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Make the Most of Your Quilting Time, with Audrey Easter

Graphic: cHow to Make the Most of Your Quilting Time, with Audrey Easter. A conversation with Stephanie Boon, 2016. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Hello and welcome to my third talk to an inspiring and productive quilter in the series How Long Does It Take To Make A Quilt?  The series explores how some our favourite quilters make the most of their quilting time and how they organise themselves and organise their sewing rooms. We learn how they prioritise what to work on, what other demands they have on their time and, best of all, they share their tips to help us make the most of our own quilting time! So far I’ve spoken to Ann Brooks and Kaja Ziesler, and today I speak to the wonderful Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk!

How Long Does It Take To Make a Quilt – Audrey Spills The Beans!

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising yourself with lists. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (showing grey appliqué quilt with detail) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

A grey appliqué quilt designed by Audrey

Audrey’s quilts are one of a kind in so many ways. Full of colour and whimsy, they exude an infectious joyfulness and never fail to make you smile. Her personality sparkles through on her blog Quilty Folk and her quilts are a perfect reflection of the woman behind the needle, which is what makes a great quilter, regardless of personal style. Audrey’s quilts are made to her own designs and develop in a very organic way.

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising yourself with lists. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (showing white appliqué quilt with detail) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

One of Audrey’s recent finishes

She usually finishes about 12 a year and most of them are completely hand quilted, although some include a bit of in-the-ditch machine quilting too – just so that she can squeeze in a few more finishes a year! Not all of her quilts are bed quilts of course, there are usually a number of lap quilts and throws added to the mix. She’s so nimble fingered that she can hand quilt a lap quilt in “well under two months”, using regular hand quilting thread. When she picks up a Perle Cotton and takes a slightly larger stitch length she “can move a quilt through the hoop in less than a month.” (My jaw’s on the floor right about now!) But if that sounds impressive, imagine what she does when there’s some machine quilting included:

“I also occasionally take a quilt and stitch in the ditch on the machine, and then come back for some more intensive hand quilting like say, in the blocks and border.  Not every quilt is going to be easily accepting of this blend of quilting styles though. With a combination of machine and hand quilting, I can almost always produce a finish in about two weeks! That’s why I’m trying to consider it more often. My ‘normal’ hand quilting time is late in the evenings while the house is settling down for the night. If I really single out the hand quilting, stitch at every available moment throughout the day/week then I can finish much faster. The downside to that is that I don’t enjoy my stitching as much. It becomes ‘work’.”

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising yourself with lists. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (appliqué quilt with detail that includes machine and hand quilting) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

This one includes both machine and hand quilting

Readers of Quilty Folk get a visual feast every time they head over to see what she’s up to – and you never know what that will be! She’s always got more than one quilt on the go at different stages, so there’s a lot of variety for the regular reader. When I asked Audrey if she ever worked on just one quilt at a time she said “never”! She tried it in the past (in a righteous effort to keep down the UFOs), but found it so boring she only finished about one quilt a year. She’s much more productive when she’s working on “several different phases of many, many quilts”. This medley of different stages obviously feeds her creativity and keeps her motivated to produce her 12 quilts a year – plus just as many newly completed quilt tops!

In The Zone

We often hear creative people talking about being ‘in the zone’ or flow’, that special place where time doesn’t seem to exist and you’re completely absorbed in the process. You forget to eat, you don’t hear things going on around you and your hands and mind seem to be completely at one. Once you’ve experienced it you’re driven to get there again, and that’s a great motivation for Audrey, she loves “those times when everything sort of ‘clicks’ into place. It’s such a wonderful feeling to get that rush and know absolutely that I’m making something brilliant.

For this special moment in time, for whatever phase in a quilt project, I’m more than the ordinary.

It can be kind of addictive actually to try and get there again!”

