The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #23

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Question Thursday #23

It's Thursday once again and time to answer your questions about quilting!  Let's get started with several questions from Karin at The Quilt Yarn:

How far do you quilt to the edge of the quilt?

This is a great question because it can honestly make or break the last few days of working on a quilt.  Put it this way: would you like to spend the last few days on a project ready to chuck it out the window, tear your hair out, and scream in frustration? 

Yes, all three of these things will happen if you try to quilt right smack to the very edge of your quilt top.  It's so intensely frustrating because right at the edge, the three layers of your quilt are very unstable.  It's easy to quilt over the edge and get your foot caught in the batting or the edge of the quilt top, or simply lose control over your stitching as you try to fill this area consistently.

The best advice is to simply NOT quilt to the edge!  I try to plan my quilts ahead and design an extra 1 inch border around the entire edge.  Before quilting, I mark a line 1 inch from the edge on all sides, then quilt to this line, and occasionally over it.

free motion quilting | Leah Day 
Once the entire quilt is finished, all I have to do is trim and square the quilt, following that marked line.

Of course, this kind of thing requires a bit of advance planning, and yes, even I sometimes forget to add that extra inch to my quilt.  In those situations, I've found the best method is to work from left to right with the quilt parallel with your body.  Press (don't stretch) the quilt edge down and keep your hands closer together as you move over this edge.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
It won't be easy or quick, but it is possible to quilt right to the edge of your quilt if you're very patient and careful.

Does anybody have any tips on how to remove blue chalk marks (the variety that is used for dressmaking? The packet says to use a damp cloth which I tried and it does not just dissolve, so I am wondering if it is going to come out at all.

Ah!  The joys of marking!  Sorry to rub it in, but this is a terrific example of why you should ALWAYS TEST your marking device before using it on a real quilt.

Yes, I know it seems boring and ridiculous.  We buy pens and pencils and the packages say wonderful things and we're kind of programed to believe these companies and corporations know what they're doing and we can trust them.

Guess what?!  You can't!  Don't trust any pencil or chalk or marker brand until you've actually applied it to your fabric, followed the directions for removing the marks, and seen them disappear permanently.

Look at it this way: it might take 1 hour of your life to test a marking pencil before using it, or it might take the REST of your life to try to remove marks from your finished gorgeous quilt.  Which do you have time for?

As for getting the marks out - if the directions say a damp cloth, step it up a notch to a bowl of water and a very soft new toothbrush.  Pretend like you're brushing your teeth as you brush water over the surface of your quilt very gently.

If that doesn't work, you'll need to contact the manufacturer for more instructions.  That's the best shot for getting the best advice for removing the marks and not potentially setting them further into the fabric.

One last question from Karin:

I have a Pfaff machine and have a drop-in bobbin case - would you use the Magic Bobbin washers with that?

This is a pretty debatable topic.  Many quilters feel that a plastic, drop in style bobbin doesn't need a little genie magic bobbin washer.  I've spoken to the manufacturer, Pat LaPierre, about this and she says the bobbin washers are helpful in all machines.

So what's the best thing to do?  Try the washers and see what happens!

If you notice improved stitch quality and fewer thread breaks, then obviously the washers are working great for your machine.

If you don't really notice a difference, then the washers might not be as essential for that machine.

In truth, I didn't see as huge an improvement when using the washers in my Janome Horizon as I did in previous machines.  The machine stitched beautifully with or without them.

Then I switched to metallic thread for a quilt and checked the stitches with a washer in and a washer out.  Hands down the machine stitched far better with a washer in while using metallic thread.  I think this is because metallic is finicky and the washer helped the bobbin to glide and feed more evenly.

Personally I keep a washer in all my machines, all the time.  I never take them out, even when piecing or applique.  They simply help to make the bobbin glide and feed more smoothly and evenly within its case, and this improvement will make a difference no matter what you're stitching.

If you're curious to try Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers, you can find them right here in the Day Style Designs Quilt Shop.

Next let's answer a question from Mary at Can't Stop Stitchin'

Is the type of fabric behind this issue?

Full Question: my background fabric, is a blend of poly and cotton, and my batting is cotton in this quilt, the other fabrics are cotton.  When FMQ, when I got to the darkest fabric, the one that was a poly/cotton blend, all too often my needle pulled bits of cotton to the surface of the quilt; on the other fabrics this hardly happened at all.  Do you know if there was a reaction  with the poly in the fabric to the cotton batt that caused this to happen?  

Chances are if you're only seeing this issue over those polyester blended areas, then yes, the culprit is the type of fabric.

What you're describing - batting being pulled to the surface or back of the quilt - is called bearding.  This can be caused by many things, most usually the type of batting.  Basically what's happening is your needle is going down into the quilt and grabbing a bit of batting and pulling it up to the surface when the needle lifts.

It's hard to say why this is happening only in the areas you have poly fabric.  Maybe the poly is separating when the needle goes down, causing a bigger hole, which allows the batting to come up more readily.  That's my best guess at least.

