2 styles of free motion quilting

Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930

Do I dare ask how you made out yesterday with the thread tension stitch outs?? Feel free to send pictures of your practice samples. I’d love to see how you’re making out. If you have questions – don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. I hope so far so good. We haven’t really done any stitching, yet we’re way more knowledgeable than yesterday! This has hopefully given you a better idea of where to start and how to fix any problems that may arise. Today we’re going to have a look at the two different styles of free motion quilting and how to mark designs for both of them. Let’s take a look at 2 styles of free motion quilting.

Style 1: Following marked designs

The first style is to follow a marked line on the quilt top. This includes following lines on a pre-printed panel, lines marked by stencils or rulers (in the case of grid work). Bottom line – the stitching lines are marked and all you have to do is follow the lines when you’re quilting.

Now how does one get those lines on the quilt so you have something to follow? In the case of a printed panel, the lines are already there so that’s easy. There’s also no seam allowances to worry about and they’re a good to practice on. I especially like the cartoonish ones with big, well defined images. If you find such a panel, buy several. They made good quick gifts and if they turn out really bad – they’ll be the perfect size for a pet mat.

However if you want to use a stencil, there are many many types of marking tools that will help to transfer the design. There are air erase pens, water erase pens, and chalk to mention a few. I’m not going to review them in great detail except to say that you MUST MUST MUST test these products on your quilt.

Remember that most of these great marking tools are created with chemicals. Unless I knew that I could wash that quilt afterwards, I would not use these marking tools on my quilt. While the lines may disappear with time, water or heat, the chemical remains in your quilt until you wash the chemical out.

Like anything else, you must test test test. I mean where’s the fun in buying all these new gadgets if you don’t get to play around with them. I know what you’re saying – I don’t have time to play around – I need to get this project done. Here’s the thing – this is a hobby. Hobbies are supposed to be fun and learning is fun. You need to schedule some play time with your sewing machine and other tools and gadgets so you’ll know how and when to use them.

Some of my favorite marking tools include a chalk pounce (watch because some brands of chalk require heat to remove the chalk lines) which is great to use with stencils. Chalk markers which come in several forms and an ordinary ruler are great for marking lines. I have to confess that I don’t mark much quilting any more – I’ll mark reference lines but to mark using stencils? Not so much any more – it’s time consuming. I much prefer the second style of free motion quilting which I’ll get to a bit later.

Easy to use tools for marking quilting designs

If you have been following my posts this week, you know that I’ve been telling you to use busy prints because the quilting won’t show. OK – so you have a busy print and now how the heck are you going to mark it. I’m going to show you one way to mark busy prints. This method is also a great way to use a stencil design that’s not the size that you need.

This is the project that we are going to start tomorrow. I’m going to show you how to make two different style of blocks for a “quilt as you go” quilt. This type of project is a great way to practice your free motion quilting. You’ll work on one block at a time so there’s no need to worry about the bulk of a full quilt.

I’ll provide all the measurements and more instructions tomorrow. Today, I’m showing you how I marked these blocks and the type of thread I used.

Dark busy prints

Light busy prints

As you can see – it’ll be very hard to find a marking tool that will work on either of the light and dark fabrics. These prints are so busy, I don’t think any marking tool would provide a line that you could easily follow with any accuracy.

This marking method will also work well if you have a stencil that you like, but it’s the wrong size. Trace the stencil onto a piece of paper and resize on the photocopier until the design fits the area you want to quilt.

I found this particular design that I’m using in a quilting pattern book and it was the perfect size.

Once the design is the desired size, I photocopy the designs onto onion skin paper (available in an 8 1/2″ x 11″ pad at a local office supplies store) on my home photocopier. Since I’m going to stitch through the paper, I need ONE paper pattern per placement on the quilt. If I’m making 20 blocks, I need 20 papers.

Quilting design photocopied onto onion skin paper

After you layer the backing, batting and block top (more on that tomorrow), position the onion skin paper onto the quilt block and pin. I just used a couple of straight pins. Just enough to hold the paper in place. I didn’t baste these squares other than with the pins.

Quilt design on onion skin paper pinned to the quilt block

Quilt the design. I’ll have a few tips on starting and stopping tomorrow. I did find the onion skin paper a bit slippery with my quilting gloves as my gloves are quite worn.

Make sure you have good control when you move the block. Newer gloves than mine would work better, rubber tips for your fingers or grab the sides however I don’t like that method. Bottom line is you need to be in control when you move the block as you’re quilting. The more control, the more accurate your stitches.

Quilting design is stitched out

GASP!   I didn’t follow the lines exactly. Well I did say that I had trouble with my worn gloves. BUT have a look at this – do you think anyone will notice that I didn’t follow the lines exactly?

This is the reverse side of that block – can you tell that I didn’t follow the lines exactly? Nope – you can’t tell.

There are pros and cons to all marking methods and while the pro for this method is that it’s fast and easy to see, it does require a bit of work to remove all the paper. This is definitely a sit down job but be careful when pulling the paper off that you don’t pull the stitches. This is why it’s imperative that the tension be right on the machine. And yes – I did a test stitch out before I started on my blocks.

Pulling the paper off after the block is quilted

Another caution with this method – I wouldn’t use it on a light colored quilt. The design was photocopied and when you stitch through the paper, there’s a good chance that some of the paper with the ink on it will get embedded in your quilt. That will disappear with the first washing, but I wouldn’t take a chance on a light quilt.

