What "free-motion" quilting and singing have in common

Lately I've been finishing a large quilt that I've created from several opera tee shirts my daughter has collected from recent productions she’s performed in with various opera companies during the last several years.

Even though I've made a number of quilts before, I have only recently learned how to employ a “free-motion” quilting technique when machine-quilting all three layers of the quilt together. The setup steps for successful free-motion quilting involve minimizing the sewing machine thread tension, reducing the stitch length to 0 and disengaging all the mechanical devices that grip and feed the fabric through the machine, such as is employed in the regular, straight-stitch sewing process. Pretty much the only things left to use are the needle and thread, while your hands guide the fabric along in the process of creating your overall quilting design.

What I’ve learned from this relatively newly-acquired skill, is that for the best overall result, I must relax in the process and let my hands move freely. My first frustrating attempts at this method were greatly influenced by my natural tendencies to apply too much precision and control, an approach that in this case, ultimately yielded excessive stitch tension, broken threads and a high incidence of needing to pick out unsightly stitches, causing me to start all over again. Through much ensuing practice, trial and error, I finally have begun to get the hang of just relaxing and moving with a constant rhythm and flow. I must simply let it happen. Ah ha! Here is how this particular sewing process relates to singing, especially when negotiating free high notes and low notes too for that matter.

What I've observed in myself and my students is that the more singers try and control their voices when singing in the upper and lower parts of their range, (excessive pressure, tonal weight, jaw and tongue tension, pulling the tongue back, pressing the tongue down and raised laryngeal position) the greater occurrence of uneven results there will be (cracked notes, feeling like you’re strangling, vocal strain, possible vocal injury; a lot of effort for very little reward). Such over-controlling, self-sabotaging activity applies to negotiating register transitions or “passagio” in one’s singing range as well. I certainly recognize that there are many things to coordinate when singing freely and naturally; consistent commitment and connection to the breath for one.

What I've ultimately taken away from my recent free-motion quilting efforts is similar to what I've found to be effective as a singer and teacher: to achieve the best results, one must prepare, practice often, be patient, relax and let it happen.