One thing that might help is to switch to a smaller needle like a Universal 70/10.  Play with this type of needle and see if the problem persists.  If it does, try a sharp or topstitch needle.  Keep the size of the needle small as this will reduce the size of holes being created and hopeful reduce the amount of batting leaking up to the top.

Finally we have one last question from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Do I really need to adjust my tension every time I change thread?

Full Question: One of the things that they showed me in the basic training for my new Pfaff, was how to test and adjust the bobbin tension, I've never done that on my Babylock. The setting between cotton thread and polyester (Isacord) thread was quite different.  So my question for Leah this week is: Is is normal/typical to set the bobbin tension for each type of thread? Do you piece with cotton and FMQ with Isacord? Would that mean I would have to change the bobbin tension back and forth?

Short answer: Yes.

Different threads have different thicknesses, which means your machine will need to adjust whenever you change threads.

Does this seem ridiculous or excessive?  Yes, it probably will feel that way at first, but you can easily make a habit of adjusting the tension whenever you change thread or switch from piecing to quilting. can simply buy a second machine.

This might seem even more excessive, but hear me out.  Some machines are good at piecing, some machines are good a quilting.  As of yet, I've never met a machine that did everything absolutely perfectly.

It is also a matter of convenience.  To piece, you need a piecing foot and good lighting, but you don't really have to have the machine sunk down into a table.  It's actually easier to piece if the machine is a little higher on a table top so you're eyes are right on a level with the foot.

To quilt, the machine really should be sunk down into a table so the quilt doesn't drag against it.  Tools like the Supreme Slider and a darning foot can also be installed and left in place to make it faster and easier to sit down and start quilting quickly.

It's also a practical arrangement.  When you have two machines, you can piece for as long as you feel like, then switch to quilting whenever you get bored.  You can easily have 2 quilts in production this way - one being pieced or appliqued, one quilted.

Personally this is the way I've organized my sewing room since 2010.  One dedicated machine for piecing (Bernina 1230) and one dedicated machine for free motion quilting (Janome Horizon 7700).

No, having two machines isn't possible for everyone.  Space and cost are of course the biggest issues.  However, with careful planning and budgeting, you can make this happen.

Here's a bit of a story: when Josh and I got married, we lived in the worlds smallest apartment. Literally 550 square feet, and Josh had already claimed about 100 square feet with fish tanks of various sizes and shapes.

The only space available was literally a 3 ft by 6 foot corner next to our bed.  I needed to figure out a way to take this tiny space and turn it into a micro sewing space.

So I pulled out a tape measure and figured out exactly what size tables I needed to fit into that itsy bitsy space.  I didn't know about IKEA at the time, but I did frequent Big Lots and through lots of internet searches, I managed to find the exact table that would fit exactly into the space.  At $20 a pop, that table also fit my college student budget.

Once installed, the tables worked great for sewing, but I still had a lot of sewing stuff that needed organization.  Bobbins, scissors, seam rippers, thread, books, and of course, fabric.

All of these items were easily dealt with by moving vertically.  Inexpensive shelves and thread racks could easily be installed on the wall, moving all that "stuff" up and out of the way. 

In the end, this itsy bitsy space that could have been wasted with a potted plant was instead transformed into a dedicated, high powered sewing space with room for 2 machines and 1 serger.  Not only did I quilt in this space, I sewed around 60 garments a week.  It was not necessarily design to look good, but to work and be super efficient.

So before you scroll down to the comments to scream at me that you can only quilt on you kitchen table and don't possibly have the room for a dedicated sewing area, let alone two machines - STOP and think for a minute - do you have a closet?  Do you have a corner?  Do you have any 6 ft space within your house you could claim as your own?

I always find it hilarious when someone emails me complaining about their lack of space.  I always email back with the same question - How big is your guest bedroom?

You DO have the space, but you just haven't seen it or claimed it yet.  Think about this idea today.  LOOK around and see if there is a corner or closet, or even whole room you can claim for your craft.

Now that turned into a bit of a soapbox!  Hard to believe I went from bobbin tension to sewing room organization, but that's just how things go sometimes!

Let's go quilt,



  1. i will say, i do not have a lot of space in my house. 2 bedrooms, 4 people. i took over the living room. set up tv trays next to the couch, and that is where i sew! if it's that important to you, you WILL make space!!

  2. I live full-time in an RV. 350 sq ft, two people, three cats. The "dining room" table serves for sewing and cutting, the counter extension (with pad) is the ironing board, the bed is the design wall. 5 boxes of stash in the closet and one cabinet dedicated to quilting project supplies. It can be done. Nothing can sit out, but everything can work. I even have a quilting frame (Ulmer frame) which fills the "living room" when I want to hand quilt.

  3. Agree! Where there's a will, there's a way! My sewing space was my dining room table until I finally carved out a space, just like you did in our master bedroom corner. My "stash" is in our bedrooms closet. I'm still working on the vertical storage, but getting there! FWIW, I have been quilting right to the edge of my quilts, with no problems at all. Then again, I am probably much slower than you, and much "sloppier" ;-).

