Quilters Face Your Fears

I have always been quite upfront with the fact that my quilting is much better than my piecing. Free motion quilting in particular makes my heart sing. My piecing? Meh. A means to have something to quilt. I know this is somewhat unusual for a quilter.

This picture is for all you fabulous quilters who look at free motion quilting or free motion quilting with rulers and think, "I hope I don't mess this up." Because that's pretty much my feeling as I piece today.

But we don't get better if we just stick to what we've always done. One thing I do know is that facing our fears and push past our comfort zone is where we really grow. Maybe it's quilting, maybe it's something else.

Face them. Push on past. Keep on stitching!

A Sampler for Free Motion Ruler Work

We interrupt this blog for something completely different! I'm cutting up small squares and triangles. I know, that's not too different for a quilting blog, but it's pretty different for me.

I'm all about the quilting, so my projects tend to be wholecloth, semi-wholecloth, applique, and not much to the piecing. There's also a lot of quilting up samples on fabric for the blog too. When I do a customer quilt (which I'm backing away from- just too busy), they're usually pieced and appliqued. So I get plenty of time to work on pieced quilts, but I don't get to keep them.

I need a couple of quilts to show my ruler work and so that means it's time to make some quilts. I'm using Natalia Bonner's free block tutorials at www.pieceandquilt.com to make up a sampler quilt. She's a fabulous quilter and has just come out with a new book: Cabin Fever: 20 Modern Log Cabin Quilts but she's also got other books on free motion quilting.

There's another reason for me to piece up some quilts....I'd say my accuracy needs work. As much as I preach practicing for free motion quilting, you know I need some piecing practice. Besides that, I know that most of you are piecing up your own quilts and I want to make sure I am doing and showing quilting designs that look great in pieced quilts. I love doing my fun, dense fillers, but that's not useful for something warm and cuddly.

Clearly, my husband isn't used to this piecing activity; he just passed by with a perplexed look at my blue fabric and said, "What happened to the white fabric you were just using?"

So I'm starching and pressing, measuring and cutting. Hopefully soon I'll be sewing a lovely 1/4 inch seam. (I hope!) I'm sure there will be some ripping involves and perhaps a tiny bit of swearing. But keeping my word of the year in mind, I will finish!

Free Motion Quilting With Rulers: Video

I've got a great tips video for you on Ruler Work. Specifically, some tips for setting up a ruler foot and choosing the appropriate thickness of rulers for your machine. When I first started teaching ruler work more than 3 years ago, there was really only one thickness of ruler; the 1/4 inch thick long arm rulers. This is starting to change, but it makes choosing rulers a little more confusing.

Key take-aways besides thicknesses of rulers? How to adjust the height of the ruler foot, and why you don't want to drop your needle down when the ruler foot is in the up position.

I hope you find this useful! Feel free to share this video and if you aren't subscribing to my YouTube channel, I'd love it if you sign up. I am less than 100 away from having 5,000 subscribers! That blows my mind. I am so encouraged by all you all.

Tips for Beginners: 4 Things to Fix for Better Free Motion Quilting

Here are 4 things that keep you from better free motion quilting and some tips for fixing them.

Amy's Free Motion Quilting Adventures 4 Fixes

Not drawing designs: Seriously, don't say you're not a good drawer or that you just want to get to stitching. Drawing really helps! I hadn't stitched out any free motion quilting designs when I was first learning to machine quilt, despite reading that all the teachers recommended it. Then hubby got cancer and I started doodling the designs in a notebook I carried to all of his appointments and the improvement in my stitching ability was amazing. So doodle, trace, draw, whatever on whatever. Use paper, a dry erase board, even a drawing app, but draw those designs. Not only does it help with the shapes and designs, but how to move around from one place to another.

One of my earliest free motion quilting projects.
Not practicing: They say it takes 10,000 hours for mastery of any skill. Do you have enough quilt tops to provide you with 10,000 hours of quilting? Don't look at your WIP or UFO pile when you answer that question! Do you want to learn on your beautiful tops? Probably not. Make practice pieces! Make place mats, dog beds, pot holders, create a cool sampler collection of your favorite designs, whatever. Or make nothing from them, just change colors often and stitch over and over on a practice piece until you can't stand to quilt on it again. Once you're confident enough to tackle real quilts, check out my post on 8 Free Motion Tips for Confident Beginners.

