Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Machine Quilting 101: Working your way around the quilt

Welcome to the next installment of the Machine Quilting 101 series! Today we will be talking about how to work your way around the quilt, where to start, and how to manage the bulk. Fun stuff!
 
Roadmap to Meanderville:
(I can't take credit for that genius sub-title. Cindy came up with it at retreat a few years ago and I'm finally getting around to using it!)

The most commonly asked question when it comes to free motion quilting is: Where do I start?

I always start about half way down the left side edge of the quilt. (No, I do not start from the center and work my way out.)
I've shaded and numbered the sections to illustrate how I work my way around the quilt. I certainly don't mark the sections before hand, I subconsciously break it down into sections as I work.

When painting a wall "they" say that you are supposed to keep a wet edge. I say the same thing applies to free motion quilting. Keep working side to side, back and forth in small sections. Fill in the empty spaces as you go. Avoid leaving a big un-quilted section in the center, or in any section, for that matter, or the potential for puckers is high. You don't want puckers!

I also have observed over the years that it is easier for me to quilt from left to right rather than from right to left. I do quilt every which way, but things seem to flow easiest when working from left to right. (Probably because I learned hand writing that way.) If you look back at the diagram, at the quilt as a whole, I basically work my way from left to right in one big oval.

The Straight and Narrow:

Straight line quilting (if you are a perfectionist) isn't easy. I think it's harder than FMQ in some ways.

The most commonly asked question I get when it comes to straight line quilting is: Do you quilt in one direction, or do you alternate directions with each line of stitching?

To that I say, it depends! (Just what you wanted to hear, right?)

It depends largely on how your machine behaves. That means you've got to do some testing on your machine and see how things go....even if it's just on a larger scrap. If your machine feeds the layers through the quilt evenly, then you can quilt in any direction that you choose.
The biggest pitfall when it comes to straight line quilting (besides wavy lines) is what I call the "unattractive V". You've seen it, I'm sure. It's that unsightly phenomenon when the fabric is pulling in opposite directions away from the stitch line, forming a V. I've done it more times than I care to admit. (There are a few more examples in this post. Cringe, cringe.) This can be caused by a variety of things and usually it's not just one factor at play. (In this case I was trying to straight line quilt with a medium loft batting...not a good combo. But I plan to delve deeper into that subject at a later date!)

Drag is a part of straight line quilting. If it's subtle, it can be dealt with by quilting the entire quilt in the same direction, from the top down. The down side is that at some point all of your quilt will be in the harp space. If your quilt is large, that's a whole lot of bulk to wrestle though the harp of your machine.
I did that very thing on my checkerboard quilt back in 2011. It was a struggle, because this quilt is 80" x 88". I felt it was very important to avoid the V, so I took it one slow line at a time. That's right, I had ALL of that quilt in the harp space when I was quilting the rows on the far left hand side. Twice, actually, because I quilted straight lines side to side and top to bottom. I still remember how happy I was when I was done quilting it. There was more than one huge sigh of relief!

One other thing I've learned over the years when it comes to straight line quilting is that not all machines do it equally well. My Janome feeds the quilt through much better than my Juki. (Oh, the irony...my straight stitch only machine doesn't straight line quilt that well!) I've written more about that in this post.
This quilt was quilted on my Janome last summer. The even feed foot does such a great job of moving all the layers of the quilt through at the same time with very little drag. And for that, I am so very thankful!!!
Also, remember to adjust the presser foot tension on your machine to the lowest setting possible. That will help to ease the drag factor.

There is so much more that I could cover, but hopefully that helps a little!

Managing the bulk:
When machine quilting, whether free motion quilting, straight line quilting (or spiral quilting, as shown in this photo) having a good support system is key.

