Week in Review 2020 – 07/31

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about my work is “how much time does it take to make one of your quilts?” I know some quilters keep logs of the time spent. They might set a timer both to keep track of the time, but also as incentive. In other words they plan on working a specific time, such as 30 minutes or several hours. This isn’t my way of keeping track. Instead I commit to three studio days each week. I work hard, although not always successfully, to not allow other things such as emails, meetings, and phone calls to encroach on this time. Instead I devote other days to non-studio activity. Even so, during a good studio day I’m lucky to spend six hours actually working on my art.

All 2,645 pieces are seamed together to form Tubulence’s top.

In the past I’ve only had a vague notion about time spent. I decided to do things a little differently with Turbulence. I’m 10 weeks in. I’ve finished the piecing of the top. I know it has 2,645 pieces. This means I averaged 88 pieces seamed together per studio day. That is 2,645 pieces, divided by 10 weeks, divided by 3 days. Turbulence is more time consuming than much of my other work, because it is 100% paper pieced AND the individual pieces aren’t simple squares, rectangles and half square triangles. Nor are they pieces that can be easily cut with a ruler and rotary cutter. I suspected this project would take longer than others because of its difficulty. I know from past experience, once I get cranking, I can seam 120 pieces in a studio day. I estimated, because of the complexity of this artwork I could piece 100 in day.

When you use the right paper (I like Carol Doak’s Foundation Paper) and small stitches removing the paper without tearing the seams or leaving behind tiny scraps of paper that must be tweezed out is a breeze. Of course with 2,645 pieces of paper and many of them as small as my thumbnail, it does take time. Nothing like a good audio book to help distract from this mundane task.

I once read we tend to over estimate the time it will take to do a task we don’t want to do, but under estimate the time it will take to do something we enjoy. I’ve been creating quilts for 35 years and began to transitioning to art quilts three years after I started. Yet, I still can’t accurately estimate how long it will take to do my next piece. Could that be why contractors have a reputation for running over budget and behind schedule?

I am linking up with Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Fridays.

By Gwyned Trefethen

I am an artist who uses fabric, thread and miscellany to create designs gifted to me by my imagination.


  1. Oh my, if I calculated how long it took me to make a quilt, I would be so discouraged I might just shut the door on my studio with me on the outside. I decided it’s like a meeting. The amount of discussion (or work on a quilt) expands or contracts to fill the time available. Some pieces fall together quickly; others malinger and insist they’re not yet ready. Those primadonnas often lose their place in line to more amenable work.

    1. Joanna, this is precisely why I don’t calculate on how long it takes me to take me a quilt. Instead I simply enjoy the process. However, it does factor into my decision when pricing commissions, whether to seek gallery representation or or own an Etsy shop. I don’t want to put myself into a position where I feel obligated to whip out pieces and/or work for less than what I earned per hour babysitting as teenager in the ’60s. I am fortunate that I don’t have to make a viable living through my art. Let’s just say knowing how much time it takes to make work that feeds my soul if not my table is very eye-opening.

  2. Why do people want to know how long it take, that’s always been a mystery to me. Is that all they have to comment on your work? I answer, my age minus 12 years, which is when I started sewing with passion. I don’t count my studio time or project time, I try not to feed my OCD.

    1. It does seem like a strange question. My answer truly depends on my sense of the person who is asking the asking the question. Many just don’t know what to ask or comment on. I try to think of this any question about my work, no matter how ignorant or demeaning it may feel to me, as an opportunity to educate. After 35 years of quilting and most of them producing art quilts, it continues to surprise me how many people have no idea the medium, fiber art, exists. As a fellow obsessive, one who constantly needs to go after personal bests the temptation to cut down my time is to tempting. Instead I would rather spend time strengthening my technique and improving my art skills.

      Thank you for sharing how you like to answer the “how long does it take?” question with me.

  3. You know, another quilter clued me in to plain 8 1/2” x 11” newsprint for foundation paper piecing. I was skeptical, but it was cheap — a whole ream for what a small package of the stuff in the quilt shops sell for. I put a sheet of newsprint and a sheet of Carol’s paper side by side, and I swear it’s the exact same stuff. Just wanted to share the tip. And I’m definitely with you in grossly underestimating how long steps in my process are going to take. The couple of times when I did track my time, it was staggering how long it took from start to finish.

    1. You must have a better newsprint source than I do. Any newsprint I’ve found doesn’t is to thin to make it through the printer. Perhaps I should see what is in the market these days. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. I’ve tracked my time for commissions, but even that I don’t do accurately because I don’t get many commissions, and often forget to record my start/stop times as it’s not a habit! I admire you for trying with this one — particularly tracking all the pieces. If you enter it into a major show (such as Houston), the number of pieces is often of great interest to the viewing audience — or so it seems to me from articles I’ve read about winning quilts at those shows.

    1. I get it, Margaret. What counts as time spent working on a quilt? I’m up and down on regular basis. Drink plenty of fluids. Do I stop the clock for brief personal breaks? Do I start the clock while I am out walking and suddenly the light bulb dawns and my mind runs in and out of rabbit holes pondering how this or that next series of steps will turn out? No way could I charge by the hour. Most times I wouldn’t be aware of the pieces. However, since this is block based quilt it was a breeze to work out how many pieces there were. Sarah Ann Smith frequently shares how many stitches she quilts. Apparently, she has some fancy machine that keeps a stitch count. Even that would need a fudge factor. You have to remember to set the count to zero before starting on the piece and mark the number down before you shut off the machine. Do you think people are curious about the number of pieces, because they know how the level of difficult with jigsaw puzzles increases the more pieces you have?

Comments are closed.