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2 excellent tips for free motion stitch in the ditch

It’s the end of the week. I have loads more to share with you, but I’ve run out of time! Those other projects will just have to wait. I have one more project that I quilted on the Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q that I want to share with you.

 

Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q with optional extension table
Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q with optional extension table

 

Earlier this week, I briefly touched on free motion stitch in the ditch quilting with the soccer quilt. I have a different style of quilt today that is a very good candidate for free motion stitch in the ditch quilting.

A while back, I wrote a post on the process of satin stitching the raw edge applique on this piece.

The piece measures 24″ by 30″ so it’s not huge but just the right size to continue learning how to maneuver a quilt under the arm of the BRILLIANCE 75Q.

Remember yesterday, I got some bearding with the natural colored batting? Because there’s a lot of black on the surface of this quilt and I used a solid black for the backing, I pulled out some black batting. If there’s any bearding, it won’t be evident.

I didn’t technically baste this piece. I pressed it well using steam on the front and the back. When I say that I pressed it well – I did NOT press it so much that it compressed the batting nor did it melt the polyester that’s in the 80/20 (80% cotton/20% polyester) batting that I used. My goal is to ensure that all three layers are smooth. You’ll see in a bit that I could have pressed the backing a wee bit better, but it’s OK.

 

The sunflower wallhanging is basted and ready to be quilted.
The sunflower wallhanging is basted and ready to be quilted.

 

Test your stitch settings before you start – ALWAYS

I was so excited that I started to quilt. The BRILLIANCE 75Q was totally set up so I changed the thread color and got to work. Oh no – sometimes, I’m my own worse enemy.

I’d been using the invisible thread earlier in the day on the soccer quilt. Remember that I had loosened the top tension a lot to accommodate for the invisible thread? Well, I forgot to change the tension back and I did NOT do my little practice sample. That was a bad thing to do. Look what happened.

So the lesson here is simple. Do a practice sample ALWAYS.

 

Operator error caused the top thread tension to be way too loose.
Operator error caused the top thread tension to be way too loose.

 

Yes – the top tension was pretty loose and that extra thread appeared on the back. It was so loose that I could literally pull those threads out. Thankfully, removing the stitches was easy to do and I set the tension back to the default setting of 4.6. I had the machine set to 2.2 for the invisible thread. A wee bit of a difference to say the least.

Once I put the tension back to the appropriate setting, I got beautiful stitches on the back. And I’m happy to say that they’re pretty darn consistent. More about that in a minute.

 

The tension is now set correctly with beautifully formed stitching on the back
The tension is now set correctly with beautifully formed stitching on the back

 

I didn’t want to stitch on any of the applique shapes. The quilting for this piece is all about the texture. Those applique shapes are fusible so they’re a bit stiffer than the black background. I could have stitched on the applique shapes if I wanted, but I didn’t want to. I like trying new things and for this one, stitching in the ditch around the applique shapes was the technique I choose.

Here’s another important lesson to learn. Choose a design and COMMIT to it. If you don’t like it, so what? Move on, get the piece done and then try a different technique on the next project. I have another one of these projects to quilt and I want to try something different with that one. It’s all about learning. The more I do, the more I try, the higher my confidence level and the happier I become. And I win in the end because another project will be finished.

Don’t forget to check out the quilting of other people’s quilts. This is NOT to be critical of how others did it. It’s to learn what you like and what you dislike. That makes it a whole lot easier to choose quilting designs when you know what you like and what you dislike.

Control is critical

I’ve taught many students the ins and outs of free motion quilting. One thing I’m noticing is that they seem to have difficulty with the speed. Many go way too fast and they are out of control, while others go very slow and their tension is off.

The trick is to find a medium speed where you’re comfortable. Using the SPEED control on the BRILLIANCE 75Q can help to regulate that. Set the maximum speed and you’ll know that the sewing machine can never go over that speed.

The second thing is to use the foot pedal to control the speed. While the START button can help for long rows of consistent stitching, it doesn’t necessarily help when you’re doing free motion.

There are times when I need to slow down if I’m sewing into a tight corner. I slow the machine down and I slow the movement of my hands down to match the speed of the machine. Then when I’m good to speed up the machine, I apply a bit more pressure to the foot pedal and I move my hands a bit faster.