  4. When I started quilting I was in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment with 6 people in the family. I set up my sewing in a tiny corner of the living room and when the family was bothered by the clutter I bought a tall quilt rack that covered up my sewing corner and displayed a lovely quilt. Now that we have an empty nest (and a bigger nest at that) I have claimed a bedroom for my sewing--and bought another machine just for the quilting, for all the reasons you mentioned! : )

  5. Leah- did your Horizon ever get fixed? Can you come tell my husband about that two machine thing? Because the 7700 was out of my price range when I machine shopped, but now it has dropped down, and I want it. But I really love my current machine (and except harp space- it seems to do everything well).

    I am lucky that I have a dedicated sewing room. But I feel cramped in it. When I used to sew in the dining room, I could really spread out- but my husband would get really really mad (our dining room is part of our living room). The private space is nice- but oh so very cold in the winter. That's what the machingers are for I guess. I even wear them when piecing, just to keep my hands warm.

  6. It was wonderful when my daughter moved out and my son moved to the basement. I had two rooms! for sewing. Then my daughter moved back and we went back to one. Then when she moved out I got a boarder. I still have one room and consider myself lucky. My son has moved his art stuff into my sewing room but that's ok. I just had the floors refinished which meant all the stuff was moved out and lots of stuff thrown away or given to Goodwill. I haven't put it all back together yet but the space is wonderful. Ikea here I come!

  7. I share my sewing space with my washer and dryer. I sometimes wish it was bigger, but then I remember the days when I had to clear the kitchen table, drag out the machine, then clean it all back up before dinner, or...just skip dinner. It is not the prettiest room in the house. It is in an unfinished state where we ripped a second full bath out because there was a leak, ruining all the joists. We fixed the floor and scrapped the bathroom. It worked out very good for me. I have more than 6 ft:)

  8. Leah, I'm so disappointing again this week! I love reading the questions & answers but about 4 weeks ago now I asked a question regarding binding corners neatly by machine and you still haven't posted it! :( Perhaps you never got my email (I think it was to Josh's name) or perhaps it hasn't fit into a topic yet. I really need to know how to get those perfect mitred corners ON THE FRONT of the quilt when machine stitching the final binding. Thanks for any help!

  9. Thanks for answering my questions. I had a laugh at myself re quilting to the edge...your answer was the most logical and obvious solution, yet that did not even occur to me once.

  10. Jessim - Yep, my Horizon was fixed several months ago. It was a really weird thing that broke - a spring thread guide within the tension unit, but my dealer was able to fix it quickly.

    Here's my tip for getting a new machine and keeping the old one: simply downplay the value of your current machine to your husband. What's the point of trading it in if it's only worth $100? *wink* With luck, he won't ask too many questions and you'll be able to get your horizon and keep your older machine.

    A1angiem - Sorry for missing your question, but I rarely have time to dig back 4 weeks. You can find instructions on binding right here:

    The miter is formed on the front and back at the exact same time. Watch the video a few times before trying it on a sample quilt.



  11. I am blessed enough to have a large house but it's a older split level which means there is a lot of wasted areas and barely any storage space for anything (I have 2 linen closets that are 2 and half feet wide, putting away the towels, sheets, blankets etc is a lesson in gymnastics :D) I've already re-purposed extra closets for extra storage and there is nary a nook or a cranny for me to sew in. I did start out at the kitchen table which wasn't working at all since we have such a busy household, I think I was doing more cleaning and tidying than I was sewing! So I figured I'd use the downstairs porch area, I call it the landing since everything tends to land there lol. It wasn't working very well either because it was the main entry way, coat storage, freezers and anything else you could imagine plus a lot of dust blew in so I was still doing more cleaning than sewing! With a large family I realized that I spent a lot of time with the washer and dryer in the basement and I thought why not in the basement? Sure it's dank and dark but that can be remedied easily enough with some more lighting and a bit of sprucing up, however my hubby did have it cordoned off as "his workshop" so I made him a deal.. if he allowed me to have the basement as my quilting area, I'd let him build a garage in the backyard for him to putter and do what he liked. He jumped on that idea so fast it made my head spin lol! So I hit lots of yard sales, found myself a bunch of old bookcases and shelf units for under 40$, bought hanging lights from wal-mart at 6$ a pop and voila! A new sewing room. It's now my excuse to sew... I am "doing laundry" lol.

  12. Agree with you Leah. Most women I know are hesitant to claim even 6 sq.ft. for themselves. High time they just did.

  13. Oh, you wicked enabler, you! ;-) I once bought a second sewing machine on a whim because my dealer was backed up and I was going to have to go two whole weeks before I got my regular sewbaby back from a maintenance checkup. Then I felt guilty and sold the 2nd machine on eBay. But lately, I've been wishing I'd kept it for just the reasons you're talking about here -- I find that I have my machine all set up for a Big, Long, Epic Quilting Project, and I wish I had that second machine so I could piece something small, hem a dress, or do some quick crafty project I come across online. I DO have space for another sewing machine -- I just didn't have the NERVE! EBay, here I come...


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