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.