The Free Motion Quilting Project: May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 285 - Storm of Palms

It's always fun to play with different designs and see what can happen when you change things up a bit. Today I'm fiddling with Paisley and seeing what happens when you start this design with a simple palm tree shape, then pivot and echo it many times:

free motion quilting | Leah DayI think this is going to be the perfect design for a beach or summer themed quilt! Try quilting it around simple appliqued seashell shapes, or in the sashing and borders of your next summertime quilt.

Click Here if the Video Does Not Appear

This video was sponsored by the Isacord Polyester Thread Set. Click Here to learn more about this thread (my absolute favorite for free motion quilting) and the 12 beautiful colors it comes with.

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. The hardest thing about this design is stitching the palm trees at the beginning of each design segment. There's a lot of travel stitching involved here so just take your time and stitch carefully in these areas so you stay right on your line of quilting.

Design Family - Pivoting. You really could stitch this design either as a Pivoting or an Echoing Design. Here I've quilted it as a Pivoting design, first creating the shape then pivoting off the starting point and echoing the palm tree many times.

Directional Texture - All Directions. You can beat this swirling, flowing texture! Play with making your starting palm trees very wiggly or very straight and see what this does to the texture of the design.

Suggestions for Use - Even though you could probably squish this design into some pretty tight or complex areas, I think Storm of Palms is going to look better in the open, uncomplicated areas of your quilt. Try it around simple appliqued shapes, over open blocks, or in the borders of your next quilt.

Back of Storm of Palms
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel Free to use this free motion filler design in your quilts,
and make sure to tell your friends where you learned it!

Click here to support the project by visiting our online quilt shop.

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 284 - Double Stippling

After a long weekend off, most of it spent relaxing on the couch with James or relaxing outside with a book, I'm feeling much, much better! While setting limits on reasonable work hours is going to be hard at first, I can already feel that this is what is absolutely necessary for me to work for myself without burning out.

So let's get back to the normal schedule of the project with a really neat design today. This is what happens when you stitch Stippling, then stitch it again on top of itself to double it:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Looking at the photo again, this looks sort of like a bowl of spaghetti! I love this wiggly, wobbly texture and it's actually extremely easy to stitch. The first set of Stippling acts as a foundation upon which the second set of stippling is stitched over. It's kind of hard to describe so watch this video to see what I mean:

This video was sponsored by the Ultimate Quilting Kit. Click here to learn more about the tools offered in this kit and how it can help you free motion quilt on your home sewing machine.

Difficulty Level - Beginner. As I said before, this design is quite easy. Concentrate mainly on creating an even foundation of large scale Stippling over the surface of your quilt. Once you set the foundation, it's like a baseline for everything that comes next!

Design Family - Foundational. Foundational designs really are fun! The basic idea is you can start with a shape (in this case stippling) and then either echo quilt it, or use that line of quilting as a base for more quilting to branch off of.

Because you first need to wiggle in with your foundation, these designs will work best in the open, more uncomplicated areas of your quilt tops like around simple applique shapes, in the borders, sashing, or open blocks.

Directional Texture - No Direction. Stippling is a very flat, directionless design. This makes it perfect to go in all those areas of your quilt you want very flat. Double Stippling is basically the same design doubled on top of itself, so it's going to work the same way.

Suggestions for Use - I still think this looks like a bowl of spaghetti! Try quilting this over a fun food applique quilt, like this farmer's market quilt from Pat Sloan for a simple, quick way to finish a neat quilt.

Back of Double Stippling
free motion quilting | Leah Day
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hot Cast Part 8 - Stopping another cycle

I haven't said much about Hot Cast lately. Painting the surface of this quilt has taken longer than I expected, and it's not really necessary to update you all with "Painted a bit more today!"

But I have been working steadily on this quilt for the last month and here's what she looks like right now:
free motion quilting | Leah Day

Over the last week, I have managed to fix the green vines, painting them darker and shading the leaves better, but I've also managed to totally ruin the columns. A test I tried on the left column ended up too dark and when I tried to fix it, the fix just made things worse.

And yes, this is going to be one of my personal posts, so if your not really into my emotional rambling, click here to check out designs from the project.

To say that I'm miffed with this quilt is an understatement. She's pissing me off. When I look at her right now, all I see is that mistake.

Am I being childish? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not judging my feelings, I'm just simply feeling them, and right now, I feel sad, tired, and angry.

This quilt is all about love. Finding self love. Finding acceptance, and right at this exact moment I feel like an utter and absolute failure at that goal. I feel like this beautiful goddess is mocking me, "You want to love yourself? Face your own inadequacy."

For so long, my self esteem has been entirely dependent upon what I can DO, what I can create, what I can FINISH.

And at the moment, nothing is finished. My patio project outside is lingering on like a bad dream, I have 5 quilts in the works, all nowhere near finished, the book is halfway done, the new DVD not really even started, and it's all weighing on my back like a load of crushing bricks.

I feel overwhelmed and when I get overwhelmed, I push myself harder and harder. Sympathy and compassion are two emotions I've only recently become acquainted with and for the last month at least, I've steamrolled over them in a pursuit of work, work, work.

Many people talk about seasonal affect disorder and how the winter months get them down. For me it's the other way around. Every May or June will find me like this, struggling.

I'm not sure if it's the heat or the feelings of instability as we move from a regular schedule to the less ordered summer months. I always feel stressed and crazy in May. At one time I could blame this on school exams, but no longer. I try to fight it, work harder, push with more force, and I always lose. I always end up the overwhelmed, deranged, pile of bones finally giving out under the weight I've piled on my own back.

I lose because I'm not superwoman, despite what this blog sometimes makes me seem. I'm very much a 27 year old mother and wife and for once instead of pushing, I just want to stop.

