The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #2

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Question Thursday #2

Whew! I don't know about you, but I'm LOVING this Quilt Along! Seeing all of you link up throughout the day and seeing your progress first hand just makes me smile, smile, smile.

For the record, EVERYONE that has linked up so far (13 awesome bloggers) and shared progress is doing awesome on stippling. Seriously, you guys are ready to be quilting that design on real quilts!

And yes, I plan to read at least the first 10 blogs that link up (and more as time allows), and I'll comment if I can figure out how to (some blogs are a bit confusing!)

Keep in mind that we're running the linking up part always a week behind so you have plenty of time to work on the design, write a post on it, and then link up on the following Wednesday. So next week we'll link up about quilting in rows. I hope that makes sense!

One theme that ran through many blogs is the desire for perfection. I'm glad I'm not the only person that obsesses about perfect stitches, but here's the thing:

You're a lot harder on yourself than anyone else will be.

Several times while reading different blogs, I'd have to scroll back up to stare at a photo, trying to see all the issues the blogger mentioned in the post. I had to SEARCH for the issues, and I had trouble finding them!

When you make a mistake or have a problem area on a quilt, YOU know where it is and your eyes zero in on it. But is it that obvious to the whole world? No!

So you may have hooks or flat areas or sharp points in your stippling, but these are SLIGHT IMPERFECTIONS. They are not deal breakers. They will not ruin a quilt.

My yoga instructor, who happens to be pregnant right now, said something really interesting last week. We were in a particularly difficult stretch and she was reminding us to be gentle with our legs. She said "Please be nice to your hamstrings here. Imagine they are MY legs you're stretching. You wouldn't hurt a pregnant woman, would you?"

So rather than flay yourself alive when you see an imperfection, imagine it's your best friend's quilt. What would you say to her if she showed you that quilt? Say those kind words of encouragement to yourself and build yourself up rather than tear yourself down.

Kris R also shared a yoga quote on her blog from the Yoga Sutra - “cultivate patience and self-compassion by reminding yourself that insights and change will come in their own time with continued diligence.”
Time, patience, compassion, and a certain blindness - or at least a willingness to ignore - imperfections will all help with this learning process. Now everyone give yourself a big compassionate hug and let's get to the questions!

The first question for this week comes from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

How do you get up close to the edge of the quilt and still control the stitching?

This is a really good question because the edges of your quilts are potential minefields of issues. You might be quilting along just fine in the middle of a quilt, but get right on the edge and suddenly your design will go out the window along with stitch quality as the edges shift and wiggle under your hands.

But this is NORMAL!

You're on the edge of your quilt so you should have a few inches of batting and backing fabric under your hands, but the quilt will end and stabilization of all 3 layers stacked together ends with it.

So here's a few solutions. There are probably hundreds of ways to circumvent or fix this issue, but we'll start with just 2:

#1 - Don't quilt to the edges - Just don't to it. Add an extra 2 inch strip of fabric all around your quilt and mark a line right through the middle of it. Quilt to that line leaving 1 inch of fabric between you and the raw edge of the quilt at all times.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
As you can see from my fabric samples of designs, this is how I quilted each 4 inch square - within a 6 inch quilt sandwich so I always had 1 inch of fabric all around the edges.

This extra inch of fabric gives you the added stabilization you will need. All three layers stay together beautifully and there's hardly any issues of the design going crazy because the quilt remains stable.

2. Cut wider borders - This is basically the same answer as #1, but an alternative method. Instead of adding an extra 2 inch strip to your quilt, which most quilters simply won't want to do, you can instead simply cut your borders 1 inch wider.

Again, mark 1 inch inside the edge of the quilt top and take your stitching to the LINE, not to the edges of your quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis is my favorite solution because I can't count the number of times I've quilted my free motion foot over and under and INTO my quilt top. I can't count the number of times I've gotten so stuck on a quilt edge I had to break thread, usually ready to tear my hair out the whole time.

It's annoying and frustrating and just not necessary. Make your life easier and less complicated by NOT quilting to the edges of your quilts.

