August 31, 2010

Free Motion Quilting: Feed dogs

There's some feed dogs, amazing little things, moving up and down, forward and back, to pull your fabrics through the machine when you sew.
Except, when you are free motion quilting, No Dogs Allowed.

So how do we keep the dogs off your quilt? I am aware of four ways to do this.

1. Lower the feed dogs. If you have a machine that can do this, awesome. Push the button, turn the knob, do whatever your machine manual tells you to do, and the feed dogs will lower themselves under the throat plate and wait until you call them. The picture above shows the knob I turn on the Bernina to lower the feed dogs.

2. Raise the throat plate or use a throat plate cover. Some machines can't lower the feed dogs but they can cover them. My Singer has a lever that lifts the throat plate above the feed dogs. That seems like a good thing, but it also reduces the space between the plate and the darning foot. It kind of squishes my quilt and makes it harder to move. I don't like it. I had an more modern Singer long ago with a plastic cover that snapped over the feed dogs that did the same thing. The picture below shows the lever that raises the throat plate on my Singer. This is my least favorite feed dog solution.

3. Cover the feed dogs with a piece of card. This is the low tech approach that anyone can do. Get a piece of card big enough to cover the feed dogs, punch a hole in it for the needle to go through, and tape it down. Inexpensive, low profile. A solution for the masses.

4. Leave the feed dogs up. I know, you didn't expect me to say this, but guess what? I've quilted for hours with the feed dogs up before I realized it, and there were no ill effects. A cursory tour of the internet tells me that a lot of other quilters do the same thing, simply setting their stitch length to 0. Will there be a little more drag on your quilt with the feed dogs going up and down? Could a stitch theoretically get caught? It's possible. But not very likely.  Don't stress.

So if you've stayed on the sidelines because you couldn't lower your feed dogs, please just cover them with a card or set your stitch length to zero and let them go up and down. And let's get ready to quilt!

August 30, 2010

Birds in the Forest

August is my month for the Sew Scrappy Sew Happy group quilting bee. My theme was "Birds in the Forest" and I asked participants to make 12 inch liberated log cabin blocks featuring my bird fabric from Ikea.  It is so fun to get my fabrics back, with some new fabrics mixed in. I love free pieced quilts! I wish I had given some specific instructions about not putting skinny skinny strips on the sides (this will be a pain when I go to sew them together), but live and learn. I like the way they are turning out. Now I am trying to decide whether to sew blocks together as is or to use setting blocks for a larger quilt. I kind of like the idea of setting blocks featuring small bits of the botanicals from the bird fabric. Hmmmm....

August 28, 2010

Free Motion Quilt Along: Basting your quilt top

You can baste your top however you want, this is for all the people who are new to basting, or who wanted to know how I avoid puckers on the back. Welcome to my kitchen. Get your tape and your pins.

The first step, not shown, is pressing the front and back of the quilt top. Really well. I am way lazy and I avoid my iron like it has tuberculosis but I do make sure and get everything flat flat flat when I'm about to baste a quilt top. Then I lay the quilt backing right side down on a bit of floor I'm not afraid of taping and pinning.

I start on the selvage edges of the fabric. For this quilt that's the top and bottom. I tape one edge, making sure I'm not leaving any slack in the fabric between the pieces of tape. Don't forget the corners! (like I did here)

Then I tape the other, pulling the fabric enough that it is taut but not distorted. Start in the middle. Tape the whole edge. Yes, there are vertical wrinkles, don't despair.

Then it's time to tape the sides. I start in the middle on one side. Then I tape the middle of the other side, pulling it taut. See how the wrinkles disappeared between the tape?

Keep going, one side, then the other, until both sides are taped. Now the backing is nice and smooth.

Now lay down the batting.

Smooth it out with your hands. Smooth.

Now the quilt top. Get it nice and smooth too.

Now let's pin. I pin the middle in both directions first, then fill in the four quadrants. 

I hope you have a cute helper like I do.

About six inches apart, I use my thumb and pinkie as a guide.

