The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #28

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Question Thursday #28

Time to answer questions!  It's been a crazy week, but Thursdays are always one of my favorite days because I get an excuse to hop around to all your blogs and see what you've been working on.

The first question this week comes from Mary at Can't Stop Stitchin about the quilt storage method we learned last week:

Do you ever pin your quilts to the noodle, or does the tautness of the sleeve keep the quilt tight on the roll?

No, I never pin my quilts to the noodle, mostly because I'd be afraid I'd forget about the pins and they'd rust within the quilt while in storage.

I actually build my storage system differently for smaller quilts.  A smaller quilt can't really be rolled the same way the larger quilts can, and it also seems a bit excessive to create a whole noodle system for just one little wall hanging.

So instead you can build this alternative:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
free motion quilting | Leah Day
There are actually 5 quilts stacked underneath Hot Cast and all roll together in one tube to save space
In this situation you start with a large piece of fabric.  Depending on the length of the quilts you're wanting to store, start with a 1 to 2 yard length of fabric.

Fold over one side and stitch to create the tube case for the pool noodle.  Seam both ends to fully encase and secure the noodle within the wrap.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Finish all the edges of the fabric, then attach 3 - 5 long ties (leftover binding works great) to the end of the fabric and you'll have a quilt noodle wrap storage system.

Simply place the top or bottom edge of your quilt next to the noodle and start rolling.  Secure the quilt by tying the ties around the noodle.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

You can easily store 5 - 10 small quilts this way all wrapped up together!  It's a much better way to store the smaller wall hangings and wholecloths because they'll take up less space when combined into one noodle wrap.

Now the one downside with this system is it's open at both ends.  The quilt is wrapped up in a roll, but the ends are open.  Just make sure when you plan your system to build it at least 15 inches wider than the quilt you want to store.  This way there's plenty of room for the quilt in the middle and away from the edges which could get dirty or damage the edges of your quilts.

Next let's answer a question from Pat at Color Me Quilty who's having problems with thread:

Do thread nets help thread feed more evenly?

Full question: The thread seems to be very loose and loopy. Even when I put the thread on a spool stand, I still have issues. So my question to Leah this week is would a thread spool net help? I have a bunch of these, but I've never used one. Do I need to cut it down? Is there anything I need to know before I use this? Any other suggestions of things to try?

This is a very annoying issue Pat's struggling with.  I used to struggle with this myself on the Juki machine and would sometimes have to stop every 20 stitches and pull the loops and twists out of the thread manually with my hand just to get the thread to feed properly.  Do that for 2 hours and you'll understand the term "sewing machine from hell."

Anyway, I think a thread net will help in this situation.  I haven't used them on a sewing machine, but used to use them a lot on my serger and found them quite helpful for eliminating loopy, excessively loose thread feeding issues.

Another thing that might help is pulling your spool stand further away from your machine.  The thread is looping up and feeding in too loose, so adding a bit of distance might help.

As always, the best way to diagnose any problem is to work step by step, take notes, and try to find exactly when the problems happen, and when they don't.  Sometimes the smallest thing can make a big difference, but it's hard to see all the variables if you change multiple things at a time.

And right along this line of thinking, here's a plea for help I recently received via email from Layna:

I am pretty good at sewing, but stippling is just not working out - and i cant figure out why? !

Full question: I have all the element right but when I start to sew - the stippling stitches are all messed up. the tension is loose and gathering on the back and the needle wont catch all the stitches as I sew. I have re-threaded many times and changed the needle to a new one, etc. but don't know what else it can be. The machine sews great on regular settings but as soon as I start the free motion it goes wrong. I tried both the feed dogs up and down , down is the worse so I have been using them up. Any ideas??? 

Take a deep breath!  It's okay!  We're going to figure out what's wrong with your machine step by step.

To start, take your machine 100% back to piecing.  Put on your piecing foot, put on thread you use for piecing, set the stitch length and position that you normally use for piecing a 1/4 inch seam, and even pull out some fabric and piece 2 pieces together.

Now look at your stitches - are they looking good?

If so, then we know your machine is capable of piecing, therefor it's capable of free motion quilting.

Many quilters don't believe me when I say this, but i firmly believe that if a machine can piece, it can free motion quilt.  No, not all machines are EASY to quilt with (some are more finicky than others), but it is possible to do this on all machines.

Now let's make a list of all the things you must change on your machine to free motion quilt.

1. Foot - switch to a free motion quilting foot

Honestly that's the only thing you MUST change in order to free motion quilt.  You need this foot because it's designed to hover over the quilt and allow you to move in all directions.

So screw on that foot and try free motion quilting.  Keep all the other settings for piecing the same.  What is happening to your stitches?  Do they look good?  Do they look terrible?  Can you move the quilt or is it impossible to budge?