Note to Extra Stubborn Quilters: if you absolute, positively, MUST quilt to the edges of a particular quilt top, use your hands to really flatten out the space you're stitching, then quilt OVER the edge of your quilt top into the batting.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis area will be cut off when you apply your binding, but your design will remain more consistent and you should be able to maintain more control, but only if you really FLATTEN everything with your hands.

I work from right to left, always smoothing the quilt out, flattening out the edge so it's squished down and not flipping up for my foot to catch on. Then I carefully stitch over the edge and into the batting, then back over the quilt, keeping the design simple, but consistent.

Pat of Color Me Quilty also asked for advice on quilting a sampler quilt she's just made:

What a pretty pink quilt Pat!

When it comes to picking designs to go into your quilt, get the quilt top completely together, then take a photo of it and print out many copies.

Then sit down at your kitchen table and PLAY! Draw many designs and play with a variety of ideas. If you do decide to add that 2 inch sashing, maybe try filling it with a single row of stippling.

Now for the next question from Kris at Coloring Outside the Lines:

Any tips or tricks for quilting bigger quilts?

Oh yes! We're going to get into a lot more detail with this next week, but for now here's three tips that can help:

1. Don't roll your quilt - Personally I find rolling my quilts under the machine arm just makes them really hard to move around. Instead I squish them into the space and tuck most behind the machine. You can see a video of me demonstrating this method right here.

2. Knock out the center first - The center is the hardest part because it' the center. As soon as you knock out that section though, the rest of the quilt will get easier and easier to quilt.

3. Hang your quilt from the ceiling
- This tip won't work for everyone, but if you have a setup that allows it, suspending the bulk of your quilt from bungee cords and clamps will really make things easier to move and quilt. You can read a detailed article on how to do this right here.

Next two questions from Marie at Marie's Creative Space:

Thread: Do you have a favorite thread? Are there any threads that you would NOT use for this?

I look for 2 things with thread: strength and thinness.

A thread must be strong so it can go through the machine and withstand the speed and movement of free motion quilting. While I'm not a "pedal to the metal", super high speed fan, free motion quilting is, in general, stitched at a faster speed than piecing or applique.

For free motion I'm also looking for a thin thread. This is more of a personal, aesthetic choice. I want my quilting lines to look like a fine pen line on the surface of the quilt, not a chunky crayon.

This is not as important with Stippling or the designs we will learn this month because there's no travel stitching involved with these designs. It's just a single line wiggled around your quilting space. At no time do you stitch back over your stitching (travel stitching) with stippling.

However, as soon as we start travel stitching later this year, the thickness of your thread is going to seriously matter. You simply cannot travel stitch a super thick thread multiple times - it will built up too heavily on the surface of the quilt and break.

A thinner thread can be travel stitched multiple times. If I need to pass through an area 5 or 6 times with a design, I can. I might not always USE this ability, but it's very nice to know that I can do this and not risk a thread break every time.

free motion quilting | Leah DayNow for all of my videos so far I've been using Isacord Polyester Embroidery Thread.

I love this thread because it's thin, it's strong, and it stitches beautifully. What more can you ask for?!

Yes, this opens us up to the giant debate about cotton vs polyester threads on quilts. So far I've been using Isacord on all of my quilts, bed quilts and show quilts for almost 3 years and had no sign of any issues. James's quilt in particular has been washed around 1 million times and is still in great shape.

I've written in depth about using polyester thread in my quilts right here.

Isacord is my favorite brand and type of thread, but occasionally I'll use YLI Variations because this variegated thread is so beautiful and gently variegated.

I've also just tried Aurifil's Polyester Embroidery thread because Alex Veronelli was kind enough to send me a few spools to play with. After playing with this today I'd say it's very similar, if not totally identical to Isacord - strong, beautiful, and super thin. I really, really like this thread!

