A Bad Quilt

At this moment I am working on the worst customer quilt I have ever worked on! I have been a professional quilter for almost 20 years and haven’t seen anything this bad. Yes, I am whining and complaining and I could have refused to work on this quilt. The only reason I am working on it (and I have had thoughts of sending it back to the customer only half done) is that if this quilt was being quilted by a new quilter, the new quilter would quit the business!

Here are some of the details – it’s a t-shirt quilt that is made with all sorts of t-shirts – cotton, poly, sweatshirts, and anything else that has a stretchy fabric. There is NO fusible backing on ANY of the fabrics. The seams are not straight, nothing fits, there are pleats and puckers in the stitching lines. The seam allowances are anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1 + inches and none of the hems of the t-shirts were removed and they are in the seam allowances!!!

Here are some photos. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Here is the right side border. The red fabric was cut this way.  If you look at the seam between the red and blue fabric, the blue fabric has the hem of the t-shirt still attached.

B-T-shirt 1

Here is another photo – The beige t-shirt is 100% polyester and all the other shirts are heavy cotton or sweatshirt material. If you look close enough (expand the photo) you can see the red fabric seam allowance above the flag graphic. The seam is 1-1/2 inches from the top of the flag.

B-T-Shirt 2


A few more things – the seams are so thick that my machine can barely get over them, and that is just to move the machine back and forth. The seams are so thick that I CAN’T quilt over them. And, of course, this quilt is HUGE at 94 x 110 inches! I also have to trim the quilt to a rectangle and put binding on it.

I did talk with my customer and tell her of the issues, documented many of the problems on the worksheet and I’m charging for the work at custom quilting prices.  For this quilt, my motto is “I can only do the best I can with what I got!” And I told this to my customer too!

Why am I writing all of this – I need some sympathy and someone to tell me I’m doing the best I can. I am also trying hard to make a positive out of a negative.

As a  quilter – professional or hobbyist –  I know that you have had “bad quilts” that you have worked on.  If you would like, share your bad quilt experience by either posting about it in the comments section, or send me an email and I will post it for you. Please, no customer names or locations. If you have photos send them too.

If anyone can learn from our bad quilt experiences, then the bad quilt will be a good thing.

I’ll let you know what happens when my customer picks up the quilt!

About Cindy Roth
Mother of 3, Grandmother of 10 and quilting forever!

41 Responses to A Bad Quilt

  1. ~Deb says:

    Thank YOU! I did a search for, “How to tell a client I simply cannot quilt one more of your quilt tops from Hell?!”, and your blog posting came up. I wish I could tell you the top I’m working on doesn’t look as bad as yours BUT, I’d be lying! And this is NOT her first or second or third! I’ve said some curse words and LOTS of prayers, trying to figure out just ‘how’ to proceed. Out of desperation, I sewed some ‘square’ blocks and gave them to her to piece together into a top, since she’s dying to make quilt tops. She even managed to turn ALL my squares into mountains – complete w/peaks and valleys…now that takes determination & talent, don’t you think?!? Hopefully by now, this nightmare quilt you were quilting back in May, 2014, is a distant memory. I’ll hold onto that thought 😉

  2. Carla Fiedler says:

    Cindy, I salute you for taking on this job! I’ve done some double knit quilts for a friend of my mom’s and came across similar issues as far as bulky seams and not being able to stitch over the intersections of seams. Between the customer and myself, we agree that all quilting stitches would be free-motion in a zig-zag pattern through the center of the blocks, thus avoiding any seam intersections. The first run of zig-zags were stitched in one direction, then the quilt turned ninety degrees so that they could be stitched “perpendicular” to the first run. The result wasn’t classy by any means, but it served the purpose for this customer and she was happy. Take a deep breath as you finish this quilt. Your customer will probably be very happy with what you do!