I quilt on a small desk or table, so I use an ironing board set to a similar height to my desk to support the weight of the quilt. Sometimes I will use a tray table (or two) to help support the quilt instead. I usually end up holding a good portion of the quilt on my lap, too! The main goal is to have the quilt well supported so the weight of the quilt isn't pulling on the needle and so that the section you are working on can move about freely.

There is no way around the bulk, because quilts are just that...bulky! One thing that helps it to pool the bulk, don't roll up the quilt! It's so much easier to rearrange and maneuver folds rather than trying to wrestle one big quilt log through your machine.

Ok, so I've worked on this post until my eyes crossed. If I missed anything, I'll try to answer the questions in the comments. I hope that this post has been helpful to you!

If you would like to refer back to the previous posts in this series, I've added the links here for easy access:

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Pre-Basting Prep
Week 3: Basting
Week 4: Practice, Practice, Practice

42 comments:

Frankie Carson said...

Thank you so much for posting a Road Map, certainly going to keep this in mind for the next time I'm quilting!
Frankie
http://www.knitwits-owls.blogspot.co.uk/

Nana said...

Thanks for this post. It could not have come @ a better time. I am starting the machine quilting for the first time today. I plan to use the walking foot....and the adjustment for the presser foot was something that I had not considered.

Keep the hints flowing.....I will need them.

Jill @ Happy2Stitch said...

It is nice to know that one can quilt a large quilt on a standard machine. Thanks for sharing how you handle the quilt. I am bookmarking this post for future use.

Snowcatcher said...

This is one of the most helpful quilting posts I have ever read. Thank you for validating to me I don't have to start in the center and work my way out, and thank you for showing me it is indeed possible to FMQ on a desk (with an ironing board or tray to help). Brilliant!

Granny Maud's Girl said...

I needed this post yesterday. It was only on my second last line of stitching that I worked out that easing the presses foot pressure helped. I was sewing in alternating directions, but I still have a bit of a V going on in my straight lines.

Lynn said...

Is there a post about your checkboard quilt. I just love it. I searched the blog but didn't find anything.

Natasha Friegang said...

I'm trying to quilt a pretty big quilt for my daughter. I thought I would do straight line quilting, but I have spent more time ripping out stitches than actually quilting. I'm still new to this and I was actually feeling pretty frustrated. But after putting it down for a couple of days and reading your post, I am ready to try again with more support this time. Wish me luck! I am determined!

laura black said...

I just want to say thanks for doing what you do, this series on machine quilting is so helpful! I can't imagine how u find the time to do all u do, but I am mighty glad u do. You are my favorite blogger and designer, thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!

Fran said...

I'm loving this series on quilting & this post in particular is brilliant & answers so many of my quilting questions. Thanks so much -I'm learning so much & am very grateful for you sharing your experiences.

Kay said...

I find it really interesting to know that you quilt in sections starting at the side, I haven't tried this as I have been a 'good' girl and started in the middle each time like I was told to. I have only made a couple of quilts and want to try your method to see if it is easier. x

margaret said...

so many thanks from me, I have a quilt mostly plain fabric to quilt and did not have a clue about how to go about it, have a bernina and a new home machine, maybe I will get a walking foot to try on the new home and see if it is better. It is the weight I cannot seem to handle and of course only an ordinary sized throat on the machines not like your juki. Will pop back again when I pluck up the courage to try the quilting!

Susanne vb said...

:) Thanks for all the tips!!

Sigi G said...

Thank you Amanda for your tutorials. They are very helpful - you do such a wonderful job of it. Now I just need to practice, practice, practice! (And here I told myself - no more large quilts - just mini's and baby size quilts).

dorothy said...

Thank you for these lessons in quilting with a domestic machine. Quick clarification on the pressure of the foot, my machine is older so doesn't have any settings, but you are taking the pressure off the fabric, correct?

Dorothy in Sterling, CO

Cheri said...

