Sorry to break the normal design routine for Tuesdays, but my voice has suddenly decided it wants to sound like a croaky frog, so I can't dub the video scheduled for today.
So instead, I wanted to share with you some photos provided by an awesome new quilter named Pamela W. and talk about an issue I saw a lot in my classes at Myrtle Beach.
What is the issue?
LOOPS! Those dreaded loops on the back of your quilt that seem to happen only when you start free motion quilting!
I know of no more scary thing to a beginning quilter. Seriously, I should make a horror movie and the slasher guy should be the loopy back of a quilt. NOOOOOO!!!!!
My weird humor aside, this is a real problem, especially for beginners to free motion quilting, and it's absolutely understandable for you to be bothered by loops of thread showing up on the back of your quilt.
So where do they come from? Why do they happen? And what the heck can you do about them?
The first thing to realize is that loops on the back of your first free motion attempt is perfectly normal. Nothing scary about it.
We all have to stitch through a selection of ugly, unbalanced stitches at the beginning before we learn how to make the pretty, perfect stitches.
Let me repeat: WE ALL HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS. I would show you my first stitches if I still had them, but they were tossed out long ago.
I do remember going through that though, and I remember the frustration, but I also remember the wonderful feeling when I finally got through it and found the beautiful stitches that were just waiting to come out.
So if it's "perfectly normal" why do loops happen?
From what I've found, most loops are not actually caused by tension issues. If your machine was out of tension, you would know it when you sit down to piece or sew.
If you're not dropping your feed dogs, as I don't, then nothing should be changing with the mechanics of your machine. Your top thread and bobbin thread should be grooving together just the same was as they always do.
To put it plainly: if your machine isn't making wild loops on the back of your fabric while you piece, it shouldn't be making wild loops on the back of your quilt while you quilt it.
If everything goes out the window on your machine, try switching back to your piecing foot and the normal settings you use for piecing, and then make a line of stitches. If that comes out right, then it's not your machine tension at all.
So if it's not the tension on my machine, what is it?
It's your hands and your feet.
Well, to be exact, it's the balance between of the speed of your machine controlled by your foot, and the movement of your hands.
How can I tell?
Look at this picture Pamela sent me:
See the area I circled in red? These are perfectly balanced stitches. If Pamela's tension was out of whack, she wouldn't be seeing any of these on the back of her quilt.
Do you also see the areas I circled in blue? Notice that all of these areas are roughly the same shape. The same loopy "E" shape that was stitched by Pamela moving her hands in the same motion.
The fact that the loops only happen in these specific areas tells me one thing:
Tension is not the issue. The ratio, the balance of speed and movement is the issue.
What is happening is Pamela is actually better at free motion quilting than she probably realizes. I said she was awesome and she really is!
She's awesome because her hands are already comfortable moving the quilt around in these shapes. When she makes that particular "e" shaped movement, her hands are speeding up. They are super comfortable making that movement and want to do it FAST!
So why is she getting loops on the back of her quilt in these areas?
Because foot is just not keeping up with her hands!
Here hands are moving the quilt around, but her foot is staying the same speed as before.
Typically when this happens your stitches will get really big and wide, but also what can happen is the bobbin thread pulls the top thread tightly to the back of the quilt, trying to compensate for the increased movement but lack of speed.
That's how you get loops!
So to fix these loops, Pamela can do two things:
She can try to focus on her hands more and try to keep the movement of her hands steady and even. Personally I find this more difficult as our hands our more involuntary than our feet and require more focus to slow down.
It also goes against your body's natural rhythm. My feeling is if a movement feels natural and good to you, do more of it, and do it at the speed your body wants!
So the other thing Pamela can do is speed up her machine, but only in the areas where she's getting loops.
This means that she will need to speed up in those "E" shapes, but then slow down again slightly when she comes out of those shapes.
Now I'm not a fan of the "pedal to the metal" advice to stitch at the highest speed your machine has while you learn how to free motion quilt. I believe that we all have a comfortable speed within us, and for some it's slower than others.
But I do believe in learning to find different levels of speed on your foot pedal. It's more than just fast and slow!
Think of it like driving a car up to a stoplight. You don't get 5 ft from the stoplight and slam on the brakes, do you?
No! You slow down gradually, and if the light turns green, you speed back up again. And all of that movement and control is being dictated by your FOOT!
Something many students noticed in class was how I quilt barefooted. I simply cannot quilt with shoes on. With a shoe on, I don't have as much control or intuition into what is happening with my foot.
I also quilt with the ball of my foot on the top of the pedal. My toes hang off the top because I have more control over the middle part of my foot than my toes.
Feeling the pedal and all the speeds your machine has, and being able to go from fast to slow and from slow to fast is a skill that will definitely come with time.
No, your first attempts at free motion quilting will not be perfect! Stop expecting them to be!
Quilt your first trial quilt and get all those ugly stitches out. Learn how to move the quilt, how to control the foot pedal, and balance that ratio between your hands and your foot.
It's a lesson you cannot learn by thinking about it, you have to DO IT!
The more you move your hands, the more you move your foot, the more you concentrate on creating simple designs in free motion, the easier this will become.
Piece up something simple, even if it's just plain fabric and quilt the snot out of it! Get through those ugly beginning stitches because I promise you, you will find beautiful stitches in there!
They're just fighting to get out.
GO QUILT RIGHT NOW!
Super thank you to Pamela W for sending me her photos and allowing me to share them with all of you!