"I have been sewing for years but as far as the free motion quilting I am a beginner. I just watched the video on how you use the Janome sewing machine. I really am interested in learning more about the "not dropping the feed dogs" comment. I purchased a babylock and love it, but I followed the instructions and drop the feed dogs when free motion quilting and it's really annoying that the tension is so persnickety. but if I could avoid that I think I would be in heaven."I liked this question a lot because it reminded me of something important today - too often I assume that if I say something one time, you've all heard it and it's old news.
I need a monthly reminder that new, beginning free motion quilters are finding this project for the first time every single day, and that saying something once is never enough!
So here's a lesson I teach at every workshop, usually have to say multiple times at every lecture, and should learn to repeat weekly here on the project:
I don't drop my feed dogs.
I don't drop them when I'm free motion quilting. I don't drop them when I'm piecing. I don't drop them when I applique. I don't drop them here or there. I don't drop them anywhere! I don't drop them in a box. I don't drop them with a fox....
Er...Okay I ran off on a tangent there with Dr. Seuss, but you get my point!
Now here's why:
When I started free motion quilting, yes, I dropped my feed dogs loyally. That is what I'd been taught, and that is what I'd learned in countless books on the subject. For free motion quilting the ultimate, absolute rule #1 is always to drop those little teeth down inside your machine.
But what happens if you forget? What if you get so excited to quilt your next quilt, you simply forget to drop the feed dogs before getting started?
Will the Quilt Police suddenly ring your front doorbell, demanding you to stop free motion quilting immediately? Will the sky blacken with clouds of quilting doom? Will your quilt sit up and yell at you, "NO! Drop those feed dogs first!"
Nope, none of the above. The truth is, the feed dog rule has been a bit overblown.
Because every single book mentions it, and most teachers teach it, quilter's have come to believe that unless a machine has the capability of dropping those dogs, it can't free motion quilt.
And worse, many quilter's believe, if you don't drop your feed dogs, you cannot quilt your own quilts.
But this isn't even logical! It's a rule we've heard and swallowed blindly, without stopping to see if it actually applied to our specific machines!
The ONLY reason to EVER drop your feed dogs
is to stop them from feeding your quilt forward.
is to stop them from feeding your quilt forward.
But does your quilt actually feed forward with the feed dogs up? Try it and see.
If it feeds a lot, put your stitch length to 0. This basically turns the feed dogs off because they're not feeding anything anywhere. They're just moving up and down!
If you don't feel any feeding or pulling forward from the feed dogs, why do anything about them? They're not hurting anything by being up. If it's not broke, don't fix it!
If you do feel a slight tug, why not just cover those feed dogs instead? It achieves the exact same purpose, and when covered with a Supreme Slider, your quilt will glide and move so much easier over the surface of your machine bed.
Personally, I've found the only times a machine needs the feed dogs dropped due to the quilt feeding forward, it's not the machine, the feed dogs, or the quilt that is the real problem. It's the free motion quilting foot.
I've said it a million times, but I'll say it again: most darning feet are not well designed. They literally squish the quilt flat to the surface of the machine bed, making it almost impossible to move the quilt freely in free motion.
Click here to learn about modifying your foot so it works better for free motion quilting.
I'll be sharing a video soon showing you how I modified the generic darning foot I'm using on the Janome HD-1000. Straight out of the package, the foot worked terribly, but with a rubber band and a little elbow grease, the foot works perfectly now.
So the dropping of feed dogs continues, not because the quilt is really getting fed forward by the feed dogs, but because the darning foot is squashing the quilt so badly. Ultimately it's always the feed dogs that get blamed for the quilt not moving smoothly.
But here's the catch - most machines don't react positively to dropped feed dogs. Suddenly tension goes finicky, thread nests on the back of the quilt become far more common, and the stress level of the quilter in question soars.
Who can blame you for getting frustrated? Your wonderful machine that has so far been a loyal and trusted friend has just thrown up ugly stitches on the surface of your quilt.
Many try free motion quilting, but throw in the towel after just a few minutes because they can't achieve a decent looking stitch with the feed dogs down.
Worst still - the blame for the bad stitches is usually put on the machine. My personal opinion is this: if a machine can piece beautifully, it can absolutely free motion quilt beautifully too.
The biggest question should always be: IS THIS EVEN NECESSARY?
Seriously, do a test! Free motion quilt with the feed dogs up, then free motion quilt with the feed dogs down. See for yourself which one works better for your specific machine.
Blindly following rules will never get you anywhere.
So test! Try modifying your darning foot, try quilting with the feed dogs covered instead of dropped, try quilting with a variety of different threads and needles.
But more than anything else: DON'T GIVE UP! Don't stop trying just because things don't work immediately. You really CAN quilt your own quilts in free motion, but only if you take the time to test and find what works and doesn't work for you.
Whew! That was quite a soapbox for a sunny Sunday afternoon! I'm headed into the studio to finish up that baby quilt in the photo above.
Let's go quilt,