I came upon your blog site quite by accident. I love your posts! Very helpful. I just did a T-shirt quilt for someone and really wrestled with the quilting part. I thought I'd try something different so I proceeded to crosshatch it. Needless to say after one and a half times across the quilt it was full of puckers. Ripped it out and did my usual free motion meandering. I feel most comfortable with that--love your tip about sectioning it off. I will try that next time. Thanks for all the good ideas!

Kathy @ Kwilty Pleasures said...

I have been kwilting on my Bernina for years and use a lot of your tips. I do think FMQ is much easier than straight lines. I give you standing kudos for your machine kwilting on your very large kwilt. (Crowd stands and cheers).

Sew in Time said...

I like your post, wish I had read it about 2 weeks ago! I never thought about relaxing the tension on the pressure foot, wasn't sure that was possible with a presser foot with the accufeed on a Janome. My quilt had puckers but it didn't seem to "V" . However, I straightline quilted every 3 inches on big blocks and in white spaces every 1 1/2 in. It was very difficult to get straight lines even using my little arm attachment. It seemed like everytime I blinked - I made a bend, lol. Some places were more obvious where the quilt fell off of the TV trays and all that weight pulled but I was close to the end and on a deadline! So some squiggles stayed. I figure....if you want perfect.... buy your quilt from Martha at Macy's. If I had more time to slow down I know it would have been just that much better but life is not always that way and the gift got delivered on time. The person has it on her guest bed and she loves it so I don't think a few wiggles made that much difference to her.

Liz said...

I never thought about decreasing the tension to lesson drag. I'm going to have to try that! Thanks.

Quilt Fabric Pizazz said...

I have no problem with the straight line quilting up to a queen sized on my old dependable QE Bernina. It comes out perfect with no V's or puckers. I hand baste my quilt before quilting. That is the secret for success every time.

My free motion is not as good due to my own issues with hands moving the quilt smoothly around.

Thanks for the tips, I have picked up a couple of usefull ones. Cheers!

Vera said...

Great post! I appreciate all the info shared. Thx.

SJK said...

This series is great and I'm following keenly. I'm only on my second full size quilt and still very much on a steep learning curve so it's great to pick up some tips. Thanks

Kimberley said...

Thanks so much for your insights on quilting. I love this series. I took a quilting class back in 2001 and was taught to roll up my quilt into a log. I haven't attempted a quilt any other way, but I am inspired. I plan to begin quilting a Christmas quilt tonight and look forward to changing my ways a bit tonight. =)

Kimberley said...

Also, I love, love, love the checkboard quilt!!! I counted 44 down. How many are across? So simple, but SEW FANTASTIC!!!!

C├ęcile said...

Ah ! Perfect timing ! Just when I'm about to begin FMQing.
I like how you share your different experiences and reflexions. It makes trouble shooting so much easier.
Thank you for this series.

Kim said...

Did you use a walking foot on your Juki when straight line quilting? I always do and have had very good luck with that. I have found that extra basting was required for large size quilts. It's nice that you are telling quilters about domestic machine quilting. I especially like how you begin at the left and move through the quilt by sections. I had a better outcome once I have your method a go. Thanks!
:-D

charlotte said...

I was surprised to hear that you don't roll up your quilts and make a "log" when you are quilting something large. That is what we were taught to do back in the day. I have never mastered that and smush and push and shove while I am quilting.

Live a Colorful Life said...

I actually DO plan on taking a road trip to Meanderville, so that's for giving me a map (he he). I know I will be referring to all your posts frequently.

Live a Colorful Life said...

P.S. Guess what I finally put together this weekend--the 36-patch blocks! I really should use the map on that specific quilt, right??

shelly said...

Greetings from the coast of Texas.
I enjoyed your podcast and hope you continue to share you quilting adventures. Take a look at Katie's Quilting Corner and see the doings she rigged up to hold the quilt in place using dog groomer post and hook to hold up the quilt. A economic and VERY effective way to handle large quilts in a small place with a the small harp of a domestic machine. I quilt on a Janome 8900 which has a semi large harp and do most other sewing on my Bernina 730E. Just joined your blog. Ps I live on a sail boat when I was little. shelly beth grappe Rockport, TX

lmno said...

