The Free Motion Quilting Project: A Quilting Rant

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Quilting Rant

Today Josh and I went to see 2012, which was entertaining in the special effects department, but lacking just about everywhere else.

It honestly reminded me of a quilt I once saw at a quilt show. The quilter had painstakingly hand appliqued 12 blocks with perfect stitches to create a beautiful Baltimore album type quilt.

And then it was quilted with a giant, meandering pattern all over it.

The quilt SHOULD have been a show winner, but it wasn't because the quilting totally ignored the applique and piecing.

Now if ONLY the guys in Hollywood would be willing to spend as much on a script as they do on special effects - then we've have a movie worth watching!

And if only quilters would spend as much time deciding on a quilting design as they do a piecing or applique design, there would be no doubt that quilts are not just "crafts" but ART!

I know, I know! This is the hardest part about quilting.

Choosing where to place designs and how to quilt a quilt is something that is very rarely (if ever) explored.

Most pattern designers are intent on creating more and more piecing and applique designs with "quilt as desired" being the standard advice on how to quilt everything.

Desire? Who's desire? Take 5 minutes to add a few possible suggestions please!

Sorry for the rant, I just sometimes feel like I'm the only quilter out here who recognizes the intense need for more information on quilting design rather than yet another applique method.

This project is so much bigger and better than I ever thought it was possible to be, and the biggest shock to me has been the huge number of beginning quilters hanging out here.

Of course I never intended this blog to be for any specific group of people. I don't intentionally make things hard for advanced quilters, nor do I water the designs down for beginners.

I've been getting loads of requests for specific books and DVDs just for beginners, but I didn't really start to see the necessity until recently.

The whole point of being a beginner is to get better! To move beyond the beginner stages and into intermediate and advanced level designs.

Yes, some people are brave (or stupid) like me and will jump in with both feet to an advanced design with no thought for the consequences.

But most of you are smarter and take your time learning and gaining skill as you go. The need for level based information is very great and I'm going to take that seriously from now on.

So I'd like to officially announce that I am working on a beginner level DVD. This DVD will probably contain around 10-15 filler designs and loads of information on what I see as the most important aspects of beginner level quilting:
  • Marking - If you want a specific design on your quilt, how to design and mark it easily.

  • Basting - Bad basting can cause shifting and distortion on the top and bottom of a quilt. Learn how to do it right!

  • Quilting Setup and organization - No need to fight the quilt or your machine if you set up your tables properly.

  • Speed control - I don't use stitch regulators, and neither do you if you learn how to control your sewing machine as well as you control your car.

  • Stitch quality - Big stitches, little stitches, giant stitches! Why does it happen and how to fix it.

  • Quilt mobility - Yes there are tricks to moving and maneuvering your quilt, even under a domestic sewing machine bed, that will work better than the traditional "roll it in a log" advice.
So what do you think? Am I missing anything big? What are the biggest issues you struggle with as a quilter?

Feel free to comment below and let me know what will help you the most.

Let's go quilt (after you comment!),

Leah Day


  1. I love your site and find it to be a great source of inspiration! I agree with your comments regarding quilting. So many quilts only focus on the top...not the quilting. Many quilter won't even try to quilt their own tops.

    In a beginner DVD you might mention thread and machine tension. Also the design aspects of using different colors and types of threads.

  2. I think your idea of a DVD in great! I'm another one of your beginners here, and am anxious for any info I can get my hands on.
    I think I've already learned more from you than other sources combined! I can see how this could burn you out, but I'm hoping you'll keep up your excellent tutorials.

  3. GOOD LUCK! I know you'll do great with this project and I will line up to buy it when you are done. I agree, no one ever really addresses the actual QUILTING of the quilt. I think it is because most people do not have a sewing machinge that is easily adapted to free motion quilting? How about the differences and pro/cons about the different kinds of batting available?

  4. Well you just listed all of this beginner's problems! I would absolutely buy the DVD but I would love it even more if I could buy it as an ebook.

