Thursday, June 05, 2014

Machine Quilting 101: Practice, Practice, Practice

Welcome to week 4 of my Machine Quilting 101 Series! If you'd like to check out the previous weeks, click away:

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Pre-basting Prep
Week 3: Basting
Today we will be talking about practice. Not a very popular topic, I would wager, but there really is no way around it. As much as you (or I) would like, you can't buy experience!

There are two kinds of practice that I will talk about today.
1. Practicing on a swatch before each quilt or project.
2. Practice, in general, that helps you improve your skills.

Before you start quilting your main quilt (or project), make a test swatch. Make a small quilt sandwich out of the same exact materials that your quilt is made from, including the batting. This is the perfect place to try out your quilting design, marking tools, thread color, tension, stitch length...all of it.
This is the little swatch I made before I quilted my shimmer feather pillow. It doesn't have to be big....this one is only about 6" x 7.5". This swatch was so important because I went out on a limb by using purple thread and I used a new to me chaco liner in BLUE. I didn't plan on washing the project after it was finished, so the test swatch was crucial. It also allowed me to test out my stitch length. If you are free motion quilting, this an excellent time to check your tension. Making a practice swatch only takes a few extra minutes, but it's invaluable.

Now, let's talk about practice, in general.

My husband is a musician. Last Tuesday night when he and I went out to dinner with some other musicians we were talking about "putting in your 10,000 hours". (Studies show that 10,000 is the amount of practice time one must put in to become an expert at any given skill.) I dug up this article on the same subject. Very interesting, isn't it? I'll be mulling that over for the next several days!

Ok, so my advice...

Start small and work your way up! You can practice quilting on so many different items. Think of it as a 12 step program, if you will. :)

1. Coasters or pin cushion
2. Mini Mat
3. Placemat
4. Purse
5. Throw Pillow Cover
6. Pillow Sham
7. Wall Hanging
8. Baby Quilt
9. Lap Quilt
10. Twin Quilt
11. Queen Quilt
12. King Quilt

(I added the links just for fun.)

As you build your confidence, increase the size of your projects. Or else you could make a million quilted pin cushions. Ha!
Practice on ugly fabric and use strips of leftover batting in between. No pressure whatsoever!
Practice writing. Practice doodling. Practice new-to-you designs. I tend to use the same practice piece over and over. Change the color of thread to make it more interesting. (It's also a great way to use up some leftover bobbins in odd colors. I only have 10 bobbins for my Juki, so this is a problem sometimes.)
Practice on pieced blocks. This is something I've learned by dabbling (ever so slightly) in long arm quilting. Practicing on a piece of muslin is easy. Practicing on a pieced block (or a pieced quilt top) is definitely more challenging.

Ok, so now, as if showing my ugly practice swatches hasn't been revealing enough, here is my first ever free motion quilted quilt.
I wish you could see it in person, because it's so...you know....special. The front isn't TOO bad, but the back...oh, Mylanta! This ought to give each and everyone HOPE that you can become a machine quilter as well, if you just keep practicing!


A few years ago I was tempted to rip out the stitching and re-do it, but I decided that it's good to have a quilt to look back on and see where I started. As scary as it is. :)
Thankfully, things have gotten a little bit better since then!

I hope this has been helpful to you! If you have any practice tips to share with others, feel free to leave them in the comments. I love hearing from you!

42 comments:

Pat said...

Yep, I have some I can look back on. Unfortunately, I don't have any examples that are improved. :D

Anne Lowry said...

oh Mylanta!!!!!!!! That's a good one! I'm going to remember that one!!! haha......thanks for the post

Natalie Jones said...

I've just finished my second quilt and my quilting was much improved (due to your basting tutorial!) but my binding wasn't as good this time. I contemplated starting again but decided that it was part of my (very enjoyable) learning curve. Thank you for all your tips x

Lisa J. said...

Thank you so much Amanda Jean for sharing your early quilt. It makes me feel so much better. I've been struggling with a large lap size quilt. I've done some practice on smaller things and I am getting better, although I guess I should make more mug mats and place mats. The transition to a larger quilt is quite difficult however as the weight of the quilt is a factor. Sometimes you have to jump to that lap quilt because you don't want the recipient to wait for an eternity.l.o.l. I feel encouraged though the stitching is not even and I find mendering difficult but the quilt isn't that bad. Part of the problem is that we want to be perfect at it before the practice practice practice etc.