If you're still absolutely stuck on cotton, look for a cotton thread that is SUPER strong, but also very thin. I've also been playing with Aurifil's long staple 50 weight Egyptian cotton today and I've gotta say, it's pretty nice! It's not quite as thin as the polyester, but it seems strong enough to do the job in the test I stitched through today.

Do you notice a theme with this? All of these threads are very high quality. That is the key.

Here's another key:

When you are starting out, use the same thread in the top of your machine and in the bobbin.

I wrote this huge because it's such a huge point! Don't mismatch your threads! Don't use cheap thread from the bargain bin in the bobbin and think you can get away with it! It won't work!

It creates so many tension issues, so many thread problems, and so much frustration. Just save yourself some sanity and MATCH YOUR THREADS!

Yes, many professional quilters mix different threads together and create beautiful quilts. That is something to move into AFTER you've mastered the basics.

Is there a thread I wouldn't use for free motion quilting? Hmm...yes and no, and keep in mind that all of this is VERY opinion driven. There are a lot of threads I've tried and I won't use again because they broke constantly and looked bulky on the quilt surface. I've kept these threads and still use them for piecing and applique where they work great.

I'm generally willing to give all threads a try at least once, but I do have a bit of a prejudice against rayon threads. I've seen them bleed colors too many times for me to trust them on the surface of a quilt that needs to be washed often. Again, that's just my opinion!

If you get a hold of a thread that breaks constantly no matter what you do with it, throw it out! Cotton threads especially can go bad, and who knows how long that spool was sitting on the shelf in the store?

That leads to my last rant about thread: bargain bin thread is best left in the bin.

Don't buy it. I know it's 2 for $1 and that's just such a good deal, but baby - that thread is crap. Leave it in the bin and invest in thread that will truly last the test of time and a thousand washes.

Now for Marie's second question:

Do you have a favorite needle?

This is another very opinion driven detail of quilting. Everyone has a favorite needle, but mine might work great for everyone. Just keep that in mind and try things as you want and need to.

Here's the deal: I got started sewing professionally as a seamstress in 2005 and began running through upwards of 5 needles a week. I had to buy in bulk so I picked the needle that generally worked for just about everything - a Schmetz Universal 80/12 needle.

So even after I quit sewing garments, I had a lot of these needles laying around and kept using them. I still use them today and love them.

The one exception is metallic thread which I quilt with a Schmetz Metallic needle.

Is this the best needle to use? Hard to say.

All quilters are different! The best thing to do when it comes to needles is try out a few and see what works best for YOU and YOUR MACHINE.

I'm just not into the idea of constantly changing my needle depending on what I'm doing. Maybe this is lazy, but I just don't see why I should change needles ever time I switch from piecing to applique to quilting. I didn't switch needles when I went from knit fabrics to rayons to cottons, so why should I change needles constantly now?

The key here is to find what works and use it. Once you find what works, stop searching!

So that's it for today! I really need to shut up and quilt so I have something cool to show you next week!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Thanks for all the great information. One more needle question: how often do you change your needle?

  2. JaneB - As often as it needs to be changed really. Sometimes that is once a week, sometimes that's once a month. It really depends on how much you're quilting. If the machine ever sounds or stitches funny, always change your needle first as that is the most likely thing to be having an issue.



  3. I so appreciate all of the information you are sharing. This is so very valuable to those of us who are FMQ newbies.

  4. I have to say that I tried the Isacord thread, and it flows through my machine like butter. Compared to the stuff I'd been using--there is NO comparison. Love it. When I'm stippling I find that I start out somewhat loose, for a cuddlier quilt, but before long I'm quilting the snot out of it. How important is consistency?

  5. I was given a spool of Wonderfil Invisifil (polyester so think like the Isacord) in an antique white. This is 100wt - yes, 100wt - and is very strong, thin and great for quilting. It positively disapears when you quilt with it. Works on just about any color. The only trouble I have with it is sometimes I can't see where I've already quilted wit it - LOL.

  6. Also - your tip in the intro of leaving the feed dogs up and the stitch length zero solved all my thread problems on my Bernina - Thank you!!!

