The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #31

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Question Thursday #31

It's Question Thursday time and guess what I'm doing today? After more than a solid month, my computer Harry finally has his brains back and I'm re-installing software.  I never realized I used so many different programs to create videos, write books, draw designs, scan drawings, and now that I'm having to install it all at once, I'm learning the value of keeping all these backup discs and serial numbers very well organized.

But once Harry is up and running again, I've decided to stop taking chances with my documents.  I've begun using a program called Dropbox to keep all my files from books to quilting designs to our family photos.

Dropbox is a cloud program that keeps all your data stored on a server, but also accessible just like the normal folders in your "my documents".  Originally I installed it so I could easily work on quilt designs on any computer in the house.  No matter which computer I'm using, when I save the file, all the computers will be updated with the most current version of the file.

Even if I go to a coffee shop, or travel away from home, any chances I made to the files in the dropbox folder will be updated.  This means if I'm away from home and need to send Josh an updated file, all I have to do is change the one on my computer.  I don't have to email it, attach it, deal with bouncing or email load limits at all.

This is extremely convenient, but it didn't really sink in how useful this could be until my computer crashed.  Suddenly I didn't have access to any of my files: years worth of quilting designs, books, video files, and email.  Yes, I did have a backup of all these files thanks to Carbonite, but it took 3 solid weeks for all the files to download on the computer and fully restore!

So if you happen to have a laptop and desktop computer, or if you're traveling and need access to your files from any computer, I'd really strongly encourage you to try out Dropbox.

Yes, there is of course some security risks associated with cloud computing, most specifically the account being hacked.  Make sure to use a solid, strong password with your account that you don't use for any other accounts.  Also don't daisy chain your accounts with Twitter or Facebook as this can create bad situations as seen from Mike Honan's Epic Hacking.

So the biggest learning experience from my most recent computer crash?  Get organized, delete stuff you don't need, and keep the place clean!  I've definitely learned my lesson on data hording and will likely spend the day deleting files, photos, and videos I just don't need anymore.

With that wonderful tech lecture out of the way, let's answer some questions about quilting!  From the looks of things, the switch from Independent Designs to Pivoting Designs might have some growing pains.

Yes, these are two very different design types and will "feel" entirely different to quilt.  

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Back in January, we spent more than 3 months on Stippling before moving on to any other Independent Designs.  If you're wanting to feel as comfortable with Paisley and all the Pivoting Designs it's related to, you will need to spend some time quilting and experimenting with it just the exact same way.

Yes, this design can be quilted in rows, on a smaller scale in a wholecloth quilt, and on a bigger scale in over a bed quilt.  If you're wanting a more thorough course in Paisley, try stitching through a few of these older exercises for practice.

Also realize how fundamentally different these designs are.  If you look at the photo above, see how Stippling doesn't really need a border around it?  You can wiggle into anything and fill it consistently, but Paisley doesn't work the same way.

You need edges to work off of with Paisley and it builds more like bricks fitting together rather than a single line wiggling around the space.

And this segways perfectly into our first question from Karin at The Quilt Yarn:

How do you deal with the odd spaces?

Full Question: my biggest issue were the odd empty spaces; do you just put lines in there to fit in with the overall design or leave some empty spaces?

All designs end up with funny areas where a new shape, in this case a full tear drop and echoes, won't fit.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

It's entirely up to you if you want to fill these spaces up completely with gently curving lines or leave them empty.

Personally, my guide on this is scale.  On a small scale, those openings in the texture will form noticeable gaps in the design.  To fill them, I stitch simple curving lines which could be more echoes to a Paisley shape, but are cut off by the edges of the space or another overlapping Paisley.  Using travel stitching and careful spacing, extra lines can fill all the gaps so the design is completely and consistently filled.

On a big scale, however, open space is just fine because your goal is a soft finish, not necessarily a dense solid texture.  Also if your scale is 1 inch wide, you can get away with a lot of open gaps without the texture appearing broken.

Ultimately you'll just have to stitch it and decide how you want the design to appear on your quilts.

Now let's answer a question from Gwyned Trefethen's Musings about getting the hang of this design:

How do you make it look so easy?!

Full Question: How do you do it, Leah? How do you keep your echo lines so evenly spaced with such perfect arcs and swoops? I can imagine that practice is beneficial, but do you have any other tips for large, even very large free motion quilting?

It's funny that I can make this design look easy because when I first started quilting, it was very, very difficult for me.

What I remember struggling with the most was the size and shape of my tear drops and of course all the travel stitching and echoing.  It just seemed impossible to get right!

But looking back, it's not like I'd challenged myself to stitch a whole quilt with it.  Every time I tried the design, it was on a tiny scrap of fabric.  I'd stitch it for awhile, break thread a million times, get lost in the design, get frustrated, and ultimately decide that Stippling was an easier option.

It wasn't until I took the Paisley shape and turned it into a wiggly flame shape and forced myself to stitch it on 32 rays in Release Your Light that I got the hang of this design.  Maybe it was changing the starting shape, maybe something about it "clicked" in just the right way.