What thread did I use? I grabbed a light variegated (30 weight) and a dark variegated (40 weight) from the spool cabinet. I used the dark on top and the light in the bobbin. I did NOT have to touch the thread tension at all. I got a beautifully formed stitch.

Thread colors used on these busy prints

My main concern was the color and to use what was in the stash. I wasn’t concerned about the thread weight. But you’re going to be concerned about the thread weight and you’re going to start with that 50 weight thread! I could’ve chosen a solid thread color, but I rarely use variegated and the prints are busy – so why not.

Style 2: Free form free motion quilting

This next style of free motion quilting is free form which is essentially coming up with the design as you stitch. Now there’s a bit of work to be done before you just sit down. We may need to mark registration lines, and you certainly want to practice the design on paper first.

This time we’re going to work on a different style of “quilt as you go”. This one will be a rag quilt with the raw edges of the seams exposed when the quilt is complete. This is a fun one to give to kids as they can play with the raggy edges.

This time, the fabrics are NOT busy, but they’re not plain. I used flannel which because of its nap can hide some of the sins of quilting. Again – I’ll give you the dimensions of these blocks tomorrow.

The quilting pattern is going to be free form – no marking!  This is the style that I like best. You don’t have to worry about staying on the lines. You get to make it up in your head and you can fill in the gaps on the fly. Yes – this is FUN!!!!! Hey – no groaning allowed!

Sometimes when you’re quilting in free form, you may need some registration lines to help you. In this case – I marked (with a chalk marker) 1/2″ in from all the edges. Just in case I got a bit over zealous with what I was doing.

Registration lines are marked with chalk

I did a practice stitch out and I wasn’t happy with the tension. I had not adjusted it from the previous blocks. I could feel a ridge of stitching on the underside of the block and while it may have held securely, I didn’t like the feel. Since I could feel the top thread on the bottom, that means the top thread is too loose. I tightened up the top thread – did another test run. And it was good to go. That little test took all of one minute and then I was ready to start stitching.

See how the stitching is pulling in the bottom left corner

I layered the quilt block (backing, batting and the top  – more on that tomorrow) and then pin basted it.

Quilt block is pin basted

Use Needle Stop Up/Down when you need to stop to remove pins

Quilt block is free form quilted with a squarish spiral

The underside of the block

Here are the threads I used. The top thread was a 50 weight cotton that you would use for piecing. The bobbin thread was a 40 weight cotton thread.

Essentially you can use whatever type of thread you want. BUT you must be prepared to do a test run and be prepared to adjust the tension until you get it right. To start – just use 50 weight piecing thread. If you followed me all week – I think you should know that by now!

Threads used for the project

If you look closely at my stitching – the stitch length isn’t consistent, the lines are certainly not straight , but you also see that the quilting is NOT a main feature of these blocks.

That’s how you should start out. If nothing else – be consistently inconsistent. Make your lines funky. The more funky they are – none of them will be wrong. The more you try to have everything perfect – the more it’ll look like you made some booboos. Wavy lines are easier to do than straight lines. They also have more movement and look more fun.

Funky curvy quilting lines

There you have it – a very good way to practice your free motion. Even if you do nothing with the blocks – they are small, it’s a great way to use up leftovers. I  pieced left over batting and some of the flannels to get the block sizes I needed.

Things to remember – don’t try bizarre thread combinations to start. Use busy prints, use matching threads and NO ONE will see what you have done. Try a different design on each block.

The Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930 did an amazing job on all the quilting. NO thread breakage, NO skipped stitches and I threw some weird thread combinations its way. I did use the spring action mode which works best for heavier threads and it was certainly a pleasure to work on the Sapphire 930.

OK – enough for today, there has been a lot of information on the 2 styles of free motion quilting! Tomorrow, I’ll give you the dimensions that I used in those blocks so if you want to try some you can go ahead and be prepared when we’re ready to assemble the “quilt as you go” quilts. Have a great day! Ciao!

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3:  4 essentials to solve thread tension issues
Go to part 5: 2 block styles to practice free motion

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Chris M. April 22, 2019 - 9:42 am
When I use the "paper marking" method, I print only one copy, then perforate a stack of blank papers using FMQ methods and a jeans needle. This has three benefits: 1. Less risk of copier ink transferring to the quilt 2. "Stitching" practice on the desired pattern 3. The perforations make it a lot easier to remove the residual paper from the quilt.
Patrizia Greco March 5, 2017 - 5:53 pm
Very interesting post! I did not know you could use paper.
Elizabeth Barnett September 23, 2016 - 10:25 am
how do you feed onion skin paper through a printer without jamming?!?! plz+thx
Elaine Theriault October 1, 2016 - 9:34 am
Elizabeth The best way to feed onion skin paper through a printer and NO jamming is to feed ONE page through at a time. Also, make sure the paper guides are lined up properly so the onion skin paper can't shift sideways. I remove all the paper from the paper tray. Then I insert one sheet of onion skin paper in the paper tray, hit copy and once it's finished printing, I repeat that until I have all my copies. It's a bit of a slow process, but way faster than tracing. Good luck! Elaine
Mary January 30, 2016 - 7:36 pm
Just started practicing Free motion quilting. I am loving it. Thanks for more information!
Sherri West September 12, 2015 - 10:57 am
I like that you used variegated thread on your quilt. I recently made my first quilt and used a variegated purple thread. I really like the way the thread looks with the mixed pattern background.
Lea August 30, 2015 - 3:14 pm
How simple is that!
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