Tuesday, February 8, 2011

32 Reasons Not to Free Motion Quilt & Why They Are Mularkey

meet ginger from wiener dog tricks and five things she loves.

1. Cheese
2. Thrift stores
3. Gutermann thread
5. Flip Flops

one of my favorite people to read, she's a bit of a hero to me.  read about her adventures cutting up grandma's quilts, or making sweet nighties, or reclaiming funky old clothes in fab new ways!  or just marvel at her ability to create unique and awesome gifts for peeps. so, grab a cup of coffee and get ready to enjoy her guest post!

There seems to be unrest among my friends who sew about whether or not to dive headlong into free motion quilting. And, as I have already done this TWO TIMES, I am stepping up to give a True Experts Opinion.
The first time I tried free motion quilting (which was 50% of my free motion quilting life ago), I gave up. And I sort of pouted, too--but we don't have to spend a lot of time talking about that. I even went as far as putting my free motion quilting arm on a time out.
I walked away and didn't turn back for 8 months.
Here's the thing, though, I recently made a quilt for my pal's baby (a little guy who we lovingly refer to as The Fartbag). It was made of terrificly soft, vintage cottons and old, old flour sacks--and I wanted to quilt the be-hookus out of it. No little-square-inside-of-a-big-square was going to cut it. So I pulled out the free motion arm again.
And this time, I didn't get AS annoyed doing it! And, actually, with a little willingness to occasionally pull out some stitches, it was all fine. In fact, it was better than fine. It was actually downright lovely.

So here's my best shot about what you might be saying to yourself about why you shouldn't give free motion quilting a try. . . and why, while I think you're a perfectly reasonable person otherwise, you are full of hookey.
REASON #1: "Oh I Can't Do That I'm Just a Beginning Quilter."
This seems to be the first concern among Non-Free Motion Quilters (NFMQ's). I have to, of course, ask the question: what are you afraid of? Maybe you think you might hurt yourself. This is always a possibility, but doesn't seem more likely with free motion quilting than with any other sewing that we do. After all, all you have to be doing is be chatting with a friend while you sew an apron for a little kid and you could find a needle through your finger. This is, of course, a hypothetical.
You won't get physically hurt if you try this.
Another upside: because there are so many ka-thousands of loopedy loops when you free motion quilt, nobody has ANY idea when you screw up. (Except for the loops on the back: See Reason #32 below.) For the most part, the craziness of free motion-ing is Just Right for a beginner. All the mistakes hide later.
REASON #17: "I Don't Want to Ruin the Quilt Top I Just Made."
This is a valid one, especially if you are mightily in love with what you've made. But you see the tricky thing here: you will never use your free motion arm to quilt anything that you ACTUALLY love, which leaves to reason that you will then only use your free motion arm to quilt things that you DON'T ACTUALLY love, which means that you will never completely love anything that you free motion quilt.
What do you have to lose? You can't really truly ruin what you've got. It's true that you might have to rip out some stitches (LOOPS, ANYONE? Yeesh, I had to pull out a kabillion of these the first time--oh, and the second time--I tried this. More on loops later.) As it turns out, though, having to rip out work isn't a sign that you are a Big Fat Quilting Screw Up: it's a sign that you are trying something new, that you're learning something.
And take special note here: the loops aren't going to ruin anything, they might just annoy the almighty heck out of you. [See Reason #32 below.]
REASON #32: "It Is Too Annoying. There Are Too Many Loops on the Back."
Now this reason, I get. I understand you. Who likes to be sewing blissfully, get into a stitch groove (metaphorically) and then stop and check the back and find nothing but BUPKUSSY LITTLE LOOPY STITCHES THAT DIDN'T WORK?

This is my point: nobody does.
As it turns out, this thing of All Those Loops On the Back While Free Motional Quilting is basically the equivalent of trying to learn how to drive a stick shift: when you start, it might work, but it will be sort of jerky. Those loops are basically just jerky driving. Because free motion quilting requires a certain amount of speed, it's easy for the whole thing to go a little kooky. It will take some practice before you arrive at Totally Integrated Free Motion Zen.
Here are a couple of tips that might help:
Do I need to drive my machine at the speed of light?
No, but some speed helps. If you do let your foot go fast, don't let that make you feel like your hands have to go as fast (this is the part of free motion quilting that is akin to patting your tummy and smacking the top of your head at the same time.)
How should I begin?
First, set aside your favorite quilt and pick up too scraps (at least the size of a cereal box) and sandwich some quilting material between them. Have some fun. Make some loops. Try different speeds--let your needle go crazy and try moving slowly with your hands, then do the opposite): check to see what it looks like. Those loops are happening because your feet and your hands aren't agreeing with each other. For a REALLY great telling of that story, go over here and hear from somebody who actually knows what she's talking about.
In summary:
  1. You are not lame: you're just a beginner.
  2. You are not going to ruin anything if you try. You are, in fact, actually never going to have any quilts with those cool loopy patterns if you never give it a shot.
  3. If you do try, you might turn in to the Totally Gutsy Person that you told yourself you want to be.


Sara said...

You are wonderful for doing this post just to let you know-lol! FMQ does take PRACTICE AND PATIENCE. Now that I have different and newer machine my problems have pretty much disappeared. Although I do have that "jerky" thing sometimes that happens--it's alright...practice,practice,practice. I also feel that the more table space you have to rest that top on, the better off you will be in the long run:)

Jennie {Clover and Violet} said...

So true! I think the biggest fear is just starting, when I finally did it was a lot easier than I thought it would be! (I also practiced on scraps I could throw away if I was super unhappy with it!)

Sonia said...

I think free motion quilting is much easier than straight line quilting, plus I find it more interesting to look at.

Megan said...


I just stopped by on my way back from Anna Maria's.

I too was scared to death of free motion machine quilting. I put it off for quite a while on my first quilt. But once I got started, it wasn't as hard as I thought. Of course it wasn't perfect--but like you said--who really cares? I see the longer/skipped stitches here and there but no one else seems to.

Looking forward to visiting with you again soon.

QuiltyBee said...

yup. that's all I need to say, except HIGH FIVE no excuses left

emedoodle said...

Thanks for the great way of putting this. I'm not one to get worried over trying something new, and started FMQ about a year ago. My first real sized quilt to FMQ is still my absolute favorite... and used my fav. fabrics too. It took a lot of deeeeep breaths to get over the nervousness. But it was well worth it!

Lauranie said...

man...you making mince meat of ALL of my excuses!!! Guess it is time for me to give it a try....GAH!! Thanks for the "kick"!

Jamie said...

Great article! I am fairly new to FMQ and I really enjoy it. I'm definitely finding my balance between hand and foot speed. I started to FMQ a new quilt yesterday. It has some of my favorite fabrics and I was definitely a little nervous. After quilting the first square (12x12), I turned it over to find the little loops. :( There was no way I was going to leave them there. I played with the tension and my own speed/balance and could not seem to overcome the problem completely. So, what's a girl to do? Google it! I found a quilter's blog and she said something fantastic that I would have never thought to do myself--RAISE THE FEED DOGS! Yes, RAISE them! I don't know what mechanics it changes inside the machine, but this was the trick that DID IT! My stitch length and width were both set to 0 and the feed dogs were put UP and now the back of the quilt looks wonderful.

...back to ripping out the THOUSANDS of little stitches on that ONE square that I messed up!

Jamie said...

PS - It was Leah Day's blog I was reading (link included in the article above)!

Jane @ Handiworking said...

That was a fun read! I'm still in intimated by FMQ limbo having tried it once dismally. Will shake it off and give it another go now. Have a wonderful weekend!


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