Four Factors that Improve Your Free Motion Quilting

There are so many variables that affect your free motion quilting. I'm going to focus on four of them in this post. 
4 factors for better free motion quilting

There are seriously an infinite range of variables and they are all intertwined when it comes to getting your best quilting done. The graphic below shows only a few of them.
This is a skill that takes quite a bit of work until something just clicks and off you go. For some, that click comes quickly and for others, they may give up before that happens. I suspect it's a bit of a right brain, left brain thing.

But regardless, these four issues have a huge impact on all quilters learning FMQ. So let's get to them!

1) Muscle Memory and Mapping

Muscle memory isn't a new term if you've read my blog for long or taken a class with me. Other FMQ teachers refer to it as well. It's what you develop as you practice free motion quilting either on an actual quilt project, but more commonly with drawing the quilting designs. There's a connection between the hand and the brain. In the education world, it's called Kinetic Learning. Drawing, tracing, practicing all develop the ability to move your hands in the desired patterns.

This is closely related to Mapping, which is my term for figuring out "Where do I go next?" I'm going a little wild with the alliteration, but stick with me.  Drawing the designs inside a quilt-based shape, whether it's a whole sheet of paper or a triangle helps you to map out where to go next.

 For a beginner, it's great practice for how shapes are formed and where you will end a design if you start it in a certain direction, not to mention how to best get out of corners and tight spots. For more experienced quilters, it allows them to see is a design will fit a particular area, as in the photo above, and prepares the route, so to speak, for the quilting.

So make sure to make time in your quilting practice for muscle memory and mapping by drawing and doodling.

3) Surface

A good surface to quilt on is a huge factor in free motion quilting. Speaking of huge, bigger is usually better. I swear by my Supreme Slider ! when quilting my sister's wedding monogram, something was a little off. About half way through, I realized I hadn't put my slider on my machine after returning from the AQS show. It smooths out all the tiny gaps between my machine and table. it covers up and grooves or ridges in the machine bed that are so handy for hemming and such, but can cause just as tiny bits of drag on the quilt top. Quilting should not be a drag!

The quilt should not be hanging over the edge of the table. That downward force of gravity really adds to the force that must be exerted to move the quilt. It's physics! Yes, laying it flat helps when planning your quilting design, but bunch it up for quilting. Do not roll it into a heavy log either. Puddle that quilt! See this older post on quilting a larger quilt, including a video on puddling (The best part of the video is the latter half). Note how the folds act as hinges of a sort so that you're not moving the whole quilt. In fact, having the table in a corner is fabulous to keep the quilt on the table and help create the folds of puddling.

3) Know Your Machine

I write more on this at my post, 3 Ways to Know Your Machine Intimately, but let's cover a few basics. Have you read your manual? Are you using the right bobbin for your machine? Seriously folks, I don't mean to be insulting, but I work at a sewing machine repair shop and you'd be surprised how many machines are brought in with the wrong bobbin, needle in wrong, or threaded wrong. But I suspect you are wonderfully smart sewers (sewists? Which term do you prefer?) and have the basics down. But there are subtleties that can affect your quilting. My machine works better with genuine Janome bobbins even though my dealer swears that the generic ones are fine. My machine doesn't like free motion quilting when I'm pulling the quilt directly towards myself.

What free motion foot works best on your machine for your quilts and your style of quilting? Does your machine sound a little different when the bobbin is almost empty? Mine does. Can you tell the difference between the sound it makes when all is going well, versus when something is messing up underneath? What tension does it need for your favorite combinations of thread, fabric, and batting?

Closely related to knowing your machine is knowing yourself. Are you a slow quilter or fast? Speed is relative when it comes to free motion quilting.

What threads do you (and your machine) like best? What style makes your heart sing? Some quilters do best with sharp, angular designs, others do better with curvy, swirly designs. Once you figure out who you are as a quilter, don't compare yourself to others. Do what you like to do, what works for you! Don't be afraid to stretch your skills from time to time, but don't let comparison steal your joy.

4) PPP

Finally, I leave you with the fourth factor that no one really wants to hear, practice, practice, practice. also known as PPP. Sometimes substituting perseverance or persistence into the combination. It takes time to develop these skills. Don't give up!

