The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #35

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Question Thursday #35

It's Question Thursday time and time to answer your questions and help you troubleshoot problems with free motion quilting!  We're also combining questions received on UFO Sunday posts all right here so we'll probably cover a lot more than just free motion quilting questions.

Let's get started with a question from Danielle Hudson from Fresh off the Spool about using Flowing Lines across a large bed quilt:

How would you quilt Flowing Lines on a big quilt?

Full Question: I have seen a lot of edge to edge quilting lately. A lot of straight lines and waves. How would you quilt this in a big quilt? Would you keep it edge to edge still, or start in the middle? Your quadrant quilting method is great for the designs we have done so far. Will it work for edge to edge quilting?

Short answer - Yes it is absolutely possible to quilt a whole giant bed quilt with a large scale version of Flowing Lines.

However, you might end up hating your life halfway through.

Case in point - I once stitched this design over a wall hanging and it was only around 45 inches x 18 inches which sounds small in comparison to a bed quilt, but it was extremely difficult.  That UFO eventually ended up in the trash, and that was long before UFO Sundays! Why?

Because of the nature of the design.

Flowing Lines is an edge to edge design.  Working a quilt from edge to edge, even when it's 45 inches long, is a LOT of shifting and movement to handle with every single pass.  For every single line of stitching that quilt has to go fully through the machine.

And that quilt had issues.  Because I was literally stitching from the batting to batting, the fabric did some funky things - rippling and wanting to pleat - because it was being pushed in different directions with every pass.

So if you're really set on quilting an entire bed quilt with Flowing Lines, make sure to start in the middle:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Stitch from the middle of the quilt to one edge.  When you get to the edge, stitch all the way off into the batting about 1 inch and cut your threads (you don't have to hide them if you've gone far into the batting.)

Then return to the middle, pick up a new thread and start the next line.  Wash and repeat.

Are you starting to notice how time consuming this is going to be?  Not just breaking thread with each line of quilting, but the time of hiding all those threads across the middle!

Once you've finished one entire side, rotate the quilt and work the opposite side.  Again you're working from the middle to the opposite edge and it will feel identical to the first set of lines (same movement, same position of the quilt).

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Quadrant quilting won't work with this design because the lines are all going in one direction.  Now if you don't mind them being a bit different, you could do something like this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
This will be a bit different, but it might feel easier because you'll only be shifting 1 corner at a time, not the full half quilt.

Keep in mind that edge to edge designs might be showing up a lot due to the popularity of longarm quilting.  While certainly quite similar to domestic free motion quilting, a longarmer has a very different situation when it comes to the movement of the machine over the quilt.

Swinging from edge to edge on a longarm is not just normal, it's super easy, so quilting flowing lines or any edge to edge design is going to be fast and simple.

On a domestic sewing machine, it's just not the same.  We have to physically manipulate the quilt into the machine, and while these designs LOOK simple, that doesn't mean they will FEEL simple to quilt once you get started.

So if you must, yes, this is possible.  Watch your thread starts and stops and make sure those connects are secure within your quilt.

But if you can, make your life easier by putting Flowing Lines in the sashing or borders of your next quilt. It will look terrific, it will quilt up easily, and you won't end up with sore arms and a backache for a week!

Next let's answer a question from Aubrie at Teach n' Craft:

How do you attach borders / sashing in the most successful, least painful way possible?

I love piecing questions!  This is actually kind of a tricky thing that used to really snag me up.  I used to cut the borders and sashing strips too short and end up stretching it to fit all the way to the edge of the quilt and that never works out right. Ever.

I know there are many teachers that swear by doing math and using a formula to get the right size and shape, but while I like math and certainly could do that, it just seems way too complicated for such a simple task.

Here's how I deal with this now:  I cut all strips too long.

No matter whether I'm attaching a 2 inch wide sashing strip to the side of a block or a 6 inch wide border to the edge of a quilt, I always cut strips at least 2 inches too long.

But here's another trick - I do NOT pin.

I take the pieces to my machine and sew through a scrap charger.  This is just a little scrap (around 2 inches square folded in half) that lifts the presser foot up to the right height for piecing.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Photo from How to Piece Perfect Quilts
Side note: Yes, I know I could be stitching leaders and enders here, but I'm a bit too obsessive with piecing and can't stand getting the seams even slightly off.  Yes, I'm a control freak!

