Dara Tomasson was so successful as a longarm quilter that she became a teacher and coach for others. Now she shares what she has learned through workshops, coaching and writing books.
Why quilting? How did you get started? What led you to the longarm machine?
I made my first quilt when I was 19 years old. I had just returned from 3 months of working in France between 2nd and 3rd year of university. My desire to create a quilt was like an insatiable itch that I just couldn’t feel relief from until the quilt was done!
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After my 5th child turned 2 years old I wanted to work from home and fuel my creative passion for quilting, so I purchased a long arm, and it was a perfect answer for me.
Do most customers know how they want you to quilt their quilts, or do they need some guidance? Have you ever had to “suggest” a different path than the customer initially asks for?
I have a lot of fun getting curious with the client about the purpose of their quilt. Knowing the purpose is a great way to help them come up with the ideal quilting plan. I have a large variety of electronic quilting patterns available. In addition, I have a portfolio of my custom quilted quilts to inspire them. I love the collaboration process.
One of the greatest compliments my clients give me is that they trust me to create what I think is best. Understanding scale of design, colour of thread and patterns are skills a quilter builds with time and practice. My clients know that I am a professional so I am very comfortable in that role.
When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
There are so many different scenarios. Sometimes I am able to create the master plan right away and go for it. There are other times that I go to my ‘divide and conquer’ approach.
One of the strategies I use is to pick 3 basic designs and then work through variations of those 3 designs throughout the quilt.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I really love doing custom quilting and that usually means that I do a lot of dense quilting. Because I really love texture-, I use two layers of batting to accentuate this. I love playing with designs. For example, contrasting straight lines with curves or feathers create beautiful contrast and beauty.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Walk Jog Run: A Free-Motion Quilting Workout?
We all need to start from where we are at. When we look at free motion quilting we tend to feel overwhelmed by the beauty and feel totally inadequate. When we feel overwhelmed we tend to do nothing. My book starts so basic that building success is easy. Then I guide the reader to move forward with confidence.
I provide ‘workouts’ that the reader will go through to break down the process and build their skills. These workouts are usually around 5 minutes long. We can do almost anything for 5 minutes!! I love that my readers build their skills and their confidence so they can more forward. They literally watch themselves become that talented free motion quilter they have been admiring on Instagram or Pinterest!
Do you recommend doing the book’s practice workouts in the order you present them? Or can someone skip around based on individual interest?
My elementary school teacher background went into full ‘curriculum’ mode here. If we challenge ourselves too fast we won’t be successful. Just like feeding a baby, we need to start where we are at and build.
What is the most challenging part of being a long arm quilter? What is your advice for someone starting out in your field?
I am no longer quilting for hire, however I do have an awesome program to help long arm quilters build their business and I do coach them to build their optimum business.
My biggest advice would be to get really clear on your WHY. Why do you want to create this business? I call this your North Star. One of the tools I teach my coaching clients is that life is 50% good and 50% bad (can’t know joy if you don’t know sorrow). When we understand this 50/50 rule, it prepares us for the challenges that are inevitable in any endeavour. I teach my new business owners how to be ready for the 50% that is not always rainbows and daisies! When you prepare, you will not have fear.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Having a system is always going to help you waste less time and increase your productivity and efficiency. We only have so much ‘brain juice’ a day, so if we are using it all up looking for things and plowing through the mess we aren’t able to be as productive. Steve Jobs wore the same clothes every day to conserve ‘brain juice’ that he was able to use in creating.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I love using the best quality items that I can afford. When I am using the best thread, needles and equipment I am able to create and not waste my time trying to fix or correct. I would say buy the best machine you can afford so if that means buying a second hand machine, do it.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have a sketchbook for all of my doodles. I like to keep several journals on the go. For example, I have one journal for my everyday thoughts and feelings. And I have another that is for everything I am learning to coach my clients. Having separate books helps me stay more organized in my thoughts. I really encourage you to do all of your doodles over the years. I found that in the beginning of FMQ I had tons of ideas but I didn’t have the techniques or the fine motor skills to accomplish them. After practice and mastery you can go back and retry those designs and be thrilled with your ability to create the design you imagined.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Such a great question! I am a huge fan of lifelong learning, and love learning from podcasts. I have learned so much about time management, marketing, life skills and so much more from them. Favorites include The Life Coach School and Jody Moore. I sometimes listen to religious podcasts that edify my soul. There are times where I do need to unplug and quilt in quiet so I can be with my thoughts and process my day and take inventory of where I am in my life. I am currently raising my 5 children aged 8-17 and am married. I like to take the quiet time to reflect on my role and take an inventory of where I am at and where I want to go with those responsibilities, also.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
When I was quilting for hire for 5 years I did just focus on one client quilt at a time. I have so many ongoing projects in my current business that I rotate through on a weekly basis, such as coaching my one-on-one clients, produce for my YouTube channel, generate social media content, teach webinars, and work on a second quilting book. It’s a good thing I am always learning from all those podcasts on time management and managing my mind!!
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
My north star is to be an example of what is possible. I am always improving myself physically, mentally and spiritually. Five years ago I really wanted to become a professional long armer and quilt from home while the kids were in school, travel to teach and write books. I was able to accomplish all of those.
I am now switching my focus to coaching quilters to lose weight and improve their lives. This switch of focus has been incredibly rewarding for me and my clients as they are realizing that weight loss isn’t really about the food, but rather about them using food to hide from living a life that they really want.
When I learned the life coaching tools I was able to lose 50 pounds without exercise or counting calories, increase my income 10 fold, and cross off numerous bucket list goals while raising 5 kids. I am motivated by the life that I am creating for myself and by my clients who are implementing these tools in their lives also.
I love coaching my clients (all of whom are quilters).
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
I love to create charity quilts and gifts for friends.
If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?
I am using my creativity to create my dream business of helping quilters lose weight and create the life that they really want.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I have taught a variety of workshops from FMQ on a domestic or long arm which has been a whole lot of fun. It is always exciting to see my students faces when ‘it clicks’. Due to Covid-19, I had to cancel many of my teaching gigs and lectures which was super disappointing as I love to connect with students.
I do ship my book to anyone. Although my focus is on coaching my clients one-on-one, I do teach my quilting courses. I also have a new opportunity for quilt guilds to hire me to teach them about how our brain works, how creativity affects our brains and the role our thoughts and emotions play in getting the results that we really want in life.
Tell us about your blog and website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My blog and website has gone through a transformation that reflects mine. I do have some of my quilting gems on the blog and it is a place for people to purchase my book. However, people can expect transformation.
I have many videos and teachings on how to start living the life that you really want, in fact I am living a life that I never dreamed possible. I call myself the free motion quilting liberator. January 2020, I hosted a 31-day ‘Life Liberated’ challenge where every day I shared one concept to help liberate you. I also really love to connect with people over on Instagram where I share so many ways to help. Be warned: connecting with me may cause weight loss and increased joy in everyday living.
Interview posted July 2020
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