Look how much my girl has grown in that short time! 
You are too tense: Relax! Are your shoulders trying to whisper in your ears? Head retreating between the shoulders like a turtle? Give your arms a shake, drop those shoulders and loosen up. Take a look at your set-up and see if it's ergonomic enough for you. Is your chair at a good height? If you are using an extension table on top of the table holding your machine, you will probably need a taller chair so your arms aren't sticking out like chicken wings. Eliminate drag where the quilt rests too and make sure you aren't pressing down too hard with your hands or trying to stretch the quilt out too much with your fingers. If you need a little music or an adult beverage to loosen up, go for it. But quilt responsibly.
My quilting skills grew too.

Take a look at your hand position: Are they on either side of the needle, not too far away and not too close? Or do your hands tend to get out in front or behind the needle because you don't like to stop and reposition your hands? Are your fingers spread wide like you're trying to stretch the top? we don't want puckers, so keep the area between your hands flat, but don't stretch it. If you are quilting tiny, dense designs try using dropping your elbows on the table and try using your finger tips only in a bent position to move the quilt. Don't try to move your hands while the machine is running! Stop to reposition your hands and do it frequently.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. Sorry I don't have any recent quilting to show you, but I'm working on a secret project and it's kicking my rear. Yes, the blogger's dreaded secret project that usually means fewer blog posts for you, followed by a big announcement and shameless self-promotion. LOL! I promise not to let my sharing here slide. You guys are awesome and encouraging and I hate not having things to show you. (Yes, I'm a tease.)

Living the Quilting Life Vicariously

People have been doing a lot of quilt show related travel lately and I get to watch it all through the wonders of the internet.....sigh.....

Last week was Quilt Market, the trade show for the quilt industry. The movers and shakers, the teachers and designers, the sellers and the buyers were all over Minneapolis and my news feed and Instagram.

Christa shared all the fun she was having on IG, lucky (hard working) girl!

Before that was Quilt Week in Paducah. My AQ magazine arrived so now I can drool over all of the prize winning quilts.

Next year, I solemnly swear, I will go to Paducah. I really ought to swear I shall enter a quilt into the show, but maybe I don't quite want to commit to that publicly.

I learned Friday that I can't enter our local quilt show as I'm not a member of the right Quilt Guild. I had thought they had a joint show with the guild I joined, but apparently not.

I am really thankful that I was able to attend the Lancaster Quilt Show (AQS Quilt Week) and it was the biggest show I've attended so far. But I sure have a hankering to get out and see some of these other shows. I'd love to go to the big machine quilting shows too.

I think I just might be suffering from a case of cabin fever. I had a sick kid this week and I wasn't feeling to hot either. I haven't left the house since Saturday!

Do you long to travel to these shows? Or do you make a point to go to them? Quilt market is really just for those 'in the biz' and I'm not really there yet. I could go as a representative of the shop I work at or as a quilt blogger, but I don't really have a true need to go.

I guess I should actually finish a show quality quilt if I want to make a priority of going to these shows, right? Finish, Amy!

Free Motion Quilting Video: Graffiti Quilting

I managed to get my video of my Graffiti quilting styled wall word all edited up and loaded for YouTube. The raw footage of the entire project was insanely long. I edited it down and sped it up for you. It shows a bunch of different designs, all mixed fairly randomly to make the  final piece.

The beginning and end of the video is shot at twice normal speed and the middle is at 4 times the normal speed. It's not too dizzying, and you can see how I stitch the designs out. Since I sped it up, I took most of the narration out.

I hope you enjoy! If you do, give it a 'like' will you? I get some occasional 'dislikes' on my videos and I know that's just the nature of Youtube and the internet trolls and while the ratio of likes vastly outnumbers the dislikes, it's hard to ignore them. If you dislike the video, hit me up with a comment or email and let me know if there's something I should change! I do know that these speed-quilting videos aren't everybody's cup of tea, but I know many like them too.

