Free Motion Quilting: Tips for Beginners

I mentioned earlier that we now have a sit-down style long arm from Janome, the Artistic SD-16 in the shop and I've been using it a bit. Our plan is to rent the machine out for folks to quilt their own quilts on while it also functions as a demo model if someone wants to buy one.

free motion quilting on an Artistic SD-16

Free Motion Quilting Tip: Posture is Important

So I'm getting familiar with it and seriously, I feel like a beginner again. So I'm talking to myself and reminding myself to sit up straight, shoulders down, don't dip your head to see better.

Hmmm.... that makes me check my forearms in relation to the table. Oops! I need to lower my chair so my forearms are parallel to the table surface and at a 90 degree angle to my upper arms. Lowering the chair height also sets my head to see better.

My first project is a quilt for my daughter's bed and to keep it nice an cuddly, I'm stitching much larger than I usually do. Because the harp space is so big, I foolishly decided to stitch a single feathered flower into each 9.5 inch block.

feathered flower a free motion quilting design

Free Motion Quilting Tip: Hand placement is important

Why is that a foolish choice? Because as quilt pushers, there's a certain range of motion that keeps the top under control and flat at the needle. Choose too large a design and you have to put your hands farther apart which can make it harder to keep things flat. Quilts with multiple layers of fusible applique can handle it, but a soft quilt and batting? Not so much.

Larger, single shapes are harder to stitch and control when you free motion quilt as a quilt pusher.

After a few blocks my hands start to hurt and I realize I was back to another rookie mistake. Stretching my fingers out to keep things flat while stitching this large design. I also found when I was using the stitch regulator (I did half with the regulator and half without) that placing my hands too far apart led to moving the stitch regulator in a way that didn't give good stitch control, with the device tipping.

Stretched hand on the left, relaxed on the right. 

Free Motion Quilting Tip: Listen

One of the biggest tips I have for beginning quilters is to listen to your machine. You will find your groove with hand speed and machine speed better when you listen to your machine. And I can tell you, this machine has a whole different sound.

Not to mention, if you know how your machine sounds when everything is going well, a change in sound is an indicator that something is off. Sometimes it's the needle going through a thick seam allowance, but it could mean you are stitching through a fold in the backing, a scrap of fabric, or you can hear the bobbin rattling and catch a problem before it's too horrible!

Technically, I'm only stitching half of this quilt. I'm doing every other block and my daughter is going to do the alternate blocks! I'll show you some of that next week.

My daughter is rocking the leaf shape!
Some of you might think she's a lucky girl to learn how to free motion quilt from me, but I can tell you that she's not so impressed. So I let her do her own thing. She asks for help when she really wants it, otherwise she wants to do her own thing! I did tell her that I didn't recommend her trying to do a single large design like I did.

Amy's Newest Quilting Adventure: Artistic SD16

I've always been a little leery of moving up to a bigger machine when it comes to sharing free motion quilting, ruler work (quilting with rulers), and offering up tips for machine quilting. Especially as I know most of my readers and students don't have huge machines.

But when it comes to quilting big quilts, there's no denying that bigger machines sure help. I hear from many folk that they've taken the plunge to a long arm or a larger domestic machine mounted onto a frame system. Some are delighted, others...not so much.

Artistic SD16

A sit down long arm breaches the divide for me. I don't have room for a long arm on a frame, I certainly don't have the budget for one, and I'm a confirmed "quilt pusher!" I don't have to change or adapt my free motion quilting skills to switch to this machine.

We've got a very large and active long arm dealership in our area, so even if I wanted to AND had the room, I'm not sure I'd bring in the new Janome long arm machines, though they are getting great reviews (they're no longer the Tin Lizzy clones). Plus pushing my quilts to quilt them is my forte, so it makes sense to stick with what I know best.

We've brought in the Artistic SD 16, which has a ton of room and also sits in the same orientation as a sewing machine. I love this! I can reach all parts of the machine with ease and I can push a quilt right to the back without running into the body of the machine.

It comes standard with a stitch regulator too. This is a big help for those with less experience with free motion quilting. My daughter loves the feature. Yes, I've been letting my 11 year old use this machine, with stern instruction to keep her fingers away from the needle.