I’m also very methodical in the process. Sometimes, I find myself almost mentally forming the length of each stitch. I’ve managed to get a pretty decent consistent length so something must be working!

Another advantage of using the foot pedal is that you can advance by half a stitch with a light tap on the pedal. This is great if you need to get the needle in or out of the project depending on where you are.

Doing free motion quilting is truly all about control. Remember I mentioned the gloves? I love this pair of gloves. They’re comfortable and they allow me to use my smart technology while wearing these gloves. That’s important to me if I want to take pictures. What I love the most is the grip. With the great grip and that curved edge extension table, I got very smooth lines of stitching.

In the photo below, you can see how I position my hands for quilting. Now there’s only one of my hands in the photo, as the other one was taking the picture. But my thumbs and index fingers form a small diamond in which I smooth out the fabric so that I can quilt. I’m only in control of that small area at any given time. The rest of the quilt is supported by the extension table and the table that the machine sits on. And I only care about that small space until it’s completed and I move on. That’s the trick to quilting large quilts – think of it in small sections and it’ll be a breeze to quilt the larger quilts.

 

My left hand is positioned close to the left side of the needle.
My left hand is positioned close to the left side of the needle.

 

Should I pivot or not?

My go-to rule on this is NEVER pivot. But that’s not entirely true – it depends on where you are in the quilt and what foot you have on the machine. If pivoting the quilt requires that I shove the quilt through the arm of the sewing machine, then I would NEVER pivot. That’s way too stressful on your body and there are other ways to quilt than doing that.

In the photo below, you can see that I’m stitching in the ditch along the outer edge of those blue applique shapes. I’ve arrived at the corner – now what?

 

The needle is stopped in the down position at the corner of the applique shape.
The needle is stopped in the down position at the corner of the applique shape.

 

Since there’s only the border of the quilt sitting to the right of the needle, there’s technically loads of room to pivot the piece. Zero strain on my body to pivot.

Bottom line, pivoting is OK, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. It can also mess up your basting and since I’m not the best with basting, shoving the quilt under the sewing machine would not be a good thing.

If you need to pivot and you have too much quilt to the right of the needle, you need to find a different way of quilting. Think straight lines.

 

The quilt has been pivoted at the corner to continue the line of quilting.
The quilt has been pivoted at the corner to continue the line of quilting.

 

Once I was done all the stitching between the applique shapes, I wanted to stitch in the ditch around that outer border. I could have switched presser feet and gone back to my walking foot, but why? Nope – I stitched in the ditch with my free motion foot. I can’t stress this enough – watch your speed, and get 100% control of your quilt, including gloves and extension table. The rest is so easy, it’s child’s play.

 

Free motion stitching in the ditch along the pieced border
Free motion stitching in the ditch along the pieced border

 

Here’s something that can happen when you pivot a quilt. In the photo below, I’ve just about arrived back at my starting point. Notice there’s NO excess fabric between where the needle currently is and the starting point. Sometimes when you pivot, any excess fabric will create a bubble at this point.

If you have 100% control of the quilt and you ensure those layers are well stuck together (yep – even without basting), you should get a flat smooth edge all the way around.

I should mention that if you do pivot on a corner, make sure the stitch is completely formed or you end up with a curved stitch (instead of a straight stitch) at the pivot point.

 

There is no excess fabric between the starting and ending points of free motion quilting.
There is no excess fabric between the starting and ending points of free motion quilting.

 

Choosing thread color for the border

In case you think I have an endless supply of thread, I do not. I have this small drawer of 50wt piecing thread. These are spools of thread that I’ve accumulated over the past 20 + years of sewing/quilting. This is the thread that I mostly use for quilting on the domestic sewing machine and this is also the thread that I use for sewing the quilting bindings on by machine. It doesn’t take up a lot of room. There are a lot of different colors and I’ve been very lucky to always find something that’ll work.

Some of the spools of thread are cotton and some are polyester. I’m good with either. It’s the color that’s important to me. At some point, I’ll have to restock but for the moment, I have loads. There isn’t a lot of spare room in the drawer and only when it starts to have holes, will I restock.

Notice that the spools are sorted by color so it’s easy to see what I have.

