Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thoughts on Free Motion Quilting

This is part of Quilty Habit's Sewing with Certainty series!  So if you're interested in hearing about my journey through  learning to free motion quilt (FMQ), read on!

I started quilting just over 4 years ago, and my second quilt was a queen size that I stippled my way across with the guidance of a quilt along I'd come across at Old Red Barn Co.

I remember it took about 15 bobbins of thread and about an hour per bobbin.  And I was 9 months pregnant and had the 'pregnancy crazies', aka nesting--and was determined to get the quilt done before the baby came.

Fast forward 10 months and my BFF was getting married and I got the impression she'd appreciate something handmade more than something off the I made her a big bed quilt, and quilted it with the same stipple.  Go with what ya know, ya know?  Plus I was tight on time and didn't even really know about other FMQ options yet.

My next quilt I made was the aspen wall hanging, and it's where I started branching out from the stippling:

Next were a couple of quilts with loops:

Tiny loops!

Loopy flowers on the border.

Next was another wedding gift, this time for my mom (...and uh, step dad?  Still weird to say that, haha, I just call him Mark), so I went all out:

A disappearing nine patch, on point, with sashing and two borders.
Wavey swirls, one of my favorite patterns to quilt.
Flowers on the cornerstones.

Loops on the sashing.

Half way through quilting it I got my new machine (a Janome 6300) and started really playing with FMQ on a mini quilt and some "coasters"--little round quilts I still haven't done anything with.  The kids play with them a lot.

I got a lot of fantastic patterns, ideas and advice from Leah Day's FMQ blog.  She continues to be a great resource and inspiration for me.

A 'coaster"

In 2011 I made 11 quilts, my most productive year yet.  2012 my daughter was born and we put our house on the market to sell, so I wasn't so productive.  But at the end of the year I branched out again and tried FMQ feathers across a king sized quilt...which means I got a lot of practice!

Something really switched on in me in the beginning of 2013--I got it in my head that I would be able to quilt so much better, so much faster, so much easier, with a long arm.  But we were trying to move into a smaller home, and trying to decrease debt, and to simplify our lives--how does a long arm fit into that at all?  So I stopped reading long-armer blogs (save for a few of my absolute favorites), and stopped thinking about getting a long arm.  I had to reevaluate what I wanted and expected from myself, my machine, and my quilting.

I tried to focus on quilting patterns I could still manage on my home machine, and finding bloggers that were inspiring in what they did with their home machines too.  I also started networking my blog more--trying to gain an audience that was interested in what I'm doing while at the same time finding other amazing quilters and bloggers (some of whom have become my friends!).  My followers are my supportive community that motivate, inspire and encourage me.  Thank you for being a part of it!  

I also started to challenge myself on the FMQ I chose for my quilts.  Sure, it took more practice, more time, more research...etc...but the results have always been worth it.  Looking back on the quilts of 2013 I can easily say that they have been some of my favorites, and the quilts I made have made me feel like my quilting abilities and my machine, are good enough.  

The rest of the photos are examples of some of the quilting I did in 2013.

So, here's some advice for those interested in challenging themselves and their FMQ as well:
  • Follow bloggers that do something you also want to do.  Be inspired and turn that into motivation to try it out for yourself!

  • Make practice quilts (a foot square is my favorite size)--try to use the same, or similar, materials to the quilt you plan to FMQ--especially the batting, fabric types, and thread, so when you go to quilt on your the real deal you've already worked out the kinks and possible tension issues.  I use scraps a lot, and occasionally turn my practice quilts into mini wall hangings (some go in the trash though, haha).
  • Practice drawing the designs on paper too, it will help you figure out a the more natural way of creating a design.

  • Find videos that show you how to do something, even if it's as simple as putting your FMQ/darning foot on your machine. I love watching quilting videos (when I have the time)--seeing how others move their quilts and create designs is really helpful!

  • Stop letting fear or intimidation keep you from starting!  It's just a quilt, and if you're worried about "ruining" something you've spent ages piecing--practice!  Play!  Find a rhythm that works best for you, and practice until you're confident enough to jump in with your real quilt.

  • Use some quilting gloves!  They give you a much better grip on your quilt and decrease stress/tension in you hands, arms and shoulders.  I love my Machingers Gloves.  I use them so much I had to replace them after about two years of use (the elastic in the wrists was shot and they'd fall off).
  • Get a Supreme Slider (or the Queen size if you have a machine with a large throat/harp space)--it decreases friction between your quilt and sewing machine/table, so it is easier and smoother to move around.  I've had it about two years too and it still work beautifully--when it stops being sticky enough I rinse it off with cold water and it's good as new.  

  • When nothing seems to be going right, take a break.  For an hour, a day...a week...but always come back.  And when you're really in the zone, don't forget to stretch your hands, arms and shoulders every hour or so.  

  • Whenever possible don't rip out your mistakes.  I've done a lot of ripping, but I try to be realistic--who else will actually care about a tiny stitch (or a bunch, haha) out of place, much less care about it?  Once the quilt is finished and washed, will I even be able to find the mistake again?  More often than not the answer is no, and I leave it.

  • Take care of your machine--I give mine a thorough cleaning after every large quilt (removing the bobbin plate, removing the amazing amount of lint, oiling where my owner's manual recommends, etc).
  • Buy more needles (I stock up on 80/12 universal when they go on sale at Joann's) and use more needles!  A sharp needle is a beautiful thing, so change it out for every large quilt, or after you hit a pin.  A dull, or even slightly bent, needle can throw off your FMQ. 
  • Be kind to yourself.  Realize that improving at anything takes time.  Try to focus on even the smallest improvements!  Doing FMQ requires a lot of courage for a lot of people--so be proud of yourself for trying something new and getting outside of your comfort zone.


  1. Thank you for writing this post! Could not agree more! I started with FMQ in April I think, and I am totally hooked! LOL!
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  2. You've come a long way, baby!
    Heck I stippled for a good 10 years because I really didn't know what else to do :-)
    Yay for spreading the DFMQ (domestic free-motion quilting) love!!

  3. Your quilting is my inspiration! It's funny, I yearned for a longarm for a while too, but our house won't hold one and it certainly isn't it the budget. I've made my peace with that and will just focus on improving skills on my domestic machine (though I will watch the longarmers to find patterns I can adapt!).

  4. I love your quilting and I love your advice. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great post! So neat to see how you have grown...very encouraging to keep at it. Love your feathers!

  6. It's inspiring to see your quilting journey! I find baby quilts great for practicing on, not too big or intimidating!

  7. Thanks for sharing your journey; I loved viewing your progress in FMQ designs. I too learn from Leah Day, and another DSM goddess, Diane Gaudinsky (sp?). I'm still trying to get a decent stitch consistently. Meanwhile, I practice on kid quilts.

  8. This was a fantastic post! I loved seeing your journey. Thank you for sharing. My latest mini quilt quilting is definitely inspired by your Lonestar :D

  9. I loved this post! Seeing your journey and growth :)

  10. Very inspiring words and some beautiful quilts! Thank you so much for this post!

  11. You are SO good at FMQ. I'm a bit envious. ;)

  12. I was recommended this website by my cousin. Im not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know as much regarding my trouble. Youre wonderful! :D

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  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on fmq! Here's one I'd like to add: Use a topstitch needle instead of a "normal" needle.
    I was told last year in a fmq class and gave them a try - it works better! They have a bigger eye and using a topstitch needle caused fewer thread-breakes. This works great for me - perhaps you might want to give it a try!

  14. thanks so much for all your information and good advice ! I've pinned this page so I can refer to it on my free motion quilting adventure this year !