All I know is that once I started this project, somewhere around Day 40 I tried Paisley again and I could suddenly stitch it perfectly.  And since then it's become my favorite design and is stitched on almost every major quilt I make, so of course I can make it look very easy in the video because I'm very comfortable quilting it.  It's like writing my name now - I don't even have to think about it.

It could be that this is a real skill building design and practice is key.  It could also be the way your brain and hands work, that you haven't found the right movement and rhythm to make it feel natural for your body.  This will come, either with lots of practice, or suddenly you'll return to it and be able to stitch it easily.

If you're struggling, don't beat yourself up. 

Perfection is not the goal here.  Challenging practice is the goal and that rarely looks perfect.

And just to rock home that point, this week I spent 3 solid days trying to dye fabric for The Duchess Reigns Quilt top.  3 days and 3 huge pieces of fabric later, I'm no closer to creating a quilt top for this quilt.

Yes, it puts me in a bad mood.  Yes, I want to punch something when it doesn't work out perfectly.  So I leave the room and let it set until I can return with a better attitude.  The point is to have fun, to be challenged, to make mistakes, but to have fun working through the challenges until the final goal is reached.

Do I really need to hand dye this quilt top?  No.  I could probably find a big piece of purple fabric that could work for it, but it's the challenge of trying something new, failing, trying again, failing again - that is what keeps me coming back again and again.

So go and fail at something this week.  Try hard, stitch your best, and make some mistakes.  Mistakes are beautiful.  Mistakes are wonderful.  Because mistakes show that you are growing and learning something new.

Perfection is NOT the goal.  Enjoying your time stitching, no matter the challenge, no matter the mistakes - that is the goal.

If it was easy as pie, wouldn't everyone be quilters?  Or would no one be quilters?

Let's go have a great time quilting,



  1. For anyone really looking to get some really good practice with FMQing, I recommend doing your Winter Wonderland pattern.

    I cannot believe what I have accomplished as a quilter as I've worked my way through this pattern. I've quilted on a small scale, and a huge variety of designs I would have never imagined being able to master.

    AND it has made me learn to handle small spaces.

    The best part- because it is individual 12" squares, you really can't ruin "the whole quilt" with a bad design. If you buy just a little extra supplies, you can always get a do-over if something really doesn't work out.

  2. You can also use google drive to backup files. :)

    I;ve independently discovered the paisley allover pattern and did some work here:

    I'll be posting finished pics soon! It; super crinkly after washing and drying.

  3. Leah,
    I admire your quality of quilting and the wisdom of a saint. You're so matured for your age.

    Thanks for all the wonderful encouragement.
    You rock!

  4. I use Google Drive in much the same way, though I just put all my photos into Google's Picasa Web.

    I have a question about the thread you always use. I love the colors and price of the Polycord, but I'm not sure it would work well for the way I quilt. I don't prewash, and so far have used 100% cotton everything because I *like* the crinkly, older-and-loved-quilt look. Do you know or think I could still get that with the Polycord? Obviously the fabric and batting would still shrink, but then there's me wondering if the thread will cut the fabric since it doesn't shrink...

  5. On "How do you make it look so easy," try visualizing yourself stitching the design perfectly.

    Visualization can be very powerful in terms of developing fine motor skills. I've done it successfully with playing the guitar and it's worked for me in terms of touching the strings with the same amount of pressure to get the same sounds every time.

    I'm not a quilter, but if I were just before falling to sleep every night I'd visualize myself stitching perfectly the design I was having trouble with.

  6. Great question Bentneedle! I actually used cotton batting and a cotton jelly roll (obviously not pre-washed) to create a quilt for my son. As usual, I quilted it with Isacord and because it's a kid quilt, it's been washed excessively for the 3 years he's used it.

    It did give that nice soft, crinkly effect, but so far there's no sign the polyester thread is damaging the fabric.

    Run some tests of your own with the thread, batting, and fabric you'd like to use and make sure it creates the effect you're going for. An alternative to Isacord is Aurifil 100% cotton in the 50wt. It's almost as strong, though not quite as thin as Isacord.



  7. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! The quilt I'm specifically wanting to use it for is for my friend's almost-2-year-old, so it would probably be treated about the same way. :)

  8. HI, I recently stared my first quilt, and after a few weeks, my OLD ( think 30 yrs ) cheap singer died on me. I want to purchase a new machine, but can't afford those big dogs...I watched your HD1000 review, but didn't see a link to any other reviews. I was wondering what you currently recommend as a starter machine. Is that still a good choice or is there anything newer you would choose?

  9. Please consider Janome machines. Janome makes wonderful reliable machines in every price range. The tension and stitching are even; and the bobbins don't snarl. I love the purring sound of the motor. Sewing machines lasts for many years so get one you really like & the best you can afford.

  10. @100 I can't afford an expensive machine either, I use a Wal-mart special (150$) for my piecing work and my Janome SUV1122 was bought at a sale for $250, so it is possible to get a decent machine for a reasonable price. The thing to do is >research< go down to shops that sell machines and do test runs, look for reviews of different brands, sometimes you can get "refurbished" machines at a fraction of the cost (Do try and find a reliable dealer for refurbished machines). I think that buying a machine is a very personal decision because in the long run it is you who will be spending an inordinate amount of hours with it and it is you who should LOVE to use it. ;)


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