I haven't spent a lot of time on the machine, being insanely busy keeping the shop all stocked and cute for the Christmas season and keeping customers happy. While my daughter loves the stitch regulator, I'd rather go without. But I'm trying it anyway as we plan on renting time on the machine for interested customers. I insist on knowing my machines!

Turns out that if you're experienced in free motion and used to slowing down your hands if the machine slows down while the stitch regulator slows the machine down if your hands slow down, you end up in a bit of a stand off!

The black button on the quilt above (my daughter's first big quilt) is resting above the stitch regulator which works much like a wireless computer mouse to tell the machine what speed to run at based on the regulator's motion. This is much different than the stitch regulator on a frame based long arm.

I've heard before that many long arm professionals prefer to work without the regulator and when I recently posted on Instagram about my stitch regulator stand off, I got several comments along the same lines from quilters using a sit down machine. Glad to know it wasn't just me or a problem with the machine.

It's been interesting using designs at a larger than usual scale for me. But the intricate quilting I love to do on my sewing machine isn't the thing for a nice cuddly quilt. These are 9.5 inch squares and I'm putting one large feathered flower in every other block. My daughter is planning on doing the rest of the blocks herself.

Above is my beautiful, creative, stubborn daughter. She's also apparently freezing. I swear our shop is a nice temperature, but you can't prove it with this picture. She helped with the basting of her quilt too. I'm looking forward to seeing her stitch on her quilt too. She seems to feel better about doing it on this machine than she does on any of our sewing machines. I'll keep you posted.

How about you? Have you tried these sit down machines? Are you using a stitch regulator?  Is anyone disappointed that I keep going up to bigger machines? 

By the way, if you are local to Lynchburg or within a reasonable drive, we are having our Christmas Open House Event this coming weekend (Dec. 8 & 9) with demos, sales, snacks, complementary scissor sharpening with minimum purchase. (Limit one free sharpening) We've got great deals on machines and exceptional support and service.

Quilting with Rulers: an Update

I taught another Quilting with Rulers class this week and it gave me an opportunity to get out my samples from my Craftsy classes. While my local students get to see samples and designs from both of my classes, the actual class they take only covers the basics of ruler work, which equates to about half of similar material from my first Craftsy class, Quilting with Rulers on a Home Machine. (Coupon Details: Get 50% off the full retail price of select Craftsy classes taught by Amy Johnson. Cannot be combined with any other coupons. Expires January 31, 2018.)

This student was really new to free motion quilting, but she loved using rulers.

So many designs from just a few basic rulers.
If you look at the designs I created over the past few years, both in my classes and in my other projects, and you'll see that I keep the rulers simple. So many designs from just a handful of rulers. There are a lot of rulers being released into the marketplace these days and if one speaks to you, or many, that's great, but you don't have to load up with a ton of rulers.

I really love the new ruler foot from Janome for the MC15000. A similar version will eventually be available for other Janomes with the automatic presser foot lift. Other Janomes will still use the convertible free motion foot set and the ruler foot combination. Janome has really set the bar when it comes to quilting with rulers on sewing machines.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had mentioned the need for this foot at a Janome training about 18 months ago to the president of Janome America and while I don't think my comment was the origin of the development of the foot, they saw the interest growing in ruler work and made it happen.

They went beyond just a new ruler foot, but an actual ruler work mode! It makes it really easy to set up for ruler work and adjust the foot in the menu for the perfect height for your project. This feature will be added to the machines that will be getting this foot upgrade.

Janome also got a set of rulers made up to go with this new foot and I have a set of them. I haven't had time lately to play with them, but I will soon. They are made by Westalee/Sew Steady and lean a bit toward specialized shapes on the smaller side. I hope to give a review as soon as possible.

I have several tops ready for quilting, so I'm hoping to show you something more interesting soon. Being a shop owner sure fills your days with a lot of admin stuff. Not fun. But I'm loving the chance to be a cheerful shop where folks can be encouraged and educated in their creative sewing adventures.

I hope you are having your own quilting adventures as well!

Free Motion Quilting Tip: The One Stitch Switch

In my last post, I shared how I was free motion quilting around a lovely laser cut applique Christmas scene using McTavishing as my main design of choice. You can see there's a lot of interlocking applique.

I also mentioned a little trick I have to move between small areas of background between the appliques without having to cut my thread with each move and bring up the bobbin thread with each new spot.