Keep your pins out of the skinny strips for this quilt along. Here's my top, all pinned up.

Now you can remove the tape.

While you're at it, pin up your practice pad too.

Great! We've got a few more things to discuss this week and I start you stitching next weekend! Oh, and I  created a handy way to see all the quilt along posts, by adding a "Free Motion Quilting" page to the blog. See the little tab up above, right under the title? 

August 27, 2010

Free Motion Quilting: Prepare your machine

Feeling excited to start free motion quilting? Great! Let's channel that energy into a little sewing machine maintenance. When free motion quilting, lint accumulates like mad. If your machine is already packed with lint that's just going to cause problems. Time to clean.

I found a blogger who wrote pretty much everything I was going to write about how to de-lint your machine. She has great pictures. Instead of reinventing the wheel, how about you all pop over there and see what Miss Tarilyn has to say. She has a top loading bobbin but if you have a front loading bobbin things are not that different. Trust me, I have one of each, and the front loader is super easy to open and clean.

If you'd like to see some lint horror pictures, go here.

Make sure there's no lint jammed in the corner of your bobbin case. If you start free motion quilting and get lots of birds nests and wonky tension the first thing I will ask you is when you last cleaned the lint from your machine. It would be so awesome if the answer was "last week"!

Please note that I heartily agree with Tarilyn that you should NEVER use compressed or canned air on a domestic sewing machine. See you soon!

August 26, 2010

Wedding quilt process post #3

Last time I brought it up, I was leaning towards this design for the wedding quilt.

And I did decide to go with it. The big question in my mind was “how do I make giant curves?” I came up with an answer pretty quickly. The comforter on our bed is the size I want the quilt to be, so it was the perfect place to start. I used making tape to make a rough sketch on the comforter of the two circles.

Then I let it sit for a month. I needed time with no little person who would be tempted to “help” by peeling off the tape or otherwise being underfoot. Last weekend I had my chance. In a flash the comforter was on the living room floor.

I tied one end of a string around a chair leg

And the other end around a pen

I taped a piece of freezer paper (the only large paper I had) to the comforter.

And used the string/pen as a large compass to draft an arc. It took some maneuvering to get the chair leg in the right place (the center of the circle) and when the pen (finally!) seemed to align with the whole taped arc, I made my marks. Sometimes many marks were made, and then I had to note which ones were the correct ones.

I then changed the length of the string while keeping the chair leg where it was, and drew a second arc. I then had an arc shape the width that I wanted the ring to be. I repeated the process with the second circle and ended up with two slightly different arc shapes.

If I have done my job correctly (and this is by no means certain) I have created pattern pieces that can be reproduced and pieced together to create the two different rings. I’ll need 4-5 copies of each arc to complete the circles on the quilt. I’ll cut those out of a lightweight fabric and use that as a foundation to string piece upon. Then I plan to appliqué the rings to a plain backing. I haven’t decided how to quilt it yet – a few good ideas but no clear victor. I hope this turns out well. I think I am past the hard part and that once I get moving on piecing the circles it will come together quickly.

August 23, 2010

Free Motion Quilt Along: Participants

Were you wondering if it's too late to sign up for the quilt along? Good news! The quilt along is something you can do without signing up at all, just by reading the instructions that I post on the blog, and following along at home. It is definitely not too late. 

I am adding a formal list of participants though, so we can all see who’s participating and discover new blogs. Sign up below if you would like your blog to be included in the list. Remember, you do not have to sign up on the list to participate in the quilt along! If you’d like to sign up but don’t have a blog to link to, you can add yourself to the list with a link to your photostream on Flickr. Please note that it takes a few minutes for your link to appear after you submit it. If it still doesn't appear after 5 minutes, let me know in the comments and I will try adding it for you!

And speaking of Flickr, I’ve created a Flickr group just for this quilt along. I hope you will join the group. It will be a great place to share photos of the quilting you’re doing. It also has a discussion area and I think that will be really useful if you are struggling with a certain step in the process. You can post to the group for help from myself and others with experience. Readers with lots of free motion experience, I hope you will drop by from time to time to see if you can offer helpful advice to a quilter just starting out.  

