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!


Renee said...

Hurray! Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this quilt along!

Unknown said...

I really appreciate the helps for FMQ. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, especially that last bit about seeing the bigger picture :) This FMQ series is making me want to have a go at it.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, especially that last bit about seeing the bigger picture :) This FMQ series is making me want to have a go at it.

Jessica said...

Awesome! I quilt barefoot too ;) and I also have that washi tape on your machine! Great tips - I definitely need to work on my foot placement.

Farm Quilter said...

So I guess this means I can stop inspecting my stitches with a magnifying glass!! And I quilt on a longarm with a fabulous stitch regulator...I check for tension problems with the magnifying glass. Love your instructions and the comparison between pointing out the "problem areas" and what the whole quilt looks like!! Fabulous!!!!

Susan said...

Thanks for your excellent and practical hints! Those things discussed have always been issues for me too!

Mara said...

I love your quilting Renee and thanks for all of the great advice.

KaHolly said...

I am new to FMQ and am having so much fun. I just picked up a Janome Horizon 8200 and it's a dream. Thank you for the tips on technique. I need all the help I can get!! said...
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Great tutorial Renee! Thank you for taking the time to show so many details! I think most of us sew barefoot when using our domestic machines. Loved the pic of your feet on control petal. We are all just women, like you, feet and all!!

Katy Cameron said...

Great advice, and I'm so glad that I'm not the only one whose 'spare' foot ends up in odd places!

nicole said...

Awesome tut Renee! Someday i'll brave FMQ again!

Lisa J. said...

Thanks once again for these great tips and encouragement.