  3. bedofrosesmq says:

    You are doing the best you can with what you were given. My worst quilt the borders were so ruffled I couldn’t even pin it in. It wasn’t square and it looked like it had been made from fabrics pulled out of a dumpster. I had to give it back and explain why it would work. She had brought me several awful quilts which I quilted, but this one was beyond me. She never did bring me another one. Darn.

  4. Cindy, isn’t it wonderful that we long arm quilters can complain and moan to each other so that we can help fulfill the wishes of another? Like many of you have said, the gratefulness of the piecer in being able to give this gift to someone they love will far outweigh what it might cost them in dollars to have had it quilted.
    You can put a price tag on that. Bless you for being a willing participant in the making of a very special quilt. It will be the greatest gift for them.

  5. Benjie says:

    Oh my gosh, this is coming at the perfect time for me as I have a quilt on my machine that is going to send me to the loony bin. I have been thinking about all of the challenges from the past 2 years I have been quilting for a business. Maybe the biggest is that I have no mentor to make suggestions when I have a problem. I feel like I just need more experience and I do practice practice practice… but I don’t want to “practice” on some poor quilters heirloom.
    I am wondering how other people handle this scenario ? If after doing your best you feel like it’s far from the best quilt you’ve ever done… what, if anything, would you say to your customer? I have a (I think) very demanding customer who will most likely tell all of her friends what she thinks of my work. I am trying to build customers since I am the new kid on the block. I knew when I took it that it would be a challenge and I was excited to have a challenge… but this goes way beyond challenge into the insane catagory. Hand pieced wedding ring with scalloped borders, dark back with white top, EVERYTHING out of square… I can go on. Any suggestions from your readers would be welcomed. Benj

  6. svqgail says:

    I also have had far from acceptable quilt tops sent to me; “most sent and not delivered in person or I would have refused to even try to work on them” and have done my best to make them presentable but I don’t want anyone to know that I was the quilter for fear my potential customers will think I added to or caused these disasters! Just food for thought…

  7. Susan says:

    You are earning good karma bigtime! Many of my customers are elderly ladies making quilts to leave behind with their loved ones, and the quilts usually present challenges for me of one sort or another, but I have learned a lot in the process. I do the best I can and consider I’m doing a good deed. The ladies are all dear and always act thrilled with the finished product. Although your experience has been harrowing, be comforted by thoughts that the quilt will generate great happiness to others. I will try to remember I said this the next time I’m confronted with such a quilt!!

    • Carol Duque says:

      I share in your philosophy. Perfectly imperfect quilts are not about the quilts it is the legacy between the quilt top maker and the recipient of the quilt. As a quilter, I am privileged to be a part of this transaction.

  8. michelle says:

    Oh drat! I Tried to send a response earlier and it didn’t go thru. . i Had a two sided paper pieced t shirt quilt. It was a Bear not Stabalized in the seams where it counts and Back Was same as top. It turned out nice but the stress was awful. Customer was grateful and happy. I was educated to say the least. I am sure YOUR customer will be thrilled. She can’t be as picky as we are or the quilt wouldn’t have come to you like it did. Keep on quilting and be glad when it is done.

  9. Nadine says:

    Oh Cindy, I know what you are going through. About every other month I have 94 year old quilter, who bring a quilt in. What I do is put a pleat in where it needs then do a zig-zag stitch yes while its on the frame. put add same color if possible into the holes and zig-zap over it. I have even gauge seams. She is delighted with every quilt I have sent out. Last year it was 22 and so far this year 6. Now why would I do it, I did say she is 94 years young and she wants to give a quilt to each and every person she know. Oh yes, I do charge a bit more.

  10. Ruth Gevers says:

    Cindy, I’m not a big fan of t-shirt quilts because it seems to me that a lot of t-shirt quilt makers are real rookies and not good piecers. The quilt you are working on is a prime example. Keep in mind that the quilt really means something to the customer…t-shirt quilts are all about memories. We quilters get quite a few memories about them too…not necessarily the good kind!