To stop trying so hard, pushing with such force. To simply accept what this time of the year brings and allow myself to flow with it, instead of fighting it.

So that's what I've decided to do. I'm going to take this weekend off for starters. Sorry, but I really, really need a break and Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time for it.

Next week when I get back to work, I'm setting myself a very simple goal: 8 hours. I have to set the limit of the normal workday of 8 hours per day. I've got to get out of the habit of working all day and well into the night. It just has to stop.

So maybe I am getting somewhere. Maybe Hot Cast has changed me more than I think.

A year ago, I would have kept on and might have lasted until July. A year ago, I would have ignored the signs from my body and family that I have a problem with too much work.

This year, I'm drawing the line in the sand right here. I need a break, I need to rest, and I need to change my work habits. What better sign of self love is there?

Let's go quilt, rest, relax, and be good to ourselves,


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

General Sewing on the Janome HD 1000

I've had a wonderful week playing with the Janome HD 1000. Working on this machine has given me an excuse to finish up a lot of old projects laying around the house, and start a few new ones as well!

For the past several days I've been putting this machine through its paces at garment sewing. Why you may ask? Because straight out of the box, the HD 1000 is really only set up for garment sewing

This is due to the feet the machine came with: general sewing foot, zipper foot, rolled hem foot, and buttonhole foot.

The machine did not come with a free motion or darning foot, 1/4" piecing or patchwork foot, or a walking foot, so really you're going to be limited to garment sewing straight out of the box.

Of course there are many quilters who piece quilts with the general sewing foot that came with their machine. I did this myself on several machines and simply moved the needle position over to the left or right to achieve a perfect 1/4" seam allowance.

But on the Janome HD 1000, you can't move the needle position.

Yes, this machine does zigzag stitch, but you can't actually move the needle over to the left or right when straight stitching.

While this might seem like a horrible limitation, I really don't think it is! It means when the needle is straight stitching, it's going perfectly straight up, then straight back down into the machine.

The more complex a machine, the more fancy stitch patterns and needle positions, the more chance you have of the machine not stitching that standard straight stitch as perfectly.

This is part of the reason why I firmly believe that embroidery machines should not also be sewing machines. They are designed for embroidery, not straight sewing! But that's a soapbox for another day...

As far as general sewing goes, this machine feels and stitches like a real workhorse.

While I might occasionally miss a few features I've gotten used with my Horizon (the knee lifter and automatic needle down), I really can't see any difference in stitch quality between the HD 1000 (retail $299) and the Horizon 7700 (retail $2999).

There are only a few small complaints I have about this machine, and none of them are deal breakers:
  • Noisy - While it's not the deafening clatter a few of my machines have been, this machine definitely makes some noise. When you keep the speed moderate, it's really not that noisy, but I have trouble remembering to lighten my foot.

  • More feet and bobbins - Would it kill manufacturer's to throw in 20 bobbins and at least a piecing foot? Better yet, design a general sewing foot with one side trimmed down to 1/4 inch! I honestly don't understand why this is so hard to understand.

    I truly believe most people buying sewing machines these days are quilters, not garment sewers, but then again, I'm biased ;-)

  • Light - I always use a tall 3 light stand next to my sewing machines, but for this machine, I've pulled out one of my desk lights as well. It's not a huge complaint, but just something that could easily be fixed with a brighter light bulb inside the machine.
So those are my few complaints, none of which would stop be from buying this machine again. I really do like it that much, and I wish I'd had access to a machine like this when I was in high school. I know I would have done a lot less hand stitching!

Now let me share with you a fun project I put together today. This is the Cabo Halter, a pattern created by Amy Butler.

I love this top! I'm definitely planning to make many more as they're super easy to make and are the perfect garment for a hot summer.

While working on this top, I recorded some short sections of me using the different feet the Janome HD-1000 came with. To make the top, I used the general sewing foot and the zipper foot.

To show you how to use all the feet, I also shot two extra segments on scrap fabric to show you the buttonhole foot and rolled hem foot.

Put all together, I think this make a good overview on how the Janome HD-1000 does at garment sewing:

I muted the machine through most of this video, but left the full volume through the buttonhole section so you can hear the machine. It's really not that loud when you stitch at low to medium speed.

Overall, I'm very impressed. I haven't sewed garments much lately and I remember my last zipper was stitched way back in 2006! Still, this machine made it surprisingly easy with four very well designed feet.

Currently my favorite is the zipper foot, which I also used as an edge stitching foot since you can easily line the short edge against your garment and quickly stitch a nice line around 1/8" along the edge.

I used this foot to edge stitch around the top and ties of my halter and found it easier because I had better visibility than with typical edge stitch feet.

The rolled hem foot is also easy to use. Simply lock your thread with about 3 stitches, then curl the edge of your fabric into the foot, bringing the edge to line up with the left hand side of the foot. The foot does all the work from there, all you have to do is keep the edge folded and guiding through evenly.

So that's it for the general garment sewing on the Janome HD 1000! I'm off to make another halter and maybe even a skirt!

Let's go quilt,


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 283 - Starry Sky

Seashells and Waves was a big hit! Let's try a similar design, this time with stars!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
It's a beautiful WARM day today and I'm still putting the little Janome HD 1000 through its paces. I think I'll stitch myself a fun halter top to enjoy this warm weather in and see how that machine is at general sewing, setting zippers, and stitching hems.

This machine review program is definitely giving me an excuse to pull out the patterns and fabric I've been hording and put them to good use!

On the quilting front, I've just finished an old baby quilt top I've had laying around for years. Since the fabrics were so busy and complex, I quilted it simply with a large scale Seashells & Waves in all over quilting style.

