The Free Motion Quilting Project: Free Motion Quilting Tips and Tools

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Free Motion Quilting Tips and Tools

We're almost ready to start free motion quilting our first block for the Building Blocks Quilt Along! So far we've learned tips on marking the blocks and basting the blocks, so today let's watch a video about the tools and settings I'll be using for free motion quilting:



Just to reiterate the settings listed in the video:

Feed dogs - You do NOT have to drop your feet dogs (the little teeth under the foot on your machine). This is an optional setting and it should be used only if your machine seems to work better.

To test which works best, leave your feed dogs up and quilt through a 6 inch square. Then drop the feed dogs and quilt again and compare the two samples. You might see no difference at all. You might see a major difference. This is different for every quilter and every machine, so it pays to test and see what works best for you.

Stitch length - By setting your stitch length to 0 (or the lowest setting your machine allows), the feed dogs will continue to move up and down, but not feed your fabric forward.

Tension - No change -  If your tension is balanced and even for piecing, theoretically it should be balanced and even for free motion quilting. This only seems to change drastically when the feed dogs are dropped, which changes the mechanics of the machine.

Note: You may see stitch issues that LOOK like tension issues - large loops like this pulling up on the front or back of your quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

This might look like a tension issue, but it's actually not! Notice how the loops are only happening in select, certain places? Notice how they are always happening in a similar curve shape?

If you have periods of good stitching intermixed with periods of loops (we call these "eyelashes"), chances are this is not a tension issue, but a speed / movement issue.

When you quilt these particular shapes, your hands are moving faster, but your machine speed is not increasing to keep pace. Instead of the thread breaking, it just pulls hard to the front or back.

So the solution to this issue is simple: increase your machine speed as you make that shape - OR - consciously slow down your hands so the balance is not thrown off.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The last thing you MUST have for free motion quilting is a darning foot.

The same rules apply for a darning foot as a piecing foot - you'll need to find one that works with your machine, either from your dealer, or if your machine is compatible with universal generic high shank or low shank feet.

The one problem with darning feet is they are usually badly designed. If your foot looks anything like the one above, yep, it's going to be a real beast to quilt with it right out of the package!

Check out the video right here on breaking your foot to make it work better.

free motion quilting | Leah DayAfter you break the foot properly, it will look more like the photo to the right:

You'll be able to see your needle clearly, which will make stitching in the ditch and right on the lines much easier. It will also stop hopping up and down, which is quite loud, and makes the quilt more difficult to move.

No, you don't HAVE to break your foot if you like it the way it is. Just like the feed dogs up or down, all of this is optional!

Now for some extra tools I find particularly helpful for free motion quilting:


free motion quilting | Leah Day
Machingers Gloves - I LOVE these gloves for quilting because they give me such better control over the quilt. They are made of lightweight nylon with rubber tips that grip the fabric and move it exactly where you want it to go.

Josh also noticed that he felt a bit safer and less afraid of the machine needle while wearing the gloves, and I can remember this feeling as well when I first started free motion quilting. These days I feel naked if I don't have gloves on!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Queen Supreme Slider or Supreme Slider - These are slick sheets that cover the machine and table and help your quilt to move smoothly over the surface. Making the block or your quilts easier to move around means less strain on your shoulders and back, and an easier feel to the whole process.

The difference between the queen and regular slider is size - the queen is double the size of the supreme slider. The bigger the slider, the more space it covers, and the more it will help big, heavy quilts to move around smoothly.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers - These little Teflon washers are one of my favorite tools that I use all the time, in all my machines, for all sewing, piecing, and quilting. They go in your bobbin case (BOTH side and top loading), you wind your bobbin on top, and they simply help the bobbin to spin evenly.

There's a lot of stitch issues that can happen because of the bobbin not spinning smoothly. Backlash is one of the most annoying - it's when your bobbin thread gets jerked so fast it spins backwards, the thread tangles, and you end up with a massive birds nest on the back of your quilt.

The washers help to fill in the little extra space in your bobbin case and stop this kind of thing from happening. Generally they just help make your bobbin thread feed as evenly as your top thread, which makes the back of your quilt look as good as the front.

free motion quilting | Leah DayNow just in case you're wanting to stock up on tools, you can find all of these tools available in the following kits:

Ultimate Quilting Kit - $50 - Machingers, Supreme Slider, and Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers.

free motion quilting | Leah DayQueen Supreme Kit - $75 -  Machingers, Queen Size Slider, and Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers.

A few other things you might want to have around:

It's super nice to have a seam ripper, screw driver, and small container for pins and Pinmoors nearby your sewing machine. I always keep these within reach of my machine so I can easily pick out stitches or change needles.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Cheater needle - This is a self threading needle that makes hiding loose threads very easy in the middle layer of your quilt. I keep mine easy to find on a Pin Place, which is a small magnetic pincushion on a suction cup.