ChristaQuilts said...

This is fabulous! I love that you included your first machine quilted quilt. You've come a long way, baby!

Linda Kay said...

Thank you for this post! It is giving me some much-needed encouragement right now. I think I need to try making (and FMQ) some smaller things and then maybe come back to a couple of my bigger projects that I've been afraid to try to FMQ myself

Kathy @ Kwilty Pleasures said...

The "Outliers" book is great. Let's see 10,000 hours of needle and thread...almost there! LOL. Nice post and indeed...practice is key and taking as many kwilting classes as you can. Thru the years I have learned something new from each instructor!

Granny Maud's Girl said...

Another great explanation.
It is only since experimenting with small things that I feel a little braver to try bigger ones – just a little braver so far. I have quite a few test pieces that get reused, checked for tension and practised on. They are usually wadding offcuts and bits of the 'World's Ugliest Fabric', which I 'won' in a fat quarter swap.

Afton Warrick said...

I definitely see the improvement. Thanks for the tips!

Bennett and Graves said...

Thanks for the encouragement and yes that first quilt is quite, umm, very interesting. I am currently clinging to my walking foot. Even after a one day free motion quilting class and a friend who keeps asking if I'm practicing. Not. Yet.

BKringel said...

What a great post! It reminds me that everyone starts as a beginner. Just keep practicing. Your work is gorgeous Amanda. Love seeing how far you have come! How long ago did you make your first quilt?

Di~ said...

I "practice" during church! Love that tension on the back! ")

Janet said...

I know that practice is the key. I just have to get to it!!

Jasmine said...

I love practicing on whole cloth quilts. It help you learn how to manage something bigger that you haven't put as much time into.

Alison Gisvold said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. Love the tutorials - we're definitely always learning and improving!

Kate Marshall said...

Soon as I read 'Practice', I thought, 'I need to clock up my 10,000 hours!' I loved that Malcolm Gladwell book, 'Outliers', it's stayed in my mind since reading it years ago. I heard an Olympic gymnast interviewed in relation to the 10,000 hours theory. She said elite athletes are the people who fall but get up and do it again, fall, try again, until eventually they master whatever they're trying to do. Of course you can apply this logic to any skill, including quilting.

It is so helpful of you to show your early FMQing. I've yet to attempt it - I'm still getting the hang of piecing and straight line quilting - but I will definitely remember your example and keep at it. It's very good of you to write this series, Amanda Jean, I'm learning so much. Thank you!

Lorna McMahon said...

Wonderful post and great advice, Amanda. There really is no way of getting around practice. Your first quilt is special. Even without the pause. And is a great example of how keeping with it, you will show improvement. Thanks so much for sharing!

Brianna said...

See, I would really like to skip all that practice and get a Bernina QSR.... it might be cheating but if I could I would!

Heather said...

Thank you so much for sharing, my quilting looks almost the same as your first quilt :)

Suzanne said...

I think we should do the Amanda Jean 12 step QAL as a follow up to this series. :)

Beth Sellers said...

This was just the encouragement I needed. I've been practicing and whoa, what an experience I'm having! Lol. It's so helpful to see your first quilt - it gives me hope that one day I might be able to do this FMQing thing.

SarahZ said...

Super post! You mentioned starting small, and 10,000 hours, and it occurred to me that the little "binge" I went on with coasters a year or so ago, probably helped me more than I ever knew! Sweet of you to show us some of your "special" endeavors! You're a hoot! :)

Judi Partlo said...

Thanks so much for the tutorial - especially showing your early quilting efforts that are less than perfect!!! I have such a fear of ruining quilts, this really encourages me to keep practicing. THANKS!!!

Duluth Girl said...

Your 'tutorials'....which are so much more than 'tutorials'.... are so helpful. Full of great tips! I too run out my bobbins practicing my FMQ and my left over scrap batting gets used for practice as well. Thank you for all the great knowledge you share on your blog...have a great weekend!

