Friday, 25 July 2014

Foxy lady

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a workshop with the uber talented (and utterly hilarious) Jodie Carleton, the genius behind RicRac soft toy patterns. It was an absolutely brilliant day; fascinating conversation (embroidered knickers anyone?) and lots and lots of laughs thanks to Jodie's fabulous (and slightly twisted) sense of humour.

We were making foxes using Jodie's Ginger and Blue pattern. Although all three of my kids declared they would love one, I decided to make the wee one hers first - and obviously she wanted a girl. THis little fox is yet to be named (we come up with really creative names like 'foxy' in our house most of the time), but she has been played with almost everyday (to the point that I need to re-attach her tail) :o)

There are so many features I love in this pattern - but the tail design really takes the cake. Jodie has designed this so cleverly, so that the weight of the tail allows the fox to sit up without toppling over. She is made with wool felt, and the arms and legs are jointed with buttons.

I had a small spool of aqua Aurifil wool thread so I decided to blanket stitch the edges of the dress rather than machine stitch the edges.

She's not perfect - but she is well loved, and I had a lot of fun putting her together so I'm calling it a win ;o)

I'm at the Hobart Craft Show over the next three days, teaching a little applique and embroidery project at 11am each day (it will be a fun class if you're local!). It's running alongside Island Quilts (the Tasmanian Quilt Guild exhibition) and four of my quilts are hanging, so I will try to get photos over the weekend if I'm allowed.

xx Jess

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Pay it forward

I had a completely unexpected parcel arrive in my letter box last week, right in the middle of a very crap week. It's funny how these things happen at the perfect time - and there is seriously nothing better than a beautiful handmade gift. 

There were a flurry of Pay it Forward posts happening last year, one of which was put up by Erin of Billy Button Designs and I was lucky enough to get my name in the list. I had totally forgotten I'd signed up for it, so when I unwrapped the parcel to find this beautiful sewing kit I was beyond thrilled. The kit is just fabulous - and Erin included a bunch of fabulous extras, including those awesome covered buttons and tape measure at the top. Thanks SO much Erin, I absolutely adore it!  

So it's now my turn to pay it forward! If you would like to receive a little handmade something (cushion cover, pouch, mug rug, something like that) within the next twelve months, just leave a comment on this post and I will choose three random commenters in a week or so. Please make sure you aren't a no-reply blogger though - if I can't contact you I will have to draw a different commenter :o) 

There are a few rules to keep in mind: 

1. By commenting, you are committing to take part in the fun of in Pay It Forward yourself by making something for 3 readers of your blog.

2. You must have a blog to take part.

3.  You need to post about Pay It Forward on your blog once you receive your little something so as to keep the fun going

So, would you like to play along? If you do, maybe let me know what sort of handmade something would appeal to you ;o)

xx Jess

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Free Motion QAL - Piecing Your Quilt Top

Welcome to the second week in the Free Motion QAL! I hope you all enjoyed the excellent FMQ advice offered by Jen, Pat and Renee last week, and are really pumped to get started :o) Even if you're not participating in the QAL, it is well worth reading through each of the advice posts (here, here and here) - there are SO many tips and tricks offered by these ladies. 

One other thing I need to mention is that I may need you to be a little patient with me over the next couple of months of the QAL. My partner has a slipped disc in his neck, and will be having surgery next week (with six weeks recovery) - so I'm pretty stressed out at the moment, and I can't guarantee I will be able to get all of the posts up according to the schedule. I will try my best to get all the posts up on time, but please bear with me if they are a little late sometimes.

So, this week I will be talking very briefly about putting your quilt top together. There isn't much I can add that isn't included in the pattern - but I would suggest making use of the colouring sheet included in the pattern to decide on the layout of your five coloured stripes. I am giving everyone two weeks to get the quilt top together, and then I'll be back in two weeks to talk about basting your quilt. 

This is my in-progress quilt up on the design wall - I am having an absolute ball putting this together. I know I've mentioned it before, but the Cotton Couture I'm using is an absolute dream to sew with - the hand is incredibly soft and I'm anticipating it will be amazing fabric to quilt.