  7. Thank you soooo much for sharing all your knowledge with us and taking the time to explain everything. It is so helpful to me, a fairly new FM quilter. I hope by following your blog and suggestions and practicing, I will be able to learn how to do this without my shoulders touching my ears like they are now. You just seem to be addressing all my issues like my shoulders, getting stuck in corners and worrying about every little stitch, etc. I love the encouragement you give. Just wanted to say THANKS!

  8. ok, I give. What is "link up", what does it do/mean, how do you do it?


  9. Hi Leah,
    Received my QNM in the mail today, and surprise, surprise - there was your interview! Your honesty is refreshing, just like your quilting & teaching. Thank you for sharing your 'self' - your family, your history, your talents - w us :) Wishing you the best always,

  10. I just got back from the mailbox! I recognized a few of your quilts when I leafed through the new Quilters Newsletter while walking back to the house. Sure enough, a whole big article about you! Can't wait to sit down and read it!

  11. I don't know if you have addressed this already, but I use prewound bobbins sometimes, but I am unsure of what kind of thread it is (although my Aunt assures me it's high quality). I normally use Gutterman polyester on the top. I would be interested in trying the Isachord if it will save me money, but I was wondering if you wind your own bobbins, or use prewounds.

  12. Leah, I love the new chapter of the FMQP! Very informative and inspiring.
    Re: how often to change the needle-the sewing machine tech who services my classroom's 23 sewing machines suggests changing needles after the 3rd bobbin, so that is what we do.

  13. Am late reading these and do have a question that you may be planning on addressing later. How do you quilt an area that has lots of applique with little areas in between the applique that just look a little funny if you don't quilt in the spaces? The starts and stops just look awful. Would you just leave them without quilting? Thanks...Sandi

  14. I am having so much fun with this project. Wish I was better at blogging though. So green...I want to post on some people's project posts but I cannot seem to be able to. I will figure this out eventually. lol

  15. I have been having a real bad time using free motion quilting on my new machine. The cotton thread kept breaking and skipping stitches, loops on the back, etc. I had never had this much of a problem on my old machine. My "new" on is a refurbished Janome. It took me 3 days to do the background on 3 blocks. I decided to try the Gutterman 100% poly as a last resort. I finished the other 3 blocks in less than 2 hours!!. I will try Isacord when I can aford it, no one locally has it. Thank you for all your help and encouragement.

  16. Thanks for answering all these questions. I'm learning a lot!
    I'll try and make my blog less confusing!

  17. Huge tip to newbies out there. I have been doing sandwiches for a while now for practice and having them turn out well. I pieced an old quilt together finally and thought I'll practice on this almost 70" quilt. Don't practice on a huge quilt as your first project!!! I have a pfaff with a small throat, too much quilt, too heavy for a beginner fmq! start with a baby quilt! super frustrated:)

  18. As to thread ... I use what I have as long is the color is what I need. I have tried all kinds including COATS AND CLARKS ...GASP.. My reasoning if it held up in the uniforms I made and washed that have all lasted over 10 years... IT WILL HOLD UP ON A QUILT!

    I just make sure to clean my machine frequently.

    QUILTING THE EDGES of your quilt. I make sure my main pattern is 2- 3 inches from the edge... then I quilt a secondary, complementary pattern up to the feather, border motifs .... gives a nice touch to the quilt... anchors the edges nicely for the binding.

    Love the comments and the post am learning a lot ... plan to start doing next week after I pass my ACLS class... have to study for now.



  19. Needles... for FMQ I only use TOP STITCH ... the size according the thread weight.... I like how the thread flows through the needle and I rarely if ever have thread breakage regardless of the type of thread used.


  20. I also use Isachord, but I alos really like Sulky, especially the variegated threds. It holds tension well, doesn;t shred, is fine and comes in some gorgeous color combos.

  21. When all you can see are your mistakes, try to remind yourself what a quilt teacher told me years ago. "If you can't see your mistake from the back of a galloping horse, it is fine!" Leave it!


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