Time, Time, Time is on My Side (Yes, It Is!)

Okay, so the Rolling Stones weren’t talking about quilting when they wrote those lyrics, but you get the drift. Finding time to fit in stitching can be a challenge, but it’s possible. Thanks to a suggestion from Sherri McConnell, I’ve figured out how to make the most of the time I have.

Nearly two years ago I interviewed Sherri for a story in American Patchwork and Quilting and of the many things we discussed, her comments about time management stuck with me. Sherri’s a prolific quilter, sewing with her own fabric lines (Creekside is her latest with her daughter Chelsi) and for others. In addition, she teaches, posts to her blog three times weekly, and is a busy wife, mother, and grandmother.

Sherri and Chelsea’s Creekside fabric in an Ocean Waves quilt

Her secret? She doesn’t leave her sewing room without having something prepared for next time.

“It helps a lot because sometimes you don’t get to go sew for hours and hours,” she says. “If I have something ready to go, I can accomplish something in the 30 minutes I might have.” For example, a quilt that Sherri’s currently working on uses strip piecing and half-square triangles, so she prepped the pieces by stacking her strips with right sides facing and drawing diagonal lines on the squares. “That way, I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about the next step, I can just start sewing.”

These photos are from another project, in which Sherri laid out pieces for a single block and for chain piecing. Sherri gives credit for this strategy to Moda’s marketing VP Lissa Alexander, who years ago recommended the book Never Check E-Mail in the Morning, and Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work by Julie Morgenstern. “I remember reading it on the plane on my way to Market,” says Sherri. “The technology in the book is dated now [it was published in 2005], but the organizing tips are still amazing.” It inspired Sherri to spend time on her number one project—sewing—before checking her email each day.


While I haven’t embraced the not-checking-my-email-philosophy quite yet, I have tried to follow Sherri’s lead in my sewing room, always having a project I can pick up and sew. For me, lately, it’s pillowcases.

My guild stitched a couple of hundred for the local homeless shelter and when I stopped by one day to donate some other items, the manager rhapsodized about those pillowcases—how much more homey they made the rooms, how much the residents appreciated them, and how quickly she’d gone through the 200-plus we’d made. Now, when I have the time, I’ll spend an hour or two cutting out fabric and stacking and pinning it, ready for sewing, and when I have even 20 minutes I can make some real progress. Best part? It feels great to get them done!

How about you? Do you have any tips for quilting when you don’t have a lot of time?We’d love to hear them!

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23 thoughts on “Time, Time, Time is on My Side (Yes, It Is!)

  1. Thank you for the wonderful article. I love love love the idea of having a project ready to go at all times for those short sewing spurts.

  2. My friend Helene suggested that I keep some kind of hand work out where I can see it away from the sewing room so I don’t have to leave my family behind. This really works, because if I go into the sewing room, I might not come out, so I would put off going there. Now I can stitch while we’re watching TV or they check emails in the family room. Progress!

    1. That works great for me too. I bought a wonderful cart from Ikea and it sits next to my recliner and floor craft lamp. In the evening I can sit and embroider, crochet or bind quilts, etc while being in the mix of things. I have several hand projects started that I rotate through.

  3. Thank you for your good ideas. I would like to know how to make the blocks Sherri used to design & lay out her pieces to work on. They look like flannel – such a good idea. Is there a board or cardboard inside? Thanks so much.

    1. I believe they are Lori Holt’s, (Bee in My Bonnet) design. There is a free tutorial for them on her site.

    2. You can buy them ready made at Fat Quarter Shop if you don’t want to make your own. I just got a 10″ square one for my Moda Blockheads squares! I think I need a few more!!

    3. You can get one inch thick insulation board at a home supply store. Use a knife to cut it Amy size you like and cover it with flannel. I use duct tape to tape mine to the back. They sell 2 ft square pieces and that’s what I got.

    4. Thanks to all who responded to my question about the design boards. I got the foam boards at Hobby Lobby & made 4 – I plan on making a few more. It’s so easy with the tutorial. Thanks again.

  4. I cut bindings when I cut the quilt! Sounds silly, but it means I don’t have to get out cutting supplies again. I cut the fabric, sew the lengths together, press in half and wind it around an index card. Makes finishing up a quilt a breeze.
    I pin pieces while watching tv in the evening – actually hubby is watching tv I’m just his couch buddy. At the end of the evening I have a whole stack ready to go for the next time I can sit down at the sewing machine.
    I also wind bobbins 6 at a time! Treated myself to 40 bobbins years ago. As soon as I begin a project I load at least 6 bobbins with appropriate thread and store them on the second spool pin on my sewing machine. When I run out I don’t even have to get up to find another – one is always ready to go!

    1. That is a great tip for anyone that doesn’t do that yet. I wind about 10 neutral light tan ones because that’s my go to. I wind about 5 each of black and white. I put my spool of thread with the bobbins and label them as cotton or polyester, etc.and put them in a plastic baggie of their own. That way I know what bobbin goes with what spool. I had some things that stuck in the spool hole but they didn’t fit some and when you wind so many it helps to know what they go to. If I use some other color, such as pink, I probably wind 2 bobbins and pop them in the baggie. All the baggies go into a plastic box so I know where they are. My rayon and polyester machine embroidery threads are treated the same but I put them in a separate plastic box. I put the empty bobbins back in their baggie and when I have one left, before I use it, I fill all the empty ones. I just hate running out of bobbin, un-threading the machine to fill a bobbin, etc so this makes it more bearable for me.

  5. Great post Linzee! Many great responses too. I love the paper plate trick. Pat Sloan was interviewing Darlene Zimmerman on her podcast. Pat asked Darlene to give her best quitting tip. “Buy a stack of paper plates, you know, 100 to a pack?” Now when I need to make 35 blocks, I count out 35 plates and stage the blocks pieces on the paper plates and stack them next to my machine. They are ready to go as a project by themselves, or as Leaders & Enders Bonnie K. Hunter style! Best part? I can see I am making progress and get what I need cut the first time!! Allison in Plano, Texas

  6. Some great hints here! I always plan on leaving something ready to go but am not so good implementing. That’s my summer project!

  7. I’ve precut many of my fabrics into kits ready to go. But if I want to make something fast I do precut one block of something I’m making. I treat many of my quilts as blocks of the month, then I only need to cut one or two blocks in the evening and sew them the next day. It sure changes up the process and adds interest.

  8. I, like GrandmaSue, cut my bindings out ahead of time. At that point you know you have not only the right fabric but enough of it! When my top comes back from being quilted, I’m immediately ready to square up and bind. Another completed project!

    I like Joy’s idea of treating your projects like BOM’s. I’m going to do my Blockhead blocks like that. Have been saving the patterns until I have the time. This technique will work well.

  9. Love hearing about all the above great suggestions – I think you need to make a book! I found some suggestions that I will need to do. I do like to have handwork ready so in the evening while watching TV so I can work on something. Also, I am attempting to work on projects several months before the actual holiday – now, that can be hard when it’s so hot in the summer and you want to work on something for Christmas, but I am trying to work on something current as well as a future project.
    I never heard of the book you mentioned and not checking emails in the morning and that looks like it would be helpful too. Thank you – I love your posts and Carrie Nelson’s too!

  10. I’ve lost my mojo lately. I need to take this advice and keep something going. I feel better when I sew something every day that I’m home.

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