In this article, you’ll learn about quilting time management. Rushing can cause quilters to work at sewing machines, sometimes in painful positions, for hours on end. That’s not great for your body and health! It can also cause stress when trying to meet deadlines. Pacing and managing your time proactively can help. Keep reading for four tips and tools for managing your time!
Having lived with chronic pain since my teens, I know pacing and time management skills are essential to staying well — especially as we do lots of repetitive tasks. That’s why time management and pacing strategies are a big part of my wellness coaching for quilters!
While you might whip up a simple baby quilt in an afternoon (Adventureland, shown above, is a great option), you might spend months or years working on an heirloom. For example, I once made an English paper-pieced quilt consisting of 2,752 one-inch hexies, hand-pieced and hand-bound with a facing. I estimate I spent about 1,500 hours on that quilt over the course of five years.
You can see how those hours (and the physical toll on our bodies) add up fast. But I’ve got you covered! Let’s look at the risks of poor pacing and time management and the benefits of developing good habits and skills. Then I’ll share all of my favorite strategies!
Risks of Poor Quilting Time Management
When we’re not managing our time well, we experience emotional upset. We might feel disappointed in our productivity, fail to finish gifts in time for special occasions, miss important work deadlines, or live in a perpetual state of feeling “behind.”
Poor pacing causes fatigue, pain and injury, which in turn minimizes the amount of time we spend on our craft – or even stops us from quilting. Some of us (I’m sheepishly raising my hand!) have ignored our body’s signals long enough that we need physical therapy, occupational therapy, or medication to get well. We might also make costly cutting mistakes, or even cut or burn ourselves while rushing.
Yikes! The risks are big. When we struggle we become self-critical, thinking “I’m not good at this” or “my body is so uncooperative.” These thoughts lead to a crumbling sense of confidence and creativity, and in the worst cases cause folks to quit quilting. Many of my coaching clients face this challenge when we begin our work.
Above is a rotating cutting mat and Clearly Perfect Slotted Trimmer, used to trim HSTs.
Benefits of Good Quilting Time Management
When we’re managing our time well, we feel confident, productive, and creative. We compare ourselves to others less often, and we’re able to focus on the work.
Our bodies reward good pacing strategies by feeling rested, supported and capable. Even if we overdo it occasionally, we recover quickly from fatigue and soreness. When we honor our body’s needs, we create a positive feedback loop telling our conscious and subconscious minds that we’re worthy of care.
So…how do we change? By taking consistent action over time, starting with putting at least one new strategy into place today. Here are my favorite tips and tools!
Tip #1: Use Technology for Time Management
We can use timers to pace ourselves while we’re quilting, browsing online for patterns, or scrolling through Instagram for inspiration. I usually work in 20-minute increments with 2-minute breaks for about an hour, then take a one-hour break, then start the cycle again. By using these tools you’ll discover your best work cycle:
- BreakTime app for iOS and Mac is my favorite way to set pacing breaks.
- Forest is an app for iOS and Android devices and all browsers that encourages focus and productivity through growing a digital forest. And the best part is that Forest has teamed up with a tree-planting organization and planted nearly 1.5 million real trees!
- This Norpro manual kitchen timer might not be high-tech, but it’s a classic for a reason.
We can use other kinds of technology to support good time management, too:
- Setting up recurring calendar appointments that delineate quilting and break time. This ensures we’re intentional with crafting time instead of procrastinating or hoping we’ll “just find time” to quilt.
- Creating a music playlist that’s one hour long and committing to a break when the music ends.
Tip #2: Get Your Quilt Projects Organized and Stay Organized
I am a huge fan of a good organizational system. While getting organized can seem like a daunting task, once you’ve got a good system in your sewing space that works, you’ll love it. Getting and staying organized means less time feeling stressed about your projects, less time spent searching your sewing space for tools or fabric, and more time to sew and rest!
Here are some resources that can help you on your path to organization:
- Organize your quilt works in progress with our free downloadable WIP organization chart.
- Learn how to plan your quilts with our foolproof guide.
- Find a fabric organization system that works for you with our simple steps.
Tip #3: Use Quilting Skills and Tools to Your Advantage
Time-saving techniques and tools also cut down the time needed to quilt. For example, Suzy offers a no-waste flying geese tutorial to create four blocks at once. And her eight-at-a-time half square triangle tutorial makes quick work of HSTs.
This rotating cutting mat enables you to quickly rotate blocks during trimming. It also prevents you from laboriously needing to rotate each block or twerk your body to make the cuts
Simply practicing techniques we use regularly also boosts efficiency. If you want to become good at free-motion quilting, for example, make a bunch of mini quilt sandwiches and spend 15 minutes a day practicing.
Tip #4: Develop Strong Habits and Quilting Routines
By practicing a little bit every day, we create positive outcomes in our quilting. Here are just some ideas for good quilting habits and routines!
- Developing a good stretching routine (and doing a few during breaks) supports our physical health. Check out PBS Wisconsin’s Quick Fit with Cassy, which offers a variety of videos for quilters (including this guide to hip and low back stretches).
- Breaking work into a variety of tasks within a quilting session (instead of mono-tasking) reduces the chance of repetitive strain injury. For example: instead of cutting for three hours, spend one hour pressing, one hour cutting, and 30 minutes each on pinning and sewing.
- Paying attention to when you feel most creative and well-rested — and then quilting during those times — ensures you’ll feel your best and be less likely to make costly or dangerous mistakes. I gave up late-night quilting after a sleepy near-miss with a rotary cutter — eek!