  5. Oh thank god. LOL. This is just what I'd need.

  6. Leah,
    The one thing missing on your list is that you can use any quilting technique to work any quilting design. All the various hand methods and any sort of machine. A good quilting design for a quilt will work no matter what method you use to carry it out providing your workmanship is OK.
    (The same works for applique and piecing ..... the design is important, not the technique.)
    Judy B

  7. I Can't Wait!!!
    I think you are doing a good thing.

  8. My biggest issue is when they say "quilt as desired" (as I have said before). Just some vague idea of what to do with differnt blocks would be huge. Also some hints on threads - top and bottom - and the adjustments that need to be made regarding them. I'm so glad that you are going to tackle this.

  9. Perfect! I atteneded a machine quilting class today that covered NONE of the things that you have mentioned, but should have.

    I look forward to your dvd!!!

  10. I've also noticed the over all design thing, even by, or maybe especially by, people charging money to quilt other people's quilts. Certainly there is a place for that if one wants a utility quilt but doesn't want a tied quilt, but usually the large amount of work that goes into the piecing deserves at least as much thought for the quilting.

  11. Well, I'll give you a great big AMEN to the frustration of "quilt as desired". Makes me crazy!

    I usually take much longer to audition and choose quilting motifs than I do with the piecing design, and there is no 'one size fits all' quilting in my world! Just recently I did some ditch and echo quilting (because the quilt needed it!) and it almost felt like cheating!

    Good for you, planning some realistic help for beginners. Don't forget tension adjustments. :-)

    Tracy in SW WA

  12. Don't forget to include TENSION! So many new quilters are afraid to touch there tension dials and wonder why the get loops on the back when they free motion. I teach beginner quilting to my guild members and the first lesson is all about getting to know your, new needles, tension, etc.
    I think it is great that your going to focus on the go girl!
    And even the intermediate to advance quilters like myself really enjoy your blog as we love to learn new designs. Thanks for inspiring us to try new designs and not sticking to the same old designs we cling too.
    I detest the phase "quilt as desired" too!
    One suggestion I have is that you create some large scale free motion design for the beginners, the small scale you work at might scare a beginner. But I could be wrong!

  13. What a great post! I completely agree with your frustration with the "quilt as desired" suggestions everywhere. I ordered a kit from a magazine when I fell in love with one of the quilts featured. I have no idea to get the look of that quilt since it doesn't detail how it's actually quilted. It's pieced and basted just waiting for me to figure out what the heck I'm going to do next. Thank you for your attention to these needs of a beginner! I especially am interested in the speed/stitch control that you have in your videos. Thanks!

  14. I send out all my BIG quilts, and even my LA quilter wants me to tell her "what designs and where to place them". I am clueless, but do my best to think it through with her. And I consider myself lucky to NOT know whether what I am asking her to do is difficult or not.

    I guess design is where I need some guidance.
    On my wall, doll, or baby quilts, I often stitch-in-the-ditch, and THEN think about what is left. It's too much to make several decisions in advance; I just make ONE decision and then do that. Then I see something to add. Finally I get to the borders.

    I need to be convinced about basting. By the time I get to that point I'm tired and just want to FINISH. Most often I use safety pins, but only when the quilt top is small enough to do on the kitchen eating counter. On the floor doesn't work for me any more.

    I have several small tops that are at the layering stage, but I don't move on with them because I am scared of not quilting them "right". That is, that in someone's opinion I won't have made the right choices. Finally I decide that I'm just going to forge ahead and get it finished some how! So, I think what I most need is design help and confidence.


  15. Not sure if this falls into stitch quality, but tension is my biggest issue!

  16. Great post Leah.

    I'm def in the need to know more about mobility in quilting group. I have found I prefer to all over stipple, as it's easier to manage the bulk. However if I have a smaller quilt I am happy to try a few more adventurous styles.

