The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #20

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Question Thursday #20

It's Question Thursday and since we've started a brand new project with modern quilt blocks, we have lots of fun questions to work through today!

Let's start with a great question from Anne Marie in the comments of yesterday's post:

Can this be quilted by marking the backing and having the quilt top underneath?

Absolutely!  If the sight of the blocks and background is distracting to you, baste the quilt with the quilt top on the bottom and the backing on the top.  This way all the pins will be on the back side of the quilt and you can easily quilt from this side with no distracting elements.

The one thing you'll need to watch out for is your thread starts, stops, and any grumbles from your machine.

A grumble is when your machine coughs, snorts, grinds, or any other unpleasant, unusual sound.  This generally means your thread has just done something super funky.  And super funky stuff ALWAYS shows on the back of your quilt!

In this case, if you've reversed the quilt the front is the back during quilting so you need to be extra careful about these warning sounds from your machine.

If it makes a funny sound, stop, break your thread, and flip the quilt over.  Use a seam ripper to rip out a birds nest, if there is one, then pull back the threads carefully to get enough to hide and start stitching again.

Now let's answer a few questions about this modern quilt from Mary at Can't Stop Stitchin':

Can I really piece this block with different sized strips?

Full question:  The first strip I put on was a width of  about 4 inches, and the second one about 2.5 inches… Wonder how much this will matter later on when putting the top together?  or does it not matter at all?  will find out next week when I put it together...

Yes, it really is fine to use different size of strips!  In the end, you're going to square all the blocks to a single size for the easiest construction process.  If you're really worried about it, use wide (3 - 4 inch) strips and you'll definitely finish with huge blocks you can cut down as much as you want.

Try not to think about this project too much or make it super difficult.  The point is to disengage your need to control and dictate every step of the process.  Let go!  Kick back! I promise the quilt you end up with will be one of a kind and beautiful in it's own way.

 Next question from Mary:

Is there such thing as too much Wonkiness?

Full question:   If I should apply a little "wonky" as I apply the first strip? and if I should do it again with the second strip?  Will that be too much wonkiness to the block?  I did some this way, so we will see when it goes together…When I square up, should I square up with more wonky too?  Will that be too much fun/wonkiness ?  We will find out, because I did this to some of the blocks as well.

No!  There's definitely no such think as too much wonkiness!  Have fun, play, and try not to over-think this process.  Perfection is not the key here.  Creation - forming a quilt top from basic elements in a speedy way - that is the key.

 Now let's answer a question from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Are there FMQ designs that are better left to longarm quilters and others that are better suited to domestic machine FMQ quilters? 

Is there an optimal size to the design? I've noticed that a lot of your designs are smaller fillers, but I've also seen some of your work with feathers that are quite large scale. While I realize that practice will help smooth out some of my line work, are there tricks to getting really smooth lines or am I better off going for an "organic (read wobbly)" look and staying with smaller designs? 
This is a bit of an opinionated subject, but I'm going to try to be as fair as possible with this one.

To be honest, yes, there are probably some designs that are easier to stitch with a longarm because you are moving the machine and able to form steady smooth curves with a sweeping movement, verses having to stop and stop for the limited size of a home sewing machine.

However, please keep in mind the learning curve necessary to master a longarm.  Loading a quilt into a frame, getting all the layers properly set up, achieving good tension on your machine - these things might not sound like a big deal, but they are totally new, totally different on a longarm frame system than on a domestic sewing machine.

So there's a learning curve involved here.  I hope we can all agree on that ;-)

As far as optimal size, I know it's easier to quilt on a tiny, micro scale on a domestic machine than it is to quilt that way on a longarm.  To achieve that type of control, you generally need to weigh down the machine and install micro handles.  On a domestic, it's easier to move the quilt in small sections at a time, so you don't need to add anything special to the machine.

Likewise, it's easier to quilt bigger on a longarm because you can make those bigger, wider movements with more speed and efficiency.

The biggest thing to realize in all my ramblings here is there is NO BETTER OPTION.  Both longarms and domestic machines have good sides and bad sides.

So the only solution is to master the machine you own right now!  The more you stitch, the better you will get.

When it comes to quilting long, fluid, perfectly curving lines, this definitely can be a challenge on a domestic sewing machine.  Pat described her wobbles and wiggles as "organic" which is quite true.  This is what happens when quilting if you're not used to stopping and starting in a fluid way to maintain a steady line.

But with more practice and experience, this will quickly become second nature.  You will know where to stop stitching instinctively before your hands lose control over the quilt.  You will move your hands to the right place and start stitching without making those little wiggles and subtle movements, and you will increase and decrease speed in a way that hides the stop and start completely.

While this kind of second nature, intuitive quilting might not be happening right this second, it will happen eventually.  You just have to be patient and accept the organic wobbles and wiggles when they happen, but also notice and enjoy the smooth, fluid quilting when it happens as well!

Finally let's finish up with some questions from Danielle at Fresh off the Spool:

Have you ever doubled up on batting? 

Full question: I have noticed a few bloggers mentioning that they use 2 layers on quilts. Would this be harder to FMQ and would you need a heavy duty needle? I would think It would make for a warmer quilt, and puffier quilting. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

I'll be totally honest here: I have never, ever doubled the batting on a quilt.  I've just never had a need to do this as I don't prefer puffy, thick quilts.

As for making it harder to quilt, 2 battings will logically make the quilt thicker, which could impact your darning foot.  Make sure to adjust it to make it sit higher over all those layers.

