Freehand Quilting: A Manifesto

Or: “Thank you, but I promise I really don’t want a computerized system.”

If you missed it on Instagram, the Gammill is sold! Its replacement will be here in five days, not that I’m counting down or anything. 😉 More details to come on all of that soon (namely: the nitty gritty of what I was looking for in a new machine and why I made the switch). Now that the dust is settling, I was thinking today about the whole long process of buying a new longarm, and sort of decompressing a little bit. As I thought about it, I realized a pattern had emerged in my mind.

I talked to so many dealers and manufacturers when I was shopping around for a new longarm. Far and away they were just fantastic and helpful. Truly terrific people, and I wished I could buy a machine from so many of them. There were some, though, who didn’t seem to believe that I didn’t want a computerized quilting system. Or if they did believe me, they didn’t understand why that would be. I don’t think it was out of malice, but it was frustrating.

“I do exclusively freehand work.” I opened every conversation this way. I got some interesting responses:

“You’re not interested in a computer?”

“If you ever do decide to add a computer, you can add one to this machine down the road.”

“Of course, it would be so much faster for you to use a computer.” 

“You still pick the quilting designs and choose where they go in the blocks.”

“It could really free you up.”

Or my personal favorite: “… and you can always add a computer later; unless you’re just so good that you look down on those of us who use computers, ha ha ha.”

Ha ha ha, indeed.

Again, I don’t think it was meant to be frustrating, or that it was ill-intentioned. But hearing it over and over and over again, the subtext I was starting to hear was: “You’re naive. Give it time. If you’re serious about your business and making money, you’ll want a computer.”

Look. I don’t use a computer because I don’t want to. It’s as simple and as complex as that. Of course I could be faster if I used a computer… I’ll never be able to custom quilt anything faster than a computer could do it. I know you’re the one picking the quilting motifs with a computer… I already do that AND I had to learn how to quilt them out myself, too.

And as for that last quip… no, I don’t look down on people using computerized systems. Why would I? It’s not something I’m interested in doing but no one has crowned me Queen of Quilting yet, so why would I get my feathers ruffled about what other people want to do? Guess what? I personally don’t want to do T-shirt quilts, either. Good thing there’s a market out there full of quilters happy to do it!

Here’s the thing- I’ve spent a LOT of time and a LOT of money trying to get better and better at freehand quilting. Time and money that could have gone towards other things. I do freehand quilting because that’s what I’m passionate about. I like that a human person quilts the designs. I like that each feather frond or swirl is done in a unique and non-repeatable way. I just like it.

I don’t want a computer. It’s not the work I want to do. I want to send someone back a quilt that has quilting no one else has, or ever can. I quilt by machine, but I want to keep my human hands as much a part of the process as possible. I’m a business person, so of course I want to make money and I want to be successful, but my way. Quilting is my art and my craft and my trade all in one, and this is what I want to do with it. Other people do what they want to do with it. Yay for all of us!


So please, Salespeople of Earth… believe me when I tell you that I don’t want a computer. As my four year old would say: it’s a big world out there, hon. Lots of people have computerized systems and lots of people like that kind of quilting. Lots of people like batiks. Lots of people like Civil War Reproduction quilts. Lots of people like trapunto. Lots of people like improvisational piecing. Lots of people like oatmeal raisin cookies. I like freehand quilting. The End.



2 thoughts on “Freehand Quilting: A Manifesto

  1. I LOVE this post! Since I started my own business, I find I’m spending a lot of time explaining that no, I don’t have a computer on mine and no I don’t want one either. I just do a different kind of quilting.

    There’s other longarmers in my area who do that sort of quilting, and I think there’s enough business for both of us and we can compliment each other’s business – not compete.

    At least potential customers are starting to get it. 🙂

    1. Agreed! Quilting is a big tent- I’ve always believed that. There’s room for everyone at the table. I want to do the kind of work I want to do, and I want people who send their quilts to me to want my work because of it. And we can all live happily ever after. 😉

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