Machine Quilting

January 15, 2008 § 15 Comments

Today, I have been working on this panel for the Machine Quilting class that I will be teaching in a couple of weeks. Let me just say that I am not an expert at the machine quilting. I do the basics. There are a LOT of people who are so much better at the decorative thread, fancy techniques than I am. That being said, like everything else… it just takes practice. It took about 6 baby quilts before I started to “get it” – before I found my rhythm. Up until then it felt awkward. There were bumps and pleats. And, I ripped out a lot. I still rip out stitches, but a lot less than I used to.

For this class we will be working with this Skillbuilder I panel that is relatively new to the market. There is also a Skillbuilder II panel and a book called Skillbuilder Companion for Machine Quilters by Renae Allen. It has been interesting to see what the author considers easy and what is easy for me. Stippling seems a lot easier to me. Yet, stippling is 11th in the sequence given in the book. Also, some of the patterns start in awkward places for me.

As you can see I wasn’t always able to follow the lines. This would be much less obvious if the lines could be removed and all you saw was the quilting.

The back looks so much better because there is color, pattern and no distracting marking lines! This is why I encourage students to not be too critical. Once finished, it is hard to see the faults that you saw while quilting.

I think there are 2 things about this panel that are very good:

1) If forces you to practice looking ahead and not watch the needle while free motion quilting.

2) It gives ample time to practice the speed of the sewing machine and movement of the fabric ratio for those who do not have a stitch regulator.

The things that this panel won’t do for you:

1) It won’t give you time to develop the ability to eye-ball a design. I mark the quilting designs on my quilt less and less, and basically “eye-ball” what I’m stitching. Frankly, I think a little more quilting on the fly produces smoother stitches. Following a line just seems to enhance my jerky starts and stops.

2) The designs printed on the panel are fairly traditional quilting patterns. There is very little that builds on the free-form, more modern, all-over quilting.

I use garden gloves to get a good grip on the fabric and save my arms and shoulders from tiring out so quickly. Get the gloves that fit snuggly so that they aren’t shifting around on your hands.

This is our practice sampler that we usually do in class. It is based on Maureen Noble’s book Machine Quilting Made Easy. I like her practice samplers because it forces you to develop your own style and techniques – like my decision to mark the quilt less and eye-ball it more.

Here are my suggestions for improving your machine quilting:

1) Practice, practice, practice. It only gets better with time and practice. Make baby quilts. Make dog quilts. Make quilts that can be tossed in the back of your car for an impromptu picnic. My boss’ only criteria is that it can’t be used to clean grease off of your bike chain!

2) Don’t look at the needle on your sewing machine. Look ahead to where you want to go, just like reading music or driving a car. Your quilting lines will get smoother as you are more able to look ahead.

3) Try to maintain an even speed on the foot peddle when quilting. Too slow and stitches become longer. Too fast and stitches become shorter.

4) Use the needle-down feature if it is available on your sewing machine. It makes stopping and starting so much easier.

5) Some movements will be easier for you than others. It is easier for me to work from back to front (just like sewing a seam) and from left to right. Rotate your quilt to optimally use what is comfortable to you.

6) Know how to clean the lint from the feed dogs of your sewing machine. Batting produces a lot of lint and lint build-up can make your sewing machine malfunction.

7) I like gardening gloves for free-motion quilting. Try them if you are having a hard time moving the fabric. There is also a product called the Free-Motion Slider that can be put on your sewing machine bed if you are still having trouble. It’s a little spendy and not always necessary, in my opinion. But it could help if you have a big quilt and trouble moving the fabric.

8 ) Quilt for short periods of time and take frequent breaks. And make sure that you are sitting at the right height. You don’t want to injure your back and shoulders from bad posture and too much quilting. I sit on a stool that puts me a little more above my quilting surface.

9) Most importantly, don’t be so hard on yourself! When the quilt is done, it’s hard to find those “oops” spots. Also, I wash all my quilts after they are finished. The washing and minimal shrinkage covers a MULTITUDE of goofs that might ordinarily stand out more.

§ 15 Responses to Machine Quilting

  • joan says:

    You just never cease to amaze me. Wonderful article. Makes me think about perhaps doing a bit more sewing. Maybe a doll quilt for my granddaughter. Never at this point a large one but this is a great idea.

  • Michelle says:

    What a wonderful article! I think I learned a little bit already! I have only done a placemat sized piece for fmq and it was fun. I thought it turned out pretty good. I don’t think I would want to do a large quilt this way, but quilting two pieces of fabric together, and small projects aren’t as scary anymore. I am going to check out the books and links you provided too. Thanks!

  • Caron Mosey says:

    These are beautiful! I wish I could machine quilt, but then I’d want a big long arm machine (big $$$). As it is, if I want to machine quilt I really need to buy a new machine of ANY kind. My old Bernina Nova doesn’t have a stitch regulator, and I’m not sure I could get one for it.

    Keep up the good work. I will be adding your blog to my Google Reader.

    Caron in Michigan

    My blog:

  • Marianne says:

    Hmmm, perhaps I want some machine quilting in exchange for…. 🙂

  • Jan says:

    Great tips, Anita!

  • Emily says:

    I love the gloves! Swirly machine quilting is so cool and looks like a lot of fun.

  • KnittySue says:

    Love it and I’ve got to get one of the practice panels, thanks for the info…

  • janet clare says:

    Great tips there!

    I refuse to rip out (I detest it!) so you can imagine what some of my machine quilting looks like! But I have noticed an interesting phenomenon, if i don’t point out the ‘bad’ bits, no-one else seems to notice them!

  • Lana Moody says:

    Where can I buy the machine quilting panel so that I might practice my machine quilting.

  • Judy Mazzari says:

    Hi I don’t quilt but wanting to learn. This is a great blog Thanks for the info… Jude in So California

  • Thanks sooo much for this article! I’m just learning and your article and pictures are sooo inspirational and helpful! Thanks for taking the time!

  • Bing Gin says:

    you are so right, i find that my lines are jerky when I follow patterns. Especially with the swirly ones, you need to look ahead to create smoother lines.

    For the others, don’t be afraid to quilt big projects on your domestic machines! 🙂 I am doing my 3rd queen-size quilt in my Janome. It’s an been awesome adventure.

  • chitrani Jayasekera says:

    I learnt a lot of things from your article as I am new to quilting .thanks

  • Elisa rivera says:

    I’m a quilting beginner, but will love to learn freeachine quilting. Thanks for your tutorial.

  • Kimberly Davis says:

    GOLLY! Over 10 years later and STILL a fabulous post!!!

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