Thursday, January 05, 2012

FFMQ Guest Post, Elizabeth from Such a Sew and Sew

Links to all of the blog posts in this series are located in the "Focus on Free Motion Quilting" tab below my blog header image. 

I cannot count my day complete 'Til needle, thread and fabric meet. –Unknown

Hello, Sew Inspired readers. I'm Elizabeth from Such a Sew and Sew. It is nice to meet you. I'm very honored that Vicki would invite me to guest post about free-motion quilting. At the very least, I hope that I what I have to say will not bore the pants off you. I'm hoping for the best, that you might find something helpful and be at least slightly amused in the process. Off we go then. So. Free-motion quilting. When strung together in that order, those are the three scariest words in the English language. I've been FMQ-ing for a year and a half and in that time I've FMQed 13½ quilts of various sizes. I still have to take a deep breath before I take that first stitch because free-motion quilting is scary, plain and simple. No matter how many times I do it, there is always that worry in the back of my mind that I'm going to mess it up. 

I think the hardest part about FMQ is knowing where to start. If your LQS offers a beginning machine quilting class, that is a good place to start. Keeping your expectations reasonable helps too. I went very simple for my first free-motion quilt because up to that point I'd only done a few small projects in straight lines, with a walking foot. It took me about 10 hours to do a fairly tight meander across a 52" x 68" quilt. It was tedious. I missed dropping off my quilt top at the long-arm quilter and getting it back transformed into something amazing. I saw every single imperfection. I worried the whole time that I had ruined it. I didn't think I would ever want to quilt my own again.
After a trip through the washer, the imperfections seemed to disappear. I was fairly content with my first attempt at FMQ and I even felt kind of fulfilled in making a quilt start to finish. Necessity {i.e. lack of funds} dictated that if I wanted to finish any more quilts, I'd just have to do it myself. So I tried again with loopy flowers on the next quilt. It was an interesting adventure that turned out pretty well. I went back to meandering and straight-line on a couple more quilts and then did some more loopy flowers. I decided to give feathers a try and they didn't come out too badly. I branched out from there, adding in a bit of something new to each quilt, along with the old stand-by favorites. My skills improved, my stitches got more consistent and my quilting got more elaborate. At the end of June 2011, I finished a second snowball quilt, identical to the one I'd started with. This one took about 35 hours to quilt, there wasn't one straight line or meander anywhere on it and I didn't find it tedious to spend all that time at the machine. As a matter of fact, I loved it. I loved free-motion quilting.
So, how did I go from a somewhat iffy edge-to-edge meander to a 35-hour custom quilt? Practice. Not the answer you thought I'd give, right? You were hoping I had a magic answer. An answer that would make free-motion quilting easier and more appealing. It really does come down to practice, which can be discouraging and frustrating {my first attempts were craptastic}, if not down-right boring. But I'll tell you a secret. The key to great free-motion quilting is learning how to make a smooth curve. Once you learn how to make pretty curves, you can do pretty much anything you want with FMQ.

The best place to practice curves is by doing a meander. I started with a paper and pencil. It helps tremendously to get the motion down if you doodle it out on paper. Imagine making little bunny silhouettes—two ears and a nose. Or picture puzzle pieces. I filled four or five 3" x 5" notecards with a super-tight meander. On a quilt it would be called a micro-stipple. Even though I couldn't {and still can't} quilt it that small, practicing at a small scale helps your brain to learn the motion. Once you've got it down on paper, move to a practice quilt sandwich. Or three. And then when you feel confident {or even if you don't} move to an actual quilt. Start with a quilt you're not really attached to, like two 1-yard pieces of fabric you pulled out of the bargain bin and sandwiched together. Then, if you don't love it when you're done it can be donated.