Whew! So that is absolutely everything you will see in the videos when I'm free motion quilting the blocks for the Building Blocks quilt.

Just in case you've missed some other tip videos, click here to check out all the posts shared on the Building Blocks Quilt Along so far.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

29 comments:

  1. Leah, can you tell us what needle size for the sewing machine we have to pick up, please?

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  2. Hi Flofarmflo - I personally use Schmetz Universl 80/12, but this is again something you need to play with on your machine. Finding a good needle to use is the same as finding a good thread - it's the machine that decides!

    Cheers,

    Leah

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  3. Leah, you are looking rock star! I feel I am ready, thanks to your sharing your wealth of knowledge! I received my supplies from you today and can't wait to test out the bobbin genies! I love all of your tips and true and true tricks. As a beginner, I have noticed a huge difference by just changing little things such as finger pressing seems open and starting to little block through the machine rather than stary stitching. It completely eliminated my thread coming out of my needle. I can't tell you how many times I have rethread! One question... I received my Isacord today. It has a very big bottom opening. Do I need to put it on something before putting on my machine? My machine just has that little stem stickingup

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  4. Hi Reagan - Great question about thread! The Isacord should be fed UP off a spool stand or off the surface of your table. One thing I do in class is place the spool in a coffee cup and bring the thread up and over from the right and into the normal threading of the machine. A spool stand is better because you know where it is and won't accidentally hit it and knock it over, but in a pinch, the coffee cup works. The point here is the thread must be fed UPWARD and then into the machine. Regular spool pins will not work.

    Cheers,

    Leah

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  5. Leah, I am using a very primitive sewing machine. I cannot change the stitch length. For straight stitches, I have 3 different lengths to choose from (small, medium, and long length stitches). I have made one quilt so far and I used the long length straight stitch because it made the needle go up and down slower which was better for me. Should I just use the setting that is most comfortable for me or is there a reason why I should choose one length over the others?

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  6. Doreen - I would certainly play with all 3 settings and see what works best. The main reason to lower the stitch length is to reduce the movement of the feed dogs. Do you have a buttonhole stitch on your machine? Even if you don't have a 0 length setting, you may be able to trick your machine by using a buttonhole setting instead.

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  7. Hi Leah, I am printing out the pattern and wanted to make sure I am printing the quilt designs correctly. Page 12, block #1, quilt design #1 Wiggly U shapes prints out at 7-3/4 inch on the paper. Measuring from R-L black line to black line....is this correct? I have not changed the size of the pattern at all since I have downloaded it. Thanks, looking forward to this project.
    Kathleen

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  8. Hi Kathleen - The issue is with your printer. You need to select "actual size" and make sure there's no shrinking or fitting going on as the document is sent to your printer. When the blocks print correctly, they will all measure 8 inches exactly.

    Cheers,

    Leah

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  9. Hi Leah,

    A comment here prompted me to get off my behind and get going on sewing tips that I've been meaning to post for quite some time. I just can't resist trying to help where I can; I love to share information.

    Anyway, yes, it's possible and easy to use Isacord thread sideways inside your sewing machine. I put up a post on my blog with pictures to show how to do this. I've used this for all of the FMQ I have done, excepting a few times I used clear poly thread instead of Isacord. I presume anyone could click my name and find my blog, but maybe it's not so easy. It's simply at fireballquilts.com.

    Have a great day, and thanks for all you share!
    Karen

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  10. Hi Karen - Yes, Isacord will work sideways in a pinch, but I found as the spool gets less full, it tends to feed unevenly and with frequent thread breaks. As a small cone thread, it's best to feed off the top on a spool stand.

    Cheers,

    Leah Day

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  11. Hi Leah. I just found your site today and am super excited about starting this project. Sadly the stores are closed so I cannot go shopping for fabric. Ugh! :-)

    One question I have is about thread. I just purchased a new Janome 8900. The store I purchased it from recommended I use only Aurifil thread in the Janome. They stated was the highest quality and is currently the longest fiber available making it better and less linty.

    So do you still recommend the Isacord thread? Any comments on this recommendation to use only Aurifil?

    Thanks so much! I am so excited to get started.

    I have purchased all of the supplies. :-)

    Sharon

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  12. Great tips Leah! I am currently working my way through quilting my Amy Gibson sampler, using your Craftsy FMQ class and I am LOVING it! You have such super knowledge and a really relaxed and encouraging teaching style - thanks for sharing your skills. It is so satisfying to be quilting my own patchwork and, while I'm not perfect, I think it looks great and am very proud of it!

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  13. Sharon - Yep, I will using Isacord polyester embroidery thread for free motion quilting, so yes, I do recommend it. I feel that it's thinner and looks a bit better for travel stitching than Aurifil, but that's down to personal opinion only.