I'm sure I'm not the only one doing this to move around, but I'm gonna name it the "One Stitch Switch." Will the name catch on? I doubt it, but it makes a decent blog title, don't you think?

Here I'm quilting on the left side of the ornament and going over to the right side with my single stitch before returning to another area on the left.

Basically, you raise your needle and foot and move about 4-5 inches away, and take a single stitch. I use my needle down button twice. Then move to the next area to be quilted.

If you are trying off your threads, this will leave you enough to work with to knot and bury. I'f you are just using a few stitches in place to secure your threads and then will snip them close to the surface, this make it a little more efficient.

Good planning will keep the threads out of the way of your quilting. It's never fun to realize you had a thread tail on the backside and you stitched over it repeatedly, and now need to trim it off, especially if you've stitched into the thread a bunch.

McTavishing Revisited

A while back I was asked to quilt a piece for Laser Cut Quilts, a wholesale only laser cutting company. I rarely take in pieces for me to quilt for others, but occasionally I am persuaded and I knew this piece would be a nice one to show some swirly, whirly, McTavishing. I was told I could take my time, but I did leave it be for longer than I should have. So I've been stitching away at it and if you follow me on Instagram or maybe Facebook, you've likely seen some of my progress.

First I outlined all the applique with FilTec's monofilament thread, Essence. This clear, super fine nylon thread is soft, flexible, and works great. It has been mistaken for blond hair here before. If I accidentally popped onto the applique, you can't tell and it allowed me to travel over some of the applique to get to other small areas of background.  I did a video of part of this step.

This video may look familiar, Janome shared it out in an email last month. Then I switched to Aurifil 50 weight thread in white as I wanted the quilting to give texture and movement, but not take away from the intricate applique. Even though all the applique was done by someone else, I can really appreciate the time saved by using this laser cut kit. The detail boggles my mind!

I decided that I wanted to mimic the pine branches (spruce? I dunno.) with some of my quilting. With the intricacies of the applique, I knew I was either going to have to quilt loosely enough to not quilt into every nook and cranny, or I'd have to quilt densely to get into all the little spots. Since it's a wall hanging, I had no qualms about going dense.

I used my trusty purple pen of disappearing ink to mark wedges of three lines. The wedges represented the branch stem down the center and the outer edges of my 'branch.' My branches had to be a little bigger than the appliqued version or I would have had to microquilt in order for them to stand out from the background.

Then it was time to swish and shwoosh my way all over the place with McTavishing. The design is named after Karen McTavish and I did a month-long series on it back in 2014. McTavishing Monday Series

Check out the series to learn more about this design. Look at the texture! I still struggle with my McTavishing a bit, but it's getting there.

I've just got a few more tiny bits left. Small spots that are enclosed with appliqued pine needles, so there's a lot of stops and starts. Hopefully, it will be done this weekend and I'll share a tip I use when I need to move between small parts of quilting without having to break thread each time I stop and bring up the bobbin thread each time I start.

Have you done any laser cut quilt kits before? I know many shops use them in their Row by Row kits.

Quilting with Rulers: Continuous Curves on Hexagons

I shared this pillow with you last week. I used ruler work to quilt it with "Continuous Curves" except as I shared, I didn't work out my stitching path ahead of time and my results were far from continuous! A couple of hexies in, I realized what my path should have been, but by then I had already stitched up my own quilting roadblocks and had to made do with several detours.

I did have a blast with the quilting anyway, using a Simple Circle template for my curves on my new machine with the new Janome ruler foot. (Janome Quilt Maker MC15000) I love quilting with rulers on this machine.

Making curves continuous takes discipline and an orderly mind, something I'm in short supply quite often. (I'm not the only one, am I?) You've got to just say no to completing one entire hexagon. Just don't do it! Instead, think "angle, angle, over, back. Angle, angle, over, back.

 Starting from the fushia at the bottom is the perfect illustration of  A, A, O, B. So is the green on the way down. But at some point you end up with something like the orange line. I don't want to cross over to the right for the horizontal motions of  'over and back' instead waiting for the purple pass to do that leg of the journey.

As I mentioned, I'm not the most orderly, being easily distracted these days (I need more sleep!) so I actually talk these steps to myself as I quilt. "Angle, angle, over, back." So far no one has come to fit me with an extra long sleeved sweater or for a vacation in a padded room.

