It’s Not Your Fault: 10 Excuses For A Rotten Running Stitch

I recently received an email from Annette Pennington from the Possumtown Quilters in Columbus, MS.  She wrote to thank me for an article I wrote back in the 80’s for QUILT magazine which she cleverly used as a program for her guild. The article was called, “Remember, It’s Not Your Fault: Ten Excuses for a Rotten Running Stitch.”

Wow! That was a blast from the past!

Annette read the article aloud and had volunteers from the guild come up front, one at a time, holding cards for each of the 10 “excuses.” After each excuse, Annette cued the audience who responded: “It’s not my fault!” She said they really got into it as they went along.

I pawed through several boxes down in the basement looking for the magazine with the article in it. I stopped when I found the original manuscript which I have re-typed for your reading pleasure. (Feel free to use the idea in your guild! Just remember that Ami rhymes with salami.)

     Remember, It’s Not Your Fault:
Ten Excuses for a Rotten Running Stitch
(Copyright 1988 by Ami Simms)
          It seems to me that quilters spend entirely too much time blaming themselves for quilting stitches that don’t measure up. They mistakenly assume that each “toe-hooker” that falls off the back-end of their needle is somehow their responsibility. It’s their fault.
          Not only do they heap criticism upon themselves, they willingly accept it from others. (Witness the growing number of quilters who enter judged quilt shows for the express purpose of having their work picked apart by a total stranger.)
     Obsessed with the “perfect” stitch, they browbeat themselves for anything larger than a flea dropping, and make their lives miserable if they can’t get 27 stitches on their needle before they pull the thread. What’s wrong with these people? Unless their goal is the rubber room at the local hospital, they should abandon this defeatist attitude, ditch all responsibility, and liberate themselves by learning how to blame something or somebody else! And so should you. Remember, IT’S NEVER YOUR FAULT!
     Before you irreparably damage your self-esteem, learn to inflate your own ego with some creative scapegoating. Some examples:
Excuse #1: The fabric. Let’s start with the obvious. The fabric you so painstakingly selected at the fabric shop, lovingly cut and reassembled into the perfect balance of color and form, has now turned against you. Once smooth and supple, it has turned to cast iron now that you have come near it with a needle. How on earth can you possibly be expected to make small and even stitches through uncooperative fabric? It’s not your fault your stitches could snag  your entire foot. Repeat after me, “It’s the fabric!”

Excuse #2: The batting. A little less obvious, but always a favorite of mine is the batting. Have you ever wondered why batting is sold in clear plastic bags? I’ve concluded that it must be light-sensitive. When exposed to light, it looks like that perfect substance to put between the quilt top and the lining. It appears soft, fluffy, and just the right thickness and density. Shield the stuff from the sun’s rays (remember, it’s pretty dark inside those quilts) and the batting somehow changes its molecular structure to that of stale cotton candy. This metamorphoses causes the batting to expand, grow globs, and resist penetration by any needle not driven home with a hammer. Examination of the batting by fellow quilters, shop owners, and interested bystanders is always fruitless, as this must be done in the light, which, of course, returns the batting to its “normal” state. Short of making quilts out of Saran Wrap, there is no alternative but to BLAME THE BATTING.

Excuse #3: Needles. I haven’t yet met a needle with which I could find nothing wrong. They’re too sharp, too dull, too thick, too thin, too long, or too short. Simply choose one or several uncomplimentary characteristics from the list above and start complaining. Feel free to add the following for emphasis: “Besides, they’re so blasted hard to thread!” Injuries resulting from sharp needles and over-achieving bottom fingers can also be blamed for unsightly stitches. “It’s not MY fault my stitches are so big. I didn’t want to get blood on the quilt so I only used one hand.” This is a personal favorite.

Excuse #4: Thread. Just think about it. If it weren’t for the thread, you couldn’t make those big ugly stitches, could you? Reason enough to lay blame on the nearest spool. Thread is the culprit that twists, tangles, knots, frays, splits, and breaks — sometimes all at the same time. Those more experienced in guilt-free quilting can also blame poor performance on the fiber content of the thread. Too much polyester. Too much cotton. Or how about the length of the thread currently in one’s needle. I would think that anything from three inches (“Too short.”) to one-quarter mile (“Too long.”) are good for sympathy. Very astute quilters recognize the adverse effects of quilting with the wrong color thread. I’d say it’s almost impossible to make  decent stitch if the thread is the wrong color.