If anyone else has experience with using 2 battings in one quilt, please leave some tips or share your experience with Danielle in the comments below!

Now it's time for me to hop off the computer because I have 40 sheets of paper to tape together to create the new duchess quilt!  More details this weekend!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Time to shut up and go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I recently quilted a double-batting quilt on my DSM. I chose to because I had a piece of batting the perfect size, but it was thinner than I usually use, and I was planning some quilting which I really wanted to show up. I reduced the pressure on the foot, and I adjusted with the tension as well. In terms of quilting, I had no difficulties due to the thickness. However, I quilted it quite densely, and the combination of the double batting and dense quilting did make it quite stiff, and it did get significantly more unweildy than normal for a quilt of its size. It was 53 x 65in but in some ways felt more like a queen - I was grateful for every millimetre of space on my 820! It's not something I'd do again in a rush, but I was really pleased with the results, and for the right quilt, I would do it again.

  2. I once quilted a twin size quilt with a fat bat on a short arm domestic machine at the request of my daughter. Never again. Handling the bulk was pure torture. If you really love fat puffy quilts tie them!

  3. Thanks Leah for taking our questions... looking so forward to assembling these blocks and putting it all together! Love the zentangle basting and quilting idea!
    On Batting, I have quilted one fat batt on my domestic, and boy, it was much harder to fit in my domestic machine. The other double batts I have done were only on small wall quilts for extra puff in trapunto, because it is so difficult. Thanks again Leah!

  4. If you want a trapunto-like effect, you can double up on batting. Some quilters use one layer of cotton and one of polyester, or wool, or whatever. I would only double up on something like a wall hanging or table runner, not a bed quilt, because it would turn out too stiff. I've doubled up before, and kept using my same size 70-80 needle, it didn't make a difference.

  5. As far as designs being more suited to longarms vs. domestic machines I've got to say that there certainly seems to be an optimal scale for using my sewing machine. Certainly you can go bigger, but it can be difficult, and it's fairly easy to go smaller. I have to watch my quilting to make sure the scale of my quilting design isn't shrinking. This leads to a stiffer quilt. Most of my quilts are wall quilts so it's not much of an issue, other than taking longer to do the smaller designs and they use more thread. But if I want a snuggly quilt, I can't quilt the heck out of it!

    On the double batts: I do more wholecloth type quilts so I like the extra dimension offered by doubling up a thin cotton bat with something with more puff. Some cotton batts are so thin these days that the quilting stitches barely even sink in. I love a wool batt too. I have never needed a heavier needle due to more batting.

  6. I've never quilted a quilt with multiple layers of batting. But did do some quilting of straight lines when I was making baby's car seat cover. I had 4 layers of low-loft polyester batting and didn't have any trouble.

    Since, I got my computerized sewing machines. I have noticed that the manual simple sewing machines work better when you want to do crazy things like these rather than the computerized one. The modern sewing machines are happy only when you follow the rules for the default setting of the machine. Otherwise, adjust the shank like Leah mentioned.


  7. I love the idea of this quilt and the thought of all the 'scraps' I have that I could use up with this project!

    On batting though, I have story to share.

    I live in a remote area in Northern Ontario. The nearest fabric store and quilt shop are 3-1/2 hours from my house. So, getting supplies for quilting does not happen as often as I would like.... this means getting a bit creative with my quilts.

    Several years ago, I ran out of batting... disaster. My next planned supply trip was 1+ months away... bigger disaster! LOL

    I went looking around at the local department store and found 100% acrylic blankets. They look alot like the old wool kind... the ones that you would use between the top sheet and the quilt in the winter.

    They were even on the clearance table! So what the heck, it was worth a try. My youngest son got the first quilt with a blanket inside. I used it just like batting but did a tied quilt. I thought that would be the ultimate test for durability. It withstood my 4 year old and many washings for 6 years until I packed it off to pasture at the camp.

    Since then, I have to admit... not one 'proper quilt batt' has made it into my sewing room.

    The blankets don't shift, bunch or thin out and are very warm. They are easy to tie, hand quilt and FMQ. They also come in several colours, so 'shading through' isn't much of an issue. The biggest bonus, I can buy them locally without big shipping costs.

  8. Great post Leah. I have never doubled up on batting either, but I wish I had with the white quilts I did recently. I used a different batting than my usual "natural" in order to have white batting in the white quilt. I was really disappointed in how it quilted up as the white batting ended up being so thin that the quilt was translucent. Next time I do a white quilt, I'll either double up, or find a different manufacturer.

  9. Tara - This is a terrific suggestion! I have a very old quilt from a great grandmother and the only reason it's still "together" is because the batting is an old polyester blanket. It's very obviously a blanket because the cotton fabric is tearing away to reveal some seamed edges (still in great shape at 50++ years).

    Truly I think this is an untapped resource because if a blanket is created and designed to wash hundreds of times, wouldn't the be the most durable material to use in the middle of a quilt?! Good for you for finding what works in your area!



  10. Wow thanks for all the responses! A wealth of info you all are! I probably won't double up just because that is batting I could use in another quilt. (limited funds) I may in a smaller wall quilt just to see how it goes. The quilters I saw that mentioned 2 layers were all longarmers. Just basting may be a challenge for domestic quilters if the quilt is to big. I bet it would be pretty for a wall quilt though. I asked the lady in my local quilt shop if she ever doubled up and she said no. She prefered the flatter look. But she had heard of show quilters using one layer of cotton and one layer of poly to get the trapunto look.


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