Free Motion Quilting Fun: Graffiti Quilting

I finished up this little encouraging free motion quilting practice piece yesterday. It feels so good to have another project finished!

Free motion quilting design graffiti style

I tried to incorporate some elements of Karlee Porter's Graffiti Quilting as I quilted. It was fun and I like the extra impact of using another color.

Graffiti free motion quilting design

This was quilted on my Janome 3160, my smaller machine. It has a low shank and I'm going to be giving it a try with more ruler work as low shank machines have clearance issues behind the foot with thicker rulers. I want to see how much this impacts my ability to use my bigger rulers on this machine. Behind the foot isn't a commonly used spot for me unless I'm using an enclosed or inside shape.

quilt stretched over canvas

I love doing these little pieces and finishing them by stretching them over an artist's canvas. A line of serging around the edge and a bunch of staples and I'm done.

I shot a video of the quilting on this piece and I'm speeding it up for another speed quilting vid before releasing it on Youtube. That will post soon.

Create Some Graffiti Quilting

Well, I cleaned up my creative mess (See the post here) and resumed getting to know my Janome 3160 again. I used the same project and had some fun just stitching. I decided to incorporate a little of Karlee Porter's graffiti quilting style.

graffiti quilting- a fun free form free motion quilting design

What I did wasn't a whole lot different than what I normally do on one of my quilted word art pieces, since I do a free form mix of my favorite free motion quilting designs. But I used 2 colors, and challenged myself to include some of Karlee's more angular designs. She also orients her designs in a particular direction as she travels out from the center of a piece, and I didn't manage to do that. If you're unfamiliar with her book, Graffiti Quilting: A Simple Guide to Complex Designs , you can see a lot of it on Pinterest these days and she's got an article in the latest edition of Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine. Her quilting is COOL!

adjusting the tension for free motion quilting
The front.

The first thing I had to do was address the tension issue that had me ripping out poorly formed stitches last week.  Using the same fabric, thread, and batting as the project, I started on the low side of the tension dial and stitched. I increased the tension a few times until it looked just right on the back. Since I was using purple on the front and white on the back, and the back wouldn't show, I didn't spend a ton of time trying to get all the purple dots to go away on the back.

tension adjustments for free motion quilting- back
The back.

There's still something not quite right with this machine and I'll have to check it out further. I also think it's due for a good cleaning and lubrication. The back of the piece had some occasional issues and I could hear my machine make some noises that didn't sound right.

Not a pretty back.

But over all, the piece came out ok. I still have to finish up the turquoise stitching and then I'll stretch it over an artist's canvas and it'll be ready to go on the wall, possibly into my Etsy shop.

While this style of stitching isn't what we'd probably use on a pieced bed quilt, being so tiny and dense, it was a lot of fun and good practice. At a larger scale, it would really add interest to a lot of negative space. Plus it will give me a nice encouraging decoration for my wall.

I'll be switching from the open toe FMQ foot to the ruler foot on this machine, both the Janome one and the one from Westalee and doing some ruler work on this machine this week.

Saturday Porch Musings on Machines

Here I sit on my porch, grabbing a few minutes to write between customers of our small neighborhood yard sale. I wouldn't have had enough stuff to bother with if it weren't for our neighbor's set up next door. In our snug cottage, clutter doesn't stick around too long, if it's not sewing related anyway.

I'm stewing over a rabbit trail I ran down last night while cruising Pinterest.

There I was, checking out the quilty goodness, when I see what looks like my old Janome 6600 but painted with tacky gold highlights and labelled a Singer! What?! Upon further inspection, I find it is a clone of the Janome 6500, called the S18. Then I found another clone, this time it's a Singer labelled version of the straight-stitch only Janome 1600, called the S16.

From all indications, these are machines made by Janome for Singer and they're priced much lower than their Janome counterparts, which are wonderful machines. Both have 9 inches of space to the right of the needle and are great for free motion quilting. Assuming similar quality to the Janome's they are based on.

