Monday, January 5, 2015

January Lesson (& Giveaway): Beginners Guide to Free-Motion Quilting

During 2015 I hope to push myself further along the free motion quilting path and also perhaps teach a few people some little things (I keep being asked - eeek!) Teaching sort of terrifies me - because I'm pretty shy and I often worry I'm not qualified enough to impart useful pieces of information. So to warm myself up to the idea I'll be putting a little lesson out once a month accompanied by a little giveaway.

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Years ago I took a lesson on free motion quilting way before I could do anything (even try anything) that resembled free motion quilting on a quilt. The lesson terrified me and I never did a drop of free motion quilting again for over a year. I then completed a very very small project (a small zippered pouch) that somehow gave me the confidence to do more quilting. It has been a long journey with many doubts and dips but over all there is only one thing that has helped me improve and that is the really boring word of 'practice'. I know I have said this over and over again.

And so to encourage someone to take the same leap as I did and push through those doubts I want to start a series of lessons and little giveaways in 2015 - that will be focused on giving you that extra little push to drop those feed dogs on your machine and get quilting.

My tips for beginning free motion quilting are:



(I'm assuming you have dropped/covered your feed dogs and lowered your stitch length - try lowering your stitch length to 0 - if you are using a Bernina BSR try a stitch length between 1.5-1.7)

Practice with a purpose. Practice on something you want to (have to) finish. Be it a new baby quilt, some placemats/coasters for a birthday present, a bag, a quilt for a charity or your church - your kids will be happy and unjudgmental with anything you make them - a quilt for their doll or teddy? Your projects do not have to be big at all - but make sure you see through each project (even if you hate it others will love it.) As you progress through each project you will see progress and improvement.

Start with smaller projects like placemats.

Are you comfortable? If your chair is too low and your table too high (or any combination of uncomfort) you won't want to sit for too long. Is your foot sitting on the pedal comfortably? Free motion quilting takes time - you will want to be comfortable.

Are you sitting at a big table? It is important to keep your quilt elevated off the floor so you are not fighting with the drag of the quilt as well as trying to move the quilt around smoothly. I have some great portable tables that I found at Costco that I can hide in a closet or under a bed when not in use and then place them around my machine to ensure the quilt off the floor and not creating additional resistance. Having a big surface area around your machine for your quilt to sit on will really help you.

Music? Silence? I personally listen to talk radio when I work - it distracts me enough so my shoulders drop a little. I know some people like to listen to music to get into the quilty groove. Other people work better when it is quiet. What ever makes you zen? (Tip: Copious amounts of alcohol and chocolate do not help!)

What design to start with? Would you believe that the all over popular stippling is really hard to work out at the beginning. Start with swirls, pebbles or wavy echoing lines. Cut yourself a break and leave the stippling for later - there are much more fun designs out there to play with. 

Using an all over meandering design? Start in the center (if using a domestic) - and work your way out. The center is always the most cumbersome and difficult. Working from the center out will prevent a whole host of problems that might defeat the confidence you are trying to build.

You are not a baby bird learning how to fly - keep your shoulders down (easier said than done) and keep your elbows in.

Practice:
- your hand eye co-ordination by repeating patterns over and over again
- try to think and focus on the pattern ahead - especially with meandering patterns - where are you going next?
- achieving smooth motion and movements
- consistent size and pattern shapes

Practice by repetition.

Some practice ideas:
- doodle - I doodle (scribble) everywhere - repeating these patterns and motifs on paper will really really help your muscle memory. Found a pattern you want to try? trace it 10 times on paper first before trying it on your machine.

Doodle, doodle & doodle some more

- take your thread out and follow the lines on a coloring page - just make little needle holes - follow the lines as closely as possible. Slowly you will find you will get more control and be able to follow the outlines exactly.
- tracing the pattern/shapes of a pretty fabric can make a gorgeous quilted project as well as letting you escape the big question 'what pattern am I going to quilt' it will also help you gain more control as you follow the pattern shapes
- quilt as you go is gaining in popularity and serves a solution to wrestling an entire quilt at one time
- play 'what shall I draw' - get someone to tell you what to draw with your machine/needle and thread. Not only it a fun(ny) game - but it will also help you to begin to see the endless possibilities of free motion quilting.

GIVEAWAY: Natalia Bonner's Beginner's Guide to Free-Motion Quilting


My favorite pattern in this book are the spiral circles on  pages 44 & 45 - a great all over pattern that would look great on any quilt.