Binding this fun quilt will make for another good video later this week. My quilt binding videos (see part 1 here and part 2 here) are some of my oldest videos and I think they're need of an update.

Speaking of videos, let's get back to Starry Sky:

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This design looks a lot harder than it actually is! First you start with a flowing line and occasionally branch off with a star shape. Fill your whole quilting space loosely with this foundation, then simply travel stitch and echo until your quilt is entirely filled.

Design Family - Foundational. These designs are some of my absolute favorites! They're very different from other free motion quilting designs, but the basic rule is easy to understand and memorize: start with a foundation then fill from there.

Directional Texture - All Directions. Swirling stars and flowing lines combine to create a knock out texture! Definitely give yourself enough space to flow around with this design. Squishing it in small spaces would not only be difficult, it would ruin the pretty texture.

Suggestions for Use - I keep thinking about making James a solar system quilt. Maybe I should stop thinking about it and actually sit down and quilt it with Starry Sky in the sashing and borders.

Back of Starry Sky
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grab a Button!

Yay! I've been playing around with code all day and finally figured out how to create a "grab a button" thingy on the side of the blog!

Here's a copy of it here:

Free Motion Quilting Project
If you love the project and would like to share it on your blog, all you have to do is highlight the text inside the box, hit "CTRL" and "C" to copy to code.

Then open your own blogging account and create a gadget or widget on the sidebar of your blog. You want it to be an HTML code gadget, then all you have to do is hit "CTRL" and "V" to paste the code into your sidebar.

I learned how to make this Grab a Button thingy from Mommy's Ideas. I'm still struggling to get the image to fit properly in the sidebar, but I know it's an image resizing issue more than anything else.

Now enough computer stuff! I'm off to quilt!


Day 282 - Echo Maze

Today I'm looking back to a very early design from the project, Brain Coral, and wondering if we can make a variation of it with straight lines and sharp angles. It turns out we can! Here's Echo Maze:
free motion quilting | Leah DayI don't know why it's taken me so long to come up with this easy variation! Brain Coral was inspired by Stippling. I wanted to see what would happen if I created an Echoing Design with a wiggly Stippling shape.

Then I created Circuit Board, which is essentially Stippling with straight lines and sharp angles. Now for Echo Maze I've just taken Circuit Board and echoed it.

Now if you totally didn't understand a thing I just wrote, please raise your hand! I realize that I really haven't done a good job of teaching the difference between each design category, where each design set will work best in a quilt, and what makes each similar / different.

It all works great in my head, but if you can't understand it, what good is it? So I'm hoping to get a few new videos shot this week explaining more about each design set.

Now let's learn how to stitch Echo Maze:

Difficulty Level - Beginner. This is surprisingly easy to quilt! Start with a simple straight lined shape, like the outline to the letter "L" or "E" then travel stitch a short distance away and echo this shape multiple times.

As I said in the video, how many echoes you use can change the texture and appearance of this design. Try playing with echoing some shapes 2 times, and other 5 to 10 times to see what I mean!

Design Family - Echoing. This design set will literally work anywhere in your quilt. If you need to quilt blocks, around appliques, fill borders, or stitch your sashing, these designs will work great.

Directional Texture - No Direction. Designs with straight lines and sharp angles tend to look like a flat stone walkway - no flowing movement, but still a beautiful, interesting design nonetheless.

Suggestions for Use - This design reminds me of the hardwired circuitry of a robot,but maybe that's just because James can't go a day without talking, building, destroying, and rebuilding a host of robots with blocks and Legos.

How about a robot quilt? This fun, funky design would look great stitched around robot appliques, or in the sashing and borders.

Back of Echo Maze
free motion quilting | Leah Day
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Sunday, May 22, 2011

To Drop or Not Drop - That is the Question...

I just received a great question from a quilter via email:
"I have been sewing for years but as far as the free motion quilting I am a beginner. I just watched the video on how you use the Janome sewing machine. I really am interested in learning more about the "not dropping the feed dogs" comment. I purchased a babylock and love it, but I followed the instructions and drop the feed dogs when free motion quilting and it's really annoying that the tension is so persnickety. but if I could avoid that I think I would be in heaven."
I liked this question a lot because it reminded me of something important today - too often I assume that if I say something one time, you've all heard it and it's old news.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI need a monthly reminder that new, beginning free motion quilters are finding this project for the first time every single day, and that saying something once is never enough!

So here's a lesson I teach at every workshop, usually have to say multiple times at every lecture, and should learn to repeat weekly here on the project:

I don't drop my feed dogs.

I don't drop them when I'm free motion quilting. I don't drop them when I'm piecing. I don't drop them when I applique. I don't drop them here or there. I don't drop them anywhere! I don't drop them in a box. I don't drop them with a fox....

Er...Okay I ran off on a tangent there with Dr. Seuss, but you get my point!

Now here's why:

When I started free motion quilting, yes, I dropped my feed dogs loyally. That is what I'd been taught, and that is what I'd learned in countless books on the subject. For free motion quilting the ultimate, absolute rule #1 is always to drop those little teeth down inside your machine.

But what happens if you forget? What if you get so excited to quilt your next quilt, you simply forget to drop the feed dogs before getting started?

Will the Quilt Police suddenly ring your front doorbell, demanding you to stop free motion quilting immediately? Will the sky blacken with clouds of quilting doom? Will your quilt sit up and yell at you, "NO! Drop those feed dogs first!"

Nope, none of the above. The truth is, the feed dog rule has been a bit overblown.

Because every single book mentions it, and most teachers teach it, quilter's have come to believe that unless a machine has the capability of dropping those dogs, it can't free motion quilt.

