, and while, I am okay if I am keeping the feed dogs up, putting them down is a different story. Getting my stitches straight and even is a challenge. So, I’m working on coordinating my hands and feet (sort of like learning to drive a car with a standard transmission), doing things in the right order and at the right speed.

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You know? I did learn to write passably, and I did learn to drive a stick-shift, so I’m pretty sure I can learn another skill too. I am using Kelly’s rulers as I go, for now to help me keep lines straight when I need them to be. (I was really surprised at how easily I can make a line wiggle without them! Eeek!) The curved ends have me thinking of other shapes, though, and I am learning to work with that.

Since I started practicing my free-motion quilting, I think I’ve become addicted to it. I have given it time nearly every day, and some days it’s gotten a lot of time. Here are some more examples. I’ll let you decide if I’m getting any better at it. I think I’ll get there, don’t you?

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One of the things several of my longarmer friends have said is that it’s important to doodle. I think they mean on paper, which I already do, but I am also trying to do it on my practice pieces. I can only go so long trying to make straight lines or evenly-spaced whatevers, so I’ve been giving myself one section of almost every piece to just scribble on. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it helps me not feel so uptight!

So you see, not only did Kelly give me a set of rulers, she also gave me a desire to learn something new, to master a new technique. She also gave me tools to help me master that technique. I have been around the quilt world a long time and, usually, if I want to know something, I go find it out. Free-motion quilting has been one of those, “Yeah, I’m okay at it, I want to get better, but…” things. Only now it’s really time for me to get better.

If you want a set of Kelly’s rulers for your very own, you can order them directly from Kelly here. She has videos up for using them with either a longarm or a domestic machine. You just might like them…a lot!



  • Wendy Tuma

    How fun! You are reminding me and inspiring me to give FMQ another go. It gets me all tense and whatnot, so I keep avoiding it. I keep hoping I’ll just wake up some day and be able to do it. Hahahaha.

    • Lori East

      I get that completely. Like anything, it requires some dedication. Really, when people say “Practice a lot,” they mean, “all the time.” I AM a slow study but I can see improvement, so I’ll keep at it!