This is a very quick and simple top to put together - the hardest part is making sure you don't mess up the order of each row. I tend to tackle each row separately - so I sew each row together, put it back up on the design wall before dealing with the next one. I know some people can chain piece all their rows at the same time and get everything right - but I've learnt from experience I'm not one of these people. So to avoid ripping more seams than I sew, I play it safe and do it one row at a time :o) 

It's taken me a while to get organised, but I've started a Flickr group for the QAL - so please feel free to share your progress (and questions) over there. Starting with the next QAL post, I will be adding a linky party to each post, so you can share your progress here as well. If you are on Instagram, please use the hashtag #freemotionqal. 

xx Jess 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Free Motion Quilting Advice - Jen from Quilter in the Closet

I'm thrilled to introduce Jen (who blogs at Quilter in the Closet) to share the final free motion quilting advice guest post. I 'met' Jen a long time ago, and am constantly inspired by her work. Jen actually pattern tested my Giant Chevron pattern last year, and the way she quilted hers has partly inspired this QAL. Thanks so much for such an excellent post, Jen!

Hi there!  First, a big thank you to Jess for thinking of me when looking for a guest post.  I still consider myself a novice at best, but I've learned a lot and I am happy to share what I've learned.  Whole books have been written on the subject, so I just focused on a few things.

Doll quilt finish

I really only started doing my own FMQ in 2012, when I found the Free Motion Quilting Challenge at Insights from SewCalGal.  The FMQ challenge was fabulous!  Each month a new expert in FMQ would provide a fresh lesson, and participants would give them a try.  Some of the lessons are still available; click HERE to be directed to the links from SewCalGal, you might have to scroll down a little but they are worth it.

baby quilt close up

I can honestly say that just the act of practicing FMQ each month was the biggest boost to my skill.  I don't think it matters what design you are attempting, just the act of practicing makes you better.  Seriously the biggest challenge is just deciding to give it a try.  Be fearless!  What is the worst that can happen?

Pillow shams

Practice Sandwiches

I know Pat has already mentioned practice sandwiches, but they are a big part of my preparation for quilting.  When I was learning FMQ, I chose to make place mat sized sandwiches for the FMQ challenge.  They were big enough to allow me time to figure out the lesson on fabric, but small enough to be easy to manage under the machine.  They are also big enough to have something to hold on to while you are trying out a design, but not so big that you feel like you are wasting fabric if it all goes wrong.  Plus, unless your cooking is truly terrible, no one will be studying your place mat in detail.  Here are some of the place mats I created during the challenge.

FMQ place mats

I now use smaller practice sandwiches.  My standard is a 10 x 10 black layer cake square, 2 layers of batting (because that is what I like to use in my quilts), and some scrap fabric on the back (a great use of questionable quality fabric that you got in a swap).  Before I start stitching on any quilt, I pull out a practice sandwich and the thread I want to use on my quilt and start quilting.  If the design I am going to use is small, I will stitch it on my practice sandwich.   If it is large or complex, I might just stitch my favorite swirls to remind my muscles what to do, get my tension right, and figure out if today is a good day for quilting (some days I'm just plain too tired or distracted).  If all is going well at the end of my practice sandwich, I will move on to my quilt.

Practice sandwiches also give you an opportunity (off quilt) to try out new designs or threads, and regulate your speed.  Speed is something that will be different for everyone.  Personally, I like to really pedal to the metal; however, it is not the speed that works best for me.  If I quilt too fast, I tend to jerk the quilt around a bit, making large stitches in a sea of smaller stitches.  If I quilt too slowly, all my stitches are super tiny.  I found out through practice that somewhere between medium and high yields my best results.

I feel it is important to note that at some point you have to "just do it" and try your hands on a real quilt.  Practice sandwiches are great, but there is nothing that will build your muscle memory like completing an entire quilt.  You will notice a difference from the spot you start to the spot you finish.  Don't stress though, it is still perfectly cuddle-able and you should be proud to give it as gift if that is what you intended the quilt for.

