All of My Life

I am a piecer also known as a bitmaker. I am also an obsessive compulsive quilter. Might as well claim it.

These past couple of months, I have been piecing and piecing, analyzing my time management, determining that if I get the top done by Day X, I can get the quilting done by Day Y.

All Of My Life--Maria ShellAs usual I am behind the eight ball, because in reality I have no idea how long it will take me to make this quilt top. It is done when it is done—and DONE is a gut feeling. I may stitch the last bit, put it on the design wall, and decided to rework it because while I thought it was done, it isn’t.

All Of My Life--Maria ShellIf you are a quilter maker, I am sure you have been asked at least once, maybe dozens of times, “How long did it take you to make that?”

All Of My Life--Maria ShellYears ago, that question would put me on the defense. The truth is my work is very labor intensive.

All Of My Life--Maria ShellI felt people were judging me for not being quick, fast, on demand. These are things our culture values right now. IMMEDIACY.

Wall of Sound by Maria Shell

Wall of Sound 52″ x 52″ 2014

The slow speed of stitching tiny bits together and then covering them with a fine layer of quilting thread is an act that is out of sync with our world’s way of doing things.

Wall of Sound by Maria Shell Backside

Wall of Sound 52″ x 52″ Backside

I have come to accept that the slowness of my work is part of what makes it special, and people are not asking this question to put me on the spot, they are asking out of curiosity.

HARU by Maria Shell Detail

HARU Detail

So, over the years, I have come up with an assortment of responses. At first, I would brush the question off—“I have no idea how long it takes me to make a quilt”.

HARU by Maria Shell Backside Detail

Detail of the backside of HARU

For a while, I was esoteric about the question—“All of my life”—is what I would say. You see, to get to the piece I am making now, I had to make all the others before it.


HARU 38″ x 38″ 2015

And now, I say—“Well, it is very difficult to determine how long it takes to create a composition. Some work comes together quickly, while others are worked on off and on for years. But once the quilt top is made, I can tell you with a fair amount of acuracy how long  it will take to quilt the piece.”

HARU by Maria Shell Backside

HARU Backside

I have been deligently documenting my quilting time for the last few years. I have a chart. I use the stop watch on my phone and record the numbers. It is a simple formula.

Maria Shell Quilting NumbersMultiple the width of the quilt by the height of the quilt. Then divide that number by the number of hours it took to quilt it. This gives you the number of square inches you are covering in an hour.

Quilts like Tribe and To Agnes Martin, with Color take a very long time—hours and hours.

TRIBE by Maria Shell

Tribe 52″ x 52″ 2014

Tribe has many many pieces, and each one is quilted individually. I believe I worked for about two weeks quilting this piece.


I went around each tiny quilt block twice when I quilted To Agnes Martin, with Color.

Maria Shell To Agnes Martin, with Color

To Agnes Martin, with Color 45″ x 45″ 2014

Much of this is driven by the fact that I want the backs of my quilts to look as beautiful as the fronts. They are a surprise for the viewer who asks to look at the back.

To Agnes Martin, with Color by Maria Shell Backside

To Agnes Martin, with Color 45″ x 45″ 2014 Backside

 I use shot cottons for the backs of my quilts. I find that they hi-light the quilting while minimizing the evidence of errors.

Detail of To Agnes Martin, with Color by Maria Shell

I am often asked how I got the quilting on back. The viewer at first does not see that it is a mirror image of the work on the front. This is a close up of Wall of Sound from the front.

Wall of Sound by Maria Shell

And this is Wall of Sound from the back.

Maria Shell Wall of Sound Back detail

LITE BRITE and Fruit Salad which have fewer color changes and less piecing were much quicker to quilt.

Fruit Salad by Maria Shell

Fruit Salad 37H” x 56W” 2014

As I build a new quilt, I try very hard not to make design decisions based on how difficult I am making the quilting for myself.

Detail LITE BRITE by Maria Shell

Fruit Salad Detail 2014

I also know that I cannot quilt for hours on end. My body will no longer do that kind of work. I must pace myself—four hours a day is hard, but do able.

LITE BRITE by Maria Shell

LITE BRITE 43H” x 46W” 2014

The piece I am finishing up now, is LARGE and complicated, and new and exciting —for me anyway. I am estimating it will take at least 20 days and approximately 80 hours to quilt. Which means I need to finish piecing by Monday, so that I can be done with the quilting by Sunday August 28, so that my photographer has time to photograph it.

LITE BRITE by Maria Shell Detail


The days click by. Some are focused and on task. Others are confusing and require multiple errands that suck my time away. The point is always to return to the work. Chaos and order—over and over again. All of My Life.

This entry was published on August 6, 2016 at 12:58 PM. It’s filed under Color Grids, Extreme Quilting, Quilt Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

30 thoughts on “All of My Life

  1. Jean Jankovich on said:

    Maria, your quilts are beautiful!!

  2. That would be…the back of your quilts and the details of your quilting. I try to keep track of how long it takes to make items so that I know how much to charge, but it is hard, especially when I’m switching between projects to minimize thread changes, machine set ups, etc. Interruptions are my main enemy!

    • I have a hard time documenting when I try to do more than one thing at a time too! So I don’t track the other projects, only the quilting which I think makes it do-able. Thank you Penny!

  3. Your work is awe inspiring. One can tell that you put a bit of yourself in each work and the time to make it absolutely beautiful. you are very creative and I enjoy viewing your work.

    tushay3 (at) yahoo (dot) com

    • Thank you Mary very much for saying that. Beauty is a big deal for me in my quilts. A lot of art today shuns beauty as being superficial–not deep enough–I say beauty is one of the original reasons we make art. Thank you!

  4. Shaking head…amazing, incredible, absolutely stunning in every way. Thanks for sharing part of your process….it’s almost like being a fly on the wall…

  5. Brilliant pieces, back and front. Looking forward to your new piece. NO doubt it will just as brilliant, if not more. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  6. Maria, your work is magnificent and awe-inspiring! Each are works of art! I look forward to seeing what to create next!

  7. Susan on said:

    So inspiring. Thank you for all the photos.

  8. debby on said:

    Maria! I LOVED seeing so many of your quilts I’ve never seen before! Thank you for sharing them, and showing the beautiful backs as well. I can hardly wait to see your next creation.

  9. Pingback: Time Away | debby quilts

  10. What an interesting perspective on the time. I love the response about all that came before this piece. It is true that with every quilt you develop skills and techniques that end up in the next and the next. I am “such a better” piecer, binder quilter now then when I began 8 years ago. Once I tracked each and every step of a tshirt quilt…65 hours start to finish. …I figured if I was asked to make another one I could explain the time required, and my “ya know, it would cost you $33/hour plus materials. Stops most people dead in their tracks. No time clock in my life anymore, but I feel the deadline pressure starting to amp up. Love the last photo..Lite Brite….must be the new project.

    • Thank you Mary. I hope you are doing good. I tried to post on your blog the other day, but I could not find the comment section even though I know I have done it before. The story behind the quilt you made recently is amazing! Loved the label.

  11. Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!…

  12. Honestly, I think this is the first time I really understood quilts and those who make them. I always admire them, but I never got it. A beautiful piece of writing.

  13. Pingback: Thread is my colored pencil | The Metaphysical Quilter

  14. WOW I have just come across your blog and I love your quilts – improve style and the backs ate stunning.

  15. Thank you! I hope you find some bits of inspiration or at least get a chuckle of two from from these posts.

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