And worse, many quilter's believe, if you don't drop your feed dogs, you cannot quilt your own quilts.

But this isn't even logical! It's a rule we've heard and swallowed blindly, without stopping to see if it actually applied to our specific machines!

The ONLY reason to EVER drop your feed dogs
is to stop them from feeding your quilt forward.

But does your quilt actually feed forward with the feed dogs up? Try it and see.

If it feeds a lot, put your stitch length to 0. This basically turns the feed dogs off because they're not feeding anything anywhere. They're just moving up and down!

If you don't feel any feeding or pulling forward from the feed dogs, why do anything about them? They're not hurting anything by being up. If it's not broke, don't fix it!

If you do feel a slight tug, why not just cover those feed dogs instead? It achieves the exact same purpose, and when covered with a Supreme Slider, your quilt will glide and move so much easier over the surface of your machine bed.

Personally, I've found the only times a machine needs the feed dogs dropped due to the quilt feeding forward, it's not the machine, the feed dogs, or the quilt that is the real problem. It's the free motion quilting foot.

I've said it a million times, but I'll say it again: most darning feet are not well designed. They literally squish the quilt flat to the surface of the machine bed, making it almost impossible to move the quilt freely in free motion.

Click here to learn about modifying your foot so it works better for free motion quilting.

I'll be sharing a video soon showing you how I modified the generic darning foot I'm using on the Janome HD-1000. Straight out of the package, the foot worked terribly, but with a rubber band and a little elbow grease, the foot works perfectly now.

So the dropping of feed dogs continues, not because the quilt is really getting fed forward by the feed dogs, but because the darning foot is squashing the quilt so badly. Ultimately it's always the feed dogs that get blamed for the quilt not moving smoothly.

But here's the catch - most machines don't react positively to dropped feed dogs. Suddenly tension goes finicky, thread nests on the back of the quilt become far more common, and the stress level of the quilter in question soars.

Who can blame you for getting frustrated? Your wonderful machine that has so far been a loyal and trusted friend has just thrown up ugly stitches on the surface of your quilt.

Many try free motion quilting, but throw in the towel after just a few minutes because they can't achieve a decent looking stitch with the feed dogs down.

Worst still - the blame for the bad stitches is usually put on the machine. My personal opinion is this: if a machine can piece beautifully, it can absolutely free motion quilt beautifully too.

The biggest question should always be: IS THIS EVEN NECESSARY?

Seriously, do a test! Free motion quilt with the feed dogs up, then free motion quilt with the feed dogs down. See for yourself which one works better for your specific machine.

Blindly following rules will never get you anywhere.

So test! Try modifying your darning foot, try quilting with the feed dogs covered instead of dropped, try quilting with a variety of different threads and needles.

But more than anything else: DON'T GIVE UP! Don't stop trying just because things don't work immediately. You really CAN quilt your own quilts in free motion, but only if you take the time to test and find what works and doesn't work for you.

Whew! That was quite a soapbox for a sunny Sunday afternoon! I'm headed into the studio to finish up that baby quilt in the photo above.

Let's go quilt,


Friday, May 20, 2011

Videocast #11 - Summer fun with Sewing Machines

I missed my videocast last week because I got so busy after the Janome video I didn't have time and I don't know about you, but I really missed it!

So here's Videocast #11 summing up everything from the last 2 weeks:

James is out of school now which means he will be making a lot more cameo appearances in these videos during the summer. As you can see in the video, Josh is forcing me to stick with the rule of these videocasts: one shot, one take. No matter what happens the camera doesn't stop recording!

We've had many new designs over the last two weeks. Let's catch up on them all:

free motion quilting | Leah DayRockin' is an excellent variation of Pebbling, only instead of circles, you're stacking hexagons, pentagons, and octagons.

Feather Fans is an excellent design for anyone wishing to practice the feather shape. You'll get lots of practice while swirling feathers all over your quilt!

free motion quilting | Leah DaySpeaking of feathers, we've also learned Complex Feather, a feather design filled with spirals and arching lines to create a really unique texture.

This week we've learned Rattlesnake, an easier version than Tangled Snakes that is filled with Lacy Lattice rather than circles.

free motion quilting | Leah DayFinally the last design is Calm Sea, a very simple, easy design perfect for adding a simple flowing texture across the surface of your quilt. Try this on in the sashing or borders of your next blue quilt to see what I mean!

In the videocast I also shared some more information about the Under $500 Sewing Machine Review.

Yesterday I sat down at my $500 sewing machine (the Janome HD-1000) and pieced two quilts, appliqued four quilt blocks, and today I plan to quilt a small baby quilt, all in the effort of putting this little inexpensive machine through its paces.

I've received some great feedback to the launch of this new project. Many of the comments are supportive, but there's a growing group of quilters trying to talk me out of buying a machine from Walmart, Sears, or Joann's.

These machines in particular need to be reviewed honestly because these are going to be the machines that most often get purchased by brand new, beginning quilters and sewers! I'm going to review these machines honestly, which means if it can't produce a nice stitch, or if it just can't free motion quilt on it, I'm going to tell you and show you why.

I'm not interested in slandering or libeling any sewing machine manufacturers, but if I pick up a machine that is so utterly cheap it can't stitch, I'm going to show you.

But it's also good to keep in mind that just because a machine is sold in a big box store that doesn't automatically make it a terrible machine. Just like paying $1000 or more doesn't guarantee that the machine you're buying is a great machine (though I would hope it's at least decent at that price)!

These are just biases that have no real basis in fact. Unless you yourself have personally stitched on a particular machine, you can't say how good it is!

I'm trying to remain as unbiased and objective as possible so I can review each machine with an open mind. If I go into a review thinking a machine is cheap or bad, it's going to go badly.