    You certainly can use Aurifil for both piecing and quilting. The thing to do first is try a bit on your machine and see what happens. It's really your machine that will decide whether you can use a thread or not in the way it reacts to it!

    Cheers,

    Leah

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  14. Hi Leah
    Please help. I am keen to have a go at this but last time I machine quilted (straight lines) using a walking foot, when starting in the middle of the quilt I was over locking the first few stitches by sewing in reverse so they didn't come undone which left a messy loopy cotton on the back of my quilt. How do we avoid this whilst overlocking so the stitches do not come undone, especially when starting in the middle and quilting outwards to the edge of the quilt to avoid creasing.
    Its like I dont know how to start properly!
    S

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  15. Hi Sophie - You don't need to build up stitches or overlock to start. Just start stitching and leave long thread tails. After the block is complete, you can tie the tails in a knot and hide them in the middle layer of the quilt. Also, because the blocks are so small, you do not have to start in the middle, you can start on the edges if you like.

    Cheers,

    Leah Day

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  16. Hi Leah

    I have a bernina 430 and it has 2 spools one is horizontal and the other is vertical. Will the Isacord thread work on either one or do I need to get a spool stand?

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  17. quilter1173 - Isacord thread really prefers to be fed from the top off a spool stand. You might be able to get away with placing the spool in a coffee cup to the right of your machine and feeding the thread up, over the top and into the normal top guides, however, a spool stand does work so much easier!

    Cheers,

    Leah Day

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  18. Leah
    I am just starting on my blocks and I have a question. I have never pressed my seams open and I was wandering when you are ironing open do you do this from the back of block? Probably a dum question but I couldn't figured out any other way to do it.

    Thanks
    Judy

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  19. Hi Judy - There's no such thing as dumb questions! First I finger press the seam open so the fabric is already wanting to flatten out. Then I press from the wrong side. After the seams are nicely open, I'll press from the right side. If you're using light fabrics, you might want to use a pressing cloth on the right side of the block.

    Cheers,

    Leah

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  20. Hi Leah,

    I have only been fmq for a few months now and I've enjoyed it but not as much as I think I should, until now. I watched your video on adjusting the free motion foot so it wouldn't bounce, and it has made a world of difference. My shoulders don't hurt anymore and I have much more control. I love it!! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!

    Kathryn

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  21. Thank you so much!! I make wet felted pictures and have been trying to add decorative stitching to them by free motion quilting. I have been having serious issues with the loopy stuff as pictured above! Thank you for the pointers and tips. I am going to keep practicing with my speed. Thanks!!

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  22. The Pfaff 1222 is the most recent machine I have tried to fmq with. When I left the feed dogs up, I wound up sewing the supreme guard into the fabric. Only machine that has done that little trick. Can you recommend a good machine for fmq?

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    Replies
    1. It probably wasn't the feed dogs being up that caused the slider to get stitched to the fabric. The slider can move if it's become linty on the back. If you keep it rinsed off it will stick very securely, but it's a good idea to tape it down until you're really used to the feel of it on your machine.

      As for machines - I'm really enjoying both my Juki machines - the TL2010Q and Exceed F400. I believe you can FMQ on any machine, it's just a matter of figuring out what works, what settings and materials to use, and being patient through the ugly stitches at the beginning.

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  23. Hi Leah! I am having trouble with the tension of my stitches when FMQuilting. I just bought the Janome 6600P and have made several attempts to adjust the tension without getting great results, yet. I am not getting eyelashes but am seeing the top thread on the bottom. When I tighten my tension, I end up seeing some bobbin thread on the top. I can't seem to get it perfect. I'm getting very frustrated. The store where I bought it says that's just the way it is! Ugh! I am trying to quilt a bed runner with varying colored fabrics, both light and dark and used a plain muslin as my backing. I don't really want a cream colored top thread on the dark fabrics but am now having dark stitches showing up on the back. Is there a tension setting that you use mostly? I am using a polyester thread (cotton looked even worse) and warm and natural batting. Am I in denial that it's possible to get a nice-looking stitch on both sides of the quilt? Please help!

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    Replies
    1. This is a very common problem and unfortunately the only solution is to match the same colored thread on the top and bobbin. No machine has perfectly balanced tension all the time and you will drive yourself crazy trying to adjust it to be perfect - it just won't happen. Save yourself the headache and just pick another backing fabric that will blend with the top thread.

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    2. Thank you, Leah. I appreciate your thoughts. I have gotten it to a tension I can live with (finally). Guess my perfectionism is going to have to relax! Happy quilting!

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  24. I have a question about the supreme slider. I just bought the 17 inch queen size and I want to know when you finished using the supreme slider should you put it back in the container it came in or not.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, if it's going to be a long time before you get back to machine quilting, then it would be good to roll it up and put it away properly. It is a delicate tool so the better you care for it, the longer it will last.

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