The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #1

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Question Thursday #1

Thank you all so much for your wonderful response to our first quilt along post! While I knew this was the direction I wanted to move in, and I knew many quilters would enjoy it too, there's always a bit of fear about changing things too much and making people angry. But so far we haven't received even 1 negative comment - whoo hoo!

So today, and all Thursdays from here on out, are going to be devoted to answering questions.

Mostly I'll be focusing on answering questions that come from linked up blogs, but I'll also keep an eye on Facebook, YouTube, and the comments here.

So the questions for today are:

Do you use a stitch regulator?

No. I don't use a stitch regulator on any of my machines. I'm able to quilt fairly even stitches across my quilts because my ratio (the speed of my hands and the speed of my machine) is balanced, though now that I'm quilting bigger, I'm finding I need to focus on slowing down my hands, but keep my machine the same speed.

And since you asked, here's my lecture on the subject:

I think a stitch regulator COULD be a good tool for a beginning quilter, but ONLY if you use it understanding its limitations.

A stitch regulator is a tiny computer that looks at the speed of the quilt moving and it automatically increases or decrease the speed of the machine to accommodate the speed of the quilt.

When using a regulator, you don't use your foot pedal. Instead the stitch regulator sends signals to the machine and makes the needle go up and down faster or slower.

For a beginner just starting out, a stitch regulator could be extremely helpful because you won't have to work so hard to see pretty, balanced stitches. The regulator will create fairly good stitches from the beginning and as you get used to moving the quilt and forming a design, your stitches will get even better

The thing is - you are much smarter than this little computer.

You might not feel like it right now, but you are infinitely smarter and more talented than a stitch regulator. It just takes practice to find perfect stitches on your own, but once you have it, you really can't lose it.

You know and can prepare for a bend in you design by slowing down your machine. You know you get faster when you stitch a certain curve. A stitch regulator doesn't know this and sometimes they can lag behind. This creates a noticeable change in your stitches as the computer tries to speed up quickly to keep up with you.

This happens especially when you're stitching a design you've gotten very comfortable with. As you memorize the flow and pattern of a design, the faster you will be comfortable stitching it. Your hands will naturally move the quilt faster and faster, and if you were controlling your foot pedal too, your speed would naturally increase as well to maintain a balanced stitch.

But with a stitch regulator, you will eventually get to a point where your hands are moving faster and more fluidly than the stitch regulator can keep up with.

This is the reason I don't like stitch regulators: they are like training wheels that don't allow you to grow.

Training wheels on a kid's bike are designed to help them maintain balance and not fall over sideways because balancing a 2 wheel bike can be tricky the first time you do it. You put them on your kid's bike and after a few months he'll get the hang of balancing the bike and then you can take them off again.

A stitch regulator is similar because getting a balanced stitch with free motion can be tricky too. So it CAN be helpful, but only if you accept that one day you will grow out of this device and will need to take it off and quilt without it.

The problem is, I don't see this happening. I see quilters that shell out the money for one of these things so, By God, I'm going to USE it! What happens then is you have a quilter who's actually very good at free motion, but her stitches look bad because she's faster and smarter than the computer controlling her machine.

Keep in mind that this is my OPINION. There is no jury out of this verdict, no massive survey or voting campaign to log thousands of quilters feelings on this device. This is just little ole' me sharing my 2 cents, so if you have a sincere desire to try a stitch regulator, don't let me stop you.

My main issue is that they were so very, very expensive. I checked around this morning and found several for the eye popping price of $500 each. Had I needed to buy something like that when I was getting started, I would never have been able to afford it!

Out of all the machine manufacturer's, Bernina is the one that's really jumped on the stitch regulator bandwagon. The BSR foot is essentially a tiny stitch regulator with a handy foot to go with it.

I find it a bit irritating when I read or hear information about this device along the lines of "You can't free motion quilt without it!" or "It quilts your quilts for you!" That is SO not true. You will still have to spend time learning how to move the quilt smoothly with your hands, and you will still have a period of ugly stitches to get through.