I think the real key with this whole review program is my attitude about it. I'm not getting emotional about these machines at all.

Usually when I buy a new machine, I WANT it to be good. I want it to be awesome. I want it to make me feel like my investment was worth it. I simply want to love my machine.

But with these Under $500 machines, I'm trying NOT to fall in love. I'm trying to remain open minded, unbiased, and unemotional. More than anything else, I want to give each machine the fairest shot that I can, no matter if I paid $50 or $499, no matter if I bought it from Ebay, Amazon, Walmart, or Sears.

This is the reason why I'm not accepting any machines for free. If I got a machine for free, if I didn't make the same investment as I have with all the others, it would mess with my emotional balance with that machine. Suddenly I would feel beholden to the person or company that sent me the machine and guilty if I didn't quickly review it positively.

I hope this all makes sense. It's a bit of a soapbox, but I hope you can understand why it's so important for me to buy machines from many different places.

Hopping off my soapbox, I'm working hard at getting the bare bones of the new Machine Review area of the site ready to launch. When it's done, you'll be able to search through reviews sent in through the Sewing Machine Survey and learn more about machines that cost under $500.

So that's it for this week! I'm heading back into the studio to start free motion quilting a baby quilt top I've had pieced for 2 years. It's time to finally finish this baby!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Quilts Inspiring Architecture

It's finally a pretty day and I'm spending it outside working on my new patio in the front yard. Here's how it's looking so far:

free motion quilting | Leah DayWorking on the pattern in the stone, I was reminded by a quilt I pieced 3 years ago that I still haven't gotten around to quilting yet:

free motion quilting | Leah DayPulling out this top off the shelf made me remember the fun beach trip we were on when I purchased the fabric and the lazy, summer afternoons I spent cutting and piecing it. I wanted something a little different with this quilt, not the usual grid pattern, but instead a pattern like bricks stacked together.

So I guess that was the perfect inspiration for my patio! Architecture inspiring a quilt and a quilt then inspiring architecture!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Under $500 Sewing Machine Review

Whoo hoo! It's finally time to launch this new program reviewing machines that cost under $500.

I've been thinking about this every day and am getting more and more excited about it. It's not just about getting to play with so many different machines (which is my idea of heaven), it's also the joy of learning more about each company and more about sewing machines themselves.

But I'm also realizing the titanic nature of this task. Last weekend I launched the Sewing Machine Survey to start pulling in your reviews of machines and I've been overwhelmed by the response.

Unfortunately though, most of the machines posted cost way more than $500, most reported at double that price. To keep this simple (and me sane) I'm going to have to prioritize posting the under $500 machines first. In a few months we may get around to posting the rest of the reviews, but for now this is all that's going to be listed on a new area of the site I'm still working on.

So without further ado, here's the Under $500 Sewing Machine Review Introduction:

The first thing we have to do is cover the rules of this new program! Machines must be...
  • Under $500 - This is pretty simple: no machine will be reviewed in this program unless it costs under $500. And lucky, used buys on Ebay can't count.

    Example: on an extremely lucky day I might be able to get my hands on Janome 6600 or an OLD Bernina Record 830 (both machines that can easily costs over $1000) for less than $500, but it's extremely unlikely that YOU could find this machine for this price. So the machines must cost under $500 brand new, straight from the factory.
  • Most Must be New (but see the RULE BREAK below) - I know many of you with awesome Singer Featherweights are shaking your hands at this one, but there's a very good reason for this. Brand new, straight out of the box is how most machines are purchased, and how most reviewers from the survey reported purchasing their machines.

    It's simply the most reliable way I know of making sure you get all the standard parts from the company - all the feet, bobbins, and especially the manual that come with the machine from the beginning.

    Used, it's hard to say if these items would come with your machine, and it's almost impossible to guarantee that you could find your machine for less than $500. Demand for that particular used model might increase causing prices to rise.
  • Easy to Find - It would be pointless to review machines that you can't get unless you have a Viking or Elna dealer in town. The fact is, most people don't have access to local dealers covering every brand.

    My goal is to find new machines that are either sold online or found easily at Walmart, Joann's, or Sears.

    It was commented that machines purchased from these places just come in a box with no support, classes, or information. That's what I aim to change. By reviewing these machines and teaching you how to get them ready for piecing and free motion quilting, I hope to show you that $500 can buy you just as much as $2000 if you know what to do with it.

    RULE BREAK - Looking at the last 2 rules, I know I won't be able to resist reviewing a handful of older machines that are out of production, especially if they are readily available and easy to find on Ebay for less than $100. So I'm going to review 1 older, used machine for every 5-10 new machines, but again it has to be an older machine that is easy to find.
  • Multiple brands - Reading through the reviews I've been struck by how many quilters pick one brand and stick with it. My own tendency has been to go with Janome since I've had such terrific experiences with that company recently.

    But there are many more brands, and judging from the reviews, many brands I've never even heard of! It's going to be fun hunting down some new brands and shedding light on machines you might never have seen otherwise.
  • Take it Slow - It's would be utterly pointless to purchase a new machine and rush through the review before I'm even comfortable using the machine. I need to take a few days or weeks to get used to each new machine.

    I also plan to shoot multiple videos for each machine. Here's what I have planned for each machine so far:

    Video #1 - Unpacking and Initial Impressions
    Video #2 - Walkthrough of Basic Features and Functions
    Video #3 - Piecing on the Machine
    Video #4 - Free Motion Quilting On the Machine
    Video #5 - Overall review and short project tutorial (optional depending on the machine).

    This means, at most, we will have 12 Under $500 machine reviews each year. This will not only keep the program reasonable and affordable for us to run, it will also ensure that each new machine is thoroughly tested and played with before making a final judgment on it.