There you have it: my orderly stitching path for continuous curves on hexagons. It's a fairly simple quilting design with rulers and suits this pillow perfectly.

How about you? I bet I'm not the only one who speaks the shapes or directions out loud when quilting. At least I hope not.

Happy quilting!

All Craftsy Classes on Sale

All Craftsy classes are $20 or less through this Sunday! It's a great time to try something new or learn more about quilting with rulers in my second class. See how you can use basic rulers for a very wide variety of designs. Click on my affiliate link to view the classes:

Quilting with Rulers: Curves on Hexagons

Time to get back up on the blogging wagon! I've been so busy since getting back from the Janome training in late August and them absolutely focused on learning my new machine. I really didn't think I'd move on from my beloved Janome 8200, but when the newest top-of-the-line Machine from Janome was rolled out with not only a ruler foot, but a ruler work mode....well, I was smitten.

As a dealer, I do need to know these machines and I just knew I was going to be on this machine too much to call it a floor model or even a demo model. I have never had such a fancy machine before and frankly, if I had never become a dealer, I don't know that I'd have needed such a machine. I didn't do machine embroidery before embarking on my Janome dealer journey. (I will say that Janome rolled out another model at the training and had I still been doing my quilting biz at home, the 6700P would have been The One. Total love.) Nevertheless, if you love ruler work, quilting, and embroidery like I now do....this thing is absolutely wonderful!

Look at that ruler foot! So smooth, shiny and sleek. It's a standard 1/2 inch diameter foot and since the machine sets the height, there's no need for the shank portion of my good friend, the Convertible FMQ Foot Set. With the automatic presser foot lift feature and the ruler work mode, I don't have to worry about the foot hitting the needle clamp either.

If you have an older 15000, Janome has rolled out a free update so you can get this ruler work mode (and have a more reliable needle threader) and some other features, then you can buy the new feet in the very reasonable upgrade kit. Check with your Janome dealer. If you have a MC9400, S7, S9, 14000, and possibly the 12000, Janome is working on the software upgrade to allow you to use this foot on your machines as well.

I stitched together this hexagon pillow top recently and thought it would be a great first project for my new machine and ruler foot. It's Lucky Charm from Jaybird Quilts, using the sidekick ruler and the fabrics are Zen Chic Moda's True Blue (plenty of this at our shop BTW) and I have to say the hexies went together far better than I imagined. Hardest part was keeping the half hexie pairs together.

Then I began quilting with continuous curves from point to point using a circular ruler, 3 inch circle from the Simple Circles Set.  I shot a quick video as I stitched too....

Now, I've got the pattern down pat for keeping this design continuous when working on squares, but the path eluded me on these hexies until I was halfway done. Then it was a little late. I'll do another post on the path soon.

Which meant that when taking a picture of the supposed done pillow top, I found a couple of spots that didn't get quilted above. Can you find them above? Take a look below!

Whoops! Back under the machine it went. Three more curves and it was done.

 Then, I just had to try my hand at a pipped or corded pillow edge. First to make the piping. The base I had was too thick for the standard Janome piping foot, so I used the zipper foot for the narrow Acufeed foot. I have all these feet, might as well use them. I used the Acufeed version (a built in walking foot) as I wanted my fabric to wrap evenly around the cording material without slipping.

I trimmed up the corners on the pillow top using the same 3 inch circle I quilted it with. These templates are handy for more than stitching, and I use them a lot in design work.

I stitched the piping onto the pillow top with the same Acufeed foot and I sure am glad I did when I hit the spot where I finished by overlapping the cording. Powered right through. Slowly though, so things stayed in position.

When it was time to stitch the envelope style back on the pillow, I did go back to the regular zipper foot as I could get closer to the cording with it. I hate cording/piping when it doesn't get stitched on close enough.

Tada! Look at that nice corner. So pleased with this pillow, pattern, machine, and me. Feels good to have a finished project. (I did trip the pillow down to fit the pillow form I had.)

Anybody else here get the new Janome Quilt Maker 15000?  I am very excited about this machine and ruler foot. I am so pleased that Janome once again is on the leading edge of my favorite technique. I'm also happy that those of you with machines that will eventually have this new ruler work mode and foot will be able to have "approved" ruler feet for your machines.

