Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Easy Free Motion Quilting?? Yes!!

Over the past year I've really felt a strong pull to grow my skills at quilting the quilts I make. I want to know that when I make a quilt I've not only made the quilt top, but quilted it, too, and can be proud of both.

It helps to take some time to learn about your sewing machine. In the five years I've had my machine I've learned a lot through trial and error. For instance: most of the free-motion quilting references say to lower your feed dogs. I never could get the tension to come out right on my machine when I did this. While researching tension problems I came across this post about feed dogs by Leah Day of the Free Motion Quilting Project, and it completely changed my experience with tension. On my Janome it is essential to leave the feed dogs up. If I put them down the tension is just a mess. I just have to set the stitch length to zero and all is well. I've also learned to get comfortable with the small harp space (it's about 6" wide and 5" tall) on my sewing machine, a Janome DC3018. This picture illustrates it pretty well, I think :o) Yes that is a grapefruit!

My Janome sewing machine
Janome DC3018
Back in March I ordered some supplies to seriously begin quilting practice. After reading recommendations from others I bought a Supreme Slider, a pair of Machingers gloves, and some Little Magic Bobbin Genies. They didn't see immediate action, but one by one I've started using them. 

Free Motion Quilting Supplies
Free-motion quilting supplies
I'm not certain my Janome likes the Little Magic Bobbin Genies. The bobbin holder is not very deep and it does raise the height of the bobbin...but I've continued using one anyway. I can say I like the Machingers gloves so much better than any other gloves I've tried-they are definitely worth investing in! They have a nice amount of grip to them, but are not heavy and hot. More recently I've been using the Supreme Slider - I like it a lot, too!

In addition, I used a few 40% off coupons at Joann Fabric to purchase several free-motion quilting books. 

Free-motion quilting books
Free-motion quilting books

If you are like me, and are truly starting from square zero I found it helpful to read through more than one book. Each author is so encouraging and shares many helpful suggestions. Each of these books divide quilting designs into categories and show how to build on previously taught skills. I also took their suggestion to use paper and pencil and draw out the design I wanted to use so my muscles would get used to the flow of creating it. 

In the past I always thought that doing a stipple/meander design was where one should start when learning to free-motion quilt. I tried this on a few quilts with okay results, but just was not comfortable. Many times I would find myself backed into a corner - surrounded on all sides where I had already quilted and no way to get out. In Natalia Bonner's book, Beginner's Guide to Free-Motion Quilting, I selected a design called Loops and Poppies. It is similar to the stipple design, but just as the name implies it includes loops and flowers. 

Loops and Poppies all-over quilting
Loops and Poppies design by Natalia Bonner
This pattern has really freed me to enjoy quilting! As I'm stitching along I no longer have to worry about my quilting being surrounded on all sides. If I get into a "road block" I simply stitch a poppy and come right back out on the same side of the flower where I stitched in. Wow!! As you can see from the picture above, my little poppy flowers are not perfect, but they look cute, anyway :o) Fun. Fun. Fun.

I'm stitching this on a pretty large scale and I find I'm not so good at using my hands to frame the area I'm stitching...as a matter of fact, my "technique" definitely needs some work. I'd like to practice on some smaller items like pillows or wall hangings where the scale of the quilting can be a lot tighter. I think doing this will allow me to improve my hand/arm position while quilting. I'm actually looking forward to it!

I hope this has encouraged you if, like me, you have felt overwhelmed by learning to free-motion quilt. Sequential building of skills (and a few of the right tools) make a big difference! I'd love to hear any tips you have to share with me...we can continue to learn this together! Happy quilting :o)


  1. I love Christina Cameli's book! She is in my guild and so sweet. Do you read her blog? She's been doing some great videos of free motion lately and they are very accessible. Working on free motion is one of my goals this next year as well! :)

  2. And link if you need it! I think I might have a review copy of Natalia's book, love the advice about reading different authors.

  3. Thanks!!!! Very useful info !!!!


  4. I'm in 100 percent agreement about making a quilt entirely by oneself. I've been a long-time proponent of that, especially after seeing "Best of Show" quilts that the quilt maker didn't quilt herself. It's really a split prize - not the same as winning by yourself. You're certainly on the right track, checking out the various tools that will work for your machine, and for you. I've never used the Genie bobbins, nor do I use gloves anymore. Though you like the gloves, I'd suggest trying Neutrogena hand cream (original) for "gripping" your quilt. I love that my hands are completely free to grab, pull and cut threads, and that a side bonus is the moisture for my dry hands. The cream doesn't come off on your quilt - or if it does, it's not damaging. I too use a Supreme Slider, and find it beneficial. If you want to continue to expand your skills, I'd also recommend a Craftsy class. I've purchased two FMQ-related ones and haven't been disappointed. Continue to quilt as you are. You're doing great!

  5. Good on you for seriously tackling free motion quilting. I love your little flowers!

  6. Great post, Debbie! I love those Machingers gloves, wouldn't trade them for anything. Your poppy quilting design is so sweet, and I agree about stitching loops and petals vs stippling, I think it's easier to create a nice flow. I suppose there's always room for improvement, but you've certainly met this challenge with great results :)

  7. Great advice. I use those tools - except for the bobbin genies. I bought them, but just didn't notice a difference on my machine. I quilt all my own quilts (over 200 mostly bed-sized so far) on my home machine. :) It can be done! -Letty www.happydancequilting.wordpress.com

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this, and especially that you're doing it on a smaller machine. I have a little "bix box" Brother machine that has about the same amount of throat space, and despite watching numerous Craftsy classes, and reading lots of books/blogs about FMQ, I've been terrified to actually try it on anything other than practice sandwiches. I've bought all the accoutrements you mentioned and now i'm anxious to try after seeing the success you've had on a similar set up!

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience of how you approached FMQ and what you found works for you. I am feeling more inclined to go back to back to it and work on my skills!

  10. P.S. Your loops and poppies look absolutely great!

  11. I can't wait to try FMQ with my feed dogs up, I also have a Janome. This may make a HUGE difference for me!

  12. Good post and yay for you for advancing your skills. I'm curious about the bobbin genies and slider - know nothing about those. After exploring fmq for a while, I seem to have slid back to just straight-line. I need to branch out a bit. maybe. ;-)

  13. I love hearing how other people add FMQ to their skills. Each person picks up something different to add to the conversation. And I am truly amazed at how you have made the most of your small harp space! I'd best stop whining about my 8". :)

    And that quilt is so pretty! I'm glad to see you nearing the finishing line.

    (blogspot is not letting me use my blog name)

  14. Fmq and I have a love hate relationship I dreaded the quilting portion for years then finally put my big girl panties on and tackled head on with pretty good success. The honeymoon is over for a spell and I don't get the thrill of the challenge anymore. Waiting for the next phase to kick in.


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