Tips And Tools Tuesday – Machine Quilting, Part Two, Where to Start.

Quilt as desired.

What an ambiguous statement! Yet, most patterns, whether they are in books or magazines, say exactly that.

When I was first attempting to do my own machine quilting, I was at a loss for how to start. What to start! Where to start!

I’d look at quilts in magazines or books, see the exquisite quilting done on them, (especially feathered vines and feathered circles), and get overwhelmed. But, then I realized, “Hey, I’m a beginner. I don’t need to start with something complicated! Why set myself up for disaster? Instead, I’ll set myself up for success!” A runner doesn’t start marathon training by running 26 miles the first day. They build up to it. It’s the same with any new thing we do. I started small. Not a huge bed quilt right off the bat. But, a table runner. Something small and manageable.

I used a free-motion foot and just stitched around the center stars and right along all of the seam lines of each colored rectangle and blue angled pieces. I stitched on the “downhill” side of the seam lines. this is known as “Stitch-in-the-Ditch” quilting. The nativity scenes in the background fabric are separated by lines, mostly squares and rectangles with an occasional arch, so, I just followed the lines. My goal was to figure out a path to get me from one scene-filled triangle to the next without having to tie off my thread and start a new line. I had to backtrack (or travel) back over previous stitching often to get around each shape. I used a busy fabric for the backing, so that any thread build up from stitching back over a line wouldn’t be very noticeable.

Stitching in the ditch and along lines in the fabric, gave me experience in following lines and in controlling the quilt sandwich. Usually, when I begin a new quilt project, I’ll stitch-in-the-ditch around the blocks and/or around units in the blocks. This accomplishes two things. One, it anchors the quilt sandwich together and stabilizes it for any more quilting that I might decide to do on it. Two, it helps me get the “feel” of machine quilting again so that if/when I decide to add some free-motion design elements to the quilt blocks, I do a better job.

When stitching straight lines, a walking foot or even-feed foot, helps keep the quilt layers together as they are guided under the needle. You stitch in a forward motion. You can pivot your quilt slightly while stitching to make a wavy line, but if you want to make a drastic change in direction, you must stop with your needle down, raise the presser foot, pivot your quilt to a new position, lower the presser foot, and continue stitching. There are “teeth” that move as the needle bar moves. When using a walking foot, the feed dogs stay up and help feed the quilt evenly under the needle. The forked part on the walking foot slips over the tightening pin on the needle bar. You may need to adjust the presser foot pressure and/or the feed dog height in order for your machine to feed the quilt through evenly. If the pressure between the foot and the feed dogs is too great, your quilt layers will not feed through properly.

A free-motion foot, sometimes referred to as a darning foot or embroidery foot, depending on your brand of sewing machine, is most often used for stitching curved lines. Dropping or covering the feed dogs and using a free-motion foot, allows you to move the quilt in any direction providing endless possibilities for quilting designs.

You can try both the walking foot and the free-motion foot and see which one you like using the best. Each performs very differently from the other and has its own designed function.

Free-motion quilting is basically drawing with thread. And, just like when I was learning to draw with paper and pencil, I started with simple shapes like lines, ovals, arcs, and circles. On paper, I used a pencil because I could erase any mistakes and draw it again. I can’t do that with machine quilting. Well, I can pick out the stitches, but, what a royal pain! It dawned on me that I could draw designs on paper (erasing mistakes and redrawing when necessary) and then trace them onto the quilt. Then, just quilt over the lines I’d traced. So, I started using an erasable marker or chalk marker to trace the designs where I wanted them. I can stitch them, then “erase” the lines. Nobody knows which lines I followed perfectly and which lines I didn’t. Ha!

I started out using card stock to make the shapes I wanted to trace. As you can see, card stock absorbs the ink, making the edges soggy, and wasting ink! I switched to making templates out of plastic lids such as from butter, yogurt, and ice cream. Any lid that is firm, yet flexible works. Using the point of a compass, I’d scratch the desired design into the plastic lid and cut it out with scissors. (Ballpoint pen ink beads up and permanent marker lines are too fat.)

Free-motion machine quilting is a coordinated effort between your hands moving the quilt and the speed of your sewing machine needle. If your machine has a built in stitch regulator, yay! Set it for medium or medium slow until you get used to how it feels. As a rule of thumb, the faster your needle is going and the slower your hands are moving the quilt, the smaller your stitches will be. The opposite is also true. The faster your hands move the quilt and the slower your sewing machine needle moves up and down, the larger your stitches will be. Consistency of stitch size is a goal to have, for sure, but, that will come with experience and practice. If your machine is not equipped with a stitch regulator, consider modifying your foot peddle. I did that and wrote about it in this post. Having my needle maintain the same speed, frees my mind up to think about how my hands are moving the quilt under it. My stitches have been more consistent since my peddle is now “regulated”.

Next time, I’ll talk more about how I come up with designs and trace or transfer them onto my quilt.

This week, try making a small project, such as a table runner or table topper, and do just some stitching in the ditch on it. I’d love to hear how your machine quilting goes, so leave me a comment.

Today is good day to try machine quilting.


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