Finally, to my Spanish speaking followers, I’ve added a translator widget over on the right side. I hope it will be helpful to you!

August 22, 2010

Free Motion Quilt Along: Quilt top instructions

This is a peek at the top we will be making. I created the pattern as a variation of the "Quick Strippie" pattern at The finished size will be 32 x 41 inches. I chose this size to give us a large enough space to practice a variety of patterns, while keeping the quilt manageable for those who will be rolling a quilt under their machine arm for the first time. The size should work well with prepackaged batting options. This will be quick to cut and piece, and gives us a variety of areas to quilt within.

Fabric requirements:
large strips: 28.5 inches by 32 inches (cut three strips 9.5 inches wide)
medium strips: 12 inches by 32 inches (cut four strips 3 inches wide)
small strips: 6 inches by 32 inches (cut four strips 1.5 inches wide)
Fabric for quilt backing: 36 inches by 44 inches (most quilting fabrics are 44 inch wide, so you need 1 yard)
You will also need some fabric for a "practice pad": 2 pieces 12 inches by 18 inches

Batting requirements:
Batting for quilt: at least 34 inches by 44 inches
Batting for practice pad: 12 inches by 18 inches

The seams are sewn with a standard 1/4" seam allowance, but since there are no blocks or points to match, this is not that important. You will arrange the strips as follows:
medium, small, large
medium, small, large
small, medium, large
small, medium

Do not think too much about your fabric choices. Use any fabric you have. This is a great opportunity to use fabric that you don't really want around anymore. Seriously. Just pick three fabrics and start cutting them. If at any time you think to yourself "My god, this is one ugly quilt" then you have succeeded in this exercise, which is to make a quilt top that you are not at all attached to. I chose plain, darker fabrics so that my stitching will be easier to photograph.

Questions you may have:
  • Which way do I press the seams? Anyway you like.
  • Do I have to make all my large (or medium, or small) strips from the same fabric? No, you can mix and match fabrics as you'd like.
  • Can I piece the strips out of smaller scraps? Certainly! I made the pattern with unpieced strips so it could be assembled quickly but if you have scraps you'd like to get rid of, by all means piece them together. 
  • I don't want to make the quilt top, can I just quilt on scraps? Sure! I recommend that you make a bunch of quilt sandwiches right now, so you can grab one and start quilting when its time to go, instead of having to stop and ponder which fabric to sacrifice. 10 inches by 15 inches would be a good size for these.
  • Can I make my quilt bigger/smaller? Absolutely, do what works for you. I'd recommend keeping the strips the same width (9.5, 3, and 1.5 inches) and varying their length, or using more or less strips as needed. If you need to slightly change the dimensions of the strips to fit the fabric that you have, go right ahead. Smaller quilts won't give you as much practice space. Larger quilts will be bulkier to maneuver but I'm sure you can handle it.
  • I already have a lot of quilt tops - can I just use one of those instead? That's fine by me. The quilting exercises we do may not be the ideal designs for your particular quilt, but if that is preferable to having another unfinished quilt top in your house then go ahead and do what works best for you.
Instructions for basting the quilt will come by next weekend. See you soon!

Quilting Supplies Winner!

Congratulations to #124, Jennwith4! I have yet to figure out how to add a picture of the drawing results but you have it on good authority that picked #124 as the winner of the package of free motion supplies. Thanks everyone who entered.

August 21, 2010

Free Motion Quilting Basics: Supplies

#1: A darning foot. The entry ticket into this quilting party is a darning foot, sometimes called a free motion foot. This is a darning foot for my Singer.

This is the darning foot for my Bernina. One is plastic, one is metal. One is a square, one is a circle. They both do the job they need to do - keeping the fabric down against the needle plate while the machine is stitching, for a nice consistent stitch. Find a darning foot that fits your machine. There are a lot of different darning feet out there, if you are just getting into free motion quilting just find the standard darning foot for your machine. As you progress in free motion quilting you may decide you want to try other free motion feet, but do not stress about this right now. If you are trying to choose between two darning feet, choose the one that gives you the most visibility.