  17. All hail Leah - how right you are
    I can think of only 1 quilting magazine (that I can get hold of here) that give you some indication on 'a' quilting pattern, but like the alternative quilt fabric choices, some alterative quilting options would be useful.
    I agree 100% with Sara - basting on the floor is of no use to me - knee surgery makes it impossible - I however have found Sharon Schambers method quite useful, but you do need a decent table to be able to do the wider quilts.
    I am looking forward to any / all of your DVD's.
    Thanks for the advice and your many generous tips etc.
    PS: Love the last two patterns as well

  18. You've said it all, thank you. "Quilt as desired" must rate amongst the three worst words in quilting!

  19. Hey, Leah. I'd suggest selectiong a design that will compliment the quilt top. That's where I've struggled. How much is too much quilting, what kind of quilting will set of a particular part of the quilt? You know. Thanks, Lane

  20. Good afternoon Leah :0)
    I am a newbie to sewing and have thrown myself into learning freemotion quilting while learning my machine lol.
    I have been inspired by your fillers and have been practising whenever I could....almost all the hours of the day lol.
    I had a go at your concentric circles yesterday, well not perfect but a start :0)
    its here on this bag
    Thank you for inspiring me :0)
    *hugs* Heather x

  21. Leah you are 100% correct. That is why it takes me a long time to actually quilt. Choosing the right design and stitching style takes me a long time. I rarely meander unless its a placemat or something. I am getting ready to use one of your designs this morning on a sewing machine cover I am workng on.

  22. I so agree with the quilting fitting the quilt. I know of a Dear Jane quilt, (actually the best I have ever seen) ruined by pantograph quilting, nay, not just ruined, destroyed!

  23. I LOVE your ideas, patterns, etc., and use my DSM to MQ. Your patterns was wonderful! My friends say kind things about my learning, improvements, advancing, etc., but the one thing, they say is that they "can't do it." When I ask them, "Do you try?" No, they don't. THAT seems to be the big stumbling block - they don't try - they don't practice.

    Like playing a musical instrument, at some time, it all becomes so much easier. My very first efforts were reasonable acceptable on an old clunky Kenmore, with a card taped over the dogs - how can we get those gals who are hesitant to "Just do it!" ???

  24. Oh my, oh my, oh my. I would find a DVD with this information an invaluable tool and and an investment I can't see myself regretting in the least.

    Please consider undertaking this DVD project- I would be first in line to purchase it because this is the exact information I need to have and learn from: how to choose the proper stitching patterns and to achieve elegant stitch marks. These are areas my quilts stumble on, I believe, and it's becoming frustrating (not to mention limiting).

    A DVD such as you've proposed would go a LONG way in helping me understand the critically important role of stitching in art quilts.

  25. Ditto to all the comments about stitch as desired. As to a beginner's series..great idea. I am not a beginner but would look forward to learning your beginner's tips too. Include too tips on thread selection, correct needle and understanding the relationship they have to each other. I spent the day Friday, fighting with the machine to quilt a tote bag. It took 3 thread changes and 2 needles to find the perfect match. And then sometimes it is the fabric we are quilting on that causes problems---like batiks. Keep up the good work.

  26. I am SO happy to see someone wanting to cover how to correctly baste and mark their quilt top. I applaud you! I think it's hard to find information on both these very important steps.

  27. I'd like more help on quilt design. Also, I agree with another comment on bigger quilt designs. The smaller designs are so time consuming, which is how I end up with UFO's. As a beginner, I want to see faster results (i.e finished quilt) and work my way up to something more challenging and time consuming once I have more confidence and basic skills. Karen

  28. I am SO looking forward to you coming out with this! It's exactly what I need!

    One thing that no one else seems to have mentioned is thread type. There's SO many possibilities and it seems like every website I go to recommends a different type. If you have anything to say about the various types (other than just "such and such is my favorite") that would be awesome.

    The thing that I have the most problem with as a new quilter is getting the back to lie flat without wrinkling! I feel like I get it totally flattened out and basted, but then upon quilting it wrinkles up. I'm at a loss.

  29. I have been really enjoying your site and it's given me all kinds of ideas for quilting. One of the things you didn't mention but I would really benefit from is a discussion of how to pick thread color. I've done a couple of baby quilt with bright and light prints mixed together and never know what to do.

