The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #29

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Question Thursday #29

It's Question Thursday and time to see if I can help answer your questions about quilting!  This week we've had a lot of questions in the comments.  Let's start with a question from Donna about the heart designs we learned in this week's Quilt Along #29 - Fun with Hearts:

How do you do your sharp points? 

Full Question: Is there something I am missing, a trick , a stop? I have no trouble doing curves but struggle with designs with any sharp turns. Mine are always slightly rounded.

Great question Donna!  It can be tricky to create a perfectly sharp point in the beginning because technically it requires just a bit of travel stitching (one or two stitches worth).  The thing you might be missing is the need to slow down, or even stop completely with your need down in those points.

Try this: stitch some Sharp Stippling with hearts and wherever you plan to create a point (either in the baseline design or in the heart shapes), consciously stop your machine with the needle in the down position.

Now start stitching slowly and move away from the point.  This time it should form a good sharp point because you stopped and could move away properly.

As you get more comfortable with this, you will speed up and no longer need to actively stop with each point.  It may feel weird at first - all that stopping and starting - but it should resolve this issue for you.

Next let's answer a question from Midlife Traveller about Auditioning Designs from last week:

Do you pay attention to fabric prints when auditioning designs?

Full Question: When the pieces are patterned (i.e. you've used a fabric with a pattern on it), do you take that pattern into consideration at all when "auditioning"? Do you have any basic rules for this (e.g. never use sharp edge designs on a curvy fabric pattern)?  

This is an interesting idea.  We have an enormous variety of prints and designs on our fabrics and they certainly play a big role in the design process.

When it comes to planning designs and auditioning, yes, I would definitely take this into consideration.  The biggest thing to keep this in mind is that busy prints are always going to hide your quilting designs.  It's utterly pointless to stitch a complicated or time consuming pattern over a fabric that will just hog the show.

As for rules about mixing designs, NO, I absolutely never, ever put limitations on what I can do with designs!

Why am I so adamant about this?  Because I learned the hard way through years of blocked beadwork that rules like that are just limitations that stop creativity in its tracks.

Yes, you may have a quilt full of curves that looks best with a zigzaggy design, but that doesn't mean that will hold true for ALL your quilts.  While it may seem like having a rule like this would make your life easier picking designs, personally I would use caution when creating any all-or-nothing rule.

So what's a girl to do?  Play!  Freely play with the many design options for your quilts.  Just try not to put rules on it or you may find yourself quilting in a smaller and smaller box of limitations.

Next let's answer another question about auditioning from Danielle Hudson:

How can I audition designs without a computer or printer?

Full Question: I have 2 problems. One, my printer is out of ink(trip to kinkos?) and 2 I can't show my quilt until the blog hop:/, which means I can't link up with my project just yet! I need a program like yours. Got any CHEEP suggestions for a MAC?

The absolute cheapest option for auditioning designs is this: go to Office Max and buy a giant pad artists vellum (tracing) paper. They usually cost around $15 - $25 and you'll want BIG sheets.

Vellum is a bit different from regular tracing paper because it's thicker and harder to tear, but you can still see through it to trace a design.

Now lay a sheet of vellum over a section of your quilt.  Trace the piecing and applique shapes onto the paper.  If you position the paper carefully, you should be able to get a good selection of your blocks, sashing, and maybe a bit of border all in the same piece of paper.

Do this as many times as you want to create traces of your actual quilt.  Now go sit down at your kitchen table with a nice cup of tea or coffee and play!

Remember to draw the filler designs at the same scale as you actually plan to quilt.  Because you've traced from the real quilt at full size, you can also draw the filler designs at full size as well.

Even better, when you've filled in your pages of vellum, you can lay them back over the quilt to see their effect!

Yes, this option will take more time because you're hand drawing everything, but ultimately if you don't have a printer or wish to shoot photos and deal with printing them out in grayscale at kinkos, tracing on vellum will be the best option.

Finally one last question about quilting tables from Louisa:

 What is an affordable alternative to a drop down sewing table?

Full 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.

This is totally understandable and is a problem that many quilters face.  Personally I really don't like the small machine extensions that create a surface around 20" around the machine.

The reason being, most of these extensions don't actually HOOK to the machine in any way.  As soon as you get a big quilt the machine, the extension bed starts sliding around, pushed and pulled by the movement of the quilt.

If you have it available to you, try securing the extension bed to the table surface in some way.  You might be able to do this with screws or bolts to attach the extension table to your main table so it stops sliding around.

You can then go to a hardware store and look for Insulation Sheeting.  This is stiff polystyrene boards that can be stacked together to raise the surface of your entire table.

You'll need to measure the height of your machine bed (usually between 2 - 4 inches), then go to the hardware store and mix and match different thicknesses of sheeting boards until you get a collection that is the right height.  Each board is between $15 - $25, and at max you will need 3.

Now get home and cut out a corner of the boards that will fit around your machine, or machine and extension bed if you have one. 

Again, you will need to secure this to the table in some way.  Clamps might work.  You could use slippery plastic to cover the entire table surface, over all the sheeting boards and then secure it under the table top so everything stays in place.  This could have a dual benefit of making your quilt easier to slide over the surface.

But as you can tell from this description, this is not going to be a small setup. If you have an issue of space, there really isn't much better option than an extension bed.  If you also can't stand the idea of screwing it to your table, look for tape or Velcro or even sew some kind of sling to keep the machine and extension together.

Of course, it can feel very limiting to not have your machine in the optimum setup.  The one thing I always try to remind myself of when I start getting annoyed with the limitations of my space or sewing machine setup is how women have still managed to do this for hundreds of years, even without the best setup or even a sewing machine.

Just try to make small improvements every month.  I swear the quilt hanging system I installed over my sewing machine was the best $30 I spent in 2011!  Small changes, small improvements, small steps can make a big difference.

That's all the questions for this week!  I'm headed into the sewing room to kill two birds with 1 stone: quilt a UFO and make videos for the quilt along at the same time!

Quilt something beautiful today,



  1. Thanks, Leah. I never thought about tracing an actual size sample. Makes sense. You could get a clear idea of how it's going to look. Thanks. P.S. I broke down and bought ink. It just seems a waste for me. The kidos suck the printer dry as soon as I install it, but I gave them clear instructions, No printing without permission, or for school!! They must put gold in ink as expensive as it is!!!

  2. Whenever I start to get grumpy about my setup, I try to remember that Paula Nadelstern made dozens of award winning quilts on her dining room table in her small Brooklyn apartment.


    Leah, for those of us with no inset table, and a closet to quilt from. Planning the retirement dream space while quilting now in a small one!

    Hope you like.

    Danielle, I hold the printer paper hostage and make the kids come ask for paper to print. Then I go see what it is. Saves me LOTS on ink! lol.

  4. For the lady needing a table with a cutout......really, go to Lowes, get a sheet of OSB or PLywood and a few 2X4's.....MAKE a table out of it to fit on your existing table. This is what I did. I cut out a slot for my sewing machine, shimmed the OSB up to the right height (2X4's were very close), then, I snaded the whole thing down with my palm sander, rounded all the corners, shellaced the PISS out of it and it is like a DREAM. I now have a 4 foot by * foot table to quilt on! I LOVE IT....and it cost my 7 bucks (the OSB...between coats). I LOVE the extrea space. I only have 7 inches of throat space but this table moakes all the difference!

  5. Wanted to thank you for your wonderful tutorials and patterns. Not sure how I managed to get to you blog... I get lost linking from one thing to another... but I have been considering trying FMQ on a project for a swap. These tutorials have given me the courage to sit down and try it. Thank you for being so generous with your talents and creativity.


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