To win this book leave a comment and answer one of the following questions below before January 26th:
- if you are nervous of free motion quilting enter please leave a comment below saying what free quilting pattern you would like to learn and why?
- if you are a budding free motion quilter what pattern do you favor and why?

(Please note: Giveaway will only be shipped within the US.)

88 comments:

nelliw said...

Great suggestions, Rachael! I am petrified to FMQ. I tried when I first purchased my Bernina and didn't feel I was ready. My biggest problem is overcoming the fear of the "big expanse" that needs to be filled and the fear of making a mistake and not being able to fix it! I will definitely give it a go again this year as I am tired of straight line quilting!

Rachael Dorr said...

Great point Nellie. Try to break down the quilt into blocks - as if you are piecing it. Quilt a block at a time and remember to step away when you have had enough. A light hand with 505 spray is great for basting and it means you can put the quilt to one side in between free motion quilting sessions. Don't feel like you have to quilt the whole quilt in one sitting.

annemarie said...

This book is just what I need - I am petrified of free motion quilting but need to overcome my fears and give it a try.

Kathy said...

I would like to learn how to make some flowers. I tried to fmq on a very small (mistake, I know) quilt sandwich, thinking I could just jump right in and get the hang of it (another mistake). I did find that I don't like my quilting foot. It's a plastic oval, and while I know how to bring my beginning threads to the top, I found it frustrating to thread those threads back through the oval so they would be under the foot and out of the way.

Lucy Daniel said...

DESPERATELY need this book and guidance to FMQ! I'm TERRIBLE at drawing. IF I can't draw, how can I possibly assume my FM will look presentable on quilts? Have doodled on paper .... And NOT pretty. Feathers swirls is what I would like to master.

Rachael Dorr said...

Kathy - small is good - start small on a square marked the same size as a coaster or something. Flowers are actually fun and simple - there are various ways of making flowers. Angela Walters actually has a really easy flower - which looks great on pg. 67 of her book Free Motion Quilting with Angela Walters. I think I have mentioned this pattern before on my blog. It was actually one of the first patterns that helped me get over my fear of free motion quilting and made me start to feel proud of what I was producing.

Rachael Dorr said...

Lucy - I can not draw either - you should see my sketch book. I sometimes think that if people saw the pages on my sketch book they would never let me quilt for them. But it is the motion of various shapes you are trying to learn - I don't think you need to draw in order to be good at FMQ - it is all about practice. The best feather book I have found is Heirloom Feathers Freehand, Formal & Fanciful by Darlene Epp. Get the edition with the workbook and photocopy the workbook and just keep repeating the shapes over and over again (until you are yawning!!) it will happen I promise. Pay particular attention to the angle that the feather is join up with the stem - that is the key with feathers. I hope to do a post on feathers soon too.

mary ramsdell said...

I would really like to learn any new pattern. I only meander right now. I need to broaden my horizons!

Rachel said...

I would like to learn anything, I only straight line. Feathers are so pretty!

Rachael Dorr said...

Mary - if you meander happily - you can do anything!! ;-)

Rachael Dorr said...

Rachel - straight lines are just as tough - don't say 'I only' ever! x

Beezus said...

This is a great list! I especially think the baby bird comment is super important. It's the thing I still struggle with.

Georgi said...

I know it takes practice practice practice to get good at FMQ, but I have a hard time sitting down to just practice! The idea of just going for it on a quilt is tempting but scary. :) Great post! Thanks for the chance ~ fingers crossed!

Judi B said...

I have never done a FMQ. I have truthfully only completed one entire quilt, but aspire to with more time and less littles requiring so much of my attention. I LOVE the circular patterns! Would love to win the book giveaway so I can learn more about this.

Cate Boeth said...

Hi, this is my year to master free motion too. Right out of the gate on a long arm I was doing pebbling using variegated thread on white -- what a courageous idiot I am! It's not that it was hard it just looked all wrong. I had thought so much about the quilting itself that I neglected to sort out what would work with my PATTERN AND COLOR DESIGN!! So I guess for me the challenge is matching up the quilting designs with the darned quilt I am doing. I pretty much turned that quilt into the most recent outrageously expensive sampler of patterns I could think was f to try. Someday I will humbly post it for all to learn from!

Anonymous said...

I would like to learn how to be consistent with the design I choose to follow, not get bigger or smaller and not have a bunched up area.i have a quilt top and back waiting for me to tackle and another quilt top deigned in my head ready to start. Thanks for the give away! And happy new year.