A few months ago I got an email from a reader who sparked my interest in the BSR. She was struggling with it and was wondering if I had heard of this happening with anyone else. So I posted a question on facebook and got a sizeable response. (I'm still looking for this post, so I'll link it up when I find it!)

So I think that pretty sums up my lecture on stitch regulators! Let's move on...

Barbara J asked in the Understanding Free Motion Quilting Post:

I have a Brother machine that has a speed slider. I can disengage my foot pedal and only press a button to start sewing. It will go at the speed that you have set on the slider. So my question is if I can figure out a good balance of speed on the slider then I could only focus on my hand movements, won't that be half the battle won?
This is a really interesting question and right along the same lines as the stitch regulator so thank you for asking Barbara!

Here's the deal: Many new machines, especially those with computerization, now have a red or green button on the front. You might notice in some of my videos the little button on the front of the Janome Horizon that changes colors when I stop and start.

Basically on these machines you can unplug your foot pedal, hit this button and quilt at one set speed. You set this speed by moving the slider (slow, medium, or fast) on the top of your machine.

Is this a good way to practice? I have absolutely no idea!

After getting Barbara's question, I jumped on the machine and played with it a bit and here's my feelings:

First, the positive aspects of this idea: I think this could be a neat thing to play with because it basically takes your speed issues out of the equation. You won't have to worry so much about the speed fluctuating and messing up your stitches because the machine will be stitching at a steady, constant pace.

Now for the downsides: The biggest one is this could be dangerous. If you hit "START", your machine is stitching until you take your hand off your quilt and hit "STOP". Personally that scares the stuffing out of me because I know as soon as I take my eyes off the quilt to hit the button, I'll stitch through my other hand!

But my silliness aside, I think this could be a bit stressful. If you set your machine speed too high, you'll feel pressure to Go! Go! Go! and might not be able to move the quilt fast enough, or keep up with the design.

The reverse is also true - if you set the machine speed to slow, That could get really tedious and boring really fast.

I do seem to remember one of the few times I played with a longarm at a needlecraft convention, the speed of the machine was controlled this way. You hit start and the machine just WENT. It didn't have a stitch regulator, just two speeds: slow and fast. I was actually able to produce some nice, even stitches that way and liked the experience.

So I'd say if you have the feature, it's worth playing with. Just be careful hitting start and stop! If you don't have the feature, don't go buy a new machine to get it.

Now for the next question:

M.E asked in the Memorizing Quilting Designs Post:
When practicing with pen & paper, should my hand be resting on the paper, and I'm mainly using my fingers? I'm thinking it might be better to use my whole hand to form the lines. Any thoughts?
Hmm...When I draw on a large scale, I make big sweeping movements with my whole hand across the page. When I'm sketching tiny fillers, I usually just use my fingers.

I'd say if you want practice at making the movements on a quilt, try using your whole hand and a big piece of paper or whiteboard. The movements will probably be more similar to how you will move the real quilt. Does that make sense?

On to the next question from YouTube:

In general, Leah, is your top tension set higher than the bobbin tension or does it depend on the thread, batting and frame of mind on any particular day?
Here's my feelings about tension: if your machine is piecing with nice tension, meaning if the thread is balanced and not producing loops on either side while you piece two 4 inch squares together with your piecing foot and your machine on all the normal settings, then it should be balanced the same way for quilting.

When I have students in class and their tension has gone out the window, I ask them to put their machine back completely to piecing and piece two squares together. If the tension returns to normal, I asked what they changed about their machine.

Here's the normal list: Dropped the feed dogs, put on this foot, started quilting.

So then we start eliminating culprits one by one. Instead of dropping you feed dogs, leave them up.

Next put on your free motion foot and take a look at it. Is it standing up too high on your quilt? If your foot is adjust too high, your thread can break or garble up on the back and get nasty. If it's set up too low it can squish you quilt, but chances are it won't effect the tension.

Now quilt a bit. Quilt some straight lines, then quilt some curves.

I honestly see more "tension" issues here than anywhere else. I say "tension" in quotes here because it's not really tension that's the problem - it's your speed and movement ratio.

