Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Free Motion Quilting

One of the dirty secrets of quilting is that after you spend hours and hours cutting and piecing to make the quilt, you then have to do a lot more work!  Many quilters, even the finest of quilters, hire people to finish the quilt.  This involves placing the backing, batting and the pieced top into a sandwich and stitching the whole thing together.  Most quilts involve lots of fabric and rotating the quilt under the sewing arm.  This is a pain and probably ruins a lot perfectly beautiful quilts.  Which is why a lot of people hire the quilting done.

The quilt shop I use for quilting classes and fabric, the Old Trinity Schoolhouse Quilt Shop, recently held a class to learn free motion quilting.  Free motion is exactly that.  The feed dogs are little metal teeth in the base of the  sewing machine under the needle.  They push the fabric forward or backward.  If you drop them down and put on a special free motion foot you can move the fabric around all you want.  If you do that while the needle is engaged you can, presumably, make lots of designs while quilting your fabric sandwich.  And all with out having to turn the fabric around to do a circle, etc.

If you could suspend a pencil over a piece of paper, you could place your hands on top of the paper and slide it around to draw a picture.  If you can draw with a pencil, the theory is you can "draw" pictures on the quilt with the needle.  So I guess my biggest problem is I can't draw.  Once I can do that, I can "draw" with needle and thread, no problem.  But I can't, which is why people hire this sort of thing done.  Plus, the professionals all have giant machines for this purpose that practically fill a room and costs thousands!   Which is why they do this for others.  They have to justify the expense, somehow.

Well, I can't draw, with a pencil or otherwise.  And I don't have a fancy quilting machine.  But I do have tenacity!  And I do want to learn the whole part of quilting.  Not just the first part.  If I make a quilt, I want to make the whole thing. 

There is also the part where I don't want to pay someone with mad skills to see my pitiful attempt at quilting.  Oh.  And I'm cheap.


For the class we made a sandwich of muslin and batting.  Then we pinned it and sewed it into mostly equal squares.  This way we could practice many techniques.  Some techniques are better for different backgrounds and spaces.  Also, you would probably get bored or tied in knots if you tried to do the same technique for hours and hours.


The instructor was great and gave lots of positive feedback.  First she drew a design.  Them we drew it to get it down on paper.  Then we attempted to sew it.  With mixed results.

The hardest parts for me were trying to sew over lines I had just sewn.  I was lucky to get the first circle down.  How am I supposed to follow the line for another go?  Or circles.  I can't draw those well with a pencil.  And the pointy tops of the zig zags.  Oh, and flowers...or stars.  Or pretty much anything!


I need to practice a lot before I attempt to do this on a quilt, but it gives me options other than the few other techniques I have used on other projects.  And it has reaffirmed my plan to never try a full size quilt or larger.  You lose enthusiasm long before you are finished.

My friend Marcy was visiting from California.  She wanted to see what I had done in my class.     "THIS is what you learned?", she asked with incredulity. 

It looked like a drawing a third grader might do.  In the dark. "It's harder than it looks", I replied.  "If you say so."  I guess I won't be showing her any more of my quilts!

Now I know why quilters use thread to blend in with the fabric.  Any mistakes are mostly invisible and that is what I am going to need for many quilting projects to come.


  1. I admire your talent! I used to sew but I got tired of ruining perfectly good fabric.

  2. I found myself trying to follow the stitch like it was a puzzle, you know, find your way kind of puzzle. But I must say I am impressed.

  3. I think your free motion stitching is AWESOME! I absolutely love the look of your muslin and batting practice quilt. It's artistic.