 

A drawer of 50wt threads used for quilting
A drawer of 50wt threads used for quilting

 

I won’t have time to quilt the border for today’s post, but I did manage to find a thread color that I like. Below are three different greens I can use. I don’t want the quilting in the border to become the focus of the piece. I only want texture so nothing high contrast.

Which one would you choose?

 

Auditioning green threads for the quilting on the border
Auditioning green threads for the quilting on the border

 

I did choose the darkest one. It’ll blend in nicely with that border fabric and I’ll keep the black thread in the bobbin. It’ll be perfect.

Here’s the quilting from the back of the piece. In some instances, I had to go around the applique shapes multiple times in order to get to where I wanted to be for the next line of stitching. Except for the two outer borders and ONE bobbin change, this was one continuous line of stitching. I had so much fun!

I must confess that I used to get frustrated and tense when I was machine quilting. Part of it was the sewing machine and part of it was me and my skill level. Quilting with the BRILLIANCE 75Q is super easy and when things go well, I could quilt for hours. That never happened before. Good thing I have my smart speaker so I can set an alarm!

You can see that the backing should have been pressed a wee bit better. But there are ZERO tucks or ruffles on the back. It’s all about checking, checking and checking once again to make sure that everything is OK. Well, I didn’t check that often but I knew things were going well after my major tension issue!

The center part was quilted first, then the two outer lines of stitch in the ditch. The outer border will be next and then the piece will be ready for the binding.

 

The lines of quilting on the back of the piece
The lines of quilting on the back of the piece

 

If I go back to what I said the previous day about the distance between the stitching, technically that corner needs some more stitching. However, that would mean there would be stitching on the blue background shape. I didn’t want any quilting on the applique shapes that would distract from the overall look. All the shapes have fusible on them which will keep them stable and flat. So yes – I do change up my own rules from time to time. It really depends on what’s involved with each piece. Flexibility and options!

OK – so I try and I try to get rid of all the dog hair. I shake the pieces and I use lint rollers all the time. Everything looks good and then wham – there’s a dog hair on the piece. Now how does that happen? I guess I need to stop using solid black at my house!

 

Some variation in the degree of density in the quilting
Some variation in the degree of density in the quilting

 

Here’s the front of the piece after the center part has been quilted. It’s difficult to see any difference between the before and after, but trust me, the quilting makes those applique shapes pop off the background. I’m very happy with the results.

 

The center of the piece has been quilted.
The center of the piece has been quilted.

 

Here’s a close up of the stitching. Yes – it’s very hard to see the stitching. It’s supposed to be like that. I don’t want the quilting to show – I want you to see the illusion of the shapes lifting off that background.

If you look closely, you’ll also see that I didn’t exactly stitch in the ditch. I stitched on the black but sometimes the black was wide. Just goes to show that you don’t need to be super precise to get the effect you want.

With the features and functions available to me on the BRILLIANCE 75Q, I’ve been able to successfully achieve that.

 

The free motion stitch in the ditch stitches are pretty much invisible.
The free motion stitch in the ditch stitches are pretty much invisible.

 

Here’s a side view so you can get a better feel of how the shapes pop off the background. I know – it isn’t the best, but trust me – it looks awesome.

 

A side view of the quilted piece shows the dimension created by the quilting
A side view of the quilted piece shows the dimension created by the quilting

 

That draws to a close another week. There are loads of things to think about when one is machine quilting, especially free motion. Using the features and functions of the Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q made all these free motion projects so much fun and super easy to do. I let the BRILLIANCE 75Q do all the hard work and all I had to do was steer the quilt under the needle. I LOVE THAT.

Thanks for following along. I hope that I’ve inspired you or you’ve learned at least one thing this past week. I know that I inspired myself and I’m off to get more quilting done!

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

This is part 5 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 4: 2 essential tips for quilting with invisible thread

Elaine Theriault is a teacher, writer and pattern designer who is completely obsessed with quilting. Elaine’s Tech Tips column (originally published in A Needle Pulling Thread magazine) is now available online in e-book format at QUILTsocial.com. When not quilting, she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Lexi and Murphy, or can be found cycling across the country. Her blog is crazyquilteronabike.blogspot.com.

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