Last week we took a look at the basic shapes and working with line for freemotion quilting. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
This week we will gather our supplies and dive in.
First we need a sewing machine, but not all sewing machines will work. Here are the important parts that make freemotion quilting on your home machine possible:
The ability to drop the feed dogs. The feed dogs are the little teeth that rotate in the base of your sewing machine while you sew. They help feed the fabric through from front to back at a steady pace. If the feed dogs don’t drop on your model, try covering them.
Any type of open-toed hopping foot like a darning foot, embroidery foot, or quilting foot will work. Your machine may call it something different, but it generally has a circle or part of a circle that goes around the needle showing the quilting area and a spring along the top of the foot where it attaches to the machine.
Put a Sharp needle in your machine – it doesn’t have to be a quilting needle and thread it up!
That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Now you are ready to start quilting.
Before we start on fabric, let’s figure out how to do the quilting choreography.
Unthread your needle and grab a piece of paper. Sit down in front of your machine. Lay the paper on the bed of the machine under the needle and start quilting.
Notice the following fun facts:
- If you don’t move the paper, the needle keeps moving up and down in the same place making a hole in your paper. Imagine your machine threaded and your quilting under the needle. How long would you want to stitch in one place? Not more than a couple stitches. For this reason it is important to keep that quilt moving and ALWAYS remove the quilt from under the machine when you walk away. Remember, cats laying on the pedal do not make good quilters!
- The faster you move the paper, the greater the space between the holes. The slower you move the paper, the closer the spaces between the holes. The goal is even spaces between the holes.
- Move the paper at a steady speed, but vary the speed you make the needle go by varying your pedal speed. Put the pedal to the metal and then slow it down. The faster you go the more holes you get. If fun fact two is in play then the speed you move the paper will need to change if you vary the speed of the needle.
All of these factors result in the freemotion dance between hands, needle and fabric. If you can set the needle speed to a constant speed, this will take out one of the variables and make the dance easier to learn.
Now let’s get to the real practice.
You can make little practice sandwiches to learn new designs and get the feel of things, but it is better to start with something bigger. Dig out one of those table runner or wall hanging tops you made 15 years ago and no longer matches any of the rooms in your house. Yeah, that one! Layer it with some batting and backing fabric. Throw a handful of safety pins in to secure the layers and take it to the machine.
- Start at the center of your project along a pieced seam line.
- Take a stitch and use your top thread to bring up your bobbin thread.
- Hold both threads in your hand and take a couple stitches in one place or teeny tiny stitches one after another. This will secure your thread.
- Now quilt along the seam. No need to mark when the piecing has done it for you. Stitching along a seam is called stitching in the ditch, often shortened to ditch or ditching.
- Ditch the entire project working your way from the center out. Once the whole thing is ditched, remove your basting pins.
Now it’s time for a break. Pat yourself on the back, call a friend and brag that you just finished ditching a project (even if they don’t know what that means it will sound super impressive!), grab a glass of Fresca and relax.
While you are relaxing, let’s take a look at that project. Notice how you created all sorts of little practice areas by doing all that ditching? What kinds of designs could you put in those space? What would you like to try?
Break is over! With your newly acquired inspiration, pick a little area near the center of the project, pull your threads up, secure stitch, and off you go. As you play in each area, work to even out your stitches while you wrestle the quilt sandwich. Is it easier for you to wad up the ends of the projects in your hands and steer it under the needle like driving? Do you like to lay your hands flat on the project and move it around? Which produces more even stitches for you.
This is what I like to call the Try Before You Buy method of learning. Notice there isn’t a huge list of do’s and don’ts, that’s because it’s your job to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. This is also why we aren’t working with little practice squares. You need to feel the struggle, experience the challenges, and know what you want. Starting a new skill like freemotion quilting with a gaggle of unfamiliar supplies can make it too challenging. Lots of people give up after the first try because they were trying to learn to do something new with tools they aren’t skilled at using. That’s like learning to juggle and deciding on day one it would be better to give it a go on stilts first – what could possibly go wrong?
Now you are ready to shop! There is a world of grippers and grabbers, holders and pinchers, gliders and levitators out there; talk to friends, read reviews, watch videos, and visit your local quilt shops for the perfect solution to your challenges. Find what’s best for you!
Looking for a wonderful all-in-one-place resource? Let me recommend one of our most popular books, Free Motion Quilting On Your Home Sewing Machine by Kent Mick. Kent not only takes you through the basics, he also gives you 8 great exercises to learn the tricks of freemotion quilting on your home sewing machine. With lots of big close up pictures and step by step instructions, it is a reference you will be returning to again and again.
Here are a few helpful tips to help you as you are starting out:
Want to take a class today? Check out the Home Machine Quilting category at iquilt.com!