If you've got questions about this new ruler foot, hit me up in the comments. It doesn't replace the convertible set for most machines, just those with the auto foot lift. Those of you who have been bitten by the embroidery bug, give me one of your favorite tips in the comments.

A New Janome Ruler Foot

Janome was the first sewing machine brand to have a ruler foot, and while it was originally intended for use on a frame mounted machine, quilters far and wide began using this combination of feet on regular, stationary sewing machines.

As I've shared my quilting adventures with ruler work here for over 7 years, so many people have enjoyed the technique, whether on a Janome or a compatible machine.

In the last few years, machines have been created with an automatic presser foot mechanism which is super duper awesome for sewing, but Janome did not approve of using the Janome ruler foot combination with these machines. Plenty of determined quilters used it anyway, though it wasn't approved, nor ideal.

Just last year I was in Cincinnati Ohio at a Janome training when they introduced the Janome 9400, which has an automatic presser foot lifter. I was talking to my Janome rep about the ruler foot when Shin Yamamoto, President and CEO of Janome America came over and asked what I thought of the new machine. I explained that I thought it was fabulous for sewing but because I loved to do ruler work and the Convertible Free Motion Foot set wasn't approved for the model, I wanted to see a ruler foot for these machines.

Fast forward to earlier this week and I'm in the same hotel conference room and Janome announced than not only was there a new version of the Memory Craft 15000, called the Quilt Maker 15000 that had a ruler foot and a ruler work setting, but there was also to be a free upgrade to previous versions of the 15000 that would make them compatible to the new ruler foot and several other new feet!

Janome Quilt Maker 15000 ruler foot

 The new foot and ruler work menu settings make quilting with rulers substantially easier to set up.

Janome Quilt Maker 15000

It gets even better! Janome is working on updates for the other Janome machines that have the auto presser foot lift (MC14000, 9400, S7, and S9). The update is a free one performed by your dealer, the new feet will not be free. (The update will also have a replacement part for the needle threader on the older 15000 versions, to make it work better.)

Ruler work was all the talk during our dealer training. Janome is motivated to get these new upgrades and feet out asap!

The new feet (ruler foot and a few others) aren’t quite available to dealers yet, other than those that come with the new 15000, which I have sitting in my studio! I was told that the update for the 9400 should be ready in a few months.

I’ll keep everybody updated as I can.

Meanwhile, I'll be playing with my new 15000. I used it for the very first time while demonstrating ruler work to students in my Quilting with Rulers class here in the shop. It was fabulous! No more worrying to remember to put the foot down before putting down the needle or making sure the needle is up before raising the foot. It's got a ton of other nifty features, but I'll save that for my shop's blog.

The foot is super! It's smooth, rounded on the bottom and has a good sized divot at the front to better see at the needle. It attaches directly to the presser foot bar, so there's no spring part in the way. You adjust its height through the ruler work menu. This gives it great visibility.

This will likely be the machine you see me use in my tutorials from now on, unless I'm doing a test of a new low shank ruler. This means my beloved MC8200 is for sale as a used machine. I'm not sure what the protocol is for a dealer selling a used machine and listing the price online so if you're somewhat local and looking for a fabulous machine for quilting with 11 inches to the right of the needle, you can call the store (434-239-6708). Not that we couldn't ship this machine where ever, but I feel weird about selling a machine far enough away that we couldn't support it well as the dealer. Having a local dealer is sooooo important. (BTW, we are also selling a new sewing/embroidery machine, the MC14000 at a smoking hot price that I can't list online, as it's being replaced by the 15000.)

I am so happy to see that Janome has listened to its dealers and customers and are making these changes so these higher-end machines also have a great ruler foot. I was blessed enough to have an opportunity to remind Shin that I had asked for this very thing in the same spot last year and how happy I was to see it and thanked him.

If you have a Janome without the auto presser foot lift, the new foot isn't for you. Stick the the convertible set and ruler foot combination.

Quilt on!

Leah Day and Amy Chat on Hello My Quilting Friends

I cannot believe I never posted that I was a guest on Leah Day's podcast recently! I shared it on Facebook and then totally dropped the ball.