The early stages of a project are some of the most exciting for Audrey: she just loves digging through her stash to find the perfect stack of fabric, holding fabric in her hands and dreaming about the ‘what if’s’. Sometimes when her quilt is partially done and stalls a bit, she relishes going back to her stash to

“dig even deeper – try to find those couple pieces of fabric I overlooked. You know the ones I’m talking about. You put them in the stack and then kick them back out immediately, because they would never in a million years work. I get a real kick out of pushing the boundaries of which prints belong together or how much I can make my colors clash before it’s just ‘too much’ or ‘too far’.”

You can see this in her quilts, the unexpected combinations of colours and prints, the way they just gel effortlessly together. Take a closer look and surprise yourself.

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (small appliqué quilt with toile de jouy background) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

An unexpected juxtaposition of a toile de jouey background

Quilt Design

Audrey’s idiosyncratic designs are her trademark and she describes her organic approach to the design process as ‘making it up she goes along’! She says that the quilt ‘talks to her’ and tells her what the next best step is. To be able to work like this you need a really good understanding of how different elements work together or play off each other. You need take into account the movement, balance and repetition of your motifs, as well as the usual concerns of tone, prints and colour. And of course, you have to be aware of how you’re going to piece it all together and what techniques you’ll need to use. It’s a process that means you have to accept and revel in the constant shifting of forms and ideas, sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes compromising this idea for that. It’s a natural way of working for some of us and one of the biggest challenges is accepting that sometimes the result just doesn’t work out! But, when it does you can finish up with the spectacular results Audrey does. And she’s obviously comfortable with the process:

“Most of the time I scribble out some sort of rough idea of what the quilt ‘might’ look like eventually, but that’s a laugh. It’s ever changing. I think that’s part of the excitement for me, never knowing where a quilt will take me! I used to be pretty stubborn about hanging onto the ‘seed’ of my original idea at the very least, but I’m slowly figuring out that one quilt idea might end up making it into three or four quilts. And that’s perfectly okay because the first quilt isn’t always the best!”

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising yourself with lists. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (image of Audrey's appliqué tree in progress) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

One of Audrey’s appliqué designs in progress

Working in a fluid way can make working with others more difficult, for example the rigid deadlines or boundaries of some sew-alongs can be burdensome and a drain on creativity. There are sew-alongs that Audrey enjoys though, but she’s learnt to be choosy. She says sew-alongs make it easy to get caught up in “everyone else’s ideas and not have the time or energy to focus on our own creative urges”. She also believes that there’s an “inevitable comparison” that happens in sew-alongs “sometimes I love it and other time it just drags me down:

I have crazy high expectations of my own work sometimes and so I’ve had to learn to listen to my instincts a bit better.

Figure out which ones will work ‘for’ me and not ‘against’ me…”

Engaging with others is essential to creative development, so if our opportunities to do that are limited, because of the way we work or perhaps due to geographical limitations, I wondered where Audrey gets her encouragement and feedback. She told me

“My family thinks I’m amazing but they’re so confident about everything I make that sometimes I just have to doubt them. Seriously, no one could possibly be that good! So next up would be the loyal readers on the blog. They stick with me through thick and through thin. Occasionally I get a comment that is incredibly spot on as to what I’m trying to accomplish and it almost makes me want to cry. They listen to me so they ‘get’ me! How special is that?”

The  blogging community is really important to Audrey and I was curious how she balances quilting with her blog and social media; I asked her if she’s strict about the amount of time she spends online. “Up to a point” she replied. Blogging is her main focus and she can only keep up with so much social media, so things like Facebook and Instagram take a back seat and her accounts remain “just for family at the moment”. She does try to keep one day completely ‘computer free’: Sundays are family day, unless the family’s otherwise occupied “then you’ll find me checking back in.”

How to make the most of your quilting time. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (flying geese quilt, detail) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Detail of Audrey’s ‘wonky geese’

Being Organised…And Being ‘Listy’!

Lists, lists, lists: if Audrey can make a list for it, Audrey makes a list for it! It’s an essential way of organising her “crazy busy life” as well as her quilting life. And these aren’t just your average lists scribbled on a piece of scrap paper and lost at the bottom of a pile of paper work! (Ahem, I plead guilty!)