Threads and Needles 

I mostly use Aurifil or Superior Threads for my quilting now.  The path to those choices wasn't smooth.  I was trying to finish a quilt up for charity using a simple meandering design and my gorgeous variegated Superior Thread that matched the quilt perfectly, kept breaking.  I am not exaggerating when I say I could only stitch about 6 to 8 inches before the thread would break.  I was at my wits end!  I went through the list from the experts of what to try, and it was still breaking.  I finally broke out a pack of Superior needles (that I was saving for some reason) and gave them a try.  No more problem!  Superior Threads even tells you on the bottom of their spools what size needle to use.

Needles and thread

I had a similar problem with Aurifil threads.  I had started using those Superior needles for all my quilting, and when I tried out Aurifil, it kept breaking.  Again, I was at my wits end.  Everyone raved about this thread, and I had bought a LOT of it.  It pieced nicely, but maybe the stress of FMQ was too much??  On a whim, I switched back to the Schmetz needles I had.  No more breakage.  Go figure!  It was only through trial and error that I figured that all out.  -- on a side note, the Gutermann thread I started my quilting journey with years ago, never broke, regardless of the needle used.

I read recently that ball-point needles should be used for quilting.  I haven't had the chance to try them out yet, but plan to.  They might just be what works for you.


It can really be nerve-racking trying to get tension right.  Use your practice sandwich to get an initial tension level, but check the underside of your quilt frequently AND any time you change a bobbin, re-thread your machine, change a needle, etc.  I know you want to just get going and finish, but a few stitches is easy to rip out - a whole quilt full, not so much.

checking tension on the bottom

One of the biggest tips I can give someone new to FMQ is to use the same color thread in your top and bobbin.  It won't solve every tension issue (eyelashing for example), but it will give you a slightly wider range of acceptable tension levels.  For example, (usually)my machine likes to quilt on or around 3.5 for most quilts I make.  If I have a different color thread on the bottom (maybe I wanted to blend with my backing), I will need to adjust my tension to find that sweet spot, almost exactly, otherwise you will see little dots of the wrong color either on the top or bottom of my quilt.  Whereas, if I use the same color thread, I could have my tension set anywhere from 2.5 to 5, and you wouldn't see the difference!  That's huge!  Especially for someone just starting out.

Have a Game Plan for your Quilt

All I mean by this is, think about what design you are going to do, and where you need to start your stitching.  If possible, your game plan should allow for the least amount of quilt in your throat space.  You don't want to start on the left side of your quilt and have the entire thing bunched up in your throat space; it's not impossible, just uncomfortable.

If you are going to do an all over pattern, or the same design in all the negative space in your quilt, I would probably start in the dead center of my quilt (in a seam so as to hide my starting stitches) and quilt the lower right quadrant of my quilt (pretend your quilt is divided in 4 quarters).  I would then work my way, by quadrant around the quilt.  This big quilt was quilted that way.  I worked on 9 blocks at a time.

Helpers turned models (Gigantor quilt)

If my plan was to quilt each block differently, then I would probably start with the blocks near the center and work my way out.

HFWYG quilt top 1.2

In the case of Jess's pattern.  I started by quilting the center (red) stripe, turning my quilt when the chevron turned, and then worked my way out from the center by stripe.

Giant Chevron closer up

I could also go on and on about the benefits of stitching all your seams in the ditch before you start FMQ, but THAT might be going too far for this guest post.  (Experiment with it, just saying!)

So to recap my best FMQ tips:

  • Just go for it and don't stress
  • Practice - it takes time and practice to improve
  • Match your top and bobbin thread
  • Have a quilting plan

Thanks again, Jess, for the invitation to share some tips.  I look forward to seeing everyone's FMQ in this QAL.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Free Motion Quilting Advice - Renee from Quilts of a Feather

Today's guest post is from the super talented Renee, who blogs at Quilts of a Feather. I'm not sure when I discovered Renee's blog, but it is a constant source of inspiration. Thanks so much for putting together such a fabulous post!

