Free Motion Quilting: It's easier than you think! - Part One: Materials

        I was so excited when a local quilt shop asked if I would be interested in teaching free motion quilting there. I decided to go home and come up with a plan. While writing out my information I realized that no-one in my class would want to read it as I would likely just be talking about it so I figured I would share it here. I would love any comments or suggestions about the process and prep. This will be my first time teaching free motion quilting so I am a little nervous! Hah!

I know what you are probably thinking, and last year I thought the exact same thing. I spent so much time thinking about free motion quilting and how difficult it would be that I continually avoided actually trying it. I was afraid that my designs wouldn't be nice enough or that my stitches would be too uneven or that, god forbid, my tension would get out of whack and ruin my projects. Well, my designs were sloppy and my stitches terrible and oh my did my tension drive me nuts but the joy of actually quilting far out weighed any frustration I encountered. And eventually my designs got better and my stitch lengths more even. It just took a little determination, a bit of creativity and lots of practice.
This is an earlier example of my feathers.
I think they have gotten much better.
Regrettably, sometimes your tension will be temperamental no matter what precautions you take. And it will always mess with your head, but that is just the way the cookie crumbles. Sewing machines can be prima donna's. They like some things and chew up and spit out others. Literally. I can be very annoying when the super expensive thread you just bought proves worthless because, no matter what you do, your machine just hates it. Get over it. It happens. It will take time to get to know what your machine likes and what it doesn't. It can be a frustrating process but you shouldn't let it distract you from having fun!

Alright! So here goes nothin':


Materials:

Farbic for your Mini Quilt Sandwich:
This can be made up of 2 fat-quarters of "ugly" fabric or plain muslin with one piece slightly larger than the other. I like to have a visible edge for all three layers (top, batting and backing) so that I know I'm not accidentally losing my backing fabric. It totally sucks to finish something and realize that your backing doesn't extend to the edges of your top. You end up needing to trim down your top and that can throw off the balance or just make it look funky. In general it's a good idea to have a few inches on each side of both batting and backing fabric although for smaller projects you don't need quite as much extra. I like to have my batting slightly larger than the top and the bottom slightly larger than the batting. For my very first practice sandwich I used ugly fabric on the back and muslin on the front so that I could see my stitches. Whatever you decide to use it's nice to start out with a quilt sandwich roughly 18"x20" or smaller. It's much easier to work with a small, manageable projects while getting a feel for the machine.

Batting:
        There are quite a few options when it comes to batting. You can use cotton, polyester, cotton/polyester blends, wool and bamboo just to name a few. Batting also comes in various lofts, meaning how puffy it is. I started out using low loft batting like Warm and Natural cotton or Quilter's Dream 70/30 blend. Recently I discovered how much I love using 100% Wool batting. It creates wonderfully full patterns and texture which is just perfect for whole cloth quilts. I haven't used bamboo batting yet but I have heard wonderful things so I will report back once I've tried it.  

Basting Materials:
        Again, there are several different ways to baste a quilt sandwich the most traditional method being stitching the quilt sandwich together with very large stitches covering the entire top. This method is time consuming but very secure and you can leave the quilt basted for long periods of time without worrying that it will come apart. A second method would be the use of safety pins to hold the sandwich together. I like using safety pins because they are quicker than basting stitches and fairly easy to remove as you go. There is however concern that they may rust or leave residue on the fabric if left for an extended period of time (years not weeks). I have also seen people use regular pins with little stoppers to prevent random poking. This might be even easier than the safety pins but I would be afraid that I might accidentally lose one or too and stab myself.  The final method that I have used would be spray basting: joining all three layers together with adhesive spray. I love this method because it is quick and easy and I rarely get ripples or tucks on my backing because the layers tend to stay pretty flat. I have noticed that the adhesive spray will sometimes gum up the needle (depending on the brand of spray) but it hasn't been too much of an issue, just something to be aware of. I like 505 adhesive spray. Here is an article on Craftsy that goes over a few different methods although I've never tried the fuse basting method.

Thread:

A variety of thread used in my most
recent project
        I really like quilting with Gutermann and Superior Threads. I've also had success with Sulky (although I their blue didn't want to cooperate with me for some reason). I have also recently discovered Presencia and tried out Mettler.
YLI 100% Cotton
I tend to lean towards 100% cotton although I do use the Gutermann polyester. I have heard that polyester thread could eventually "cut" through the layers of fabric making the quilt more fragile, but I don't know how accurate this is. I have yet to observe it but I believe it would take quite a while. I stay away from Coats and Clarks in general because their thread is said to have been treated with a chemical coating that can gum up your machine and nobody wants that. Maybe I am being paranoid. I also really like sewing with YLI 100% cotton thread but I haven't had great success quilting with it so far.

Sewing Machine:
Regardless of what you may have heard, you don't need a special machine for free motion quilting. I purchased a brand new machine just so that I could learn to quilt only to have it break mid project (granted I had done quite a bit of sewing on it before this happened). I needed to finish up quickly so I pulled out my old Kenmore and started experimenting. I had previously thought that because I couldn't drop the feed dogs on my old machine that I couldn't possible learn to quilt. Little did I know about the mystical darning plate included in my accessory kit. It took me years to figure that out!

        I had also encountered a problem in that my Kenmore is a super-high shank machine and it is almost impossible to find feet that will fit it. I had purchased an adapter and a newer model darning foot, but it tuned out to be the wrong adapter (because apparently the right one doesn't exist) and so I was back where it started. Drawn on by necessity, I equipped my darning plate and simply lowered my presser foot pressure to the lowest setting so that it just floated over the fabric and voila! A machine that can free motion quilt. I nearly kicked myself when I realized I could have done it on the Kenmore all along. It has been a trusty and under appreciated machine.

     
         If you happen to have a machine with lowerable feed-dogs you are set! My newer brother even has stitch settings for a stipple... It didn't look all that good but it was a nice effort. Even if you can lower the feed dogs, you don't always have to. Half the time, while quilting on my Brother, I would forget to lower them and it never made a difference in the look of my stitches and designs.
Schmetz Universal Needles - Size 80/12

Needles:
        There seem to be differing opinions on what type of needles to use. My suggestion is to experiment and find the one that really works well with your machine. I tend to like the 80/12 General Purpose needles. I tried using the quilting needles and they worked alright but I have had more success and fewer tension issues with the 80/12's. Specialty needles can also be slightly more expensive. I try to stock up on the needles I use a lot because I can go through them fairly quickly. Writing this reminds me that I will need to get more soon! Haha! I've been collecting my used needles in an old spaghetti sauce. I wonder how long it will take me to fill it. I just thought it would be sort of fun to see how many I've gone though.

 Woooo that's a lot of typing! I think I might take break for a bit. Happy Crafting!

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