The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #24

Friday, July 27, 2012

Question Thursday #24

Yes!  I'm posting super late because all day I've been ------ (sorry, I can't spill the beans on that yet, but hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to tell you what I've been up to)!  It's still Question Thursday though and time to answer your questions about free motion quilting. 

First question is from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

How do I prevent my quilt from dragging against the machine?

Full Question: I seem to struggle with quilting a big quilt, especially when the majority of the quilt is in my lap. It seems to get caught on the front edge of my acrylic extension table. My machine is at a good height for me (I've lowered my table and raised my chair). Short of getting one of the cool Gidget II tables (which is on my wish list, but isn't going to happen any time soon), any suggestions on how to keep my quilt from dragging on the front edge?

Hmm...This is a very common issue for quilting.  The drag of the quilt is definitely going to pull against you, particularly in the front of the machine where the quilt seems to like to sit on your lap.

Yes, the easiest solution in this situation is to use a drop down table where the machine is on a flush surface, but even then, the quilt will have a tendency to flop off the front of the table, particularly when you're quilting in the middle of the quilt.

The best advice I have in this situation is try pushing your machine back slightly on the table surface.  This will give you a little bit of space on the table (not the machine extension table, but the table the machine is sitting on) for you to roll or fold the edge of the quilt up and place it in that space.

Keep in mind, you're not rolling the quilt up tight.  You're just going to kind of generally scrunch it up and stick it into this little shelf of space between the machine and the table surface.

This will take the weight off the quilt and if you stick your body right up next to the table, your body will prevent the quilt from falling off the front of the machine.

Now make sure there's still a bit of slack in the front of the quilt and pull that extra bit of quilt up to the top of the extension bed or machine table surface on the same level where your hands will be resting.  This will allow the quilt more movement, so it will be easier to move and hopefully not catch too badly on the front of the machine.

Next, let's answer a question from Karin at The Quilt Yarn:

 What caused this pucker?

Full Question: My question this week relates to my quilt that I am using for practice. I constructed this out of squares with some sashing in between. To stabilise this, I quilted all of the squares along the ditch that I am quilting the squares I am getting puckers where it meets the quilting-in the ditch.  

Here is a close up - a bit hard to see as the photo is not the best quality but the pucker is in the left corner where the Bare Branch design extends a bit too far into the corner.
Photo from Karin's blog The Quilt Yarn
- should I have quilted in-the ditch of all the squares or should I just have had maybe one vertical and one horizontal line to stabilize the quilt and then commenced the FMQ in the squares (as some books suggest)?
-or, is this maybe the result of not adequately basting the whole affair (as the squares are a bit puffed out) ?

 Karin, you are a doll to post such a detailed picture and common issue for free motion quilting!  Thank you!

Here's the deal: pleats and puckers happen.

Maybe I should put that on a t-shirt because it's so normal!  No matter how perfect your piecing, no matter how exact the applique, quilts do get puckers, and occasional pleats as you quilt.

What happens is simple: things shift.  When you stitched the block in the ditch, you stabilized that area, but you also kind of locked the fabric in place, which is a good thing, but as you filled the block, the excess fabric in the block pushed to the edges.

To answer your question, no, I don't think you should have quilted this block differently.  I personally would have quilted it in the ditch first, then filled it with bare branches.

Yes, some of the issue might have been in the basting, though probably not much.  Next time you baste a quilt, just take an extra bit of time to really get the backing fabric tight, then spread, spread, spread out the batting, then super spread the quilt top.  Keep any eye out for any area that ripples around on you, and make sure to give it a bit if extra attention and extra spreading and smoothing.

Once everything is super flat, then insert your pins and place extra pins in those places where you noticed rippling and wrinkling.

If this describes exactly what you did in the basting, don't worry.  You really haven't done anything WRONG here.  Instead the fabric is just behaving like fabric - it moves!

Sometimes these issues with excess fabric and potential pleats can be best sorted out in the quilting.  As you're quilting close to those stitched-in-the-ditch sections, put more tension in your hands to pull the fabric tight and flat by pulling your thumbs down slightly and your fingers out slightly as you stitch through the area.

No, you're not tugging with all your life, you're just gently putting tension into the space with your fingers and thumb.  It's very subtle, but can make a difference when you're quilting into a problem area.

And for the record - yes, I deal with baggy fabric, potential pleats and puckers.  The trick is not obsessing about them, but knowing what to do when you see the fabric begin to act that way.

On occasion, a pleat is unavoidable.  No amount of gentle tugging or tension will help and that's okay!  Your quilt will survive and no one will notice something this small, so just keep quilting and gradually you will be able to diagnose and deal with these issues before they happen.

Now let's answer some questions from Danielle from Fresh off the Spool:

How do you keep your spacing so consistent? 

Full Question: Are you just naturally good at it or do you have a magic trick?  I have always been artistic. Have done calligraphy since I was 10. But, to make calligraphy really outstanding, spacing of the letters and the height are the key. I have always struggled with this. If I don't have marked lines, I will veer off. I do the same thing when I swim with my eyes closed. 