Take a look at the posts under the tab Tips for Free Motion Quilting for more tips. I am happy to answer questions too. I have been getting a lot more comments, emails, and messages regarding quilting and I'm doing my best to answer all questions. I might not be responding to every comment, but I do read all of them. You are all so encouraging of my efforts to share my free motion quilting adventures and I thank you so much.

Free Motion Quilted Wedding Monogram

Here's a project I quilted up for my sister. She's getting married this weekend. I can't believe it! We're 22 years apart and she seems like just a little kid to me. I will be making her something bigger and more elaborate, but she had a very short engagement and there just wasn't time.

free motion quilting with rulers on a sewing machine

 I've been needing to do a review of the Westalee Ruler Feet but again, not much time. I put one on my Janome 8200 for this project and it worked great once I set the height just the way I needed it for this project. I will go into more detail on this foot in a later post. I used my straight Fine Line ruler from Accents in Design for the frame around the monogram.

foot for free motion quilting with rulers from Westalee

They're young, modern, beautiful people, so I thought a modern monogram would be just the thing for them. I hope I've got the initials in the right place. Groom's first initial first, the last name, then my sister's first initial.

free motion quilting monogram with McTavishing

My sister has my step-father's last name and it's a mouthful, so she's happy to be marrying a fellow with a simple last name. Having traded Dreisbach for Johnson, I know how she feels! This McTavishing was a blast to do. I threw in a few swirls and feathers too.

I am happy to get this project done just in the nick of time during this busy month. March has been insane, folks!

Show Shopping

I've been home a full week now since my return from the American Quilter's Society (AQS) Show in Lancaster, PA. My house is pretty much back to normal and life resumes its daily routine of never enough time and too much mess life with little kids. My sewing room is not entirely back to normal.

By "normal" in both instances above, do not read that as neat and tidy. I have learned to temper my creativity with some organization and good habits, but the rest of my family? No. Especially the only other female in the house who has mastered the creative chaos process. Her creative vision seems to require cutting up tons of paper, fabric, string, yarn etc.

But today I thought I'd share my shopping haul from the show. Compared to many shopping trips, this is pretty small. This may be due to having completed my business taxes prior to heading out to the show.

The first thing to buy was batting from Hobb's. Three queen-sized batts were purchased, one 80/20 cotton/poly blend and my new favorite batting- their new cotton and wool blend, Nice stuff! No picture as batting is fairly unexciting to photograph.

The next thing on my shopping list was thread. Now there was a ton of thread for sale at the show, but when faced with a huge selection, my brain just can't make up its mind. Since I couldn't buy it all, I bought what was new to me that I already knew I wanted to try.

thread from YLI

The Top Anchor Quilting Tools booth was right next to the YLI booth. The folks there were such good neighbors. Jim saw me eyeing the spools of braid. I explained that I was wondering if it was big enough to use for free motion couching or small enough for bobbin work. The sweet man gave me the two spools shown above! I also bought a ginormous cone of their #40 poly thread that is similar to Glide and two small spools of grey Silk Sparkle, which is silk thread combined with a silver metallic.

Then I had to try some thread from WonderFil. There was a huge selection and again, I just couldn't decide. (Plus I had to hurry back to the booth- no slow shopping stroll here.) I snagged a pack of rayon cord, perfect for bobbin work. (I had bobbin work on the brain since I used it for the Top Anchor banner.) I also picked up a cone of  InvisaFil, a #100 poly thread. So thin and fine! I had heard a few longarmers talk of using it, so I thought I'd check it out.

Then I bought two half yard pieces of unique hand dyed fabrics. Both will end up as table runners and/or teaching samples. The bottom one tells me it wants some straight line ruler work done Zentangle style.

The last stop was the sew Batik booth. I love their gradations line of solid batiks. It was easy to pick up these two and hard to say no to the others. I wanted to pick up some of their rayon batik for a tunic for myself, but since I haven't done anything with the last piece I bought from them, I refrained.

That's it! Positively restrained in my shopping, wasn't I? How about you? Do you go crazy when you get to a big show like this? Do you have a list and stick to it? Are you like me and get overwhelmed with choices? Share in the comments.

Showing off my purchases reminds me of the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival three years ago when I bought the Janome Frame Quilting Foot Set. I had no idea if I could use it on my stationary machine with my convertible FMQ foot set, but I was going to try it. I'm so glad I did!