If you're quilting a curve and your hands feel comfortable with the movement, they will naturally speed up. The problem is your foot might not react as quickly and your machine will be running too slow for the movement.

This will cause your thread to do some pretty weird things. Usually your bobbin thread will pull against the top, bringing it to the back of your quilt creating awful loops that look like a serious tension issue.

But it's not tension! Take a look at your quilt - do the tension problems consistently happen when you make a certain curve? If so, concentrate and focus on INCREASING your speed every time you stitch that shape. Chances are, your "tension" issues will be repaired!


We will all make ugly stitches this year. Don't let them defeat you! It is only by fighting through the dark forest of ugly stitches that you will make it to the castle of pretty stitches and save the princess of perfection....

Or maybe I'm playing Super Mario Brothers too much....

Note: I'd really love some photos of this to help illustrate what I mean. If you're having tension issues and don't mind sharing them, please shoot a photo of the front and back of your quilt sandwich and send it to me. I'll not only diagnose your problems, I'll post it here on the project so everyone will benefit.

Finally, one last question for today:

How do I link-up my blog???

This is a great question because I've talked about linking up so much and how that will be a fun way to share your progress with everyone else.

Now here's the steps to link up:

1. Write your blog post - Share your progress with the Quilt Along. Pictures and videos are most welcome! If you have an issue or question, make sure it's apart of your blog post too.

2. Get the URL of your post - This is important because it's very common to just link up your blog address, not the extended address of the actual post. The difference between the two is pretty big: one will send you to your blog, one will send you to the POST on your blog.

So here's how you do it: after posting your progress, go to your blog and click on the title of your post. You'll see the link extend to include the directions to get to the post itself. Now hold down the CTRL button on your keyboard and hit C to copy that whole url.

3. Link Up - Come here and find the In Linkz tool at the bottom of Wednesday's post. It will say something like "Share Your Link". Click on it, and you'll find a box for your URL to go into. Click into that box and hold down CTRL and V to paste that url into the box.

Viola! You've successfully linked up to the project!

Okay, I'm here at the end of this Question Thursday post and wondering - is this seriously overwhelming? Should I answer these questions in multiple posts rather than all in one? Did you actually manage to read through it all to get to the end?

Please share your opinion in the comments below!

Whew! I'm going to shut up and quilt now,



  1. Yes, I did read all the way to the end and, no, it's not too much...I love all the information that you are giving! Thanks again.

  2. This is a great column Leah! I read the whole thing. Very informative! Would love to see you continue this --- same length, several related questions at a time.

  3. I like Question Thursday! I read the whole thing and found it interesting. I'm looking forward to new installments.


  4. Wow - Leah, you are so thorough! I had so much fun yesterday practicing. Two comments on stitch regulators and speed regulators:

    - I spent about $1,000 more for my Bernina to get the stitch regulator, and It made me nervous every time I turned it on. It's a pretty good FMQ foot, though, but $1,000 for an FMQ foot is ridiculous! I'm much more comfortable quilting without it even though I have little FMQ experience, with or without the BSR.
    - I read somewhere recently that when beginning FMQ it's good to slow the speed of the machine and then just quilt with the "pedal to the metal" because then you're first learning to move your hands well without worrying quite as much about coordinating that with the speed. I've been doing that, and it seems to work pretty well for now. I'm guessing (hoping) that soon I'll be ready to control both at once.

    Keep up the great work! Your tutorial was outstanding.

  5. I read them all, Leah, and found them helpful. I have wanted to let you know that when I took my first FMQ class back in October of last year I had just read your info on your website about NOT dropping feed dogs on some machines. I played around with it and found I have one of those machines that does batter with feed dogs up. I was so grateful for that insight. I think it really helped my stitches. My instructor had been trying to help me adjust my tension to get it right. But once I left the feed dogs up I had no more trouble. I also appreciate your info on stitch regulators. You make good sense!