Gosh, I wish consistent spacing was a magic trick!  Wouldn't it be great if I could just tell you to blink three times, hold your breath, turn in a circle, and swear 10 times and you'd suddenly be able space things perfectly apart?!

If only I had a time machine and could easily go back in time to 2008 and show you just how terrible my quilting was and how much I struggled to quilt lines consistently.  Unfortunately it wasn't a magic trick or a special spell, but simply practice that allowed me to get this good.

Here's some food for thought and some excellent books to read for homework:

First read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, then read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

By the time you get through both books, you will entirely understand why I can quilt so consistently.

In a nutshell - I set a goal to not just quilt, but to specifically free motion quilt every single day.  This habit allowed my skills to develop very rapidly.

No, I'm not extraordinarily talented.  I don't have special genes or extra creativity brainwaves or anything weird like that.  Many people take issue with that statement, but it's true.  I wasn't BORN quilting, this was a skill I developed over time, with practice and effort.

And just luckily I've been blessed with a family that has supported and nurtured my creative urges and thanks to many extremely lucky coincidences, I've been able to follow my urge to quilt every day.

So the truth is - anyone can do this.  YOU CAN DO THIS.  It is not actually talent, but SKILLS developed through habits of continually stitching and honing your skills.

And no, I can't write in a straight line without marking the straight line first, I'm hopeless at calligraphy because my left hand drags against the paper and smears it terribly, and I also can't swim straight with my eyes closed.  Somehow I really doubt any of those skills are really related to quilting because they all use different muscles and different parts of our brain and body to work right!

Danielle also asked:

How much time do you spend quilting/sewing per day, or week?

This is really hard to say and definitely fluctuates with what is going on in my life and with my family and our daily schedule.

In the summer, I struggle to find this time because I really don't like to be interrupted when I quilt, and because everyone is home and we have no real schedule it's hard to find that time (except in the middle of the night, but that's very practical long term).

I'd say shoot to spend about 15 minutes a day on your machine.  Then build up to 30 minutes.  Then 1 hour.  Slowly integrate it into your day until it becomes a habit (another reason to read that book mentioned above!)  I swear you will see an enormous difference, even quilting just 15 minutes every day.

Now for a great question from MC at Slair's Lair:

How big of a quilt can I make on my small machine?

Full Question: My machine only has a throat space of six inches. Do you think this is enough to quilt a queen sized project? Is there a rule of thumb to determine the maximum size a home sewing machine can accommodate?

Let's see...I'd say the best rule of thumb for this kind of thing is:

Determination + stamina + stubbornness = size of the quilt / machine throat space

Essentially - you can quilt anything you want, so long as you are determined to do it, you have the stamina to physically squish that sucker through the machine, and the stubbornness to not give up.

I truly believe you can do it!  I've quilted huge quilts on small machines, and while the experience wasn't fun and exciting every step of the way, IT WAS NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

So shut up and go do it MC!  If you want that queen sized quilt, and you want to make it entirely yourself, what other option is there?

Now it's been a super long day and I'm super beat.  I look forward to telling you what I've been up to and so crazy secretive about hopefully later this weekend!

Let's go quilt,



  1. In response to the question about even spacing, I have a tip - don't be afraid to pause and work out where to go next. There's a tendency to want to keep quilting continuously, but there's no reason to. At the very least, when you stop to re-position you hands, take a moment to look at what you've done and what space still needs quilting, and think about the next little bit. It doesn't have to be a detailed plan, but it's very useful, and as well as helping to keep your spacing consistent, can reduce the risk of quilting yourself into a corner!

  2. Great question and wonderful answers!

  3. Currently, I am working on a king bedspread size quilt. I am using my Singer Featherweight with a 4 1/2" harp space. The scrunching that Leah describes works well for me.

  4. Hi Leah ~
    Love the question Thursday page! Each week they are questions about something that has happened to me at some point in the past, or they give me insight to something that is happening to me right now (or soon to happen), only I didn't realize it was a problem yet. Love your responses ~ you make me laugh. Thank you

  5. Thanks for "Question Thursday", there is always at least one question that I would have asked. And I always like your answers, or maybe the way you answer them. :) Can't wait to see what you have been up to. Have a great weekend!

  6. There is a class about quilting big quilts on a small machine. The teacher has great techniques to do that.

    By the way she has sent students here for quilting patterns so I feel ok about returning the favo

  7. Awesome answer to my question! Thanks for the reassurance, I'm going to jump right in and be stubborn. Can't wait to see what you've been working on...

  8. This is all great information. I especially love the answers about sticking to it and practicing every day. Thanks

  9. Thanks Leah! I saw your post about the book after I posted my question. I figured it would pertain to question 2 but didn't think it would to number 1. Guess I should read it! And hey, no problem on posting late. As you can see in question 2 I'm having time issues myself, but I started to get worried about you! I'm glad the only problem was a crazy day:)


    This is for the first question... At home I have a cabinet where my machine sits in, but when we go to my sister's cabin I use the set up similar to the set up shown in the YouTube videos... works great and was pretty cheap. We can do some great quilting using this set up.



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