This week there seems to be a lot of agonizing over tiny imperfections.
While I wish I could tell you that I never, ever do this, you'd know I was lying. We ALL agonize over a wiggly line that's supposed to be straight or visible knots on the backs of our quilts. It's easy to assume that everyone in the world will see these issues too.
But at some point you're going to have to give yourself a break.
Please understand that issues happen, even to people who have been free motion quilting for years. Really the only difference between a beginner and an advanced quilter is the ability to HIDE mistakes better! I've heard about tricks ranging from quilting with invisible thread to using a sharpie permanent marker on the back to "color out" tension issues!
And keep in mind what happens when you wash a quilt - it gets kinda wrinkly and wobbly - which naturally hides small issues perfectly.
So this week try to let go, if you can, your need for absolute perfection. Aim to do your best, and accept what comes now and what will improve over time.
Now with that pep talk out of the way, let's answer some questions about free motion quilting!
First let's answer three questions posted by Malini at My Quilting Journey:
I don't have the option to lower the feed-dogs on my sewing machine. Its a very basic Brother XL2600i. Before I saw your video on basic FMQ, I was trying to lower the feed-dogs on my sewing machine. Luckily your video said I need to use stitch length settings to ZERO.For Straight line FMQ can I keep my stitch length to different than ZERO? Are there any consequences??
Here's the deal: it's your machine and you know it much better than I do.
When it comes to having the feed dogs up or down, it's really entirely dependent on what works best for the machine. For some machines, it really works best with feed dogs down, but for many others, it's better to leave those little teeth up and set the stitch length to 0.
As for straight line free motion quilting, this really shouldn't be significantly different from regular free motion quilting. I don't differentiate between the two because I'll often stitch some straight lines, then fill in some stippling, then go back to straight lines.
Fiddling with stitch length or the feed dogs constantly shouldn't be necessary. Once you find what works, stick with it.
And to answer the second question, no, I don't think there would be any bad consequences to playing with this, I just doubt you're going to see any changes in how easy or hard stitching on a line is. Raising the stitch length up or down really shouldn't effect your ability to stitch better or worse on a line.
Next question from Malini:
I seem to do well when I start quilting. but then half way through I can't seem to control my speed. Either I go slow or fast which prevents me from having beautiful curves.Well...yes, I probably will say practice, but I might also suggest 2 shots of tequila and a little lime makes all of this much easier!
How can I work on this? Is your answer going to be Practice...Practice...Practice??
The fact that the process is getting HARDER as you get into it is telling though. It means you're either really clenching up and micromanaging everything in the beginning, or you're loosening up so much by the halfway point that you're basically on cloud 9.
Work on consistency.
This isn't a dirty word. It might mean that you need to only play with free motion quilting for 30 minutes at a time. When things go wild, it might be a sign that it's time to take a break.
When you're learning something new, and many quilters described this as trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time, your brain and body can only take so much intense focus and concentration. Work for 30 minutes, then stop and cut fabric for a bit, then come back to it.
The point here is no one learns free motion quilting in a day.
And to further that point - no one learns piecing, applique, basting, needlepoint, knitting, crochet, weaving or dyeing in a day either! Give yourself the gift of time and patience and you will be rewarded with beautiful stitches.
One last question from Malini -
I tried another quilt sandwich where I used variegated thread and began to have tension problems. As soon as I changed the thread my stitches aren't pretty anymore on the top. Why?
Hmm...it's hard to say exactly why switching to this different thread immediately caused issues. It could be that this new thread was slightly thicker and required a tension adjustment. You might have also dinged your needle as you switched thread and you need to change needles. Really it could be a lot of different things!
Personally, I think this is yet another vote for the idea of finding a thread that works and sticking with it.
I have zero patience to continually fiddle with my tension, my needles, or my machine in order to use every thread in the world for free motion quilting. The fact is, your stitch quality really will change depending on whether you're stitching with a thread your machine likes or hates.
It saves so many headaches to simply pick a particular thread, buy it in every color under the sun, and use it exclusively for all your free motion quilting.
As for variegated thread, it's good to understand that they're all not made equally. I'm fond of both Isacord varigated and YLI Variations.
I have also used many cotton variegated threads, and this might sound crazy - but I could swear that they're different thicknesses depending on what color is running through the machine. Either that or my machine became possessed whenever it ran through the color green.