Why am I stewing? Remember I work at a Janome dealership. I know my dealer didn't know about these machines and I bet any Janome dealer would be pretty dismayed. Why not drop the dealer price on the Janome models if they want to sell to a lower price point? My dealer can't come anywhere near the current sale price on the S16, though he's pretty close on the S18. Ah, the collective bargaining power of the big box stores....

What's the value of an independent dealer? Someone who can walk you through the features and needs of your new machine? Walmart isn't quite known for its customer service. These are heavy machines--- who pays to ship them to the factory for service? Can you find a local dealer to work on these machines? My dealer will work on any machine as long as he can get needed parts, but I hear that a dealer like that's not all that common anymore. Will someone at Walmart or Amazon tell you whether you can use a ruler foot on either machine? (You can. But don't go looking for a Singer version---you'll still have to buy Janome accessories for these clones.)

It's always been pretty easy for me to turn away from the machines sold at the big box stores before. I know they're not well made. Newbies get overwhelmed without some guidance, I see them in the shop each time I work, Experienced sewers can sometimes coax the best out of these bargain machines for a time. But what if they're made like my beloved Janomes?

I want quilters to be able to enjoy a quality machine with more space for free motion quilting larger projects without having to spend too much, so therein lies my dilemma.

What are your thoughts, dear readers?

I'm linking to the machines on Amazon below. Maybe they'll suit your needs, or maybe you'll just want to check them out better. These are affiliate links so I get a tiny commission if you buy just about anything on Amazon after clicking through. Doesn't cost you anything and gives me a little pocket change.

Also Craftsy is having a wonderful sale site wide for Mother's Day!


Creating a Mess

Sometimes creativity is a humbling experience. You'll remember I promised to do more ruler work on my low shank machine to give a better review of the Westalee ruler foot for low shank machines? I decided to knock out one of my word art pieces as a way to get used again to the much smaller machine. My poor Janome 8200 is sitting on the shelf wondering why I've put him aside so quickly for the 3160.

Well, first thing was the realization of how much I use my knee lift on the other machine. It's wonderful. My knee kept pushing to the side for a lever that wasn't there. Then I had to use my hand instead! Oh the horror! (LOL)

Next was the true horror of no longer having the sweet spot sound in my head for quilting with this machine. Took awhile to get things moving just right and when doing one of these word art pieces, the quilting is teeny tiny.

Remember how I've said that as a beginner, sudden changes in hand speed and evenness can throw off your tension in curves? That can still happen when you are 'new' to a machine.

Then the sound changed again, prompting a check of the back. Tension issues. Adjust and keep quilting, knowing that this piece will be mounted over a canvas. But after a bit, the stitches on the top started to look wonky. I stopped. Checked the back.

To rip or not to rip? That is the question. Then I realized I didn't leave myself enough room to staple the edge on one side of the artist's canvas. Rip it, rip it good.

Look! I created a mess!

Sometimes to get such dense stitching out, you've got to resort to skinning the quilt. I had to open out the sandwich and rip the tightest stitches out from between the batting and the back. Ugh.

Stay tuned to find out what became of this piece. And to also see more of my work with the ruler foot on this low shank machine. It seems I have been quite spoiled by my high shank machines.

Ruler Work on Domestic Sewing Machines: A New Trend?

Happy Cinco de Mayo dear readers! I celebrated with an impromptu visit to the doctor. Turns out what I was hoping was allergies was a pretty bad respiratory infection. I've now got a bunch of meds and should be better soon.

free motion quilting with rulers
Playing with a simple straight ruler.

Have you seen ruler work on sewing machines (and sitdown long arms) is getting a bunch of buzz stirred up on the internet? It's such a great technique and I know folks are going to love it. But it's not all that new to me and most of my readers.

Reader Karen, from Karen's Quilts, Crows, and Cardinals, and Moda Bakeshop designer recently blogged about using rulers on her latest creation for Moda. Check out her post, linked above.

She's using her new templates from The Quilted Pineapple, and I can't wait until I can use mine on a project.

Leah Day even wrote on the Craftsy quilting blog about looking at rulers  at MQX and wanting to now try them too.

