The Free Motion Quilting Project: Josh's Quilting Tip #4

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Josh's Quilting Tip #4

Today for our totally beginner tip we'll be talking about how much space to leave on the edges of your blocks as you free motion quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Have you ever tried to quilt right to the edge of the quilt piece? For me, at least at this stage, that feels nearly impossible. The edges are that awkward place where I can't get a grip on the quilt, or find a nice direction to move in, so free motion quilting anything decently goes to the wayside.

Leah subscribes to the school of thought extra edge space is better, and allows one inch of empty fabric on the edges. She even designs her quilts this way, cutting borders 1 inch wider than they need to be so she doesn't have to quilt all the way to the edges.

Since I've only experienced quilting blocks individually (10 inch blocks, with 8 inches quilted in the middle), I immediately wished I had more than 1 inch to hang on to. Had I known the edge area would be so tricky, I would have pieced two inches of empty space on the edges of the block, and from now on, I'm definitely going to be adding a lot more fabric to the edges of everything.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Here's my block of stippling, which felt much easier and more natural to quilt with 2 inches all around the edges.
Leah prefers 1 inch open on her design blocks, but either way, this extra fabric really helps!
There are two reasons why having so much empty space along the edges is helpful.

One, I can keep my stitching more even and accurate as the extra room gives me a lot of space for mistakes. Imagine a game of American football on a 100-yard platform and there's a cliff along the edges of the playing field--there is no out of bounds turf, just a steep fall. Same goes for the end-zone. You'd have to be able to stop on a dime when making a touchdown.

Let's just say the dynamics of the game would be fundamentally changed. You could never run at full speed as you'd always have to take the drop-off into consideration. (Plus football would suddenly be far more entertaining to watch!)
 
So in my experience, having plenty of "out of bounds" space is critical for a beginner.

Second, having more space yields a larger block, which is also easier to navigate and rotate around. You also have a lot more room to place your fingers.

When I brought this up to Leah, she warned me that many quilters would look at this as blasphemy, as fabric is a valued commodity and little is to be wasted. She apparently has had a hard time convincing quilters in class to add even 1 inch around blocks or quilts, and often gets huffy comments from the Quilt Police demanding why she wants them to waste so much fabric on the edges.

However, as a beginner, you need to learn the ropes and get comfortable with the process. I think it's easily worth sacrificing some fabric, and if your stash is anything like Leah's, I don't think you're going to run out of fabric anytime soon!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

If you're also a beginner, I would be interested in hearing about your experience. Is it easier for you to free motion quilt on blocks or quilts with a lot of extra space on the edges, a little, or none at all?

Until next time, let's go quilt.

Josh

23 comments:

  1. I appreciate Josh's point of view. Good decision having him share what he is learning with us. It sure gives me another perspective. I loved the football analogy. Way to go Josh! Thank you Leah for all you do.

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  2. Great idea, Josh. Gonna have to try this!

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  3. I'm also a beginner and definitely find it easier to have more fabric on the edges. I love reading about your experiences learning this so I hope you continue to share with us!

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  4. Really good idea. I must admit that I usually leave about 1/2" but will have a go with 1-2" on my next quilting project.

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  5. I add extra fabric. I like the extra to maneuver. Also, when I trim off the extra, I have strips that can be used in another project. No waste.

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  6. Josh, I wonder if it is the size of your hands that require the extra space- I am like Leah- I like 1 inch extra - but then again I am a petite lady with small hands- so for me that is plenty. I think it's fantastic that you are giving this a go and it is very interesting to hear a males perspective on the process.

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  7. It's absolutely easier to quilt with more spaces around the edges. When I started making practice pieces I tried an inch and that was just not enough for me. I probably leave 1 1/2 to 2 inches around the edges. I buy cheaper 100% cotton fabric for practicing. I also don't feel it's wasting fabric. If I'm going to learn I'm going to learn in my way and if that's what helps be get better nothing is a waste.