Cathy at trahans dot net

Kathy L said...

Would love to win this book. I need help with free motion quilting. Thanks for the chance to win.

nancyr said...

I a nervous newbie! I have attempted it on practice sandwiches several times...i seem to have a problem with my tension on the back side so I have sorta gotten frustrated and given up for a while! I think though I am ready to try again. I really like swirly type patterns.

Donna Christell said...

I would love to learn the spiral circles, as they are some of my very favorite. Interesting to read that I need not do strippling first. This is the technique that I keep working on as I thought I was suppose to master it first. Thank you for the tips. Your work is lovely...but your kids even more so ;-)

Alli said...

I'd like to learn those spiral circles! I only really fmq loopies, which is my easier substitute for stippling. :)

barbara woods said...

the only thing i can do is large flowewrs and loops

Rachael Dorr said...

Donna - throw stippling out of the window - it can wait - master something you want to do;-) Loop-de-loops or simple flowers are a great start and I found them to be easier. Stippling becomes easier with time. x

Rachael Dorr said...

Nancy - tension problems are the worst! They take a lot of patience to sort out - but once you have them set - it makes the world of difference. If you can not find the answer take your machine to where you purchased it from and see if they can help - it really is worth the time. Remember to bring your bottom thread to the top and hold it tight for the first few stitches. Other ideas are:
- use the same thread in the top and bobbin
- if the top thread is showing/nesting on the back your bobbin tension might be too tight or your top tension might be too loose. Try tightening it a little.
- if your bobbin thread is showing on the top your bobbin might be too loose or your top tension too tight
- rethread your machine completely. Check the manual to makes sure you have it right. Honestly - I still check my manual at times.
- pop in a new needle.
I am a bit obsessed by tension and can spend up to 30 mins adjusting it before starting a project - but I think this time is well spent. I hope you get the problem resolved and don't let it defeat you in your FMQ journey! x

Rachael Dorr said...

Cate Boeth - I want to see that quilt! Variegated thread is very deceptive - and I find hard to use - but I bet you learnt so much!

driftwood said...

great tips Rachael, what a lovely idea for a series. love the baby bird tip, I always end up with a sore neck and back, and this is probably why.....

Nancy Lewis said...

I would love to do the meandering quilting or the stippling. I am very interested in how to do FMQ, and need a lot of help!!

Lindalou said...

I would love to learn ALL of the FMQ designs! But the one I think I would use the most at first would be the Echo quilting. Thanks for the chance to win the book!

Carol said...

I have tried to do free motion and need more help with it. The beginning book sounds great. I would love to learn any stitch. Thanks.

Shebandowan said...

I would love to learn FMQ. Being left-handed is my disability. I don't doodle well either...LOL. Feathers are so lovely, but I would like to learn anything in FMQ. Thanks for the chance to win this book.

Janet

Tia said...

I would love to learn anything. I have tried FMQ but it always looks so sloppy so I gave up. I would love to learn how to do feathers. They always look so neat on quilts. Thanks.

anotherid4me said...

I love the look for FMQ but haven't tried it on anything major. I enjoy card-making & have done some simple designs on cards; I have a needle felting machine & have done simple FMQ looks on that; and I LOVE zentangling which to me is a perfect match w/ a love for FMQ. So, summary is, I love the look, & would love to win to make placemats, & similar size projects!!

Quilting Tangent said...

I don't have a favorite design, but do like the ones with curves and loops in them. They seem to add movement to quilts. 24Tangent@gmail

Cindy said...

I just started FMQing and I'm doing pebbles which are kind of ok. I love your point about practice doodling for a long time and I would love to do the pretty spirals you have pictured.

MaryAnn said...

Wow, I doodle all the time never thought it would now in a book written by you. I am not the best but practice makes almost perfect for me. Would love to see this book

Linda B in MI said...

I lack confidence! when I do have to fmquilt, I do a meander.

Anna said...

Free motion quilting terrifies me because I like things to be evenly spaced. I like when lines fill out from shapes though. I would love to peek in this book to gain basic confidence, then mail it to my mom who is home bound and disabled in Alaska!

lag123 said...

I would love to learn how to quilt feathers.

lag110 at mchsi dot com

Janet P said...

I would love how to FMQ. I've tried a few times but didn't do a good job, and it has only been stipples. Those are even hard for me. I dream of one day being able to FMQ feathers, but I feel that is a long way off. This would be a wonderful book to win,so thank you for the giveaway.

