How to Free Motion Quilt: The Set Up
How to Free Motion Quilt: The Basic Motion and Tension
Keep in mind that we could probably camp out for a while on the basic motion of FMQ'ing and tension issues. It takes a lot of practice! As you and your machine get used to moving together, some of your tension issues will go away as you get better at moving smoothly. Don't forget to have a good slick surface! When you are in the beginning stages, any extra pulling or jerking of the quilt in relation to the needle and speed will cause extra tension on the needle (called needle deflection), causing it to flex slightly which leads to tension issues and skipped stitches.
Practice, practice, practice! Doodle quilting designs on paper too! Which brings us to designs...
I divide quilting designs into 4 major types:
- Overall Designs- These are designs that do not pay attention to the piecing. Similar to a pantograph used by a longarmer, these are great designs for utility, bed and comfort quilts.
- Block and piecing designs- These are designs that are based on the piecing. Designs for blocks, squares, triangles, borders and sashing.
- Fills- These smaller designs are for filling in spaces between other types of quilting, adding texture and interest along the way, sometimes they are even used as larger design elements in the quilting.
- Motif Designs- These are the ones we love to see in fancier quilts; the scrolls, feathers, floral motifs and more that are major parts of the design of a quilt in of themselves.
The four types are not overly segregated and mix and mingle quite often. While overall designs are usually loners, typically, motif and fill designs work together and are pretty much mutually necessary. Block and piecing designs are good mixers in a quilt, and I think are the unsung heroes of FMQ.
|Some simple overall designs|
|Block and piecing designs|
Block and Piecing Designs- This includes the tedious but many times necessary "Stitch in the Ditch" which can also be done with a walking foot without using FMQ. Once you have a good grasp of FMQ, doing stitch in the ditch with the darning or free motion foot means no turning of the quilt as you stitch. Block and piecing designs can really enhance the piecing in a quilt. In the above pic, the top left drawing is "continuous curves" and the bottom left is "Terry's Twists" which is my go-to for lots of small squares. I have three great books that give a ton of ideas on not only block and piecing designs, but the other types of quilting as well:Quilting Possibilities...Freehand Filler Patterns , Adaptable Quilting Designs , Machine Freehand Patterns by Nan Moore, which doesn't seem to be available through Amazon any more, but I saw she has another book out that might be similar. The first two books are by Sue Patten who is a very creative longarmer and a hoot if you've seen any of her videos online.
Fills- Pebbles, smaller stipples, even closely spaced lines of stitching are in this category. Leah Day's site does a great job of categorizing and teaching many, many fills at the Free Motion Quilting Project. She's also produced three books of designs, one of which is From Daisy to Paisley: 50 Beginner Level Free Motion Quilting Designs. Keep in mind that because of the scope of the project and the stitched samples, these designs are shown quite small. At the small size these are great for filling in around larger motif designs or in conjunction with block and piecing designs. It is up to you to decide at what size you want to quilt these for your quilt! Make them bigger and many can even be overall designs.
Motif Designs- Many of these designs benefit from good planning and marking. There's the classic feather wreath and all of its variations, feathered swags and borders. Some motifs are suitable for block and piecing designs too. Traditional whole cloth quilts are fabulous examples of motif designs coupled with fills. Two wonderful books by Karen McTavish (I have most of her books; they're great) The Secrets of Elemental Quilting and Whitework Quilting: Creative Techniques for Designing Wholecloth and Adding Trapunto to Your Quilts give great examples of using motifs in quilts along with some great tips.
Some general tips for choosing designs:
The denser the quilting, the stiffer the quilt. And of course, dense quilting takes longer and uses more thread. Save really dense quilting for wall quilts, fancy quilts, and yes, show quilts. No one wants to snuggle down with a stiff quilt, so for comfy quilts, choose an overall design or fairly simple block and piecing designs.
One of the big differences between what we can quilt with our domestic sewing machines versus those of the longarm machines has to do with our range of motion. We can only quilt in the space between our hands before we have to reposition our hands and quilt. Those using longarm machines, have a range of motion for stitching that is pretty much the range of their upper body motion. This means the designs we choose either have smaller shapes, well-planned changes of direction, or we have to be really good with our stops and starts when repositioning our hands. Usually, it's a mix of all three factors.
Many quilts benefit from "Stitch in the Ditch", stitching along piecing lines to stabilize the seams, keep things square and subdivide the quilt to keep shifting of batting and backing to a minimum. For the most part this type of quilting is done first and many choose to use a walking foot with the feed dogs up. But, again, once you become proficient at FMQ, doing it in free motion can be a lot faster with little or no rotation of the quilt needed.
Applique quilts can also benefit from stitching around the applique shapes. Ann Fahl's book, Dancing With Thread: Your Guide to Free-Motion Quilting, describes this type of quilting and regular stitch in the ditch quilting as stabilizing the quilt and recommends using clear monofilament for this type of stitching in case the stitches wiggle from one side of the seam or applique to the other. I agree. I will be doing a post soon on using monofilament thread.
Large motif designs with inadequate fills around them lose their impact and when properly surrounded with fills can really pop, making a faux trapunto effect. Couple motifs and small fills with a lofty batting and you've got some great dimension and texture. Larger areas of "white space" are prime real estate for motifs.
Once again, I feel like we've just scratched the surface of choosing FMQ designs! There are so many great designs out there and used in so many way it can boggle the mind. But I think by dividing the types of quilting, it helps to choose the right kinds of designs.