  6. I made it to the end just fine, lol. Not counting the link up question/directions you answered 4 questions, 3 long and one short answer. My thoughts on is this post being too short, too long, too much info. Not really, but I could understand that the legnth of the answer would definately determine how many questions you would want to answer in a single post. A question that required a very extensive answer may need it's own post. I think you did just fine.

    I hope it's ok for me to insert some personal experience at this time. I have a Bernina with a BSR (bsr was free with my machine due to a special promo offer when I bought it). I had used the BSR on the machine in the showroom, it worked fine. When I went to use mine...late one evening while trying to finish a misbehaved so bad I put it back in it's box and was quite thankful that I had not spent money for it. When I went back to the store and discussed it with them, they told me it needed updated. I assume this means that there is a software issue between the machine and the bsr. It will be free, and I only need to take the foot, not my machine. I just keep forgetting, mostly because Life has me busy with non-quilting issues. Maybe I'll remember soon and get that update done. I'll let you know when that happens, if I remember.
    Thanks for your post

  7. I enjoyed reading them all in one post, but if I had been really busy I might not been able too. I am hoping to join in on the fun. I have always wanted to learn to quilt and this seems like a great time to do it. I have played a little but it's time to get serious and learn to be able to quilt my own quilts.

  8. It was all very interesting, and fine the way it is!

  9. Love your format for this year. Yes I read all the way through and I'm gald I did. I had never figured out what the "tension" problem was. Now I know and how to fix it!! Headed upstairs to pull out a UFO and get it quilted!

  10. I'm so excited you are doing this. I have several friends who are afraid to try to quilt their own piecing. I'm hoping your very clear instructions will encourage many others to be proud of all their work!

  11. Hi Leah, I read all the way through and still couldn't get enough :P

  12. I really like your quilting plan for all of us quilters who follow your blog everyday! Thanks for all you do and by the way I love all the ebooks I have purchased from you web site. I have been wanting to try the Isacord Thread you talk about so I had my hubby purchase me the starter kit off your web site for Christmas. I haven't tried them yet but I will with all the quilting projects you are going to have us do in 2012.

  13. No it wasn't to long I think it is good to answer several questions at one time because some people might only need one answer but others might be interested in all the answers.

  14. LOVE it! Yes, I read to the end. I think the info is AWESOME! I learned a little (or big) something from each answer!Thank you SO, SO, SO(!) much!

  15. Thank you for your blog. And no, todays post was not too long. I read it all.
    So much good advice.
    I will practice tomorrow.


  16. Thank you for the information, Leah! I enjoyed the quilting excercises as well. The only thing I still don't understand is how to link up my blog, aargh, what am I missing? I can only find "links to this post". If I click on that I create a post linking to your post on my own blog. I can't find how to link up my bog to yours.

  17. You originally inspired me to start quilting, but I had some of these problems, and just thought about it and figured out what was wrong. If I couldn't figure it out I just go back to rethreading the machine and sewing straight with a normal foot then try again.
    It's nice to hear someone giving advice that I had used. I feel even better about my quilting now.

  18. Love this FMQ information/direction. Look forward to the days/weeks ahead. Have learned so much already and, most of all, have jumped in "with both feet" and have done so much growing in my skills. I have, among other sewing machines, a Bernina 440QE (came with the BSR attachment) and a Juki 2010TL. Thought that the Bernina would be the machine of choice for my piecing/FMQ however, I LOVE the Juki for everything!!!! Would not have purchased the Bernina if the Juki would have come first!!!! Doreen

  19. loved it to the end-thanks Leah ,you teach me so much cheers Teri

  20. A very good, informative post Leah! Thanks for all the answers you gave ... I am feeling more confident about giving my FMQing a good go when I get home from holidays on the weekend! Between your series' and the FMQing challenge by SewGal I believe I may just end this year with the skills to quilt my own quilts quite nicely!!

  21. Thanks Leah for all the info. I read all the way through and look forward to reading your blog. You explain things soooo well! Thank you sooooo much!