Some issues you see at this point may be simply down to your speed / movement ratio being off.  You may see loops on either side of your quilt which look like tension problems, when in fact they are actually speed problems.

But if you can't move your quilt, or it's very jerky and  you can't see where you're going, you may just need to modify your free motion quilting foot.

Also note that if your foot is too high, your thread could break often because the quilt is bouncing around too much.  You might have to play with the height a bit depending on the thickness of the quilt you're working on.

Here's a list of OPTIONAL things that you COULD change, IF you WANTED to:

1. Thread
2. Needle
3. Feed dogs down
4. Stitch length to 0
5. Add tools like the Supreme Slider and Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers.

These things are NOT REQUIRED.  They are optional and some machines will stitch better and some machines will stitch worse when they are fiddled with.

What you change and what tools you use will be different on every machine you own.  It really is down to what the machine likes best.

But it is important to note that these changes are OPTIONAL.  You can quilt with cotton thread, or you can switch to another type (thinner and stronger is best).

You can also change needles for quilting or keep the same needle you piece with.  I always quilt and piece with a Universal 80/12, but that will not hold true for everyone.

You can also quilt with the feed dogs up, engaged the way the machine is designed to be used.  There is no law that says free motion quilting must be done with the feed dogs down.  Most machines work better with them up.

Even if you keep your feed dogs up, you don't have to change the stitch length to 0. I often forget this step and the machine is still able to quilt just fine.

So long as your foot is adjusted high enough, the quilt will skim the surface of the machine bed and the feed dogs won't bother it.

Here's my settings: I often forget to set my stitch length at 0, my feed dogs are always up, I don't change needles from piecing to free motion quilting, but I do change to Isacord Thread (I piece with Aurifil) and always use a Supreme Slider and bobbin washers.

On a different machine, however, some of these settings may change.

The best advice is to change 1 thing at a time and take notes as you work.  If the change is immediately good, make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper so you can keep track of your improvements.

The same is true for what doesn't work.  If you change threads and suddenly see thread breaks or bird's nests, make a note of it!  Your machine obviously hates that thread and you'll need to experiment to see if you can adjust to make it work, or if it's just simply never going to be quiltable.

Just remember that no matter what you read in books, no matter what you've heard at quilt guild, the ONLY thing you absolutely HAVE to change to free motion quilt is your foot.

Everything else is optional.  Some of it will work, some of it won't.

So have fun playing and experimenting this week and hopefully find those pretty stitches you're looking for.  Remember - if your quilt can piece, it CAN free motion quilt!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Leah, you say that the only thing you MUST change is the foot, but I actually discovered that if you are desperate, you can get by without even doing that. I'm working on a quilt where I recycled a fabric that had spots of loosely woven thread. I knew it wasn't the best choice for a quilt, but I wanted to use it for sentimental reasons. My free motion foot is the open "C" shaped type and the ends of the foot kept snagging under the loose fabric threads, making quilting impossible. The closed "O" shape type of foot would have worked fine, but I don't have one and was too impatient to wait to order one. My machine has a foot pressure adjustment and as you loosen the pressure, the foot raises up so that it doesn't push down so hard on the fabric. With my all-purpose zig-zag foot, I loosened the pressure until the foot was high enough to allow my quilt to move easily. Visibility was not good, but I used a basic wavy grid design that I could manage with the reduced visibility. It worked fine and the stitch quality was the same as the rest of the quilt where I used the FM foot. Although it worked for my problem, in the future, I'll stick with better fabric and FM foot!

  2. Hi Leah,

    I have another question.

    What would you suggest for quilting a large quilt (single bed or larger) on a machine with its' own table (it's a Janome QXL 605), when I don't have a proper machine table with a cutout? I am having trouble because a), the table isn't actually attached to the machine and gets dragged around by the quilt when I move it and b), the quilt is catching on the corners of the table and making it very hard to machine smoothly. I can't afford the machine table or the space to put it in, so I really must learn to work this way.

  3. What a great idea for small wall quilt storage Leah~ Thanks so much for sharing the how-to for making those kind of noodles. Love the idea and will use it. See you on Sunday on the net~

  4. I've noticed that the number one thing that determines the quality of FMQ on my machine (a Kenmore) is the needle. Anything smaller than 90/14 is a disaster. As soon as I switch to a larger needle it makes a world of difference. Took me weeks to figure it out, but I've been really happy with my machine ever since.

  5. Love your storage solution. Great idea. Thank you for sharing it.
    Also want to say, I DID IT! I finally got off the fence and tried some 'real' FMQing. It went well; not great, but acceptable. Thank you so much for all you share with our quilting community. I will continute to practice... thanks again!


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