Free Motion Quilting – NOT as daunting as I first thought

I remember at the beginning of this passion, I asked the question ‘What’s the difference between Patchwork and Quilting?’ and I know it’s a question many ‘newbies’ ask too. The answer opened up a completely new, but initially terrifying, world to me.

So what IS the difference?

Patchwork is the making of a quilt top, using a variety of methods from simply stitching some squares together, to learning about English paper piecing, Foundation paper piecing, applique and numerous other methods out there.

Quilting is the art of making your patchwork top into a quilt by adding a layer of wadding and backing (called the quilt sandwich) and then doing some form of stitching through all 3 layers so they are attached together (and with the wadding, help trap air to make them lovely and warm). This stitching can be done by hand or machine (or even mixing the two).

now quilted

Quilting can be done in a variety of ways, for example, using straight lines along the stitching lines of the patchwork (called ‘Stitch in the Ditch’ SITD), or echoing those patchwork lines. It can be doing an all-over pattern that can be straight lines or curves (which is where ‘free motion’ comes in). There is also the option of sending your quilt to a Long Arm quilter (we have some fabulous Long Arm quilters who are fellow bloggers so check out their posts too).

When I discovered the difference between patchwork and quilting, it was the quilting that began to interest me as this was completely new to me. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love every part of making a quilt as so many different techniques are used, but I’m always up for a challenge and seeing some of the lovely ‘quilting’ that was done, I was inspired to conquer my fear of Free Motion Quilting (FMQ) and learn. I wanted to feel that a quilt was ALL my own work (although there is absolutely nothing wrong in asking someone else to quilt for you).

This month’s blog and over the next couple of months, I’m going to go through my humble experiences of starting to ‘quilt’ and how I used my own domestic sewing machine to quilt. I am NOT an expert but I want to share my experiences as a newbie to this art in the hope of inspiring anyone else out there who is a bit (or a lot) scared of having a go. Do feel free to share YOUR experiences in the comments!

Where did I start?

Like many people, I started with straight lines, and this is a perfect way to complete your quilt – but I began to find that continually turning the quilt on my machine was cumbersome so I started looking at how I could overcome this issue. This was the start of my adventure into FMQ and in my explorations, I saw so many options and opportunities that whetted my appetite. I wanted to know how they were done.

However, my artistic skills are zero, zilch, non-existent and although I sewed as a teenager, I’d never got my head around free motion embroidery using my sewing machine. I felt I’d never be able to be creative like that but since I had become determined to have a go, I started at the beginning. I signed up to a Craftsy online course and also heard about Leah Day, Angela Walters and a few other names that are BIG in the FMQ world. My very first lesson on Craftsy instructed me to buy a sketch book and complete some exercises with my pencil. I hesitated – I hated Art at school – I was awful at drawing – how on earth could I do FMQ if I had to use a sketch book first of all?

I took the plunge and followed the class – all we had to do to begin with was draw two straight lines (I could use a ruler for that – easy peasy!), and then starting at the left hand side, draw a series of the letter L (only in lower case). The next step was drawing a series of the letter ‘e’, and then ‘w’, and ‘m’s and ‘n’s. Here’s a photo of those first drawings.

Drawing letters was pretty easy as they are so familiar, but what I was learning was to train my brain into linking them together – as I learnt later, developing my ‘muscle memory’. By doing this, it would hopefully help me with my fabric movement once I started sewing.

The next step was to move to the machine. This is the list of things I needed to do to prepare the way:

1) Make a small quilt sandwich and pin or baste it (I just used old sheeting cut into squares – 10 inch squares are big enough to get started)

2) Prepare my machine by lowering the feed dogs (some people don’t or can’t so check your sewing machine manual to see if you need to). You may be advised to set your stitch length to zero – again depending on your machine.

3) Use a free motion foot on my machine (if you don’t have one, you may have a darning foot in your accessories, and that’s an alternative foot to get you going).

4) Use a shiny sheet such as Supreme Glider (I just used an oven liner which I tape onto my machine table at each corner) – this will really help you move the fabric around as you are sewing.

5) Use gloves such as Machingers (or even garden gloves that have a rubberised tip on the fingers). These help your quilt sandwich from slipping under your hands as you move it around.

Here are a few photos of my first steps into FMQ – I’m still practising and learning but loving it. I’ve quilted a couple of small quilts using FMQ and do feel a great sense of achievement considering how scared I was at the beginning.

very first steps
first meander
loops and flowers

Finally, I have a target.  My inspiration is the wonderful free motion quilting done by my fellow blogger, Lynda Jackson, who does the most wonderful custom quilting. I know I will never get anywhere close to her standard, but I’m having a go – and this final photo is the beginnings of my practice into more detailed quilting.

custom feathers tryout

If you’ve never had a go at FMQ but want to get started, check out the following:

1) Angela Walters’ ‘Free Motion Challenge’ – a FREE weekly online course which only started a couple of weeks ago. (insert I’m following it too and I’m uploading my photos of the blocks to my Instagram account, valbrooks71. Feel free to follow me – and do join! It’s such fun.

2) Leah Day’s videos on YouTube and particularly the Facebook group ‘Leah Day Free Motion Project group UK’ which links to Leah’s videos in a logical way to help you start.

Next month – read how I discovered using RULERS to develop more designs and help me with my FMQ