August 07, 2015

FMQ - Tips From a Beginner, For Beginners

Hello and welcome back!

Recently I've been sharing my forays into free motion quilting (FMQ) and received a lot of feedback - thank you!  Some of that feedback has been questions from other beginner FMQs asking about how I got started and what resources I used to begin.  I'm happy to share, so here are my tips.
  1. Sewing Machine - In order to FMQ, there are a few things you need to check with your machine before you begin.  You will need a FMQ foot (example photo) - this is also traditionally known as a darning foot, so if you have one of those, it's the same thing.  Some machines come with them these days and for slightly older models, you may need to purchase it separately.  You will also need to ensure that your sewing machine can drop the feeddogs - check your machine's user manual to see if/how to do this.  Extremely old machines (such as my 50-year-old Elna) don't have these capabilities but newer models, at least from the last 15 years or so should.
  2. Basting - The easiest basting option for FMQ is spray basting using a good quality fabric adhesive, such as 505 Spray & Fix.  Spray basting is preferable to other basting methods (ie. hand basting, safety pinning) because it allows for free movement and you won't have to stop to remove pins or try to unpick basting thread that has been quilted over repeatedly.  Plus, it's super fast and easy to do.
  3. Quilting Gloves - These are a matter of preference to the individual quilter but many - myself included - find using some sort of gripping glove invaluable to the FMQ process, because it allows you to better grip the fabric and move it more easily and fluidly on your work surface, which leads to a more polished result.  There are brand name quilting gloves that you can buy, either from quilt shops or online resources, such as Amazon.  However, these can be costly and I would recommend nipping into your local gardening or nursery centre, which is bound to have cotton gardening gloves with rubber texturing on the palms at a much more reasonable cost - check out mine here, which cost me a whole $3.00 CAD!
  4. Stencil Paper - This is optional but eventually you will likely find that you want to make a specific design that repeats around your quilt.  Traditionally you would use quilt stencils and mark your quilt with chalk, a pencil or a marking pen with disappearing ink.  All of these options are perfectly fine and work with FMQ, too, but they are time intensive and labourous.  You can easily and quickly make your own FMQ stencils using tissue paper and save yourself the trouble.  Again, there are brand name quilting stencil papers on the market, which you can get in quilt shops or Amazon, but again, you're going to be charged extra because it's been labled as a specialist 'crafter' item.  My economical solution has been to get regular dress maker's pattern paper - my local craft store sells it in rolls of 80cm by 15m for just under $10.00 CAD!  And again, no shipping fees required.
  5. Instruction - Finally, you're going to want to learn some of the basics and what to expect before you get started.  Your local quilt shop or guild may provide beginner courses in FMQ, which are a good option, because it's always useful to have a real life person present to ask and help troubleshoot when necessary.  However, if you don't have this option available or you want to get started right away, the Internet is your oyster!  YouTube is the most amazing resource to learn anything these days - this is how I learnt to crochet last year, seriously.  I would recommend that you search for 'beginner free motion quilting' and you will be presented with a wealth of tutorials.  Here are a few that I watched and would recommend:
Beginner Free Motion Quilting - From the wonderful gals at Missouri Star Quilt Company.

Bold Beginnings Quilting Stencils and Paper - Teaches you how to use the stencil paper from point #4 above for FMQ.

Using Paper Templates for Machine Quilting - Another good tutorial on stencil papers for FMQ.

Extra Tip!
Once you get your quilt piece all sandwiched and under the machine and you're ready to start sewing, I recommend that you do your first stitch in place without moving the fabric as much as possible.  The reason for this is I have found that the very first stitch is most often when the fabric will jerk the worst, resulting in a large and unsightly stitch, which you'll want to avoid.  If you just try to hold the fabric from jerking on that first stitch and then start moving it on the second stitch, you're more likely to have a smooth stitch line.  This may, of course, vary depending on machines and the size of your work surface and how much your project may or may not be dragging on the floor, etc.  It works well enough for me, so if you find you're experiencing a similar jerky beginning, give this a go and see if it helps.

Suggestion: FMQ Sampler Booklet - One last suggestion I have is to create your own sampler booklet of different FMQ patterns that you like so you can flip through it for ideas when planning the quilting on your next project.  It also makes for a useful way to practise the stitch pattern before using it on your good project.  You may also wish to create a Pinterest board of quilting stencils and patterns - or you can follow mine here: Cindy's Quilting Stencils Pinterest Board.

There you go - my top tips from a beginner, for beginners!  Good luck and enjoy learning a new technique.

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