Hopefully you've been catching these very interesting episodes hosted by Leah as she interviews people from the quilting industry and beyond. The show pulls back the curtain a bit into the business side of the quilting industry and she decided to interview me about running a "brick and click" business. Brick and click means a business that has a store front as well as an online component.

Actually, she wanted to see how I balance life and work between the two businesses.....insert hysterical laughter here.........and I am not the person to talk about balance! It's a constant juggling act with balls getting dropped from time to time. I liken it to standing on a teeter totter. Ideally, you're in the middle, keeping both ends balanced. More likely, it's a dance from one side to another, a constant wiggling back and forth. It's a pretty wild and amazing ride and I think Leah did an excellent job of asking the right questions to bring out my story.

You can listen here: Hello my Quilting Friends with Leah Day, episode 26

Floss Your Bobbin!

I was cleaning out my bobbin case and it reminded me of a couple tips for all my free motion quilting friends. Actually, this applies to all sewing machine users and technically, I have a bobbin holder, since my machine is a top loading machine.

I love my top loading machines for ease of use and easily seen bobbin. I hate running out of bobbin thread! But one drawback is that the groove that creates the bobbin tension can be difficult to clean.

Most sewing machine owners know that keeping your machine clean and lubricated extends the life of a machine, keeps tension troubles at bay, and keeps the noise down, but did you know that much like teeth, you can floss your machine? If you've ever watched me demo the proper way to thread a machine I often talk about using two hands like flossing teeth. But flossing the bobbin case is another trick I've picked up over the years.

Getting lint built up in these grooves can really mess with getting good tension on your machine. Here's a video on cleaning these spots:

Make sure you have a good brush to clean the lint out of the bobbin area. One should have come with your machine. You can also get these at any sewing center or place with a good selection of notions.

See the bit of lint I teased out ?

You can "floss" your bobbin holder too with a bit of thread as shown in the video. Running a piece of good thread through the groove can loosen lint and help remove it.

Don't be tempted to disassemble the case/holder as it is likely that you will lose one of the tiny screws or have difficulty getting the tension set back to where it needs to be.

Clean this area out frequently. Newer Janomes make this easy with their lever release needleplates. If the area under the bobbin case is linty, it can cause extra tension on the top thread and can cause the bobbin case to try to come unseated.

One suggestion quilters are given when having a sudden issue with tension is to re-thread the machine. We all hate to hear this as usually we think it's threaded properly. But there are times that the issue is a wad of lint that has caused the problem and the re-threading process may work it loose. (Plus, there are those times when the thread jumps out of the take up lever!)

You probably already know this, but never thread the machine with the foot down! Put the foot down to thread the needle if need be, but the thread won't settle between the tension discs properly with the foot down as that closes them. For this reason, I always raise the presser foot when adjusting my thread tension too.

I mentioned canned air in the video, don't blow it into the machine! It will send the lint around the gears and shafts. I have seen some machines so full of lint (glitter, sequins, needles, and pins too!) that a wad of lint has felted and become a wedge in the workings and causes them to "freeze up".

So, now that I have a clean machine, I'm off to sew......

This post was retrieved and edited from my archives. The original posted in August of 2014.

A bit of this and that

In my recent post, Creativity: On a Wing and a Prayer, I talked about letting your creativity take flight without the constraints of perfection. Of being "gooder enough." Yes, my  inner grammar nazi doesn't like the phrase, but the artist in me is OK with it. I also mentioned this chair cover I was working on....done! Even stitched up a new embroidered pillow for it.

The hubby has me working on a leather work apron and again, totally winging it. Check out those big shears! The leather smalls wonderful too! Am I the only one who thinks leather smells fabulous?

By the way, I'm using a chaco liner pen to mark the back side of the leather. If you like using loose chalk to mark on dark fabric, this is the bomb! The line is fine and the tool is narrow at the tip to go right along a ruler.

Last night I taught a lovely group of ladies to free motion quilt. We had a blast and learned that they can free motion quilt. I'm looking forward to another class with them soon to teach them some more designs.

This student was a natural and very excited about the process. I love the butterflies on her machine. I think I found another free spirited artist-type who can 'wing it.'

 Finally, I pieced up this cute sunflower and his little friends. This was an easy and fun project.

Don't worry, I've got some quilting projects to show you soon. In fact I've got three projects to quilt up, all for other people. What have you been working on?