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How Long Does It Take To Make A Quilt? I Asked Kaja Ziesler

Welcome to another chat with a great quilter in the series How Long Does It Take To Make A Quilt, where we find out how 3 quilters make the most of their quilting time. So far I’ve talked to Ann Brooks and today I’m really pleased to have a chat with Kaja and find out a bit about her process.

Graphic: How to make the most of your quilting time with Kaja Ziesler of SewSlowly.com. © Stephanie Boon, 2016 www.DawnChorusStudio.com


I’m sure you know Kaja Ziesler from her wonderful blog Sew Slowly. Kaja’s a bit of an anomaly in the quilt world: she’s an improv quilter that hand quilts. When we think of modern quilts, we likely come up with bright graphic designs with lots of ‘negative space’ that are machine quilted, often much of a muchness to me. Kaja’s quilts are different.

Hand-quilted Patchwork Quilt 'Charley Parker' © Kaja Ziesler, 2015

Charley Parker, hand-quilted 2015

She uses bold, modern fabrics in unusual colour palettes, sometimes mixed with older or repurposed fabrics. Kaja always does her own thing and never works from patterns, preferring to improvise as she goes along.  I love watching her organic design process unfold on her blog. Watching Inner City come to life was like watching a city planner at work!  The main fabric is a black and white print of iconic New York buildings, which she pulls together with the solid structure of the red.


Inner City – Kaja shared regular progress on this quilt on her blog

When you design a quilt organically you often make decisions by rearranging things and trying out the unexpected, which is a slower pace of working than using a traditional block design. You already understand the rhythm a traditional block will create, with improvisation you create your own. It’s an exciting way to work, but you can often hit roadblocks that take a while to resolve. It’s worth it though because you can end up with a quilt that tells much more about the personality of the quilter. In a quilt like ‘Denim’ you get a glimpse into the lives of the people that wore the old jeans too!


Kaja’s improv ‘Denim’ is made from old jeans and features subtle hand embroidery


Denim patchwork quilt by Kaja Ziesler 2015

Embroidered detail on Denim

How long it takes to make a quilt is definitely influenced by the processes you use. Ann Brooks completed 20 last year and Kaja finished 3, which isn’t many to a seasoned machine quilter, but hand quilting is about slowing down and taking pleasure in each stitch: it’s a much more intimate process. Each quilt takes about 3 or 4 months to complete “if I’m on a roll”, Kaja says. Another determining factor is obviously how much time you have available. I asked Kaja if she has a busy family life and, yes, I think we’d all agree that “two small children, 4 big ones (they don’t stop needing stuff once they leave home), husband, cat…” would be enough to fill anyone’s day! Add to that the reading, walking, photography and gardening she loves to do and I wonder how any quilts are finished at all.

How Kaja Makes The Most Of Her Quilting Time

Being Organised

How do you carve out time for yourself if you have a very busy life style with lots of family demands? Determination is a word that comes to mind, single mindedness perhaps. Or maybe there’s another way: Kaja declares she’s “very organised”. That’s not something I’m overly familiar with! Perhaps you feel the same? I’d definitely like to take a leaf out of Kaja’s book.

Sweet Nothings 2015 patchwork quilt by Kaja Ziesler of SewSlowly.com

Small Pleasures 2015. If you want to know more about this gorgeous quilt just click the image .

At the beginning of a new year Kaja has plans for her quilts over the coming months “but only a tiny portion will make it”. She doesn’t write a plan for each individual quilt because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen, “so can’t really plan in advance”. Without any time restrictions or ambitious finish dates in mind for your quilts you can explore as many creative avenues as you like along the way, which is what improv quilting is all about. “Sometimes once I’m hand-quilting and past halfway I will aim at a particular [finish] point, but it’s only an ambition mostly.”