  22. Woot! Woot! I'm fairly new to your site, but you'll never be rid of me now!

    I'm a visual learner, so needless to say, your site is perrrrfffect for me. The more I try, the more brave i become -


  23. I thought this was great! I like you opinion on stitch regulators. When I was getting my fancy new machine the sales woman was trying to force one on me. I tired it and I thought my stitches looked worse than without it.

    I too was wondering about the sliding speed control. It kinda scares me so I haven't really tried it out much.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer questions.

  24. I often wondered why "my tension" wasn't right when I did sewed in a certain way (curves). Now I know. Thanks so much, I will try to work on my speed and hand coordination.

  25. I appreciated this post & got alot out of it. So I too vote for the questions to be answered in whatever length you need

  26. Thank you Leah for answering my question. I'll try to not stitch through my fingers! :)

    IMHO if someone is really interested in learning FMQ they will devour all the information that you are giving and appreciate the time you are taking to do all this.

    OK ... I better shut up and go quilt too.

  27. I agree with you on stitch regulators but disagree on the "start/stop" button! My machine has one and I love it. I played around until I found my speed and I can stop with my foot pedal. I love pushing that button and quilting until I run out of bobbin! Love these q&a posts, very informative!

  28. Thanks so much for the info on how to link up with the blog. I've just started mine (haven't actually posted anything yet...:) )I was wondering how to do this.

  29. My newest machine has a speed slider and the start/stop button. At first I tried to use the start/stop button but quickly went back to my foot pedal ways. I don't think of the slider as a way to adjust my speed but control my top speed. For most sewing it is set around medium, when I FMQ I actually set it fast and pedal to the metal (oddly enough that seems to work best for me), but when I'm helping a newbie use the machine I set it to slow.

  30. Thank you so much for your wonderful site. I found you on YouTube over Christmas and have to say its he best gift I have ever received. I will enjoy learning with you.
    To Great New Year to you and all the in the quilting circle.

  31. Very good ,cant wait to get started after the grandchildren go back to Christchurch . Ann New Zealand

  32. Like most people, I found the post interesting, and no problem with reading right through. Lots of really good and helpful information.

  33. Great column. I did read it all the way through and was especially interested in what you shared about the loops of thread. I have been stippling for a few years and still need work on the hand/speed coordination. Thank you so much for this teaching.

  34. Leah, I really enjoy your Free Motion Quilting Project. It is a great idea. I read all your answers and I think it help answering some of my own questions. Last week I was quilting a bigger quilt and I was getting some loops in certain curves. Now I understand better that my speed was different with my hands and my feet... I unsewed everything and quilted again. This time it was much better and I was much happier with the result. I am currently quilting a baby/lap quilt and I am able to keep my stitches more even. Thanks for your suggestions.

  35. Leah, I love the post. I have a bernina with the bsr, I love your blog and find it very informative I look forward to following aling

  36. I read and enjoyed your Thurs. Question tutorial. You are very thorough and give such clear explanations. Thank you

  37. Great Blog! Thanks so much for all you do for us. And yes, I'm participating in your challenges AND the 2012 FMQ Challenge. My one and only FMQ teacher had us leave our feed dogs up, so I've always done it that way, even though everything else I've read says to lower them. It works for me! I do have to remember to set my stitch to 0 tho. I sometimes forget that and then . . . well, you know!

  38. Yes, I read all the way through, and found answers to questions some that my friends were pondering about this past couple weeks... the stitch regulator, the tension problems. Seems like the more I practice the fewer problems I have with tension, and you have just explained why. Thanks for all your help Leah!

  39. HELP!
    My free-motion foot sits too low, squishing my quilt sandwich. Even dropping the feed dogs doesn't help. How can I fix this???

  40. Tuckersmum - Try adjusting your foot using a rubber band. See what I mean in the video on this page:

    Good luck!

    Leah Day

  41. I do appologize for not commenting on last weeks post ... I love this idea! btw had I commented last week I would have said Thank You, about a million times, so it's probably better that I waited until I was a bit more grounded :)... seriously can you get even better? you should be famous and that's my thought for the day!!

  42. I got to the end and really liked the format. That way if I forget something and come back, I know I need to look at "Question Thursday" posts first.


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