  30. I've only machine quilted using a straight-line (I guess "in the ditch") method.
    My problem is having enough imagination, knowledge and skill to actually quilt anything other than the easiest straight line. Most patterns & what-not simply say "Quilt as desired", which usually leaves me shrugging...

    I think it's a waste of fabric, thread and money to follow your advice of getting a yard of fabric and "learn by doing".
    I *have* however been making small squares (6" or so) and trying various techniques and/or doodling. I'm always proud of it, but ALWAYS think it could be soooo much better, and am always reminded that YOU make it LOOK *SO* EASY!

  31. Your designs are brilliant, and I'm looking forward to trying many of them on future quilts.

    For your beginner quilting DVD, how about some advice on scaling designs? How do we use these on a larger scale, rather than on the small samples you've shown?

    Thanks for the work you've put into these videos and explanations.

  32. I agree, I agree! I think "quilt as desired" should be BANNED from our language! I think I am a pretty good piecer, but I don't know where to begin when it comes to quilting a top. I've printed out your recent posts showing suggested patterns because that is exactly the kind of help I need!

  33. oh boy - I think you have a wonderful idea and also you have a gift for teaching. Speaking for myself I have only recently with the help of the internet realized that I could quilt my tops on my home machine and get good results. One Reason I have sent my quilt tops out to the longarm quilter and pantograph is becuase I did not want to ruin a quilt I had spent some time, considerable effort and money putting together by trying to quilt it myself when I really had no idea what I was doing and had less than pretty results with the few I had tried on my own. Whew! For me, when I first began quilting it was all about the fabric, then I progressed to the patterns and the play between fabric and pattern - then applique, most recently thread painting and it wasn't until I saw a very elaborately quilted top at a show that the actual quilting became important to me. The quilting can just make a quilt bloom. I think your suggestions of how or where a particular quilting pattern can be used as a filler is invaluable information for those of us who do not have the experience to judge. sorry for the long winded post

  34. I'd totally buy that DVD. I think it might benefit from a problems and solutions section, to teach us newbies why we get nests on the bottom or skipped stitches, and how to fix 'em and avoid them altogether :).

  35. Must be synchronicity because I took an intro to machine quilting class on Saturday and it, for lack of a clearer adjective, sucked. I could go through the reasons why, but let's just say that she didn't cover anything you might put on your dvd and was unorganized and unclear. When I asked her about my stitch length the answer I got was, "don't worry, it will come with practice." WHAT!? I paid money for THAT?

    I do think it is worth getting some sale broadcloth or muslin and practice, it is well spent money in the long run. I also teach people (when I teach knitting or when my friends are starting to knit or spin) to practice for 10-15 minutes per day for one month. It takes about that long for your brain to make the motor skill connections. That is where I am at now. Just practicing things like stippling, writing my name, outlining things. I'm looking forward to your class on dvd.

  36. I think the DVD would be wonderful. As a beginner/intermediate FMQer I think this is a natural progression for you Leah.

    I so enjoy your website and love seeing what you will come up with next for those of us who love FMQ.

    My biggest issue used to be keeping all of the quilt on top of the table so there was not be any drag on the area I am quilting. I have the table that is made for my Janome 1600P sewing machine, which is very much like your Juki. I also use a card table to my left to support my quilt.

    I am always looking for new fresh ideas to enhance my FMQ, I know I will find it at your blog.

    Thanks Leah,

  37. I am so glad you are talking about block-specific designs in quilting. I am a professional longarm quilter (love your quilting ideas!) and it makes me ill to see a beautifully appliqued quilt have an all-over design that goes right over the applique! I understand that paying a quilter to quilt a quilt for you is expensive, but so is your fabric and the time you have invested in piecing a quilt, so don't skimp on an all-over pattern for a quilt that could shine with customized quilting in the blocks. Some quilts don't need custom quilting because the piecing and colors of the quilt demand the attention, but there are those quilts whose beauty can be enhanced by spending just a little bit more for custom quilting in each block.

    Keep up the awesome work inspiring all quilters with your ideas, suggestions and quilting.


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