They help her to remember the really important stuff:

“We have a large family calendar on the wall in our dining room with all the family events color coded. Before you start thinking I’m obsessive-compulsive, I’ll admit to letting it slide to week two (several times) during the year before it’s updated to the current month. Sometimes life just gets in the way of even the best intentions and thankfully, my daughters will step in and fill out the calendar for me now that they’re older!”

Audrey writes quilt plans all the time, but doesn’t usually stick to them long term.  She sees them more as a ‘suggestion’ or a starting point, a way of keeping those intriguing ‘what-if’ ideas from disappearing into the ether. She writes down notes and ideas every step of the way, “including the math”. She says it’s the only way she can end up with something ‘square’, plus “I really, really hate wasting fabric or losing track.” If you have a good number of quilts on the go you can’t work on them all at once and Audrey’s note taking system helps her to pick up where she left off.

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising yourself with lists. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (image of Audrey's lists) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

“I’m a list-maker!”

She has lists of every quilt project started, lists for ‘in-progress’ quilts, completed quilt tops, “the five quilt tops that I’d like to see in the hoop next, all my on-going applique projects, quilts I’m dreaming about.”  These lists are ever changing and she revises them every two to three months. “They work very well to keep me on track priority-wise – illuminating over and over the most important projects to me.”  The only rigid time frames Audrey has are when she decides to gift a quilt or is working toward a quilt show finish. She prioritises which quilt she’ll work on depending on what captures her interest at the time, making deals with herself if part of the process becomes tedious,

“Sometimes I won’t let myself work on anything but one certain quilt for the first 15 minutes of my quilting time or until I get to a specific phase of that quilt. Or maybe I won’t let myself start a new quilt project I’m anxious to dive into. That’s a good one.”  There’s always a part of the quilting process we find less fun or exciting than others and Audrey says “it helps to use the carrot and stick approach. Even if I’m the only one enforcing it!”.

An Organised Sewing Space

A dedicated list-maker indicates an organised person (or at least an aspiring one!) and Audrey has some great ways of organising her sewing space that help her make the most of her quilting time. She has a dedicated sewing area that means she doesn’t have to fuss about getting things set up, which can “give a person the only 20 minutes they might have for quilting that day!”. Never a truer word said. “Quilters can be such procrastinators. If the sewing machine isn’t ready with a flick of a switch, we’ll often use it as an excuse to come back later ‘when there’s more time’. NO. The time to take advantage of is when you’re already in the sewing room!”

How to make the most of your quilting time by organising yourself with lists. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (image of Audrey's workspace showing fabric storage, bookshelves and files) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Audrey’s nerve centre

If you live in a rural area like Audrey you’ll identify with her need to make sure a supply of notions is always on hand: “These things are important for dedicated or even spontaneous quilting. It’s so time consuming (and sometimes impossible)  to make a run to the store.” This goes for her stash too, which is readily available to dig through at a moment’s notice. Her stash is made up of

“Bits and pieces I love and those random prints that spark the most audacious ideas. It doesn’t have to be enormous, but the stash should contain every color possible with lots of depth from lights to darks – not that I have all that! But it’s a guilt-free work in progress…

“Not being organized at a very base level interrupts the creative flow – so important for productivity!”

Making Time

When you have a family life packed with demands and commitments like Audrey does, you need to ring fence time for quilting. As well as looking after busy teenagers and her large extended family she dedicates time to a lot of “church related things”, and doing the bookwork for her husband’s business. One way to get things done when you can’t get to the quilt room is to make sure you’re ready to use the ‘time in-between’ at a moment’s notice. Which is where good organisation comes in:

“I take any extra time I find and at least do applique prep work. I’m super dedicated about keeping my hand work bag ready to go and there is always, always a quilt in the hoop. Sometimes even two because I get freaked out if it looks like my current quilt is about done and there won’t be time to sandwich and pin another one. Being prepared with hand work means I never lose more than a couple days of quilting in a row. Even slow quilting eventually adds up to something tangible and more importantly, it keeps me sane and it helps me to be a nicer person. Am I strict about it? You betcha:

I need my quilting time like I need to breathe.