Small Pleasures, patchwork quilt © Kaja Ziesler 2015

Small Pleasures – detail

How can you be productive without specific plans, I wondered. How do you prioritise what you’ll work on?  Kaja likes the idea of having one quilt top being pieced and one top being quilted and for a long time she thought

“that was what I did, but then I gave it some thought and realised it wasn’t! Leaving aside rolling projects (like Quilty 365 or RSC stuff) I mostly only piece one thing at a time, and that’s either something I’ve committed to making for someone else [like Small Pleasures, above] or just what I fancy doing.”

The hand-quilting gets done in chronological order: “Once a quilt gets to the top of the pile, then its time has come.”

Patchwork quilt top in progress. © Kaja Ziesler, 2015

One of Kaja’s works in progress from 2015

Kaja (like most of us I suspect) is “obsessive” about putting time aside for quilting. She tries to fit in a couple of hours of hand-quilting every evening and the piecing happens in the gaps around real life:

If I’ve got five minutes I cut something out, or do a couple of quick seams.  If I waited for vast tracts of time I would never make anything.”

That’s something I really identify with. If you can leave your sewing machine up and ready with a few bits of fabric near to hand, it’s much easier to move things forward in ‘the times in between’.  When you have a couple of hours to spare that’s when you can take stock and see how far you’ve come. I asked Kaja what her favourite part of the process is: “what I love is when everything starts to click, when I find the rhythm of a piece, and that could come at any time (though if I’m honest not so often when I’m binding!)”.

Online Time

Kaja’s a regular blogger and posts 3 or 4 new articles a week. It’s a good way of reflecting on your process and seeing your progress over a long period of time, and of course it’s about making friends. But it does take time – and it’s so easy to lose a couple of hours down a rabbit hole, rather doing what you’d planned! I’m keen to learn how to rein myself in, so I asked Kaja if she has any tips.

Kaja keeps to a routine:

“I do my blog-following and replying to comments in the morning with my first cup of tea of the day, then if I’ve managed to do any sewing I post some time in the afternoon, but try to limit myself apart from that.  I love the communication and will prioritise that but if I don’t watch myself I can spend an extra hour mindlessly browsing.”

Only an hour Kaja?! I’ve got a lot to learn.

Organising The Sewing Space

Most of us imagine everyone else has a beautiful sewing space with oodles of natural light and ample storage. The reality is often different; having a room to yourself is a luxury and we tend to make do with whatever corner of a room we can annexe before anyone else notices. Kaja’s no different. Her sewing machine’s set up in one place, the iron’s up a flight of stairs, the computer somewhere else again, and her stash lives in a garage a fifteen minute drive away. Running around to find what she needs must keep her really fit! She says she tries to have project boxes so that anything she needs immediately is easy to get hold of, “but in reality I often have to wait till I can get to my fabrics.” I’m sure this is where Kaja’s good organisational skills come into their own: someone as disorganised as I am would have a meltdown every 5 minutes trying to remember where everything is!

Hand quilting in progress, © Kaja Ziesler 2016

Hand quilting in progress

Motivation and Inspiration

In the US just about everyone seems to have access to quilt guilds or retreats, workshops and exhibitions. Opportunities like this are pretty scarce in the UK so the blogging community can be crucial for inspiration and friendly support. And that’s where Kaja’s found a home. When I asked her what motivates her it’s clear she’s very intrinsically motivated:

“This is me. The person who makes quilts is who I am when I am most myself and I could argue that making space for that helps me to be better in other parts of life (and this may well be true) but there is also a fundamentally selfish need to express myself.  (I don’t think selfish is necessarily a bad thing in this context).”

I’ve never really understood why we feel it’s selfish to express ourselves this way, but it does seem to be a cultural norm. We’re human and expression and communication is what we’re all about, but not everyone can or wants to do it with words. Some of us are far better with a needle and thread, and some of us, like Kaja, are pretty superb.

Kaja’s Tips

She has just one…

“Just get on with it”!