Shemjo said...

I am just beginning to try FMQ and feel intimidated trying to fill large spaces. The more I practice, the better I get, but I don't work at it on a regular basis, I fear.

Daryl @ Patchouli Moon Studio said...

I am neither a beginner nor an expert. My favorite FMQ is just meandering and pebbles. I would like to get better at using other designs.

Linda said...

HELLO,yes, I'm a Newbie>have just done some simple stippling and now am favoring a vine with heart shaped leaves randomly about every 2"> worked neat on borders! Thanks for this giveaway>looks like a really neat book!

msstitcher1214@gmail.com

OhioLori said...

Yep...definitely a Chicken Gizzard here..afraid to do anything bigger than scrap sized tires..then make into potholders for just me! Giggle... Would like to do the meandering...squiggle type things to start...figure will hide boo-boo's better?

Rachael Dorr said...

Shemjo - start with smaller projects - nothing worse than feeling intimidated before you have started. x

Rachael Dorr said...

Janet P. I bet you are being too hard on yourself!! I mentioned this previously but the best book I have found is Heirloom Feathers Freehand, Formal & Fanciful by Darlene Epp. It isn't super cheap - but get the edition with the workbook and photocopy the workbook and just keep repeating the shapes over and over again (until you are yawning!!) it will happen I promise. Pay particular attention to the angle that the feather is join up with the stem - that is the key with feathers. I hope to do a post on feathers soon too.

Rachael Dorr said...

anotherid4me - zentangle is PERFECT practice - next time you sit down at a machine just doodle as you would on paper - things will start happening I promise.

dragonswing said...

I am just ready to try something new. I would like to try making a quilt in sea/ocean colors and then quilt it with a wave pattern.

Karen said...

I actually did my first free motion quilt in all-over stippling, and it now seems a little easier than many other patterns. I have only finished one other quilt, on which I tried out a lot of different designs in dark thread on dark fabric before trying orange thread on dark fabric over the rest of it. I really like how it turned out, and I think it was better after all the low-stress practicing. I did fire with the orange thread, by the way.

Dana Norris said...

I'm very nervous of learning free motion quilting. It's something I've always wanted to learn but it's also something that scares me. I'd love to learn the circles, it will add so much motion to a quilt. I love everything you posted about it, it helps me so much and makes me believe I can do it without screwing up anything. Thank you! Good luck everyone!

Cindy R said...

I've just decided to push myself to do my own quilting. What a great book to help me along.

Kathy E. said...

I am a beginner FMQer and would love to master the swirly circles pictured in this post. I really like your idea of keeping your shoulders down and elbows in! I get all tensed up and those shoulders go up and elbows out...I'll bet I'm quite funny to watch!

Dawn said...

I only do straight line quilting, I am nervous about all free motion and would like to learn anything. I get nervous because I truly can't even draw with a pencil.
dawnm1993(at)gmail(dot)com

Sonja Mclane said...

The only thing I have been brave enough to try is squigglies lol. I just want to learn other techniques nothing specific just everything lol I am trying to expand my knowledge!!!!!! sonjasmith76@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

I would like to learn swirls! Newgirl42889 at aol dot com

thia beniash said...

I would love to learn the swirly kind of designs! This is such a fabulous opportunity! I just made my first tshirt quilt for hubby and it came out great. Ready to make more!

Sarah said...

I would like to learn anything about it! sarah@forrussia.org

kelly said...

I am not scared of free motion quilting I am just unsure of where to begin and what to do. Thanks for this opportunity to try. I can't wait to start.

msmissy02 said...

I would like to learn one that is very simple for starting off. Thanks for the giveaway!

Hope Marie said...

I am nervous about FMQ because I am such a perfectionist. It is something I want to do and have tried but tense up and hate the results.

Thank you for the opportunity to win this book.

juliehallfeldhaus said...

I like doing free motion but need more ideas and practice!!!

harpograffe said...

I'm a brand new quilter. I quilted my new dog's stocking: one side very badly and the other side not so badly. I would love this book! It would be so helpful.

GranChris said...

I could stand to learn everything! My skills are so limited. Yes it makes me nervous.

Anonymous said...

I'd try circles, as they are the spiral of life; never ending.
I've not tried FMQ at all, tracing on paper 10 times first should get me ready. Your book is just fantastic, it leaves me less scared to try FMQ. Thank you for sharing.
bluestarof2(at)yahoo(dot)com

Kelly H. said...