  11. Kathy says:

    Cindy, I did a t-shirt quilt as a new quilter and didn’t know any better so I did the best I could. The back was also pieced t-shirts and my hopping foot wouldn’t t begin to go over them so I got out my butcher block and hammer and flattened those seams! I ended up charging my customer almost as much for repairs as the quilting but she paid willingly and even brought me another quilt a few years later. Good luck!

  12. My worst quilt ever was brought to me by a non-quilter. She found the top in her mom’s stuff after she passed. I suspect there was a reason she never quilted it, because it was made of 3 in squares and the fabric….. velour! Yes stretchy, three inch velour squares, hand pieced. I explained to her I didn’t know what would happen and sure enough the fabric got “shoved” and puckered. I also did the binding for her. It was a live and learn experience for sure. (I will email a picture if I can figure out how) Thanks for helping me feel better about some of my quilting “choices” :0)

  13. Cathy Smith says:

    I had a customer give me a baseball jersey quilt to do. She wanted the one side to be the fronts of the jerseys and the back side to be the numbers from the corresponding jerseys. She started the quilt herself. It had sashing between the shirts- front and back. Problem was that she used heat and bond for the interfacting!!! She said that the sales person at Joann’s Fabrics told her that was the kind to use. We ended up ironing muslin on the reverse sides of all the fronts and backs. I then talked her in to making two separate quilts as the weight was incredible. I could not quilt it properly because of the heavy heat and bond- kept clogging the needle, so I simply did stitch in a ditch. She liked the finished product and knows that for her daughter’s graduation gift, she should come to me first and I will help her with the construction so that it is done properly. I have been doing tee shirt quilts since 1998 and I’ve never had one like this before!

  14. Pamela Schenck says:

    Looks like your getting lots of good feedback. I had one of “those” a couple of months ago. Not only did she have t-shirts but jacket parts, gingham, all sorts of fabrics. It measured 120 x0120 that right. I groused and cried all the way, told my DH it was so horrible I felt I couldn’t charge for the work I was doing. I had to sew in a huge pleat at the bottom He knocked sense into my head. I TOOK LOTS of PICTURES of the progress and problems so if the customer complained I would have evidence it wasn’t me. You know what? She loved the quilt, good figure. Yours will too.

  15. Anita Haddad says:

    Dear Cindy, I pray you get satisfaction from completing the quilt for your client. As a professional quilter myself, we do recieve such joy for doing a job well done for a client. Take sollice that one in a million would of taken care of this issue. Directions on “How to do a T-Shirt Quilt”, may encourage your client at a later date to take a class or follow directions in the future. As we all want to educate and support new quilters. Hang in there girl!

  16. I, too, have quilted on quilts that were FAR from even close to acceptable. Some times you need to look at the circumstances of the quilt.
    One was for a woman who had a shaking disorder. In her earlier years she was a wonderful hand quilter. This quilt, however, had many issues – 8″ paper pieced blocks, but in places the patches did not quite cover and there were gaps, seams of many widths, fabric caught into seams leaving bunches. Did I mention quilt far from square? She made this as a gift for her grandson. I should have known better as she gave it to me in a grocery sac with the dimensions on a piece of paper. I called her and asked if I could make a few “repairs” to seams with caught fabric which she was glad to have me do. It was custom quilted as the paper pieced blocks alternated with plain blocks. I was able to quilt over the “spaces” to make sure the quilt held together. And, using the zero center tape I actually brought the quilt into square. I trimmed the quilt and did the binding for her. She was thrilled and blessed that I took the time to make her sad quilt as beautiful as possible for her gift.
    Another quilt was a four patch scrap quilt make of 70′s and earlier fabrics. The woman who brought it to me was a quilter and had purchased it from her elderly neighbor at her garage sale years ago. It was over 100″ long and only about 40″ wide. Again, patches not cut accurately, blocks of varying sizes, seams of many widths, jutting in and out on the outside and many intersections not meeting. In spite of that, the quilt had a quaint charm about it and she wanted me to quilt it as she intended to give it back to the woman who originally make it. There were a few seams coming apart that I repaired (and charged for). A good press before loading helped tame the seams and showed me where to help with some seam repairs. A floral E2E pattern worked beautifully on this busy quilt. Again using the zero center tape (I always use it), I was able to ease the quilt into a very close rectangle. I trimmed the ragged edges and prepared it for the customer to bind. She was thrilled and excited to be able to return this completed to the quilt maker.
    We cannot make everything as perfect as we might make, nor can we expect other quilters to be up to our high standard. Some are doing the best they can do. Often there is a story behind the quilt that gives it special meaning. I try to find out the story as it helps me with what I need to do to make the quilt acceptable for the customer. We do need to let them know politely what we can and cannot do for them so that our results will EXCEED their expectation.