It’s just that I try to do it in a way that most people never realize I’m still carving out MY time from the chaos around me. It’s just a sweet, simple hobby to them!”

How to make the most of your quilting time. Stephanie Boon talks to Audrey Easter of Quilty Folk (quilt with circles and stars) www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Audrey’s 2015 stars – in the snow

Audrey’s Tips For Getting More Quilting Done

Quilting is an all consuming passion for Audrey, as it is for many of us, but she takes a considered and really pragmatic approach, which I believe enables her to produce as much as she does. She has so many great, practical ideas that we can all glean something from but it all hangs on this one simple premise:

“The key is to get your mind immersed in quilting on a very regular basis and then good things will happen.”

“People talk about time spent physically ‘doing’, but if the mind is not wholeheartedly on board, then it’s not sustainable. I think that’s part of why I love hand quilting so very much. I’m ‘doing’ (granted, it’s a very slow forward motion!), but all the while, my mind is working a hundred miles an hour on other areas of quilting. Decisions are being made, ideas are being explored, quilts are being designed – all on a subliminal level of course – while I plod along enjoying the stitching in my hoop. It’s a win-win.”

Keep this in mind and Audrey’s tips should take care of themselves:

  • Be in your quilting space often – daily if at all possible. Pass through and look at what’s on the wall.
  • Dig through your stash or bookshelf and dream.
  • Scribble ideas on paper and make lists. Take note of all those nonsensical, random, fleeting ideas – this is your brain talking to you with creative-speek. (You probably can and will interpret later.)
  • If you’re short on time pick a project and sew 15-20 minutes. Iron or trim some blocks. Prep for applique.
  • Incorporate time for slow quilting so as to give your brain plenty of time to ‘percolate’, dream and relax into the process.
  • Don’t shirk the boring stuff or the ‘work’. “I’ve said it before on my blog and I’ll say it again, quilting requires an effort. It’s not all going to be lightning bolts of inspiration and goosebumps of anticipation.”
  • Most importantly, she advises, make time for the things that you’re most curious about and never, ever quit asking ‘what-if’?

“If you’re genuinely connected with what you’re making, then you’ll be more productive than ever, guaranteed.”

Many, many thanks to Audrey for generously sharing her thoughts, freely giving her time and agreeing to be one of three awesome quilters to take part in this series!


What do you think of Audrey’s tips – is there anything you’d add?  I’d love know, and if you have any tips of your own you’d like to share make sure you leave a comment below!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found lots of ideas to help you make the most of your quilting time. Follow the links below to find out how quilters Ann Brooks and Kaja Ziesler make the most of their time and what tips they have for you too. Join me next week for a roundup of the best tips from from all 3!

How Long Does It Take To Make A Quilt? Other articles in the series:

Related Links

Audrey’s Blog Quilty Folk

Finally, make sure you sign up for my free fortnightly newsletter to receive quilting inspiration, exclusive articles and news from the studio – just add your details to the form below!  Thanks for reading.

Linking up with Lorna for Let’s Bee Social and Kelly for Needle and Thread Thursday.

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

21 replies
  1. Pat in WNY
    Pat in WNY says:

    Great series, and this article was so informative and inspiring. I’ve learned a lot from following Audrey’s blog for the last couple of years, and have even incorporated some of her methodology, though I don’t ever hope to have that wonderful artistic imagination that she has. That is a true Gift. Thanks for the work you’ve done to present this series of articles.

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Pat – it’s been easy to write about such great quilters! All three have been really generous with their time and sharing their thoughts and I can’t thank them enough. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed it and found it inspiring. What methods of Audrey’s have you incorporated into your work?

