The Free Motion Quilting Project: Josh's Quilting Tip #1

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Josh's Quilting Tip #1

free motion quilting | Leah Day
With Josh learning how to quilt this month and so many quilters interested to hear about his experience, we're turning Tuesdays into Josh's Quilting Tip day!

Josh is just learning the basics to quilting so if you're at the same point in learning this awesome craft, hopefully these new posts will help you get started and answer your questions along the way.

Take it away Josh!
Well, first I should say I was expecting the entire process to be a lot more difficult and frustrating than what it ultimately was. Keep in mind I had never touched a sewing machine before, except for hauling them from place to place. I didn't even know how to drop my foot.

The first practice piece and actual block were tricky, but I quickly got into the swing of it as I became more comfortable with the needle and regulating the pedal for steady speed. But my blocks were still far from perfect.

Here is one of my earliest blocks:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

You can clearly see I'm a newbie. But I didn't have any baggage going in because I had absolutely zero experience sewing anything. So no bad habits to unlearn, no real fear of destroying a quilt with ugly stitches. I was a total blank slate and decidedly not being judgmental of my work.

I began with the U-shaped stippling that Leah had designed for our baby quilt project. I stitched them vertically and found this motion to the most natural flow for me. This is critical in FMQ--learn the angles and directions that are most comfortable for you to produce the most even stitching.

You can also see the block was marked first with a Fons & Porter Ceramic Pencil. And that leads us to my beginner tip today...

Starting out, I found it critical to mark every block. Leah attempted an experiment by marking half of the blocks and leaving the other half empty for freehand work.
Some designs, like the U-shapes, can easily be done without marking. But not the first time. You really, really need to mark your blocks starting a new design just to know where you're going and how to get through the block easily.
Now let's look at one of the last blocks I did and compare:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

You can see the improvement in stitch consistency and overall workmanship, especially comparing the U-shaped fillers here to the above picture. Also note the spirals--this filler, for me, was the most natural and easiest design to do.
These blocks were also marked. I quickly learned when trying an unmarked block that stitching a spiral was practically impossible. Maybe I'll be able to quilt this freehand one day, but for right now there are just some designs that absolutely have to be marked before being quilted.
So that's my tip this week! Mark every single block until you're confident you've mastered the flow of stitching.
Just in case you don't have a marking pencil, you can find the Fons & Porter marking pencil I used right here in the quilt shop. To erase the marks, just erase them with the eraser on the pencil or wipe the surface of the quilt with a damp towel before throwing the quilt in the washer.
Until next time, let's go quilt,


  1. Happy to see you here blogging Josh! I think it's important for those new to machine quilting to have a perspective of someone who is also just beginning. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Congratulations Josh! I think you are very brave and your stitching is very good for a beginner. Keep up the good work, both of you!

    With thanks...

  3. Love it!! Thanks for the great beginner tips Josh -- and you too Leah!

  4. Josh, I give you lots of credit. There aren't many men that would take on quilting next to their expert wife. She is truly amazing, isn't she?

    This experience has to make you extremely proud of her accomplishments. And, I'll bet her buttons are popping over your endeavors as well. Enjoy your quilting journey and thanks for the tip.

  5. Super Josh.

    You are a good student.

    Bonjour de France.

  6. Congratulations, Josh -- your "beginner" efforts look FANTASTIC! Please do continue to post as you're learning to quilt. I'm teaching my 10-year-old son to quilt and I'm seeking out all the male quilting role models for him that I can find, since all of the "kids quilting books" feature girls in the photos and walking into a quilt shop is like estrogen overload. ;-)

  7. Very great job, Josh! And thank you very much both for that class and Tip! Have a nice day!

  8. Thanks Josh! I'm a beginner quilter and will enjoy following your learning experience.

  9. Well - not sure my comment got posted so here we go again... THANKS Josh - I'm a beginner quilter too and will look forward to reading your tips.

  10. This is great! Even though I'm a seasoned sewer, I think your posts are really going to help me. My daughter has asked me to teach her to sew(she's 13). I really don't know where to start. She is a total newbie, too;) Thanks to you both for the insight!

  11. I enjoyed seeing Josh's squares. I just received my FMQ DVD & book yesterday so I'm a beginner to FMQ also.
    Keep those posts coming!

  12. Hey Josh- Your first attempts look a lot better thasn my first attempts and I have been sewing a LOOOOONNNG time. Welcome to the NeedleMasters Guild!!

  13. Good job Josh. I think I will make the effort to learn right along with you if you don't mine. Looking forward to the next post.

  14. Thanks! I like the idea of reading behind a newbie lol. Especially as I am not a free motion quilter myself. It is my plans to learn. Just haven't got there yet ;o) Sarah

  15. Hi. You are brave. I am new to quilting as well. I got my husband, Chip on my machine and he found it fascinating. He teaches art and photography. He loves the process although he hasn't had any time lately to practice. I found your tip of the day very useful to me because I am new. I missed Leah's class in Gastonia this year. Please keep at it because I could use more tips like this. Thanks so much.

  16. I am a long time garment sewer and about 5 year quilter. I think you have an advantage not bringing in the old baggage of past experiences which run counter intuitive to free motion machine quilting. So after reading your blog it occurred to me that I should try to take that mind set and see what happens. Continued success with your quilting journey.


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