Sarah Craig said...

Oh, gosh, AmandaJean, you crack me up! I love that you showed your first quilt - way to go keeping it real! Good advice all through this post!

sonia said...

Great tips! And I loved seeing your first quilt, it gives me hope! I practice a lot, and not only on my machine. Whenever I can, I doodle on paper trying to make a design without lifting my pencil. I've tried feathers so many times but never got the courage to do it on a quilt. Yet!

sonia said...
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Rebecca Bell said...

Thanks for the tips, so helpful. I bought a FMQ foot for my machine and tested it out the other day. I was completely horrified at the mess I made and how difficult it seemed – I promptly put the feed dogs back up re-attached my walking foot! Your post has just given me the inspiration to give it another go. I think I'm going to need an awful lot of practice!

Linda Spears said...

Excellent post...thank you!

Jennifer Davies said...

Thank you so much for the tips and encouragement! I've only been on your blog for a few minutes and I'm already feeling inspired to pull out my unfinished stuff and try it again. It's nice to see you didn't start out amazing!

Jenn | http://www.ruthsstitchery.com/quiltkits.html

quiltsfromtheattic said...

Love that you shared your first machine quilting experience!

limivadygirl said...

Thank you for your transparency in your journey of FMQ! I have played around with scraps and can't seem to get it on my machine - it likes to skip stitches A LOT when I FMQ. I even took a class at my local quilt shop and couldn't work it out. When the teacher let me try on her machine - presto! I guess my little New Home likes to have a little more control (something I can totally relate to!). The one thing I did take away from that class was to practice doodling on paper too - it's not just about using the machine, but being comfortable with the "free" aspect of FMQ.

Teressa P. said...

So encouraging! Thanks. I completely agree with the practicing. My first FMQ looks horrible and I kept it for myself for the reminder. I love it though. It shows me that I can do it. I'm starting to finally get the hang of FMQ and I'm enjoying it so much more now. Glad I didn't quit :)

Kelsey Boes said...

Wow, you're so right. I always skip swatches and want to be perfect right away, but I need to put in my 10,000 hours. And I guess maybe that means setting aside indecision and just workin on something. Thanks for the encouraging pep talk.

Sandi Pierie said...

Enjoy reading your blog daily. I learn something new each time. Practice is something I must continue to practice. Encouragment from quilters like yourself gives me the I can do it too. Guess I will head to my machine and get started. You made my day.

Lisa Lisa said...

Thanks for the motivation. I keep saying I need to start practicing FMQ, but have I been practicing? No. This weekend for sure!

Kate Bottrell said...

Thanks Amanda, this has come at exactly the right time for me!! I have been getting really discouraged with my FMQ practicing lately and it's so nice to see that even an experienced quilter I look up to started where I am now!
I will persevere and practice, practice, practice :D

Laura said...

Oooh... I practice on muslin all the time but never think about the need to practice on pieced blocks! What a great tip!

Shayleen Lunt said...
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Shayleen Lunt said...

Just wanted to say thank you for the link to that 10,000 hrs article. I had to give a 15 minute talk today in church and I used a few pieces of that article. My talk was on how the following the simple commandments give us greatness in Eternal life. I had been praying all week that I could find something (other than the bible story of Naaman) to relate to the subject and your link was an answer to my prayers. Thank you! I am now recommitted to the little things (family time, prayer and scripture study) so that I can have the blessings that God has in store for me!

Kali said...

I found a stack of fabric in my collection that I won at a guild auction, and in hindsight I must have gotten caught up because it wasn't really my taste at all! I made an improv quilt with the fabric (that ended up being twin sized! In an effort to use up as many of the scraps as I could) and when I bought my Juki I decided that the whole quilt would be dedicated to FMQ practice! I tried a few swatches first to get the feel for it and then jumped in! I've already improved a ton and still have half of the quilt to go, and I'm getting used to the maching and moving the quilt around too! Once the quilt is done I think it will be destined to beach trips and picnics!

Di said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!
But I'm wondering..how do you secure your stitching? Do you stitch back and forth? When and where do you do that?
Thank you :)