Hello!  My name is Renee, I blog over at Quilts of a Feather (@quiltsnkids on IG).  I've been quilting for about 5 years now, and free motion quilting continues to be my favorite part.  I quilt on a Janome MC6300, which does not have a stitch regulator.

Let me start with my setup. I think it's important to have good setup because then you can more easily make consistent stitches and smooth quilting lines!

I always use quilting gloves and a Supreme Slider for FMQ.  The gloves give me really good grip on the quilt (which decreases stress and fatigue in my hands, arms and shoulders!) while the slider prevents the quilt from bunching up, and decreases drag/friction on the table.  It makes a huge difference!  The bottom of the slider collects dust and lint (which decreases it's stickiness, which can cause it to shift while I'm quilting=bad), so after a few uses I rinse it with cool water and let it air dry.

Machingers gloves and Supreme Slider.

I quilt with barefeet (or with just socks in the winter), which helps me better feel how much I am depressing the sewing machine pedal.  You can also see in the photo how I put the pedal in the middle of my foot, with my toes kind of hanging off.  That gives me a lot better control over the speed of my machine--I can more accurately feel how much I am depressing the pedal.

Quilting barefoot!

 Another thing to note is that my other foot is flat on the floor.  It really helps me to keep it on the floor, but often it finds it's way onto the foot of my chair, or the foot of the table--which decreases my control and throws off my posture.

In the next photos you can see how I place my hands and elbows.

Elbows resting on the table for smaller quilts.

I keep my hands open, and mostly quilt within the space between my hands, especially for smaller/tighter quilting patterns.

Working on swirls and McTavishing.

Now let's talk about quilting!  The best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice.  Experiment with how much you push down on the sewing machine pedal and how fast you move the quilt--the goal is to find a good balance between how fast you move the quilt around with how hard you push down on the sewing machine pedal.

I like using mini quilts from muslin or scraps, or orphan blocks that are around 12-18" square--this gives me plenty of room for my hands to be on the quilt, but doesn't bunch up under the machine.

Stitches fairly uniform in size!

 Ideally our hands move the quilt at a speed that is proportional to how much we push down on the pedal with our foot.  By proportional I mean that when you are moving the quilt slowly, you are only pushing on the pedal a little (slow stitches), and when you move the quilt faster you are also pushing down more on the pedal (fast stitches).

When your hands and pedal-foot work proportionally to each other, your stitches will all be the same size.  Sometimes that is tiny and sometimes that is large--it doesn't really matter, what's most important is that they are all the same!

Stitches on the left are pretty uniform and a good size for me, but on the right they got larger--which means I was moving the quilt too fast in that area.

But when they aren't consistent it means that your hands and feet aren't communicating properly.  You can see some issues in this photo:

The red circle shows where the stitches are too big (compared to most of the others) and the yellow shows where they are too small.

The inconsistent stitches happen for lots of different reasons, here are my top reasons:
1. You don't know where to move the quilt next, so your hands slow down (tiny stitches).
2. You do know where to move your quilt and move it too fast (big stitches).
3. Your quilt snags on something (mine will get pinned between my tummy and the table, or pinched between tables, or a pin will catch on the sewing machine)--and then you get tiny stitches, often followed by big stitches when the quilt is suddenly freed.
4. If you stop and then start again on a smooth line, you can sometimes cause some awkward stitches:

The yellow circle shows a spot where I stopped (needle down) and then restarted--a small hiccup in the smooth line and a few tiny stitches before I got back into my rhythm. 

I can usually avoid these little hiccups in smooth lines of quilting by only stopping and starting where there is already some stitching--so on the photo above it would be on the stem, or where the quilting lines cross.  If nothing else the other stitches in those areas hide the little hiccup.

But if I really need to stop mid-smooth line, I've found it helps a lot to do a couple of stitches in the same spot when I start again.  That seems to help my hands and feet sync up again.

My last piece of advice is to remember the bigger picture!  Here's the finished quilt from the above photos:

Butterfly Mini Quilt II

I showed you several mistakes on that quilt, but now that you see the whole thing they are really hard to find!  And most people will never notice the stitches that are too big or too small.