I also want to welcome new readers who found the blog after seeing me at the show. Hi!

A final parting note to let you know that Craftsy is having a sale on fabric and kits right now. Use the link to them on the right sidebar to take a look.

Review: SewEzi Portable Table

For my trip to demo templates at the AQS show in Lancaster for Top Anchor Quilting Tools, I wanted a table that was at a comfortable height, sturdy enough to not bounce while free motion quilting, gave me a decent space to hold my samples, and was easy to carry into the convention center.

I decided to give the SewEzi Portable Table a try. I had seen another quilter using one at a meeting of the Virginia Consortium of Quilters. (Cool guild name, huh?) She said she loved it.

I didn't have much time to order the table and get it shipped to my house, but it came in plenty of time. I think it took less than a week to arrive along with the insert for my Janome 8200. There was a little assembly required to get the recessed platform for the machine put together, but it was easy enough to do.


There are handy handles at the top and along one side to make carrying easy. The case is constructed so that the handles aren't covered up.

At the bottom are these nifty wheels. They look like skateboard wheels and allow you to pull or push the table along from the top handle.

Above is a storage compartment in the case to take advantage of the space above the machine platform. Below, on the other side is a flat pocket for carrying the insert.

Everything folds up neatly. I found the locking mechanism for the legs very stiff and hard to lock and unlock, but a little WD40 may help with that. It's also an indication that they won't be too loose anytime soon.

My machine fit the table and insert nearly perfectly! I did adjust the platform a little lower than the directions specified for my machine. That was easily done using the various thickness of hard plastic washers included for the purpose.

SewEzi portable table and Janome 8200

The table's surface is nice and slick, though I did use my queen-sized Supreme Slider while quilting just to help where the insert and machine joined and to cover the two support screws to the left of the machine opening. The table is pretty small for using to quilt more than a table runner or topper. It's perfect for samples or piecing. Using regular tables against it to expand the surface should be useful for supporting a larger quilt. I also found it the perfect height for sitting in a regular chair at the quilt show. I had my own sewing chair in the car since I hate being too low or too high at the table while machine quilting, but I didn't need to use it.

There are all sorts of accessories for the table, including a tray for tools and such. I haven't bought any of those. There's a cross support on the left pair of legs that would be a great spot to make a hanging pocket for supplies.

A recessed area for a cup is at the right corner of the table. Perfect for my souvenir glass from the historic Revere Tavern. My Mom's cousin and his wife took me out to eat there while I was at Lancaster. It was begun by a relative of Paul Revere back in 1730. The food was excellent!

The SewEzi table was everything I hoped for. While not entirely wiggle-free, it was perfectly steady for sewing on. Before the show, I gave it a test run at high speeds and while it did shimmy a bit, it was at speeds above what I use for free motion quilting. If you were stitching long lines at high speeds, or are a speedy piecer, it might be a little bouncy. But I think that there's a good balance between sturdiness and portability.

There's a more heavy-duty table available, but it doesn't have the handy wheels. It's also quite outside my price range. The portable SewEzi table cost me $245 plus shipping which was an additional $35. I think it's money well spent. Now I will have a great table for teaching at different locations.

If you travel a bit with your machine, I can say I highly recommend the Sew Ezi portable table. These opinions are my own and I did not receive any compensation or discount from the Sew Ezi company for this review.

AQS Lancaster #2

I'm still dusting and trying to get my sewing space back together after packing so much of it up for the AQS show in Lancaster last week. Something always gets left behind on these trips and this time I left my computer mouse. Thankfully, it was at my dad's and it will be mailed back soon. Makes for a less than enjoyable use of the computer for now though.

Today I bring you two more quilts from the show. Both by fabulous quilters. One is a blogger too and the other I got to meet briefly at the show. Both quilts employ fine quilting on the top before the quilt was sandwiched with batting, which makes it free motion embroidery.

First, there's Stars On Mars by Gail Stepanek and Jan Hutchison. You can check out Jan's fabulous quilting on her blog: The Secret Life of Mrs. Meatloaf. This quilt is amazing, so it's no surprise that it was named best of show.

The white stitching on those spiky swirls are free motion embroidery and it is possibly also trapuntoed.

Those stars are pretty stinking complex and look at all those appliqued circles!

