When I teach, I often find frustrated free motion quilters who need just a little tweaking to find their free motion quilting nirvana. Sometimes it really is the little things. I want to focus on three often overlooked choices that can have a big impact on your free motion quilting success:
You need a place to put your hands. That may seem obvious, but you need to plan ahead to have enough room to put your full hand down to be able to quilt well. I always allow enough batting and backing to accommodate the width of my hand, no matter the size of my project.
This allows me to quilt beautifully right up to the edge of my quilt top. I leave this much extra batting and backing whether my project is 12″ x 12″ like above or it’s a queen-sized quilt. And no, it is NOT a waste of batting and backing – you need that space!
I have already cut off the excess batting and backing for this class sample, but you can see that if I tried to quilt feathers out to the edge, there would be no place to put my hands and my feathers would not look this good! You need that space to put your hands on the quilt.
You need the right foot for your machine. The wrong foot can hamper good quilting. I am a BERNINA girl so all these are BERNINA feet, but all machine makers have feet similar to the first three on the left:
I frequently say in class that “if you can’t see it, you can’t quilt it” – so true! The closed-toed plastic foot on the left makes it very difficult to see what you’re doing. You cannot see your needle hit the fabric because of the thickness of the foot. That width makes it hard to see what is behind the foot. I have seen this many times in class: a student will start class with a similar foot and have a lot of problems free motion quilting. If they change their foot to something that has an open toe, their quilting instantly elevates….because they can see what they are doing!
The second foot was made specifically for echo quilting or for quilting over a surface that will snag on other feet. The problem with even echo quilting with this foot is that you can’t really see well through that plastic. If you can’t see it you can’t quilt it. (Last minute editing – I accidentally pulled my couching foot which looks similar to the echo foot. The echo foot has concentric rings marked. Now I can’t find my actual echo foot. The echo foot looks similar – I hope you know what I mean!)
The third open-toed foot is an excellent choice – you can see what you’re doing and it does a great job holding down the fabric.
The last two feet are BERNINA-specific feet. The first is a BSR (BERNINA Stitch Length regulator) which gives the quilter even stitches no matter how fast or slow they move their hands – pretty dog gone cool! The second, # 15, is a unique foot, the one I prefer for almost all of my free motion quilting. Even though it is a closed foot, its unique shape allows for maximum visibility and its curved front allows the foot to glide beautifully over the puffiest of batting.
You need maximum visibility in a foot and in most cases, the best foot is a metal, open-toed foot.
Take the time to find the best machine speed for your project. If you quilt too slowly, you may form long, pixelated stitches. If you go too fast, you may get sloppy stitching and/or tiny stitches. You need to find that “just right” speed to do your best quilting.
One of the best ways to do this is to play with a fabric sandwich until your find that best speed. Just scribble around on a quilt sandwich, going too fast then too slow, until you find that middle ground that feels comfortable. Listen. You will hear that speed. Once you pay attention to that sound, it will be easier to start with that niche speed every time you quilt.
Even so, your machine speed will fluctuate throughout a project. When you are unsure of your path or are trying to hit a previous line of stitching, you’ll want to go a bit slower. If you are confident of your path, you’ll be able to go a bit faster. No matter what, you’ll want to be listening and will eventually return to that niche speed.
There are more “little things” that I’ll write about at some future date. A few small changes can make a big difference. Here’s to joyful free motion quilting. Onward!