I'm not very good at tooting my own horn or being self-promotional, but it's safe to say that I've got the most comprehensive info on this great technique right now, so please do me and the quilters who are new to the technique a favor, and give them a heads up to the information I've posted on the blog about it. Give them a link to here if it is appropriate.

In the meantime, I'm going to work on updating my page on Ruler Work on a Stationary Machine to help those who are new. It's a bit jumbled with bits of older posts that aren't completely relevant in light of the new feet available. I want folks to easily find foot info so they do ruler work safely. To find info on buying rulers and templates that work best for we who move the quilt for our free motion work. And most of all, that it's not as hard as it looks and can help a confident beginner with their quilting. And to know that this isn't just a technique for those with big machines.

Also I have chosen a winner of the Bad*ss Quilter's Society pin. Andrea R will wear it proudly!

Ruler Work on a Domestic Sewing Machine: Rulers

Rulers are pricey.

Once you've tried free motion quilting with rulers, you can quickly develop a desire to buy more and more rulers and templates. This can add up to a good chunk of money. As the technique gains more interest from quilters, it seems the offerings of rulers on the market is growing as well. This is great as I think it's always great to have more "tools" in our toolbox to allow us to achieve our creative visions. But I am not a huge advocate of overbuying gadgets if they won't actually get used.

Buying rulers for ruler work on a sewing machine

The first ruler I bought was 4 years ago at the same show where I found the Janome Frame Quilting Foot Set after picking up Karen McTavish's Custom Curves book and thought, "Surely it's worth a try to see if the foot will work on my Janome Convertible FMQ set?" I didn't even get a simple ruler to start with, but Rhonda Beyer's Double S ruler as Karen used them in her book! I was not about to mark every stinking line and then quilt with a walking foot if I could use rulers like the big girls.

These are the very first rulers I bought. (Never did like the pink one, the 4-in-1 needed more markings, and that straight one reminds me of something...)

First, let's talk about why these rulers and templates have the price they have. Cutting rulers and templates is a pretty complicated process to get a quality product. I have definitely seen enough variability in rulers to know not all manufacturers are equal. Most ruler sellers do not cut their own rulers but send their designs to a manufacturer to be not only cut, but marked.

The least expensive rulers have little to no markings. The more markings they have, the more useful the ruler will be. Markings are usually achieved either with etching or cutting into the acrylic or they are printed/screen painted. For simple rulers like straight edges and and curves used for parallel lines, markings for 1/4 and 1/2 inch away from the edge is a must in my opinion. Centering and other reference lines are also very useful. At this point, I don't have a huge preference for printed over etched markings, as long as the etched lines are well done.

Here you can see the different thicknesses of a l/4 inch thick LA ruler (bottom), the high-shank domestic ruler from Westalee (middle), and the thinnest Westalee ruler for Low Shank domestic sewing machines.

The material and thickness of material is a factor in the price as well. The industry standard is acrylic, though I've seen plastic used as well. Acrylic gives a clearer view through the ruler. There are some rulers that are thinner as well, and in my book, that ought to mean they are cheaper to produce. I've always recommended the 1/4 inch thick ones, but Westalee has come out with thinner rulers. With a non-hopping foot, it's probably fine to use their thinner ruler, but I have reservations regarding the thinnest ruler available as I want to make sure to keep the risk of running a ruler over or under the foot at a minimum. I am looking forward to doing some ruler work under my smaller machine, a Janome 3160, to see if there is added benefit to using the thinner ruler on a low shank machine for better clearance around the foot. (My regular machine is a high shank.) I haven't had any issue with any 1/4 inch ruler on my high shank machines, other than the prongs on the 6600's accufeed system would tap on them. I have used the 1/4 inch LA rulers on my low shank machine, but not much.

I just moved my Janome 8200 to the side and set up my low-shank Janome 3160 so I can do a more thorough test of the low shank ruler feet (Janome's and Westalee's) and the different thicknesses of rulers.