I hope some of this information helps!  It is a hard thing to teach over the internet with so many variables!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

FMQ Advice from Pat at Color Me Quilty

I am so excited to have Pat guest posting today. I've been following Pat's blog, Color Me Quilty, for a long time now, and I admire her fearless approach to quilting. A huge thanks to Pat for putting this excellent post together :o)

Hi! I'm Pat from Color Me Quilty! I'm just thrilled that Jess asked me to do a guest blog post on free-motion quilting (FMQ). I am so honored because Jess is a phenomenal quilter. FMQ is one of my most favorite elements of the quilting process. I started playing around with FMQ about three years ago and have had a blast ever since.

My layers quilt, quilted on my Pfaff QE 4.0. Queen sized, done in a QAYG method shown here.
I truly believe anyone can FMQ, IF they really want to FMQ. If you just want to save money and have no passion for FMQ, then I'm not sure it is always possible. You must have the desire to doodle.

Start by setting yourself up for success.
  1. Practice samples
  2. Sewing Machine set-up
  3. Thread and Batting
  4. Ergonomics
  5. The quilt project
Let's break each one of these down and talk about what I mean.

1. Practice Samples
I never jump into FMQ without warming up on a practice quilt sandwich. If you are brand new to quilting, practice sandwiches are where to start.Heck, this is how I start EVERY quilt project.
First practice samples

 These were some of my very first practice pieces. I started with cheap fabric from Walmart in a solid beige color. Solids are much better to start with because you can see your stitches. Choose a contrasting thread.

Start by just going forward and backward, then side to side. Look at the stitches, get a feeling for how fast you need to move your hands.

Then start with some wavy lines and some loop-de-loops.
 Think of these practice quilt sandwiches like a scratch pad of paper that you can doodle all over the page.

 Gloves are a good idea to use. Everyone raves about Machinger gloves, but I prefer these light cotton gloves from JoAnn's (I think they are Fons & Porters). If you really hate gloves, there are products to make you hands grip the fabric better. It's hard to move the fabric around without something to help grip.

Check out Leah Day's site for LOTS of quilting help and design ideas
I have probably over a hundred of these little scrap quilt sandwiches. Every project has two or three of them, not to mention those that I just have for ideas or just for fun. Practice, doodle, practice, doodle, it WILL pay off. Try drawing some quilting on a piece of paper, try to fill the whole page up to the edges. How do you handle not getting caught in a corner or what do you do when you hit the edge? It's the same with quilting, have a strategy to fill the whole space. The biggest trick to FMQ is knowing where to go next!

 2. Machine Set-up

If you can, slow down your machine speed, until you get some good hand/eye coordination. Put it on about half speed, going too slow can cause as many problems as going too fast. Your hands will have trouble going too slow or too fast.

Quilted on my Pfaff QE 4.0
 I have free-motion quilted on every size machine, from a BabyLock Esante with about a 5" throat, a BabyLock Elegante' with an 8" throat, a Pfaff QE 4.0 with a 10" throat and finally with a BabyLock Tiara with a 16" throat. They all will quilt just fine, you just may need to fine ways around the throat size.  If you have a small throat on your machine consider a QAYG (quilt-as-you-go) method.  - quilt small sections and join them together after they are quilted.

One of the big issues you will most likely need to address is thread tension. I don't think I've ever quilted on a machine where I didn't at least change the top tension, almost always I've had to change the bobbin tension also.

This is a sample practice piece I did last night. Look closely at the stitching for tension issues.

 Do you see how some of the stitches were "loose" on the top. I needed to tighten my top tension.

The back wasn't bad, but if you looked close the bobbin thread was almost just laying on the back, not pulling into the sandwich. Sorry, it is hard to see on this picture. Clean your bobbin case after every bobbin change.

the back

Rule of thumb for setting machine thread tension: 
1. If you see top thread showing on the back, bobbin thread just laying on the back, then you need to either loosen the bobbin thread tension and/or tighten the top thread tension.
2. If you see bobbin thread on the top, top thread just laying on the top, then you need to loosen the top thread tension and/or tighten the bobbin thread tension.
EACH thread and batting combination may require you to change the tension.