    Still, I know your thirst for knowledge probably can't keep up with my slow speed, so hopefully the Sewing Machine Survey will take up the slack. I'm working on a new area of my website to house all the machine reviews in one place so it's easy to find the right machine for you.
It will probably take 1 more week to get this new area of the site ready. I'm so excited about it and I can't wait to share it with you!

Now that this new program has launched, and you understand the rules, let's check out the first machine!

The first machine to be reviewed is the Janome HD-1000.

Let's watch the very first video created on this machine. I show you how it looked literally straight out of the box! I unpack the machine, set it up on my table, and share my initial impressions of how it looks and feels.

This is a longer video, so click "play" then "pause" and let the little red bar fill up completely so the video fully loads before hitting "play" again to watch the whole thing all the way through:

I purchased this machine online from Ebay from an obvious dealer of machines (you can tell because they usually carry 10 or more of that particular model for a set "buy it now" price). If you aim to purchase this machine from Ebay, just make sure the seller you get it from has at least 99% positive feedback.

I paid $299.00 for this machine and shipping was free.

It arrived in 3 days in a sturdy box and came with the following bits and pieces:
  • Standard Sewing (zig zag) foot (this was installed on the machine straight out of the box)
  • Zipper Foot
  • Buttonhole Foot
  • Rolled Hem Foot
  • 4 Bobbins
  • 2 Screwdrivers
  • Oil Container
  • 2 felts
  • Pack of needles
  • Power cord and foot pedal combined
  • Machine Manual
The spool pins on my machine were already attached and I had to be really careful pulling the machine out of the box to make sure I didn't break them off.

Setting up the HD-1000 on my table, my immediate impression is that this is a solid machine. It's not just that the body is made of metal instead of plastic. It's the finer details: the knobs are very secure and don't wiggle, they make an audible CLICK when you change stitches.

The quick change foot really impressed me. You might have noticed when I touched the piecing foot in the Janome Horizon video, the foot wiggled. This can definitely effect your precision when piecing because if the foot moves in relation to the needle, your 1/4" seam is obviously changing.

But on the HD-1000, the quick change is actually better quality and feels more stable. This machine also has the same bobbins as the Janome Horizon, so it would make for a great machine to take with you to classes if you already own the 7700.

The machine itself doesn't feel very heavy, but it does feel sturdy, do you know what I mean? It honestly reminds me a lot of my old Bernina Record 830, a solid, sturdy workhorse.

So that's it for my very first impressions of the Janome HD-1000! Straight out of the box I really like this machine, and I can't wait to get started piecing and quilting on it.

Next week I'm going to share Video #2 - Basic Functions and Features of this machine: how to wind a bobbin and stitch through a few stitches that comes standard on the machine.

Did you like this new tutorial? Make sure to share it with your friends!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 281 - Calm Sea

It's a chilly, wet, rainy day here in NC and the gently flowing rain puddles make a perfect inspiration for a new quilting design. This is Calm Sea:

free motion quilting | Leah DayHave you been waiting on the edge of your seat wanting to know about the first Under $500 machine I'm going to review? Don't miss the first video on this machine coming up tomorrow!

This video was sponsored by the Ultimate Quilting Kit, a collection of the three best tools for free motion quilting on a home sewing machine. Click here to learn more about this kit!

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This is a super simple design! Wiggle across your quilting space with an organic, flowing line. Flow into the line before, travel stitch, then branch off with another calm wave.

Design Family - Edge to Edge. This design flows easily from one edge of your quilting space to the other. Use the edges to travel stitch along so you can easily move around your quilt.

Directional Texture - 2 Directions. What's nice about this design is the gentle texture of flowing lines. Place this horizontally for the perfect design to stitch for water or waves.

Suggestions for Use - Even a traditionally pieced quilt would look gorgeous when stitched with Calm Sea. Try this design in the sashing area of a blue quilt for an instant water effect.

Back of Calm Sea
free motion quilting | Leah Day
Feel free to use this free motion filler designs in your quilts,
and make sure to tell your friends where you learned it.

Click here to support the project by visiting our online quilt shop.

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 280 - Rattlesnake

Wow! I've gotten a HUGE response to the Sewing Machine Survey. In less than 2 days, we've already had over 100 machines shared. To answer a great question posted in the comments - please share ALL of the machines you own, each in its own survey. So if you own five machines, submit the survey five times.

Okay, let's get cracking with a new design for today. This is a variation of Tangled Snakes that's a little easier to stitch and kind of looks like a Rattlesnake:

free motion quilting | Leah DayNow let's learn how to quilt this cool design in free motion:

Difficulty Level - Advanced. This design is much easier than Tangled Snakes, mostly because you can wiggle in the Lacy Lattice much faster than circles and it seems to flow much easier.

Design Family - Branching. After nearly going blind stitching this on such a small scale, I really think it would look much better, and stitch easier on a larger scale.

Directional Texture - All Directions. You can't beat this wiggly, flowing texture! If you don't like the idea of Rattlesnakes going on your quilt, you could think of them as ribbons or streamers.

Suggestions for Use - Like I said before, stitching this design on a small scale wasn't much fun. It's possible, but it's not easy. Instead use this design as a flowing texture all over your quilt. I think it would be super funky to stitch over the surface of a baby quilt. Who says baby quilts have all got to be pink hearts and blue ducks?

Back of Rattlesnake
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sewing Machine Survey

Reading through all the comments from my last post on Piecing and Quilting on the Janome Horizon, I realized that I'm on to something big with my idea to seek out and review machine that cost under $500.

But there's just one tiny problem - choice!