The type of cut and the complexity of the cut is a big factor to the cost. I'm no expert, but it looks as if some of my rulers were 'cut' with some sort of a router-type blade or band saw. These edges are not nice and smooth and the corners seem a bit brittle and sharp. They are mostly usable, but smoother is better. Other rulers/templates I have are  precisely laser cut and are so perfectly smooth.

The complexity is probably the biggest factor. Not only does a complex cut take more skill and computer programming, but it can waste a larger amount of the ruler material in the process. If the ruler design nests or tessellates well, there is little waste. If there are interior cuts for various shapes, having an opening of some sort is important for moving the ruler away without having to cut your threads.

Then there are extra features like special fabric grips on the bottom of the ruler, or handles of various sorts on the top of the ruler. I haven't tried the ones with the sticky stuff on the bottom yet. I don't think I like the idea of having to peel the template off every time I move it. My favorite grip to date is just good placement of my Machinger glove-covered hands both on and off the ruler and I definitely do love my silicone grippers underneath the ruler. I really like the pegs on the Fine Line Rulers, but they are too tall for my machine in some positions. The lower grip like handles on the Westalee rulers show promise, but I haven't used them enough for a final verdict. Any handles on rulers make them a bear to store unless they've got a hanging hole. A hanging hole on each ruler would be wonderful!

The wonderful Fine Line rulers from Accents In Design.

I want to be clear and tell you that I have not paid for all of the rulers that I use. I am on a tiny budget for my quilting related purchases and blogging expenses. My first rulers were my own purchases and I'm always on the look out for new and useful ones. But I have received several from 3 very different companies, in the hopes that I would write positively about them and in one case in exchange for some advertising on my blog's sidebar. I have never accepted a ruler or other product in a "here's our free product, now give us a great review" manner. I am not in the business of selling my integrity or pushing product I don't love. But I am a fan of fair reviews and promoting products that are really of use.

A few of the specialty templates from TopAnchor Quilting Tools.

Top Anchor Quilting Tools had in fact sent me their whole entire line of specialty templates. Their intent was to see if their tools which were created for use on a long arm system, would be usable for domestic machine and sit-down long arm quilters. I was nearly sick when I realized how much the rulers cost altogether and was worried that I would be pressured to promote them. But I have never been pressured to promote their products, and what I do is what I truly think my readers and followers will find useful.

TopAnchor update- 1/1/2018 TopAnchor has begun making some of their most popular templates in 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness so they can be used on low shank sewing machines. I am excited about this as their rotating anchor post is so superior to those rulers that use a thumbtack as their rotation point.

One thing I have learned through my free motion quilting adventures is that people have different ways of thinking about various aspects of quilting, whether it be style, skill level, personality, space, budget constraints, or even lack there-of. This will affect their choices of rulers and templates.

For me, I am so glad to have these specialty templates on hand to experiment with. I would not have bought more than one or two of them on my own as they are expensive (see complexity of the cut in the above paragraphs), but they are fabulous for quilters who want a little more guidance for their free motion quilting. Cool shapes without marking? Yay! But this post really isn't about their templates.

So if you are just getting started with rulers with your free motion quilting and you have a proper ruler foot, my recommendation is to buy a straight long arm ruler with at least two lines of markings at 1/4 inch intervals from the edge. An 8-12 inch length is handy. Then a curved ruler. If you find a ruler with a straight edge on one side and a curve on the other, you will have a good start. I do like basic ruler that comes with the Westalee ruler foot as a starter ruler though it's a bit on the short side and you can buy it separately from the foot at Amy's Quilting Adventures. (Again, I'm not sure I like the idea of using the thinnest version of this ruler that comes with the low shank version.) But you will quickly find one curve will not be enough!

My favorite set of rulers I have are by Linda Hrcka at the Quilted Pineapple. Her work features pretty prominently on my "Quilting with Rulers" board on Pinterest for inspiration.

From there, the sky is the limit, or perhaps your budget. A good range of curves and smaller circles are very handy. Specialty templates are great if you want a little more guidance for your free motion and/or you desire a more complex shape without marking.  But you can have a lot of fun with just a straight ruler.

I hope this helps clear up some questions about rulers!

Thanks for coming along on my Quilting Adventures,