I was a hand quilter for years and still love the look of all those little hand-worked stitches. For me, hand quilting was peaceful and relaxing. However, I never finished hand quilting an entire quilt top, not even a baby quilt, in one day. Yesterday, I free motion quilted the Right Inclination quilt and had it finished before dinner. I believe the popularity of machine quilting is in large part a matter of numbers. We all have a head full of quilts we want to make and a limited amount of time in which to make them. Machine quilting makes our goals more reachable.
I confess, as much as I enjoy free motion quilting, I tend to have butterflies in my stomach every time I reach this stage in the quilt making process. I’m the perfectionist type, which is probably at the root of my nervous stomach. After a half hour or so, I’m as comfortable as can be and totally lost in the rhythm of my hand movements. Do any of you have the same experience?
There are many techniques as well as helpful products for free motion quilting. You can make it as simple or as complex as you like. This is one area where you will profit from lots of experimentation. Here is how I do it.
Machine Quilting Supplies
First, I set out all the equipment that I will be using for the particular quilt I am making. These may include the following:
Quilting gloves or rubber fingers
Sewslip or Super Slider
Straight stitch plate for sewing machine
Quilting thread and bobbins
Free motion presser foot
Quilt So Easy hoops
Tri-Flow lubricant and Q-Tip
Quilt stencils and shape templates
Chalk Marking Spray
Self-threading hand sewing needles
Sometimes I mark my quilt top and sometimes I don’t.
Marked Quilt Top
Whenever I’m shopping, I keep my eyes open for unusual items that might work well as marking templates. Craft stores sell wood cutouts in various shapes that work well. I’ve also found plastic layering templates made for fleece that I like. Chalk marking spray and quilting stencils are another option.
Quilt Marking Supplies
Sometimes the print of your fabric lends itself to quilting, which was the case on the dragonfly borders of Right Inclination. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Fabric Print Provided Quilting Motif
The main thing to concentrate on is a plan. Give some thought to your quilt design and the type of quilting that would compliment it. Sometimes I draw out a motif and practice it with my hands before actually attempting to quilt it with the machine. I often use a mix of motifs and shapes. I also take into consideration the type of batting I’ve used and how close the stitches need to be. Remember, quilting shrinks the layers as they’re being stitched. Plan for this by evenly quilting your entire project.
Once my quilt top is ready, I then prepare my sewing machine. Every machine has a different feel to it. Additionally, the various free motion presser feet make a difference. After a little experimentation, you will gravitate toward one or two that you like. At present, I like the clear Big Foot combined with my Bernina machine. A year from now it may be a different combination.
Free Motion Presser Feet
I choose my needle according to the thread I will be quilting with. I’ve actually made a chart of needles, threads, and upper machine tensions that work well on my machines. It’s a handy guide to have around so that I don’t waste time with each new project.
My Thread-Needle-Tension Chart
Normally, I use the same weight thread in the needle and bobbin except when using monofilament thread. One of my favorite quilting needles is made by Schmetz. Look for the word quilting on the cover and the green band on the needles. (All of their needles are excellent.) Whatever brand you use, make sure it has a sharp tip.
Machine Quilting Needles
In the second half of this post on free motion quilting, I will share some more products and techniques that I use and find helpful.
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