Valuable information on quilting using a home machine. Thank you for your time. Often wondered on straight line quilting--3" or 4" apart and then fill in or just quilt 1/2" apart? It looks like you recommend "filling in". Will try the pressure hint. Sounds good. Cannot wait to hear about thread and batting. I like Hobbs 80/20 (presoaked) or 100% cotton. I did two 50"x70" with a spiral at the center, safety pin basted. The first was a dream to finish. The second not so good. Seemed to shift quite a bit as I did the outside rounds. Perservered. The look is totally worth it. I will do it again and hope things go well like the first time. On such projects I make sure the back is of very good quality. Both tops were Kona Snow and a mix of many 4" half square triangle. Hobbs 80/20 on both.

Random Thoughts Tracy said...

Your posts are so helpful and awesome.... I love that you don't do everything "by the book" or rather the way everyone else says that you MUST do it. I feel like often if I try to problem solve what is wrong with a quilt I'm working I think surely it's not that it could be done a different way because everyone always does it like this... For instance I don't start in the middle of the quilt either... I start at 7 and work the same direction! I just feels right and quilts nicely too...I only ever read about starting in the middle...this gives me the worst puckers, always! Thanks for being so helpful and thorough. You are a blessing to so many!

amandajean said...

Lynn,

No, there isn't a post about the checkerboard quilt. It's actually in the book Sunday Morning Quilts, and since the quilts are published there, I didn't share them on the blog. But this one....it was a good example for my post and I was happy to finally get a decent photograph of on my own. (it's definitely a favorite, if you couldn't tell!)

AJ

amandajean said...

Dorothy,

Yes, that is correct. Not all machines have that adjustment, but if you do have it on your machine, it does help to take the pressure off the fabric so all layers can move evenly though the machine.

Hope that helps!

AJ

amandajean said...

Kimberley,

Thanks so much for your kind words about my quilt. It's 40 by 44, so the quilt measures 80" x 88" with each square finishing at 2". The quilt is in my book, Sunday Morning Quilts, too!

AJ

amandajean said...

Kim,

Yes, I most certainly do use a walking foot when quilting on my Juki. :)

AJ

amandajean said...

Imno,

I've done some of each...doing a line of stitching every 3-4" and also continually working every 1/2".

Glad you were able to have some success with spiral quilting! that's awesome. you brought it up...Perseverance! I think that is the key to ANY machine quilting! Keep at it! :)

Amanda Jean

Kate Marshall said...

Reading this series is giving me the confidence to finally attempt FMQ. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom!

karen berrisford-snow said...

Thanks Amanda-Jean for your posts. Last week I pin basted for the first time ... before that I was using the board method, but not happy with it. I have this quilt about half way quilted now and not a pucker in sight. Thanks for your clear instructions and inspiration.

Sharmond said...

Thank you so much for all your work on this tutuorial. I have so much to learn and need to re-read it many times. I am wondering about the quilting from 3 to 4 on the diagram because it seems I would end up down at 5 when I finish with 3. Maybe it's just because I am left handed. Love your blog!

Elaine said...

Timely post since I'm getting ready to quilt a string quilt - thanks! One question, what stitch length do you ususally use when straight-line quilting?

Needle&Foot said...

The roadmap for FMQ is really helpful. I don't have a good pattern of direction so this will be great. I'll try it on the next quilt. These how-to posts are great Amanda. Thanks so much for taking the time to create them.

Teressa P. said...

Thanks so much for the tutorials! I just finished FMQing my 3rd quilt last night. I have to agree that practice is the KEY! I do have one question though. I tend to sew fast in order to get the stiching at an even length. But when I do I get crazy and my movements get very jerky. If I slow it down will I still get even stitches?