As Kaja says above, if you have a busy life, you have to take 5 minutes whenever you get it. Putting things off because you don’t have hours of uninterrupted quilting time will just result in hours of frustration and disappointment! Good advice to end on, don’t you think?


I hope you’ve enjoyed this chat with Kaja and picked up a few useful tips. Don’t forget that Ann from Fret Not Yourself shared how she makes the most of her quilting time last week and next week I’ll be speaking to Audrey from Quilty Folk – exciting times! You can keep up to date with the series here too.

Linking up with Lorna at Sew Fresh Quilts for this week’s Let’s Bee Social.

More Inspiration For You!

If you’d like to hear about more inspiring things sign up for my free newsletter! It drops into your inbox every other Friday and is full of wonderful things I find around the web, as well as an exclusive article you won’t find on the blog. Just complete the form below (you can easily unsubscribe at any time). If you have a minute, let me know where else I can find you in the poll on the left, I’d love to meet you there – thanks for your help!

Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnchorusStudio.com

16 replies
  1. audrey
    audrey says:

    Kaja is such an amazing quilter! I love reading about her quilting process and cannot believe she keeps her stash outside of her home! That would be incredibly frustrating to me! Thanks for another great post!

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I know Audrey – I don’t know anyone else who keeps their stash that far from home either – but sometimes needs must (I’d probably leave home and move in with my stash, mind!!!) Thanks for reading…you’re up next!

  2. Ann
    Ann says:

    Like Audrey, I’ve followed Kaja’s work for a while. She’s so talented. But I can’t believe she has six children. Nor that she keeps her stash away from the house. I can limit the total fabric but I have to be able to walk in and see it any time of the day or night.
    Congratulations on a great series, Stephie. You are multi-talented.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading Ann. Kaja’s amazing, I don’t know how she does it! It’s really interesting to see how different everyone is isn’t it?

  3. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    Thanks for including me in this series, Stephie, and for doing such a great job editing the answers I sent you. You make me sound much more organised than I feel in real life do if I ever feel overwhelmed I will try to remember your take on things!

    I should point out to people that I would not choose to keep my stash miles away, but that’s just how things have evolved and I’ve learned to live with it.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Kaja, seriously the pleasure’s all mine! And trust me, you have to be organised with such commitments and still make your beautiful quilts. Do you find you stitch when you’re ‘alone’ (without children about), or can you quilt with anything going on around you?

  4. Mary at Fleur de Lis Quilts
    Mary at Fleur de Lis Quilts says:

    I’m really enjoying your series, Stephie. You’ve chosen quilters whom I already follow, but your questions have brought out some interesting notes about the people behind the quilts. It’s fun to discover the depth of their talents and interests. Ann and Kaja are fascinating and their quilts are truly amazing!

  5. Linda Dutch
    Linda Dutch says:

    I too am enjoying reading these posts. All 3 quilters are favourites of mine, and it’s wonderful to read more about their processes & how they make the most of their quilting time! I do wonder, how they audit what’s going to work, or not, what’s worth spending precious time on following through with? And, of course, what happens to the ‘rejects” ?

  6. patty
    patty says:

    Kaja’s quilts are amazing. I have enjoyed finding her blog and a place that appreciates the improv quilts I make with the AHIQ sharing. I have enjoyed the posts on How Long does it take to make a quilt. I have been asked that question so many times!

  7. Pam
    Pam says:

    These posts have been so refreshing and inspiring to read. The style is relaxed and comfortable. I look forward to reading about Audrey next – thanks!

  8. Lara B.
    Lara B. says:

    Great interview Stephie! Kaja is one of my quilting heroes and I loved reading more about her process and thinking. “Just get on with it!” What great advice. I knew her iron was up a flight of stairs but had no idea her stash was so far away. That would take some organization! Kaja, if you read this, now I know why you do fabric pulls early on each quilt. Also loved this bit of wisdom: “If I waited for vast tracts of time I would never make anything.” So true!


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