So stinking impressive! I am just amazed at all the work on this piece. You can read more about it at Jan's blog which is linked above.

Let's Do the Dresden Twist is by Teri L. Cherne and I got to meet her briefly at the show when she stopped in at the booth. I hadn't seen her quilt at that point so I missed my chance to grill ask her more about it.

I could have stared for hours at it with all of the creative fills and designs.

In the shot below, you might see that those larger circles and diamonds in the border have a slight purple cast to them. That's because she quilted, or rather, free motion embroidered them with a fine purple thread!

There's so much variety here! But not too busy.

These quilts blow me away. They are the work of very talented ladies on long arm machines, and I suppose that I should be showing quilts done on domestic machines, or at least sit down machines, but these really grabbed me. You know that I believe we can do just as fine work with our smaller, stationary machines. I didn't have much time to see the show quilts, but there were some really fabulous quilting going on. 

Bernina Ruler Foot

I got back from the AQS Quilt Show in Lancaster last night and while I'm still getting life back to normal, I had to hurry and share this with you:

new ruler foot for Bernina sewing machines
Sorry for the poor picture.
 It's the new ruler foot from Bernina! Yes, it's on its way and made a little debut at the show in the Bernina booth. It was as we had suspected, made for the Bernina longarm, but will fit onto the Bernina sewing machines.

Ruler foot for Berninas

The Bernina representative told me it will be available in April. I got this sneak peek at it at the show as they had the long arm there. It's a nicely done foot, smooth and round with the desired 1/4 inch from the needle to the outside edge. It also has a small cutout for better visibility in front of the needle.

The interest in using rulers and templates with free motion quilting on a domestic sewing machine was incredible! Of course the need for a foot was a bit of a disappointment when I had all of those nifty templates at the ready from Top Anchor Quilting Tools. Especially for those who have non-Janome machines. I made sure to tell folks to check out the Westalee foot or to see if their machine is compatible with the Janome ruler foot and to pester their dealers for a ruler foot. I will have reviews of the final version of the Westalee foot sometime this week.

A Brother dealer made sure to come down and ask about buying the templates for her shop. She said all of her employees at the show kept coming down to our booth to look at the templates. She also said the Janome Ruler Foot combination (Janome Convertible Free Motion Quilt Foot Set (In the appropriate high or low shank) plus the Frame Quilting Feet Set ) worked on their Brother machines.

I was so happy to meet several blog readers at the show! Thanks for coming by and saying "hi". So nice to put some faces to your names. Especially one who gave me a hug and some well-timed words of praise when I was visiting the Janome booth! (That was awesome!)

Now I must go put my house back in order. Seems like while the cat was away, the mice played, while papa bear did some sanding in the house and there's a lovely layer of dust.....

AQS Lancaster Quilts

Sorry for the delay in posting these last few days. I've been working hard on the banner for Top Anchor Quilting Tools and then I left to come to Lancaster PA for the AQS show.

I haven't gotten to see much of the actual show, since I've been super busy demonstrating how to use long arm rulers on my domestic sewing machine. So many quilters are blown away with the idea of ruler work.

Several weeks before, I contacted a few people at Janome to let them know I'd be at the show demo'ing on my new machine, Janome 8200 and that the technique I used required the Janome Convertible Free Motion Foot Set and the ruler foot from the Frame Quilting Foot Set and would they please make sure that any Janome booths had those feet in stock. I was told they would. By this afternoon, I was told by quilters that the Janome and Elna booths were both out of those feet. Quilters are loving being able to do ruler work on their domestic sewing machine or sit-down long arm.

I snuck away this afternoon and made it down one aisle of show quilts before returning to the booth. Happily, it was the row that a quilt each from Margaret Solomon-Gunn and Bethanne Nemish were hung. The other quilts were wonderful of course, but these gals do amazing longarm work and have inspired my quilting over the years though I've never met them.

Words nor pictures do these quilts justice! Amazing quilting and fine detail work. I want to be like them when I grow up, but without the long arm. Though I'm not sure I have it in me to do such meticulous detail. Below, you can see the beaded piping that Bethanne pieced into her quilt. Those are beads stitched inside a bias strip.

I am exhausted from doing so much chatting with so many wonderful, friendly, and enthusiastic quilters! I hope to post more quilts from the show over the next few days.