  17. Jan Turner says:

    The end is in sight, isn’t it?, so keep going. It looks like you are doing the best with what was given you. Great job!! I think this person who made the quilt needs to know there are classes, etc. out there to help her get it right. She obviously want to quilt. But Cindy, hang in there, it’s looking great, considering the quilt!

  18. Fran Foskey says:

    You are a wonder. I too had a 30’s quilt that I restored. It was a mess. I had tucks in it too. It also was like the one you are dealing with. I had 10 hours of fixing seams before it went on the frame for quilting. It was a full size quilt.
    Hang in there. I know exactly what you are going through. I will not do this to myself again. I will pray you will not have any gray hairs from this quilt.
    Hang in there lady.

  19. Dawn in Ohio says:

    I feel your pain. I had a quilt come in from a quilting group member to which I am a member as well, and it was flanel. She strip pieced the borders… All 8 of them. Needless to say by the time she got to the 8th border it was a mess. and she wanted minimal quilting. total mess.

  20. Glenda says:

    Oh, Heavens, YES ! I know exactly what you are going through! I have a customer who brings me these THINGS which I personally wouldn’t put in the dog basket never mind give as a gift!.

    She has never heard of 1/4 inch seam allowances,WON”T cut anything straight and the end result is a lumpy bumpy quilt top with holes all over the place that shouldn’t have been made in the first place.The last quilt I quilted for her had something like 20 odd holes in it- mainly because the seam allowances were next to nothing in place and she had used polyester thread- which had popped when she pressed the blocks. I have shown her how to press her blocks umpteen times and keep telling her to use cotton thread but I don’t think it even enters her brain.

    The sad thing about this particular quilter is that she has a very good colour sense and basic design sense. These quilts would be very good if she just understood that they could be so much better if she took a bit more time and care.

    I make pieced art quilts in my other life and if there is one thing I have learned, one CANNOT afford to be slapdash with these quilts.otherwise they look a mess.

  21. Jacki says:

    HAHAHAAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is TRUELY a bad quilt if it is the worst you have ever done in 20 years…………..oh Cindy, thanks for the gut laugh you gave me tonight. You are really doing a great job on it (at least at what I can see in your pictures). The customer will treasure this quilt.

  22. Ann Sandberg says:

    Cindy, I feel your pain! Be careful. These are the sorts of quilts I have nicked a finger with the needle and/or taken a slice out of my finger when that sharp screw which holds the needle in place “caught me.” A quilter ends up having their fingers moving excess fabric around as we try to make it all fit. You are experienced and this quilt will turn out much better than it would have in the hands of a novice. That said, do something nice for yourself when you complete this—these kinds of projects take a few years off of our lives! I had one client I quilted for for years. She had numerous health issues and limitations which affected the finished product she could create. Oh, the seam differences, fabric turned wrong side out, blocks out of place, nothing pressed–ever, borders with inches and inches of excess……… But, her family treasured each and every quilt. I had serious issues quilting these. One of the last ones I did for her, she told me she was coming back to me because although I was “expensive”—-I was able to do nicer work on the borders than the cheaper quilters did. Oh my. I made no money on her jobs—spent lots of extra time pressing, fixing, fudging, swearing, crying, you get the idea. Now, I just chalk it up to “good works”, charity work, etc.Good luck!