#2: A quilting journal. Here's mine:

I made it, as I'm sure you can tell. That was before you could buy this sort of thing all over the interwebs. I suddenly feel old. Anyway, I try to take this little thing with me whenever I expect to be inspired. It is full of ideas for quilt blocks, quilt tops, quilting designs and notes taken during talks.

I want you to have this available to write down all the great inspirations you get for quilting designs and things you need to remember like tension details. You are a quilter. Give yourself a quilting journal. Maybe the first page should look like this:

Less romantic, but still important are the following supplies:

Needles - starting a quilting project with a new needle can save a lot of frustration. Many people have fine luck with Universal needles but some machines need a specialty needle. Quilting needles or topstitch needles, size 90/14 are a good place to start. In recent struggles, I needed a topstitch needle to stop my machine from shredding my thread. If you experience problems, one thing to try will be a different needle type or size.

Thread - many different types of thread can be used for free motion quilting. I have the best luck with cotton threads. Threads that are made from "long staple" fibers are less likely to break while quilting. They also shed less lint, and lint is the enemy of a smoothly running sewing machine. Two brands I like using are Aurifil and YLI. Feel free to start with any brand of thread you would like, but be prepared to try a different thread if you are experiencing problems. 

Basting pins - I use curved quilt basting pins. They are easy to find and long lasting. A package of 50 should be enough for a small project. If you have another way you prefer to baste your quilts (spray, basting gun) that will be fine, though I have no experience with these methods.

Masking tape - the kind used when painting. This will be used on the quilt to guide some quilting designs. Ours is in the basement. I'm too lazy to go down there just to take a picture of it.

Something for marking quilt tops - I have a couple of pencils like this - a white one for dark fabrics and a silver one for lighter fabrics. You can use anything that you can draw with that will show up on your fabrics without leaving permanent marks. You will only use this occasionally.

Grippy gloves (optional but strongly recommended) - any lightweight glove that will help you get traction on the quilt top. I've used flag bearer gloves and quilter gloves with the dots and they behave entirely the same. I've also heard of people using latex gloves, rubber office supply fingertips, dishwashing gloves, utility "glove liners" or even a special kind of lotion. My toddler insists on wearing these gloves anytime they are in her field of vision. So I have two sets. The white ones look grungy because they're old and they've picked up color from the fabrics of the quilts I've used them on. I've quilted 7 or 8 quilts with them, they last a long time. Don't feel bad about investing in these, they really make things easier. You need something to help you grip your quilt top.

Scissors - a small pair of sharp scissors should be at your side while quilting to snip threads. Even better, wear them around your neck and you'll always know where they are! I put mine on a length of elastic ribbon.

There are other products marketed to free motion quilters, and if you want to try them, go for it! Rest assured that the only supplies I think are essential are the ones I've listed above.

August 18, 2010


If you're just arriving, the giveaway and quilt along announcement are here.

I want to say a thank you to all my new followers, quilters who have dropped by and shared their excitement and questions about free motion quilting. Thank you especially for spreading the news on your blogs! I did not know the idea would generate this much excitement, and so quickly! How wonderful.

I am getting ready to give a little free motion quilting demo at the Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting this Thursday. The first quilt along post will come after that, most likely this weekend. I'll share the details of the quilt top and the supplies you'll need. Many of you let me know you are brand new to free motion quilting. I promise that when we start free motioning together, we will start simple. This free motion quilt along should not be a big time commitment. I will probably post one quilting activity per week. Since I have about 45 minutes per week for sewing, I anticipate the quilt along will request about 30-45 minutes or so of your time.

I'll just leave you with a picture of the hexagons I stitched for the PMQG hexagon swap. I basted through the paper this time, just to try it. And I used true 1" templates. Can't wait to see who goes home with these!