Picking just a handful of machines out of the hundreds, if not thousands, that are available these days is pretty difficult. Many quilters mentioned older machines in the comments of that post as well.

I know from personal experience that some of the best, longest lasting, workhorse machines were built 20-30 years ago. The thing is, how do we know which were good and which were bad?

Online reviews really didn't get started until about 5 years ago. I remember buying a Brother machine online in 2004 and struggled to find conclusive information on the machine before the purchase.

Older machines are even harder because most online review sites have utterly no interest in running reviews of machines that are no longer in production. Review sites mostly make their money by linking interested customers with the sites they can buy the new machines from.

But I am interested in these reviews and these machines! I think this information is really important, particularly because many older machines are still around and can easily be found on Ebay and Craigs list, being sold by people who don't really know that the machine they're selling is awesome at free motion quilting or piecing.

The more I thought about it, the more I realize what we really need is a group poll collecting information about all of our machines.

Before I share the link with you, I first want to say that I'm really interested in collecting a specific set of information. I'm interested in hearing about machines that:
  • Cost under $1000 - I'd really prefer the machines to cost under $500. This is a poll collecting information on machines that are affordable to most quilters. Yes, there are many machines out there that cost much more than this and stitch wonderfully, but this is not the poll for them.

  • You like! - If you hate your machine, please feel free to share in the survey, but really I'm particularly seeking machines that are good at piecing and free motion quilting. Even if you've never free motion quilted on your machine, do share it if you know it's awesome at piecing.

  • Preferably sold within the last 40 years - The younger a machine is, the more potential quilters have of finding it, and for a decent price.
So now that you know what I'm looking for, here's the link:

Click Here to take the Sewing Machine Survey!

Please fill out a new survey for each machine you own.
So if you own 5 machines, please submit 5 different surveys on each machine

Depending on how many people share their machines, I'm going to try to compile the information collected so you can easily browse through different makes and models of machines from different brands.

I'm really interested to see what we come up with! Please share this post with your friends or family - anyone that has a great sewing machine they love and want everyone else to know about it!

Note - In no area of this survey did I ask for personal or identifying information of any kind. I do plan to publish everything shared in this survey publicly so please keep that in mind. If you'd like to share a copyright free photo of your machine (a photo you take of your machine at home), please feel free to email it to me at

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Fun Tutorial from AsqW

Today I want to try something different! Last month I ran across many interesting bloggers and asked a couple if they would like to guest blog here. Here's the first post from Ali of asquared(w).

Hi everyone! I'm Ali and I blog over at asquared(w). I am a huge fan of Leah's designs (as I'm sure you are) so I was stoked when she asked if I would write a tutorial for her blog! It took me all of 2 seconds to say yes, then a little longer to come up with a project that I thought was worthy of her blog and that you all would enjoy.

I had an idea for a quilt / block a while ago and never brought it to life, so I thought this would be a good time. I'll be showing you how to make this block and turn it into a pillow! I also took 4 of the blocks, rotated them, and ended up with a quilt that I adore. So if pillows aren't your thing, think about turning these into a quilt! This makes a 17" square unfinished block (perfect for a 16" square pillow).

Crossing paths-tutorial


1 - 15" square of background fabric
10 - 1.5" x 17" strips of accent fabrics (2 of each color, 5 colors). It's ok if they are longer than 17"
2 - 17" x 11" rectangles of background fabric for the pillow back
1 - 2" x 17" strip as an accent for the back (not necessary)
1 - 19" x 19" square of batting
1 - 19" x 19" square of muslin

What we're going to be doing is cutting apart the 15" square, sewing in a strip, cutting it again, adding in another strip, etc, etc. All in all it will take 20 steps.

Steps 1 - 6 : inserting color 1
crossing quilt 1-4

1. Cut a strip 2.5" from the left side of the 15" square
2. With right sides together, sew 1 color 1 strip to the 2.5" piece. I trim all of the overhangs at the end, so don't worry if it's too long. Press toward the color
3. Again with RST, line up the top and bottom edges of your background pieces and sew the color strip to the other side of the background piece. Press toward the color.
4. Now cut 2.5" down from the top.
5. Sew another 1.5" strip of color 1 to the 2.5" strip. Press toward the color.
6. **This is where it gets tricky! Stay with me!! ** We need to sew this piece back onto the body, but we want to line up that first vertical line.
alignment copy

Line up those points, sew, press toward the color.

Got it? It makes a perfect alignment every time. I use lots of pins on this step.

Steps 7 - 12 : inserting color 2
crossing quilt 5-9
* This is similar to the last steps, but the measurements have changed, pay attention! *
7. Cut 2.25" vertically from the right side of the first color piece.
8. With right sides together, sew 1 color 2 strip to the 5.5" piece. Press toward the color
9. Again with RST, line up the top and bottom edges of your background pieces, make your marks for the horizontal color 1 piece (like in step 6) and sew the color 2 strip to the other side of the background piece. Press toward the color.
10. Now cut 2.25" down from the top.
11. Sew another 1.5" strip of color 2 to the 5.5" top piece. Press toward the color.
12. Mark where colors 1 and 2 should line up (see step 6), sew top piece to the bottom with RST, press toward color.

We are going to continue steps 7 - 12 for the other 3 colors. Vertical strip first, then horizontal strip. Here are some diagrams to take you through the cut order. :)
Color 3:
crossing quilt 9-12
Color 4:
crossing quilt 12-16

Color 5:
crossing quilt 17-20

Did you make it??

Not trim it up to 17" square. Sometimes I overtrim to make things perfect, so it's ok if you go down to 16.5" square.