  23. Edna says:

    When I saw that the T-shirts did not have interfacing on them, I would have refused it, or offered to do it for her, but my first thought would have been to refuse it after all what is wrong. There is not much you can do at this point other than try to finish it and doing the binding, you are going to have to trim a lot of the bad stuff off. I wish you luck

  24. Dot Younginer says:

    Cindy, I am so proud of you for doing this quilt. It doesn’t take much to imagine the maker as a newbie or an 80-something doing “their best” with what they had on hand…that’s really what this sounds like to me. When you return it to them, a gentle talk about what’s “okay” and what’s “really difficult” is probably in order. If I had been asked to do it, I would have but probably would have been 100 times more frustrated than you are. So, as I said, you will probably end up giving the maker the best gift she’s ever had, and I thank you for your patience and expertise. I guess sometimes our work is just a bit harder than it needs to be…but even bad quilts need love…and yes, you have my sympathy but you can do this!

  25. Lynn says:

    As frustrating as it is, we all have been there and want to do our best for each customer. It is sometimes difficult to make suggestions on improvement, but it is clearly needed! You are doing a great job, good luck with the binding.

  26. Oh, my! I have to give you lots of credit for even trying to take this one on! I do turn down quilts but, like you, have had a few on my machine that I thought better of. Two recent ones were challenging for me as they (T-Shirt style) were photo printed on canvas type fabric she got at JoAnn’s. The squares were that thick, hard to needle ‘stuff’ and the sashing and border were light, cheap cotton. To add insult to injury, nothing was square, I spent 2 hrs. pressing seams that went in random directions. Needless to say, I won’t take one of those in again! Every needle mark showed on the canvas so I had to be really careful if the thread broke (which, of course it did) to stitch in the same holes! Uch! Bless you for trying to make a silk purse from a sows ear! I hope you charge her up the ying yang and she appreciates what you are doing for her!

  27. Bobbie Jo Fort says:

    I quilt for two different church ministries. I see a LOT of bad quilts. Lots of tucks, sides that are 7″ longer than the other side, blocks that don’t meet, hourglasses. They are quilted by volunteers who give their time to try to make someone else who need a “quilty hug”s day better. The coordinator had two people reject their quilts because of the “flaws”. I told her I would quilt them, I have a rubber mallet and spray starch and I can quilt anything! If she can take them as they are, I do them. They have been thrilled with everything ive done for them and I spend the time quilting them praying for the recipient and the makers. Its calming for me and they come back over and over again with stories of tears when they receive a quilt made for them. Cindy, take a deep breath, Pray, think good thoughts and press on. I have no doubt you are making a precious memory.

  28. Barbara Howard says:

    Hi Cindy, you are doing a great job and i’m sure when the customer picks up the quilt she will be pleased. i have quilted to many of these bad quilts myself i have a few hints for your puckers. when your finished with the quilting if you fold over the pucker then hand stitch with invisible thread and a blind hem stitch you can make that pucker almost invisible. large stippling will take care of the really fat seams just circle around them take a tack stitch by hand if it needs it when you take it off the frame. when you trim the quilt for binding those edges will look great. your customer is not looking for prefection with this quilt it looks to me like it could be a memory quilt she just wants to be wrapped in her loved ones memory. you are making that happen for her.
    sorry for the typing erros im recovering from a dislocated elbow. when i have both hands i will attach photos i have fixed quilts that had holes in them large enough for my arm to go in and others that had crazt borders with 6 inches yes 6 inches of extra fabric on one side all of the piecers loved the quilts when they got them back and all told me they never thought the quilts would have looked so good. so just carry on .
    Barbara Howard
    Homestead Quilting NM