I probably did four or five quilts with an edge-to-edge meander before I felt like I could try anything else. When I wanted to try something new, I sketched out the design on paper over and over and tried it out on a practice sandwich before moving to my real quilt. I not only sketch out different quilting designs before I try them, I sketch out how I want to quilt each quilt before I begin. It helps me to organize my ideas, lets me practice moving in one continuous line, and gives me a framework to work within {I'm a color-inside-the-lines kind of gal} when I move to the actual quilt. And is easier to erase a sketch than it is to unpick quilting. This is a quilt I'm working on right now. My goal is to finish it by the end of January. I sketched out the blocks on grid paper, scanned it and enlarged and printed the images of each of the blocks. I made a sketch for each block and then I printed out a smaller copy of the entire quilt. I transferred each block design to the thumbnail size copies in the full quilt layout. When I quilt each block, I refer to my sketches. Sometimes I follow them exactly and sometimes I decide to go with something different. Not every sketch or every quilt I do is this elaborate. The quilt is a pinwheel sampler, so I thought it might be fun to have it also be a quilting sampler.
I asked Vicki if she wanted me to talk about anything in specific and she said she'd like to know my favorite design to quilt. For me, quilting should compliment the design of the quilt, not cover it up. And so that is what I work towards in my quilting. My favorite design to quilt is a row of swirls in the sashing. I use it a lot.
Notice a trend?
Yep. Swirls in every single quilt.
Thanks for letting me bend your ear a little bit about something I really love! If you don't love FMQ yet, with a little practice I hope that you will. xo -E

Hi, it's Vicki again! Thanks so much, Elizabeth, for such a thorough post about your free motion quilting process. I am amazed by your attention to detail and the dedication you put into your quilting!

Elizabeth and I have followed each others' blogs for quite a while now and we were finally able to meet each other last summer at a fun blogger meet-up. She brought her beautiful snowball quilt; it is truly an amazing quilt. I hope you feel like some of Elizabeth's advice will be helpful to you in your free motion quilting adventures. I am gearing up to quilt my king size flea market fancy quilt and I want to quilt some feathers in the borders and sashing. I'm actually really nervous about it but I'm going to start practicing drawing feathers and see how it goes. Please be sure to stop by Elizabeth's blog, Such a Sew and Sew, and get to know her better. I really like the heart table runner she made and showed off in this post.

You can find all the Focus on Free Motion Quilting posts linked here. Feel free to comment with your questions or FMQ tips. Are you brand new to FMQ? Or wanting to improve your skills? What are you going to make this month?

Finally, I wanted to mention the sponsors for Focus on Free Motion Quilting. Thanks for your support!



Sonia B said...

I'd love to know how to do those swirls in one continuous motion. Does she go over the same line twice? And what's a "feather"? I'd love to branch out from the "meander", but I'm not ever certain what other designs to create or how to create them. Thanks for this great series.

Lindsay Conner said...

This was very helpful and inspiring, for a new FM Quilter. :) Thank you!

Linda in Arkansas said...

Thanks for having people come and post about FMQ. This post of Elizabeth's had some good pointers. I new, and I like the idea of drawing/planning out the quilting on the quilt. This is getting me enthused about getting out my quilt and quilting it.

Paulette said...

How far you've come in your FMQ the last year or so is amazing and inspiring, Elizabeth! As you know, I've tried something like your curlicues on a sewing machine cover, but now that I look at yours again, I would really like to know how you make yours, i.e., where to start, what direction you go in, where you back up and go over the same stitching, etc. Inquiring minds want to know! :)

Vicki said...

Sonia and P., Elizabeth let me know that she'll work on some instructions for how to quilt the curlicues and they will probably be posted on her blog in the next week or so. Thanks for asking, I'm looking forward to seeing how she does it too!

The Twilight Quilters Coven said...

A nice post!

I've recently been able to produce a good FMQ stitch now that I have the right tools (i.e. from Leah Days recommendations and tutuorials) and figured out that my machine prefers Aurifil thread.

I get hung up on my quilt plan, though, even if its in doing a simple meander. I've recently tried taping off my quilts so that I have a smaller area to focus on so that I don't get overwhelmed by trying to quilt the entire top in five minutes and doing so has helped "calm" me down. I can see how really "mapping" out the entire quilt top and quilting single blocks would be helpful, too.