I would be happy just to learn how to do some of the continuous 8's that Denyse Schmidt uses a lot. I've always been too afraid to try because I didn't know where to start.

PK Sews said...

Thanks so much for the free motion suggestions! I'm still struggling with getting consistently even stitches. And I would love to learn feathers.

quiltonia said...

I like the pattern "stacked squares" in your sketch book. I find I don't keep designs consistent in size as I FMQ.

Rachael Dorr said...

quiltonia - I find keeping patterns a consistent size hard too. I have found using a grid stencil and just making tiny dots with a water soluble pen helps me keep check on the sizes staying the same. The dots are easy to erase with a heavy spritz of water.

crafter1953 said...

Hi, I have tried FMQ but it doesn't come out the way the doodle looks like. I get so nervous that I just freeze up. I would love to win this book I think I could learn not to get so nervous.

john hutchens said...

I am new to free motion quilting and would love to master feathers.

Nancy L said...

Evenly spaced spirals are what I'd like to master.

katiedidit said...

I like trying different designs. I've found several websites that offer good tutorials. I've discovered that mistakes are rarely seen by someone other than yourself!

Mara said...

I would love to learn the swirls, to make it look like wind.

allison pogany said...

I'm scared to even start! I've never tried FMQ!
allisonpogany@gmail.com

Veronika said...

Funny enough I've only practiced to give my friend the confidence to do her first FMQ quilt...but so far my favorite would be loop de loops :)

Anonymous said...

I'm scared to try, but am planning to push myself this year to practice! I think that's why I'm so afraid- don't want to "ruin" a good project and so I need to get some scraps together and jump in! Love the tip on sketching the design several times first! Thanks- Sarah: crjandsbj(at)netzero(dot)com

Sandi said...

I had a longarm in lay a way a long time. It was used and didn't have any bells or whistles. I've been quilting a very long time. I want to stay home and take care of my sick husband and start a little cottage business to finish quilts for quilters. I'm still afraid to do any kind of straight line work. Any ideas? My loop de loops are decent but my meander leaves a lot to be desired. I bought myself a large dry erase board to practice and it seems to help.

Lori F. said...

I don't care what free motion pattern it is, I just want to be able to do it and with the new machine I got for Christmas I look forward to that happening this year! This book would be amazing!

Kim said...

At first fmq was kind of scary but with practice o was able to do it. I love swirls and clamshells because it's quick and a nice filler.

Kylie Menagh-Johnson said...

I'm learning. I'm getting pretty comfortable with stippling. I'd love to do decent feathers.

Jeneta said...

I'd like to learn how to feather, as well as square stippling.

Melany said...

I would love to just learn how to do it!

Debbie Rogowski said...

I'm new to this so all your tips are wonderful for me!! I like the doodle suggestion. Iwould love to learn feathers but I'm far from that. I think my hardest thing is to keep consistent. I would love to make bubbles.

Denise Mitchell said...

I want to learn feathers because they are so pretty! Just nervous I don't want to make a mess!

Joan Larimer said...

Just found your blog and I'm so excited! The only thing I have done is "stitch-in-the-ditch." Not too tough, but not too pretty either! I've been admiring stippling, so I was trying to find info on that, when I came upon your blog. So, for now I will aim for bubbles or swirls, and wait on the stippling! Thanks for the great tips. You are indeed a fine teacher!

lillinda said...

Thank you for your valuable insights on quilting!!! I would love to learn how to have consistent length of my stitches!!! Also I would love to learn how to quilt feathers...!!!

Emily said...

I'm just starting to venture into free motion quilting. I'm intimidated, but have taken a class at a local quilt shop, and i'm working on a very old unfinished quilt to practice. i'm looking into a new machine to give me more room to maneuver my quilts (a Juki). The pattern i would most like to learn is feathers, I think they look so fluid and graceful. my biggest issue so far has been figuring out the tension so i don't leave big eyelashes on the backside when i'm working on curves!

Thanks! Emily

Megan McBroom said...

I think that the scary part is imagining that I will mess up a project.

QuiltShopGal said...

I would love to win this book. Natalia is so very talented and I'm always looking for tips and new designs to continue to learn/improve my free-motion quilting skills.

QuiltShopGal
www.quiltshopgal.com

Dixie said...

I like the look of spirials and bubbles but mine come out looking very sickly. Still in need of more practise and ideas!
mumbird3(at)gmail(dot)com

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