- Reframing “success” to be less productivity-focused and more satisfaction-focused is essential. What you can accomplish in an hour will vary compared to another quilter. What you can accomplish from one day to the next will also vary. That’s okay! Reframing “success” is hands-down one of my favorite empowering time management and pacing strategies for quilters.
What Are Your Quilting Time Management Tips?
Now that you know my favorite strategies, which one will you try first? Jump in the comments and let us know!
16 thoughts on “4 Tips for Quilting Time Management”
Thank you for this extremely practical article! I think that a rotating cutting mat is in my future. Also, I am going to look into the forest app and the stretching videos you recommended. I have had constant tension in my back and neck for nearly 4 years now (finally going to ask my doctor about it this Fall when I see her) and I can’t “work through the pain” because it just gets worse. Thank you for all these strategies, and most of all, for helping me feel capable of creating a happy and realistic sewing headspace.
aw sashanna – thank you for this feedback! i’m sorry you’ve had pain – i TOTALLY get it, have had chronic pain for 25 years. so getting a great pain team is going to be essential for you. it can almost always be reduced and managed so you can quilt more! if you try one of the rotating cutting mats, let me know what you think – it made a serious change for my speed at trimming things. sending you all the best energy!
I have my ironing station set up across the room from my sewing machine. This way I have to stand up and move every time I finish chain piecing.
yes! YES! i know so many professionals in the quilting and wellness worlds who recommend this, and i do the same. you’re doing great!
Thank you for this! I struggle with ADHD and these tips sound so helpful! I will also add that I know from experience that I can get more sewing done when I am strong and limber. I experience less fatigue when I do regular back strengthening exercises.
ah fran, i’m so glad this was helpful. thank you for joining the conversation! i don’t know a lot about living with ADHD so your comment is reminding me i need to study this more, especially when it comes to quilters. and HOORAY for the back strengthening exercises! it makes a huge difference in our wellness and hopefully allows you to be creative for life.
I really needed to read this. Your timing is great. I have been quilting on my embroidery machine and do not take breaks often enough. My neck will hurt until I have a terrible headache.
I will take your break methods into my quilting. Also like the idea of switching from cutting, to ironing to sewing.
Love your patterns
ah kathy, thank you so much! it’s great you’re recognizing that you need to make a change. sometimes just teeny tiny breaks throughout your sewing session can make a big difference! i hope you continue to see improvement. and YESSSS aren’t suzy’s patterns the best? i’m about to make two more quilts from them – i can’t get enough 🙂
Great ideas Suzy! Thank you so much for the wonderful suggestions. I have my cutting table and ironing board placed where I have to get up and move often. I also don’t usually chain piece and work as efficiently as I could on purpose so that I don’t get fatigued. I’ve learned to enjoy the process.
lisa, thanks so much for sharing what works for you – i think it’s great for others to see that folks in our community are benefiting from meaningful changes to their routine. yay for enjoying the process! that’s what life is really about, at least i think so. 🙂
Thank you for all your quilting tips, which as a brand new quilter has enabled me to learn more quickly! I agree that rotating through the different tasks of quilting lessen the strain on your body.
Your best tip earlier this year was about a sewing table that raises and lowers to each specific task. While creating a sewing room out of my office I placed two tables ( one for sewing and one for cutting fabric) that move up and down with the push of a button. No more lower back pain from working at the dining table. Thank you for your emails and especially your YouTube videos. I’ve learned so much!
aw yay, sharon! i’m so glad suzy’s work has helped you a lot – same for me! that’s why i’m so thrilled to be collaborating with her on some blog posts about wellness for quilters. i LOVE that you incorporated desks that change height in your sewing room – i’m about to bring an electronic sit/stand desk into my studio, too, and i am so excited! keep on learning… and take good care of yourself in the process!
Jenni! I just discovered a link for you on Suzie’s recent post! How COOL is your job!!! (Seriously… it’s my dream job!) Your articles have come just at the right time! I have 2 projects this winter…. one is learning how to “progressively recover” from chronic illness to enjoy a “normal and fulfilling life”, and the other is a wedding quilt I want finished by May next year. Having FM/CFS for 50 years, and making great strides mentally the last 5…. I’m now ready to work on building physical stamina and endurance. I have ordered your book ChronicBabe 101 and I’m really looking forward to putting all that information into practice, along with info from CSF Health (Toby Morrison, Australia). My biggest challenge by far is getting out of the push/crash cycle…. so pacing and taking regular, scheduled breaks will become part of my new routine! Thank you so much Jenni! Anticipating more juicy articles from you! Blessings💞 from 🇨🇦
ah deanne, thank you for this! what a cool comment to read. i’m so glad i’m here for you – i have had fibro for 25 years! i get it. i hope you love my book – it was written for you! and please make sure to follow me on instagram @hyper.scrappy or head to my website, jennigrover.com, to sign up for my newsletter so you hear about all the fun stuff i’m doing. hugs!
Thanks for your reply Jenni! PS>…. I’m in love with your hair!! I signed up for your newsletter the same day I wrote the above post! I’m excited to glean new tid-bits and hear your fun goings on… all this winter! And Amazon says your book is on the way! I’ve already downloaded your free 35 tips…. and I’m happy to say that I use probably about 60% of the ones that apply… so I’ve got a little more room for improvement… lol! Hugs and Happy Day! 🙂
aw thanks deanne! 😉 and yayayayay looking forward to getting to know you a little better and always happy to help!