Open-toe foot on my Babylock Ellegante'
I highly recommend an open-toe foot . An open-toe foot really helps you see you stitching. Each machine will have it's own type of FMQ/darning foot.

Another little helper is my Supreme Slider. It's a thin, slippery  mat that you put on the bed of your machine. There is a hole you line up your needle with and it lets your quilt move much easier under the needle.

Supreme Slider

3. Thread and batting.
There is a LOT of personal preference when it comes to thread and batting. So I'm going to tell you what my favorites are and why, but really try different kinds of both thread and batting and see what works for you.
The orange threads are 28wt Aurifil, the blue is 50wt.

Thread: Okay, I admit it, I'm a huge fan of Aurifil thread, both for piecing and FMQ. Aurifil is a strong thread that comes in four different weights of cotton thread. It has the least amount of lint of any cotton thread I've ever used.  Thinnest is 50wt (which I use most of the time), they also have 40wt, 28wt and 12wt. I don't think you can machine quilt with the 12wt and it's pretty hard with 28wt (but it can be done). Aurifil runs wonderfully well through all of my machines. Also, they have fabulous customer service. I once had a problem quilting with it and Alex Veronelli (from Aurifil) actually emailed me and helped me figure out the problem, which by the way was the batting! As a Quality Manager for nearly 30 years, that made me a LOYAL customer!
An experiment with thread. Click here to read more

Batting: I have experimented with LOTS of different brands and types of batting. My favorite is Quilters Dream Puff and Quilters Dream Wool. Both show off your quilting by giving just the right amount of loft (puffiness). I also like Quilters Dream cotton and low-loft cotton, but they are quite flat and your quilting won't show off as much, but great if you have a small throat on your sewing machine (you can fit more of the quilt into the throat with a thinner batting). Quilters Dream is consistent thickness throughout the sheet of batting and there is no scrim (sort of like a plastic reinforcing layer). Batting with a scrim you must be careful on which side up you put your batting, click here for more information.
Aurifil 50wt thread and Quilters Dream Puff batting
4. Ergonomics
This is one of the most over-looked areas when it comes to FMQ, I believe, but it has a huge impact on the quality of your quilting.
  If you sewing machine sits on a counter or table you will need to have a chair that goes higher than a standard desk chair, so that your arms and wrists can remain in a neutral position.
This chair will rise up quite high.

 You can also lower your table (my husband cut 3.5" off of a standard folding table). An extension table will help give your a larger working space. This is an adjustable table made by Sewing Mates.
This adjustable extension table will fit around most machines

Gidget II table and insert.

I paid around $220 for my Gidget II about 2 years ago. You could spend that much for fabric for one quilt. It made more of a difference than anything else I tried. There are other brands of tables that do the same thing. Find one that suits you and your budget.  Notice that I put tables to the back and side of the machine. This works great for holding up big quilts. Nothing ruins FMQ faster than a quilt that drags on the machine because it's partially on the floor. To FMQ, the quilt must be able to float under the needle.

5. The Quilt Project

If you are just learning to FMQ, don't pick your daughter's wedding quilt project to learn on, it will make you crazy. Start on a small project, like potholders or placemats. Heck, just do some fun samples. I made samples for a long time. My first quilt was a FMQ sampler.

I won't recommend using batik fabric to start with, it can give you problems quilting. Use a sharp/microtex needle if you do use it. I used very thin cotton batting and crazy busy backing (harder to see the imperfections). It was a lot of fun to quilt and I use it to cover the sofa my dog sleeps on. I really do love this quilt.

Try using large scale fabric and learn to quilt around all of the objects in the fabric. Check out this baby quilt. I used fleece for the backing and batting, just two layers.

I hope this will give you the urge to FMQ, it is more fun than you can even imagine - DOODLING on your quilt.

Thanks again to Jess for inviting me to do this guest post!

Color Me Quilty!