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  8. Hi Molly,

    My hands and fingers are bigger, but not by very much: we both use the same size of Machingers quilting glove, S/M. Tighter fit on me, but that is preferable.

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  9. Great comments Josh. On my first couple of quilts I didn't have any extra fabric on the side of the quilt top. Even though I had plenty of extra backing and batting to hold on to, I found that the top was very difficult to quilt near the edge as it would move or get caught on the foot. Now I leave at least an extra inch or two. This also gives me some play around room in case I need to "adjust" the border quilt pattern to fit.

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  10. Having caught the edge of a quilt on a foot and sewed it back down over itself... I can definitely see the value in leaving extra space at the edges :D

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  11. This is a good point and one I have experienced. Overtime we do get more relaxed quilting and this problem is gone. I had considered basting on extra fabric with batting layered on between just to have some thing to " grab". I usually have trimmings from quilts just this size I discard after squaring a quilt and there's always those selvedge scraps left from cutting. Why not put these to use? They could be used over and over.

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  12. You are so right, Josh! I just FMQ'd my first actual quilt (crib size) and the edges were hard to hang onto. Better to "waste" fabric on the edges than to ruin the flow of the quilting. (Of course, maybe "ruin" is the Quilt Police talking, too!).

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  13. I do exactly what Big Martha does. I like to work on larger blocks cut to 15 inches. I usually quilt on a larger scale as I use Leah's book 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs for quilting inspiration for my quilting my quilts.

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  14. I like to work on larger practice blocks about 10"x 10" with at least 2 1/2 extra inches added. The strips that I rim off go into the strip bag. Nothing is wasted here.

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  15. I have done it right to the edge and with the inch around. For some reason it depends on what I am doing how well it is executed. I probably have just a touch more experience than you Josh but I give myself lots of room to make mistakes. When men's hands are bigger I can see where you need the extra space. My hands are tiny so I guess that is a good thing in my book. Not good for opening jars however! Keep up the work and I will too!
    Sharon
    http://sweetartunlimited.blogspot.com/

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  16. Josh, I've been reading your posts and thoroughly enjoy your point of view! Thanks for being brave and taking the plunge into FMQ!!! Even though I have very petite hands, I need 1.5"-2" of edge fabric. I also love your football analogy. That would be one painful way to play football! Big Martha has a perfect response to the huffy quilt police. No waste! Use the strips in another project. YEAH!!!

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  17. I've been coming to a similar conclusion. As to wasting fabric? No way. What I cut off goes into the scrap drawer.

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  18. Hi Josh, Thanks for posting your tips. You inspired me to start going through Leah's tutorials (rather than just watching). I made 10" blocks and marked a 1" border and so far had not considered the edges one of my problems. I guess I've been too focused on how jerky I am with my stitches on the inside of the block. Maybe the border is a contributing factor that I didn't even realize. I barely made it through the "Super Beginner" designs but rather than getting caught up on one pattern, I am continuing on and will see if making the border bigger helps overall. Thanks again and thanks especially to Leah for posting all the tutorials. ~Diane

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  19. I use what we call in Australia a "peeper" a lot in my quilts. I think in US it's called a flange. Then I can hide my turns and travelling at the edge under the peeper. It's a bit tricky, but it works

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  20. I've been creating quilts for about 4 years or so and have just recently gotten comfortable enough to start using actual quilting in my projects, I love the idea to have a little extra on the ends, it just goes in the growing stash pile when done and my clumsy fingers don't need to fear the needle so much!

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  21. I've added muslin to quilt edges a few times. I cut three inch strips and baste them on the quilt edges. When I'm finished quilting, I take them off and save them for the next time I need them.

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  22. Great insight Josh. The Quilt Police are really Freaking annoying so just ignore them. The better you are at ANYTHING the less wiggle room you need. When you catch up with Leah at the "million hours of practice" point, you will also scoff at people who want extra yardage.

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  23. Love the football analogy as I am sitting here on my laptop while my husband watches Sunday morning football. It's fun seeing quilting through a man's eyes. I'm learning to look at FMQ with different eyes.

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