Excuse #5: The thimble. If you can’t think of a good reason to blame your thimble then there’s something wrong with you. They are always either too big or too small, too tight or too loose, too heavy or too light. How very difficult it is to make beautiful stitches under these conditions. It is even more difficult if the thimble bends your fingernail, or makes your finger sweat. Using a plastic thimble when metal is your favorite, or vice versa, can be a real hardship, as can loosing your thimble all together. I suppose the only thing worse is having to quilt WITH a thimble when you’re used to working WITHOUT one. (Forced to do ANYTHING different by some heartless quilting instructor who lives to boss other people around will surely make your stitches longer.)

Excuse #6: Light. Can’t make decent stitches if the light’s not good. Everybody knows that. And, you can never get enough light. Period. Remember that one; it always works.

Excuse #7: The weather. Now stop the snide remarks and pay attention. If you’re physically uncomfortable due to meteorological irregularities, how in the world can you make nice small stitches? Personally, I have a comfort range of about three and a half degrees. When the temperature dips below 70 degrees, I get cold. My fingers contract and stiffen, my thimble falls off, my nose starts to drip, my teeth chatter, and my stitches go to pot. When the mercury shoots up past the middle seventies, my hands bloat, my eyeglasses slide down my face, and my needle slips right out of my grasp. How in the world can one be expected to do precision work with Mother Nature rocking the boat?

Excuse #8: The Quilting. One guilty party frequently overlooked is the quilting motif you’ve attempted to execute. Anything more complicated than straight lines going in your favorite direction and you should start complaining. Feathers? Who needs ’em?! You can’t be expected to achieve perfection going around and around in circles, starting and stopping every inch and a half. Who thought those silly things up anyway? And how come nobody ever quilts the rest of the bird?

Excuse #9: Household obligations, spouses, and little people who call you mother. Just about the time you get your needle warmed up, it’s time to stop. Someone wants to be fed, another claims that clean underwear has become a fond memory, or it’s simply time to shovel out the living room. Whatever the reason, there’s never enough time to do it right. It’s not your fault! If you don’t get adequate practice time, how can you ever make great stitches?

Excuse #10: Talented others. Every time you turn around there’s somebody making stitches better than yours. At quilt shows, in workshops, at guild meetings. They make tiny stitches without batting an eye and their bottom fingers don’t even bleed. It’s enough to make you sick, isn’t it? Face it, there’s only so much talent in the world, and it’s already been passed out. It’s not your fault. Like the old joke, when your ship came in your were waiting at the airport.
Re-reading the article this morning, almost 25 years after I wrote it, I’m disappointed that it didn’t have much of an ending. Maybe it’s implied: Do what you can do. Try to get better, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Perhaps the next guild that turns my article into a program should have a mini contest afterwards: Prizes go to the best mobster-speak (picture Hugh Grant as Micheal learning how to talk like a tough guy in the movie Mickey Blue Eyes). “Hey, forget about it.”

And, of course, there’s always machine quilting or quilting by checkbook.

Have a great day,
Ami Simms

9 thoughts on “It’s Not Your Fault: 10 Excuses For A Rotten Running Stitch

  1. I have another excuse: blame the dog. Whenever I get properly situated to do hand quilting, a Golden Retriever comes up and bumps my arm, demanding to be petted. How can I possibly get small. even stitches with all that going on?


  2. Wonderful….I’m afraid a lot of younger quilters may not understand much of this at all – as a needle to them may only be something IN a sewing machine! Teach someone younger than you to hand quilt TODAY!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good article. I used to stress about my stitches and almost gave up quilting but decided I enjoyed the process no matter what. Then I saw the quilts made by the quilters of Gee’s Bend and was totally liberated-that was real quilting!(and their stitches were far from perfect-just filled with love.)


  4. I wasn’t a quilter when the article was written, but it was true then and still is! I love the idea of using the article at my quilt guild too. Thanks Ami!


  5. Thank you for these. Personally I think no. 7 is the best: it’s ALWAYS the weather! The humidity (or lack thereof) affects the fabric, the batting, the quilting thread always just so that your stitches can’t possibly be small and even. And a quilt needs to be just the right temperature for quilting or it will feel like you’re quilting either a frozen tv dinner (plate and all) or a stack of wet towels!
    Keep ‘m coming!


  6. I can relate to all of those… I still hand quilt a lot of tops. And I have all the knots, missed stitches, tangled thread, thread jumps… It isn’t my fault! The cat was playing with the thread under the quilt… the dog needed to go out. The spouse needs dinner, or clothes, or something impossible to give him–like attention. Thanks, Ami. I love it.


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