The next question is from Anne at Anne's Threads:
Are some projects, eg when the blocks have several seams coming together, which are still better done with the walking foot?
Absolutely! There are many situations when you have multiple seamlines, multiple thicknesses of batting and fabric when it makes much better sense to use your walking foot.
The point of this stitching on a line exercise was to prove that you CAN free motion quilt in a straight line and that MOST of the time, this will be easier, faster, and much less complicated than using a walking foot.
But remember - it's YOUR quilt and it's YOU that will be quilting it! Practice both methods so when you get a quilt ready to go you can easily pick a technique that works best for your particular project.
The next question is from Danielle:
Please look at the photos below. the first one (the front side)of pebbling has little knots. Could this be the result of thread?
I can see the little knots and these look to me like the result of two things:
1. Stitching too many times in one place.
2. Thread is slightly thick.
Truthfully the blue thread looks like it's thin enough for the job, but if you're pausing as you create the circle and travel stitch, even 1-2 extra stitches in a single place will result in a little knot.
Try stitching this pebbling again and listen to your machine as you travel stitch. Do you hear a slight POCK POCK POCK noise as you travel over those circles? This is a sound I associate with the threads building up too thickly and causing your needle to work harder than it should. Either move faster or slow your machine speed down so you don't put quite so many stitches in those areas.
We will cover travel stitching in much more detail this year, so even if you haven't mastered it right this second, I will have many more tips and tricks coming your way in a few months.
Now for Anne's second question:
The next photo is on the back up close of the flower. Were the flower meets the little 2 leaves there is a big blob of thread build up. Is this normal, acceptable, how it's supposed to look.If I were to enter a quilt in a show and I had areas like this, would I get a big thumbs down?
Photo from Danielle's My Quilting Journey
This is a great question Danielle! Of course, not everyone wants to enter quilt shows, but it's still fun to be able to create a winning quilt.
When it comes to this kind of thing - thread building up on the front or back where lines of quilting combine, connect, or travel over one another - run your hand along the stitching. Can you FEEL the knots?
From what I understand (and please remember I am NOT a quilt judge), judges will run their hands over a quilt to feel for knots, then look to see how noticeable they are. Mostly this is looking for thread breaks and whether a quilter is hiding her loose threads properly or not.
From the look of these knots, just like the knots in your pebbling, they're being created with only 1-2 extra stitches piling up on one another.
Try stitching another flower shape, but when you hit the central tear drop shape, STOP.
Just stop with the needle in the down position. Take a second to breathe. THEN start stitching again in another direction.
The thread is building up because you're hitting that point, but your brain isn't changing direction fast enough and you're stitching a few times in place as your brain catches up.
As for a thumbs down on this issue - it really depends on the judge, the contest, and the category you entered.
My first win was with a quilt that had a huge burn mark in the center and the judges didn't mention it a bit. The second time it showed, it was strongly criticized. You really never know what you're going to get, so the best thing to do is just keep making quilts and entering them and see what happens.
Now we have time for one more question from Shelly Tiefenthaler in the comments of yesterday's Quilt Along #5 Stippling in Blocks:
If you weren't teaching with this quilt what color thread would you use for the stipple in the blocks?
The white shows up for the video but in reality what would you choose when the blocks are two different colors like that? Blue? Red? Black again?
Great question Shelly! Thread color is a hard thing to pick for most quilters, and it's understandable why. On the one hand, you want your blocks to show off the piecing, but on the other hand if you're bothering to quilt them at all, chances are you also want to get some credit for the quilting as well.
But the truth is - this is entirely dependent on your personal opinion.
What color would YOU have quilted this block?
EVERYONE - Please leave your opinion for the thread color in the comments below!
I bet that every single person that shares an opinion is going to have a different idea for what looks best!
Personally, if this quilt wasn't being quilted on video I might have filled the blocks with a light red or light blue thread. I like the idea of quilting over colors with different colored threads because it makes my stitching stand out in those areas.
Notice this is just my OPINION. You will likely have a different opinion. That's okay!
The best thing you can do is look at your quilt, pick a thread color that works for you, and then shut up and go quilt it.
Don't agonize over this decision! Don't lose sleep over it, and don't let it be the only reason why a quilt top is a UFO and left un-quilted for 5 years. It's just THREAD!
Whew! I think that covers enough questions for today. I'm seriously needing to shut up and quilt!