Next I stitch off the end of the scrap charger just by 1 stitch so the scrap is still under the foot and lifting it, but the needle is down in the machine.

I take the strip and whatever it's being pieced to and line them up perfectly.  The top edge however, I allow the strip to waggle off a bit (around 1/2).  I stitch first onto the strip, then onto the block or quilt edge and keep everything in alignment.

I do not pin.  I do not tug.  I gently place the two edges together and allow the machine to feed them evenly under the foot.

When I get to the end of the seam, there will always be extra strip left over and I stitch off on it, then back onto a scrap charger, then leave that in the machine for the next seam.

When you piece strips to blocks like this, and if you're VERY GENTLE not to stretch or tug the strip, you will end up with perfect sashing and perfect borders every single time.

All you have to do at this point is take the sewn bits to your cutting mat, press the seams open, then carefully square off the extra bit of strip on both sides of the block or quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Photo from How to Piece Perfect Quilts
The key here is avoiding all the tussle and stretching of the strips.  You get into that easily when you cut them short, exactly to size.  Always remember that fabric is alive in your hands - it shifts and moves and wiggles and stretches, even on the machine while you are stitching a seam.

No matter how accurately you cut a strip, chances are the thing you're stitching that strip to is going to change shape at least a little so it makes sense to cut everything long and square up accurately after piecing.

Next question is about quilting density from Karin at The Quilt Yarn:

If I quilt one area densely will I have to quilt the rest of the quilt that way?

Photo from Karin's Blog The Quilt Yarn
Full Question: If I microstipple one area will I then have to heavily quilt all around it to make it even or could I just outline some of the cats for example in the next few sections. Not sure whether this would look odd with a heavily quilted section in between.

Ah!  The fear of all-or-nothing when it comes to free motion quilting!

Yes!  Please microstipple the background of your quilt!  Microstippling is a great design to use in the background because it's naturally recessive - it flattens out the background and makes everything around it puffy.

So when Karin quilts the background around the house above, the moon and sun and pretty trees will all stand out nicely.  Since she mentioned using a wool batting, it might even appear to have a slight trapunto effect!

Will Karin have to quilt the WHOLE THING this way?

No.  You can quilt densely in some areas of a quilt and more open in other areas.  HOWEVER, you do need to generally secure the entire quilt first.

Karin mentioned wanting to outline quilt many of the shapes and this would be a great first step.  Basically stitch in the ditch, but this is a printed panel so it's stitching on the printed lines around the cats and cute objects.

You can mix the outline stitching and filler stitching together, so stitch around a cat, then microstipple to the next cat, quilt all around it, then microstipple to the next thing...and on and on.

The trick comes in with the borders.  I've found this is the area that will make or break how a quilt hangs, no matter how densely or open you've quilted the inside.

So I'd pick a design you really like and stitch it on a 1/4 inch scale throughout the border.  Why that small? Because it will flatten and lock that border in place.  One design will also act uniformly throughout the edges so hanging issues should be minimized.

Honestly it would be a great idea for an art quilt study to test the boundaries of what we can do with density vs. openness in our quilting.  It's impossible to say if this will work out perfectly, there are just too many variables, but end the end you can always block the snot out of that quilt and make it behave one way or the other!

Now that's all I have time for today!  I've been on the computer WAY too long today and I seriously need a quilting fix.  Hand binding with a cup of tea sounds perfect!

Let's go quilt,



  1. Leah, thank you for your simple and effective answer to my question. After reading your response I realized this is much more akin to how I've sewn wonky blocks, and they lay so much more evenly!


  2. I haven't encountered major issues with cutting/sewing sashing but I do the borders by measuring through the center of the quilt (in both directions) and use those measurements for the length of the border strips. The quilts come out laying beautifully flat and square with very minimal (or no) adjustments/blocking! You are so right.....fabric is a "living thing"!

  3. Great tips on borders, I used to do it mostly that way without problems and then started to have problems and found the "right" way to do it, measurements and all and found that didn't help much so am ready to go back with the added instruction of the little scrap doodah.


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