A few weeks ago I received this message from Ellen:
Good Afternoon Geta,
I love your work and I am now ready to practice free motion quilting. I do have a few questions for you that never seem to be completely answered on any quilting tutorials I have read.
I thought that probably there are other beginning quilters that have the same questions, so here is the questions and the answers!
1. For quilting, what foot do you most frequently use?
I use the free motion quilting foot (also known as the hopping foot or the darning foot).
Many of you probably already know: I love free motion quilting more than walking foot quilting. I use it probably on 95% of my quilts.
If you don’t enjoy free motion quilting, it’s probably because you have heard someone saying: it’s hard, you need skills, you need to be born with this talent, you have to practice non-stop! No one told me this, I started practicing both walking foot quilting and free motion quilting and fell in love with FMQ!
Just to demonstrate that anyone can FMQ, here is what my husband sewed when he first touched my speedy industrial sewing machine! If he did it, anyone can do it!
Why I love free motion quilting so much? Because it gives you freedom to sew ANY quilt motif IN RECORD TIME!
Walking foot quilting is WONDERFUL, too, for certain quilts- see some examples below!
2. When do you decide to change between your walking foot to your free motion quilting foot?
Gentle curves can be quilted with the walking foot.
As a general rule, for complex curved motifs, free motion quilting is the best option.
See Diagram#1 and Diagram#2 below and imagine how many times you have to rotate the quilt under the needle to quilt with the walking foot these motifs on the entire surface of a big quilt.
See Diagram#3 – what a difference the gentle curves produce!
But choosing between the two types of quilting is not only about the curves of the quilting motifs. In the end, it’s all about how often you have to change the direction of sewing. It also depends on how large your quilt is.
Look at the star motif below. It’s a lovely motif, easy to sew with the walking foot on small quilts. Imagine you would have to quilt this star, with the walking foot, on all the blocks of a large quilt! I can’t even think of such enormous work! I would switch immediately to the free motion foot.
How about this top below?
With the walking foot, one of the options would be to quilt straight lines, in different directions, from edge to edge. It would be a fast and easy quilting.
I chose to quilt each block individually, as you see below. I could not have done it with the walking foot, so I free motion quilted these wavy lines.
See below how the size influences our decision.
The center of this little quilt was quilted with the walking foot; it was such a pleasant experience- because the quilt was small- about 20”. Imagine that it would have been the center of a 90” quilt- not an easy task to manage all that bulk!
This is the only type of walking foot quilting that I enjoy. It creates a wonderful texture and it is absolutely beautiful for utilitarian quilts (quilts that are used and washed often) – like baby quilts or bed quilts.
Why is this type of quilting easy?
Because you sew one continuous stitching, from one edge of the quilt to the opposite edge, without changing the direction of the quilting (and without rotating the quilt under the needle).
Here is an example…
and another one:
Things that make free motion quilting easier:
- Large space under the arm of the machine: if you dream of a new sewing machine, this should be your first concern- if you want to use it for FMQ (forget the embroidery unit and thousands of decorative stitches).
- Flat, thin, cotton batting.
- Adhesive spray for basting (instead of pins or safety pins).
Practice on small quilts- pillows, table runners, baby quilts…
This is an essential technique that any beginner should know. It gives hope that you CAN free motion quilt yourself your big quilt, even if you have a small sewing machine, even if you are a beginner!
Just look at these blocks – sewing them was a delightful experience!
And look at the finished quilt! It was SO EASY to join the blocks.
2. Do you prefer an open toe or closed toe?
I have only a closed toe foot. In 17 years, I have never felt the need to use an open toe foot. I am happy with the visibility offered by my closed foot.
Years ago I had the opportunity to try an open toe foot. From this limited experience, I can say that this foot does not make a great team with a puffy, thick batting or with bulky seam allowances. The “toes” tend to catch the fabric!
The open toe foot indeed makes quilting easier if you need to follow an extremely detailed marked design, on miniature quilts, as example.
A little tip that helps and makes free motion quilting easier:don’t look at the needle while stitching, look ahead of the needle.
3. When should the feed dogs be up or down….newer quilters are leaving their feed dogs up…I have tried this in the past and have found it very difficult to manipulate the fabric using this method. I am not quite sure what they are doing.
The feed dogs, when engaged, move the fabric under the needle, in ONE direction.
The feed dogs must be lowered when you do free motion quilting. This gives you more freedom in moving the quilt sandwich under the needle in ANY direction you want. So if your machine has this capability, there is no reason to not use it: just lower the feed dogs.
4. How do you tie off your work in the back to make it appear neat and fluent…. thread colour changes, breakages, run out of thread?
If you are a beginner:
- Use the same color of thread in the needle and in the bobbin.
- Use a backing fabric in the color of the thread; a busy print also helps hiding little imperfections.
- Avoid quilting with dark color thread on light color fabrics – the little imperfections are more visible on this combination; quilting instead with light color thread; to me, this combination works best.
Backstitch to lock the stitches.
I think it is the best and most secure way to lock the stitches, especially for quilts that will be frequently used and washed. You could tie the tails, too, but to me, this takes too much time and I am happy with the backstitching and trimming the threads close to the fabric. I still use quilts I made 10 years ago and the quilting is still in good condition.
Start practicing free motion quilting now!
How to choose quilting designs- tutorial