      Reply
      • Pat in WNY
        Pat in WNY says:

        Well, I suspect the biggest change for me is that instead of one or possibly two ongoing projects I think right now I’m up to 9 or 10 in various stages of completion! Since I can’t right offhand give you an exact number it seems I’ve yet to incorporate her organization skills by having lists and written project notes handy. Really am going to have to work on that one! I’ve been also inspired to try again to learn needleturn applique!

        Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Deb – it’s been a pleasure to chat with such wonderful quilters! Will pop over to your place over the weekend… it’s been way too long and I’ve noticed some of the fab things you’ve got going on lately via some link ups I’ve seen. Look forward to catching up 🙂

      Reply
  2. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    I enjoyed this post and can really relate to having lots of projects going on at once. I really like Audrey’s way of asking “what if” and pushing the limits. She is so creative and her work has a distinctive flair I love. Nothing cookie cutter about her quilts!

    Reply
    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Audrey’s quilts are so distinctive aren’t they? I think you’re spot on Cynthia, the ‘what if’ question really does help us push the limits, and you can see it clearly with Audrey’s designs. I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I plan to do a ’roundup’ next week and I think I might add your thoughts on the ‘what if?’ question, if that’s ok with you?

      Reply
  3. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Everything was good about this article….but Audrey really resounded with me in that I also need that bit of handwork daily….I say it’s good for my soul…..or it’s my yoga!

    Reply
  4. audrey
    audrey says:

    Thanks so much Stephie! You have a gift for writing. Love how you’ve taken what I’ve told you and then actually made it sound like I know what I’m doing.:)

    Reply
  5. Sandra B
    Sandra B says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I am a regular reader of Audrey’s blog, and find her to be such an inspiration. I really enjoyed your “conversational” post…

    Reply
  6. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    I’ve really been looking forward to this post and it didn’t disappoint: so interesting to learn more about how Audrey works. I couldn’t manage to juggle as many projects as she does, but this has made me think about being more organised about holding on to my ideas – taking more notes etc.

    Reply
  7. hildaquilts
    hildaquilts says:

    Just popped over from Audrey’s blog – you’ve written a great summary of Audrey and her style! So many comments in there gel with me and am sure will for many quilters. The link between the creative quilting process and the blogging process (whereby quilters communicate and inspire) is so important. Having space to leave your work out and ready to continue at any time is something I find invaluable – and I have little and sometimes large spaces for this around the house!

    Reply
  8. Ann
    Ann says:

    You are such a talented writer and artist, Stephie. It has been intEresting to read more about Audrey’s process even though I follow her blog, too. Her repeated note making sounds like a good plan. So many ideas flash throughout minds. It would help to keep of the iterations.

    Reply
  9. Robin
    Robin says:

    I enjoyed this post. But, then I always look forward to what Audrey has to say. I, too, need a constant project I can just sit down and sew whether it be on the machine or by hand. I always have a quilt in the frames or hoop. The thing that Audrey has taught me by reading her blog and seeing what she sews is that I need to put something into the quilt to make it mine. I usually follow the instructions or colorway from an original pattern but there is so much that can be done to personalize it. I also love the way she put words on her quilts. I’m amazed by how much she gets done with all her other responsibilities. I manage to get about 6 quilts hand quilted a year. If I could do 12 that would be fabulous. Thanks for sharing Audrey’s ideas, tips, and thoughts. Her joy of quilting comes through, doesn’t it?

    Reply
  10. Sue
    Sue says:

    Audrey’s quilts are just plain charming, every one, and it is evident she has made a real place in her life to produce them. And this is yet another great discussion about a subject we all struggle, er, LIVE with! I’ve picked up a number of ideas, and compliment you on some very thoughtful, well written posts. Thanks!

    Reply
  11. Milagros
    Milagros says:

    Mil gracias por compartir tus trabajos, ideas y sobre todo entusiasmo. Tengo 62 años, y siempre pense que patckwork era muy dificil… ahora es mi pasión y me alegro porque me llena de felicidad!
    He comenzado con los circulos de 365 pero en realidad son 366… no importa … comence en diciembre y voy casi al día…
    Felicitaciones y gracias

    Reply

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