You should end up with something like these:

80s block
See how repeating a color changes the effect?

green gray
Playing with shades of gray

Make your sandwich and baste as desired. I prefer spray basting. Leah has TONS of quilting tutorials, so I won't go into that here. I quilted mine with straight lines using thread that matched the strips.

quilting detail
The back side of the neon one. Can you pretend that the lines are straighter?? Thanks!

Assembling the pillow back
1. With the right side of the accent strip on the wrong side of one of the 11" x 17" pieces, sew along the 17" side.

accent 1

2. Fold down 1/4" toward the wrong side on the other side of the accent strip.

accent 2

3. Fold and press the color strip up so that the wrong side facing the right side of the back. Top stitch 1/8" from each side.

accent 3

4. Take your other 11" x 17" piece. Fold over one 17" side 1.5" toward the wrong side. Unfold and fold the edge toward your fold line (3/4"). The refold on the original fold line. The raw edge should be tucked in and the fold should be 3/4" wide. Topstitch 1/8" from each fold.

edge back copy

4. Layer in this order:
- quilted front face up
- back piece with accent face down, aligning the raw 17" edge with one side of the quilted front
- plain back piece face down, aligning the raw 17" edge with the opposite edge of the quilted front. The finished edges should overlap in the middle.

5. Sew along all 4 sides with a 3/8" seam allowance. I like to backstitch where the pieces overlap for more stability. Clip corners.


5. Flip right side out, put a pillow in, DONE!

Now have fun! Change the dimensions, change the order the strips are cut, try new colors. If you're on Flickr I'd love to see what you come up with - just pop a picture in the pool. :)

Check out Ali's awesome blog of fun tutorials right here and join her flickr pool to show off your own awesome pillow.

Don't you think this would make a great project to practice some free motion designs? Play with stitching a different filler in all the squares, or pick one design to stitch over the whole pillow! Experiment with this fun project and make it your own!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 279 - Complex Feather

Blogger has been down all day which is the reason for this incredibly late post! I've been wanting to post this design for a while since I used it in my 9 by 12 Transformation Challenge piece.

The wings of the butterfly were created with this Complex Feather:

If you look at this design, it's basically Butterfly Feathers with spirals inside the circles and arching lines through the feather body. Two simple additions create an amazing texture for this feathering design!

Click Here if the Video Does Not Appear

This video was sponsored by The Ultimate Quilting Kit from the Day Style Designs Quilt Store. Support the project and get the best 3 tools for free motion quilting all in one go!

Difficulty Level - Advanced. Don't let this rating discourage you! First start with Feather Filler and get the hang of that design, then try Butterfly Feathers. Once you have those two designs memorized, give this Complex Feather a try!

Filler Design Type - Stem Centered. To create these designs, you first start with a long, skinny stem, then travel along it and branch out with the feathers. This can go pretty much anywhere on a quilt so long as you have enough space to fit the stem and feather leaves.

Directional Texture - All Directions. The texture of this design really depends on how complex your starting vine line is. If you wiggle it around like crazy, you're going to have a pretty crazy texture.

Suggestions for Use - Complex Feather is, well, complex, so I'd put this in an area that you really want to show off and stand out. The texture and thread play of this design is always going to attract attention, so maybe play with this design in the borders of your quilts, where you have lots of space for the feathers to branch out, flow around, and really show off!

Back of Complex Feather
Feel free to use this free motion filler designs in your quilts,
and make sure to tell your friends where you learned it!

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Click Here to support the project and keep these designs online forever for free!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bad / Good Day

You know what I mean when I say Bad things happen in threes?

Yesterday I was brought nearly to tears when I went outside to start working on my patio, when I realized that I've probably made a huge, costly, and time consuming mistake. I dug out the space too deep, then added way too much sand, and now I'm hopelessly in over my head on that project.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI really wasn't attempting to create a miniature beach in my front yard, complete with lake, but that looks like what I've done. This photo was shot two days ago, before my "pond" filled with water.

Josh tried to cheer me up by driving to the store to get some dessert, but halfway out the driveway, he blew a tire!

So instead of driving to Charlotte today for a Fiber Art Options meeting, I instead spent 3 hours getting four new tires because the old ones were shot beyond belief.

Since I'm ever the clever girl who knows when a long wait is imminent, I took my laptop along and got to work on the last chapter of the intermediate level book in the waiting room.

I had ALL THE CONTENT WRITTEN, every single blasted word, and guessed it...I LOST IT ALL.


Yes, I had backed this file up. Yes, I do know better than to only have one version of such an important document, but sometimes I'll wait to back up for 3 days or so, and that can amount to 3-4 chapters worth of material. Stupid mistake!

Fate then decided that I'd been thoroughly punished enough and my car was promptly ready to go.

I flew home on new tires, which are really quite nice and hopefully will improve our gas mileage this summer, raced into the house and immediately went to work trying to find a program that will recover corrupted Works files.

Luckily, there is such a program. It's called Recovery for Works Word 2.0 and while it didn't save my formatting perfectly, it did save the WORDS I'd written and that saved me about 3 days rewriting those last chapters.

So for the last three hours, I've been copying and pasting and getting a new file back together and finally, yes, finally I can say that the content of From Feathers to Flames is DONE!

All that's left is editing it for grammar and spelling (Josh's job) and creating the images for the book (my job), and this book will be ready to roll.

So while it's been a horribly bad day, at least I didn't lose the whole thing.

And meanwhile downstairs the Intermediate quilt is already stretched out on the tables being basted.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySince blue was the theme for the beginner level book and DVD, red is the theme for this one. I can't wait to get started quilting all the designs in the blocks and sashing!

Okay, I'm off to answer all the email I've missed this morning and then hopefully, fate will give me a bit of a break before it hits me with another set of three.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with that pond I've dug in my front yard...

Let's go quilt,


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