  29. Vera Thompson says:

    I’ve only had my long arm a month and not in business yet. I am currently working a a quilt my mother made for my sister. The good: it is cotton. The bad: The blocks are different sizes, the sashing is gathered in places. The seam allowances go from non existant to over an inch. She wanted custom quilting in the blocks and sashing. The quilt is shaped like an hour glass. I’m doing an edge to edge that will keep the 3 pieces together. I don’t know anything else that would work without drawing more attention inaccuracies. Mom is 80, and I’ve never seen her do something this way before. I have decided I will not accept another top like this one to quilt even from my mother.

  30. Jody Gagnon says:

    It is encouraging to know I am not the only one to get a bad quilt. I have one now waiting for me to add a stopping border and another “tie it together” border before quilting it. When I looked at it, not a chance was I going to say yes, until the owner told the story of her grandmother putting this together during her last illness. For this family, it is a warm reminder of their grandmother. I pressed it and talked to her about taking it apart and making the volcanoes flatter, the gathered squares the right size, etc. She said, just do my best, and not worry about it. Obviously the memory was the most important thing. The pictures of your quilt look like a memory of perhaps a soldier, perhaps fallen or wounded. the skill of the quilter means little when the top is put together with tears instead of skill. could it have been done better – of course – but the memories you are going to return to them in usable form will comfort them for a long time. So, press on, maybe even with prayers in your heart for the family. Jody in AZ

  31. barbara says:

    Try playing with folds and tucks to make them part of the design – she gave some to you, give her even more back and they will become a texturizing feature. Anything you to do this will be an improvement ! It beats anything I’ve ever seen.

  32. threadtales says:

    Oh my…yikes! Bless your heart for taking this on…I might have turned it down, although I have quilted a few that were probably just as bad…the double knit polyester hexi comes to mind and a couple of scrap quilts that were literally 9 inches longer on one side than the other…and all the time I am kicking myself for taking them on…good luck. I am anxious to see the finished pics.


  33. Helen says:

    Oh my heart goes out to ya my fellow Quilter Sister! I have not been doing this as long but I seem to have had my share of grief since starting this wonderful journey. The only solace that I can say is that “experience is knowledge” and hopefully it will not get to this point again. We seem to “Live & Learn” and good for you–charging the custom rate! May the Quilting Goods Be With You!

  34. Jeannette says:

    Cindy, if you succeed with this project you can advertise yourself as “the Quilt Whisperer”
    Sent from my iPhone

  35. Wow, Cindy you have totally impressed me. I’m amazed you took this one on. Great job btw, now go have a drink or whatever you do to relax and rejoice in the fact that you are a saint for doing this quilt.

  36. Lynne says:

    Wow you are brave and skilled, as a new professional machine quilter I would have fainted at the sight I am sure! Soldier on and I am sure the customer will be pleased with the result. Sending lots of positive energy and sunshine from Queensland Australia to cheer you up. Lynne

  37. macswain says:

    This is NOT a bad quilt – indeed, it is the quilt from Hell!
    Send it back and don’t worry about the ‘new quilter’ quitting the business. You would be doing the whole world a favor getting her out :o)

  38. Dave - Sue Kolczak says:

    You are a saint for even looking at that quilt, let alone put it on the frame. Fortunately I have never seen anything that bad, and am crossing my fingers that I never do.

    Hang in there – you can do it!



  39. Christina in Cleveland says:

    HI Cindy, From what I have seen, you are doing an ah-MAY-zing quilting feat of mercy. Me? I have only quilted hell of my own making and none of my creations comes close to what you are dealing with. Bless you, that’s a mine field!!
    ~ Christina in Cleveland

  40. sgrodek2013 says:

    If you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, then I sure couldn’t have. You’ve been a lifeline for me in wanting to start my own longarm business. Please keep us informed as to what you’re going to do with this monster.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: