No Time to Sit at the Sewing Machine? Do This Instead

From Pat Sloan's Teach Me to Machine QuiltWhen we quilters are at our most organized, we carve out time to be at our sewing machine every day. But let’s face it—sometimes life gets in the way and our machine-sewing plans fall through.

Does that mean there’s zero time to devote to your creativity?

Martingale authors say no way!

We asked several authors what they do when sewing-machine time is out of reach. If you’re like us, you’ll have a few “A-ha!” moments reading their answers below.

Lissa Alexander

Author of Oh, Scrap! and editor of the “Moda All-Stars” series

“My sewing machine was recently in the shop for a good deep cleaning, so I was without a machine. I took the time to clean around my machine area, reorganize my sewing tools, and cut out a few projects. Then I propped my feet up and caught up on reading my quilt books and magazines!”

Surrounded quilt
Surrounded from
Oh, Scrap! (follow Lissa on Instagram: @modalissa)

Jan Patek

Author of Sleigh Bells and the upcoming book Tabletop Turnabouts (coming May 1)

“Since I do needle-turn appliqué, I have plenty of go-to tasks away from my machine. There’s lots of prep work to do before you can sew.

  1. Trace patterns onto freezer paper.
  2. Cut patterns out on the line.
  3. Cut the right-sized pieces of fabric for your project.
  4. Iron patterns onto fabric and trace around them (I use a Sewline marker).
  5. Cut patterns out, leaving a ¼" seam allowance.

See? There’s plenty to do before heading to my machine!”

Bunny Hop quilt
Bunny Hop from
Tabletop Turnabouts (follow Jan on Instagram: @jan_patek_quilts)

Susan Ache

Author of Start with Strips and Countdown to Christmas

“I get all my cutting done and sorted for chain piecing!”

Churned Around quilt
Churned Around from
Start with Strips (follow Susan on Instagram: @yardgrl60)

Pat Sloan

Author of Pat Sloan’s Celebrate the Seasons, the “Teach Me” series of books, and coauthor of The Splendid Sampler books with Jane Davidson

“If I’m doing appliqué, I take a project on the road with me to trace shapes. I’ve even used fusible fabric in my hotel room. A quilter has to do what a quilter has to do!”

Pat Sloan's tulip blocks
Pat’s tulip blocks from
Pat Sloan’s Celebrate the Seasons, remade in purples (follow Pat on Instagram: @quilterpatsloan)

Kim Diehl

Author of the “Simple” series (including her latest, Simple Whatnots) and coauthor of the Simple Friendships books with Jo Morton

“When I have little pockets of time, I get my appliqué blocks all prepped, laid out, and glue basted. I gather my basic sewing supplies (small thread snips, needle, thimble, and thread) into a small basket for use as a portable stitching station, and then sneak in little bits of sewing time anywhere in the house while I’m watching grandies (often) and TV (seldom). For appointments away from home when I anticipate waiting time, I drop my supplies into a snack-sized plastic bag and place it into a larger quart-sized zippered bag with my folded block. Being organized in this way means I can be productive whenever an opportunity presents itself.”

Kim Diehl applique
Kim sent us this photo of a gorgeous block in progress! (Follow Kim on Instagram:

When you’re strapped for time at your sewing machine, what kinds of prep work do you do until you and your machine meet again?

  • I rotary cut and prep pieces for machine sewing.
  • I always have a portable hand-sewing project at the ready.
  • I spend time with my sewing books and magazines.

Tell us your tips in the comments!

46 Comments (leave a comment)

  • English paper piecing of course!

    —Nancy on April 19, 2019
  • I do all of the above and I also hand quilt smaller quilts. I try to sew some every day

    —Sharon Lowy on April 19, 2019
  • When I am WOM (without machine), I do a lot of cutting, sorting, and planning my next project. I have an extra set of cutting tools at work so that I can prep during my lunchtime. I hate wasting time. I can accomplish quite a bit using my precious free time.

    —Cheryl Z. on April 19, 2019
  • There is always a portable project for me to take along. When I sit in the evening to relax, I have needle in hand.

    Kristie on April 19, 2019
  • If my main machine is in the shop I plug in one of my back up machines! My favorite is Sweetness, a Singer 301 that I got for $99. (And if I didn’t have electricity I would set up Irene, the 1909 Singer Red-Eye treadle.)

    Nann on April 19, 2019
  • I can always rotary cut. I also have hand sewing that I can do to either finish or tie a small quilt. Always busy.

    —Judy Thompson on April 19, 2019
  • I pretty much do appliqué so l am usually prepping for hand stitching. But great ideas about getting the cutting done so your ready to sew.

    —Barb Walsh on April 19, 2019
  • I’ll jot down potential ideas on paper or in my sketchbook. Audition fabric, Trace off shape with my lightbox.

    —Ocotilla on April 19, 2019
  • I always have a portable hand-sewing project at the ready.

    —Kaye Walker on April 19, 2019
  • I always have small projects prepped and ready to go in between cooking and sitting at night. I love to be on my machine but there’s not always a good block of time to sew so I like small projects.

    —barb on April 19, 2019
  • I sort fabric and spend time reading my magazines

    —Hilda Krebs on April 19, 2019
  • I like to do hand embroidery, so always have a project at hand to take to appointments w/wait time and I also go through my books and patterns to get inspiration for future projects. I trace applique pieces on fusible w/my light box also.

    —Barbara Theriault on April 19, 2019
  • I try to have a "to-go" bag ready all the time. Currently I pulled a bunch of 2-1/2″ squares out of my scrap boxes and have been hand piecing them while sitting and waiting at medical appointments.

    —Nancy N on April 19, 2019
  • When my main machine is in the shop, I have my Singer Featherweight that i can use. I also can work on preparing my appliques for my next project. Or I can do some hand sewing on some of my projects that have been waiting for that moment when I have the time to finish them.

    —Ann West on April 19, 2019
  • I try gather fabric from my resources–stash–to get ready for next project. That and clean!

    —Mindy on April 19, 2019
  • I have a hand project, in fact I have quite a few bindings to do. A trip to the sewing repair shop doesn’t slow me down to much, because let’s face it (and many who read this will agree) I have more than one sewing machine.

    —Ruth on April 19, 2019
  • I always have a hand project ready. I love to embroider or hand quilt my projects!

    —Janna Lee on April 19, 2019
  • I always have plenty of tiding up to do in my sewing room, and cutting the next project.

    —Rosanna Ray on April 19, 2019
  • I spend time with my sewing books and magazines.

    —debby on April 19, 2019
  • A car trip to the local fabric shops – inspiring, motivational, social, fun.

    —carol on April 19, 2019
  • I bake. Dangerous!

    —Chris on April 19, 2019
  • I rotary cut for piecing when machine sewing. I also read quilts books and magazines on what projects I want to start cutting for.

    —beth d. on April 19, 2019
  • I do a combination of all three plus some much needed clean-up. That time is neigh! It’s hard to ignore my little Featherweight which sits begging for attention.

    —SandyMay on April 19, 2019
  • I either get ready for another project or sit and stitch my embroidery samplers. Sometimes there`s stitching for quilt blocks as well.

    —Clare on April 19, 2019
  • I spend time with my books and magazines looking for my next, next, quilting project. Even tho I probably have about 7 nexts ready to go now.

    —Vickie Keith on April 19, 2019
  • I always have projects to work on other than being by my machine or I read your blogs and learn more stuff :).

    —Martha Cook on April 19, 2019
  • I used to do hand quilting when my husband and I were traveling by car. (It was better for both of us that way!). But now that I have a Sweet Sixteen quilting machine, I seldom hand quilt. I have started doing English paper piecing, which is very takeable on auto trips!

    —Sandy on April 19, 2019
  • I’ve always had a ‘togo’ bag with me for any downtime that happens – waiting for kids, doctors, whatever; we need something to keep our hands busy!!

    —Judy Stolz on April 19, 2019
  • I spend time trying to catch up on my reading of quilting magazines! I have quite the backlog!:)

    —Teri D. Gailey on April 19, 2019
  • I rotary cut and prep pieces for machine sewing.

    —Lillian K on April 19, 2019
  • I always have handwork of some kind. Right now I am working on a queen sized quilt using EPP. This is a very long term project. It is great for road trips or for time in front of the tv.

    —Nancy A on April 19, 2019
  • All of the above! I quilt every day. When I travel, I bring handwork with me. And I read my magazines at doctors’ offices. Also, I have enough projects planned that I can cut pieces ahead of time and store them til I’m ready.

    —Linda Towers on April 19, 2019
  • I need to get a hand project put together. I thought it would remind to hand sew when I have small chunks of time.

    —Lisa on April 19, 2019
  • I spend my time with my books and magazines. I’m never at a loss for something to do. If I get tired of reading I might, repeat might, clean my house.

    —Stephanie Woodward on April 19, 2019
  • Today was paperwork of sorting all the books quilting ideas and so on. This was vacation to the daily sewing on a machine.

    —Linda Christianson on April 19, 2019
  • I cut and prep ahead of time, but I also try to have a hand sewing project available.

    —Linda Lee Ahn on April 19, 2019
  • I always have a applique, mostly wool, in my bag at all times. It’s handy and when waiting or traveling, I get a lot done.

    —Linda Pickenpaugh on April 20, 2019
  • I lay out blocks I’m working on and pin the sections that go together so I can sew a bunch at one time. Also try to tidy up a bit always something to do.

    —Barbara Hosford on April 20, 2019
  • I have "busy bag" projects handy. I am currently Engish paper piecing a grandmother’s flower garden. I also hand quilt.

    —Cheri Bergeron on April 20, 2019
  • I’ve done all of the above at various times. If not those, I longarm or embroider something.

    —Karen Christensen on April 20, 2019
  • I try to cut pieced for my next project. And there is always a selection of 6 inch blocks to hand piece.

    —Darla Zimmer on April 20, 2019
  • I prep fabric that I will need for my next project. Sometimes I clean up my messy studio and get her all nice and organized. I check my busy bag so that I have what I need when I am on the fly. It’s terrible to be stuck somewhere with nothing for your hands to do. I hate wasted time. if you have something with you, you can always make some headway while you wait.

    —Debi Winchester on April 20, 2019
  • I always have a project that I work on away from my machine. I work on my EPP project, embroidery blocks from Splendid Sampler 1& 2, and any hand work for my daughter’s made-by-me garments, and hand quilting. Sometimes I just prefer hand work over machine because I find it more relaxing.

    —Kim Mcwhorter on April 21, 2019
  • I take some handproject and enjoy magazines and books

    —A. Bouwman on April 23, 2019
  • I do rotary cutting and also spend time with my books and magazines. There is NEVER enough time! 🙂

    —Carol Schon on April 23, 2019
  • I will rotary cut pieces for the next project I am working on. I also ALWAYS have a hand project that I work on in the evening.

    —Patty F. on April 24, 2019

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