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6 essential tips for perfect free motion quilting

 

Welcome back! How’s the doodling? Doodling really is such a simple technique and yet it has improved my quilting so much I can’t believe it!

Today, I’m going to start quilting a couple of small projects on the Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 and I’ll be sharing my techniques and thread choices with you.

Let’s get started!

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 with optional extension table
Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 with optional extension table

 

1 The Function Panel

Here’s a picture of the Function Panel on the Designer Topaz 50. There are some key features here that help make free motion quilting a breeze. If you’re not comfortable with controlling the speed with which you do free motion quilting, you can manually adjust the speed and that eliminates one variable when you’re learning.

Surprisingly, I never use the Scissor Function when I’m quilting. I like to leave long tails so I can pull them to the top of my work and trim the threads at the end of a line of stitching. So I don’t use the scissors when I quilt.

Needle Up/Down is an absolute must when quilting. When you stop, you want that needle to remain in your work to prevent your piece from shifting and causing a big stitch where you don’t want one.

And of course, the Presser Foot Up and Presser Foot Down functions are essential.

I rarely use the other functions when I’m quilting, but I do use them all the time for piecing and decorative stitching.

The Function Panel of the Designer Topaz 50
The Function Panel of the Designer Topaz 50

 

2 Pulling the bobbin thread to the surface

As I mentioned above, I never use the Scissor function when I’m quilting. That means I’ll have a long bobbin thread tail which I can pull to the surface of my project. In the photo below, you can see there are two threads – one is coming from the needle, the other is the bobbin thread which has been pulled through the quilt sandwich. It’s easy enough to do – hold the top thread in your left hand. Touch the needle down function twice – up comes the bobbin thread. Tuck the two threads behind the needle under the presser foot. I like to hold them when I’m starting. Otherwise, the threads have a tendency to be pulled to the back of the work and will cause unsightly messes.

There’s more on this subject further on in this post.

Pulling the bobbin thread through the quilt sandwich so it's sitting on the surface of the project
Pulling the bobbin thread through the quilt sandwich so it’s sitting on the surface of the project

 

3 Use InvisaFil thread for stitching in the ditch

Enough talking, let’s get started with some quilting!

I found this small wall hanging when I was going through some stuff. It’s been sitting unfinished for years and it’s time to get it done! I looked at the beige InvisaFil thread from WonderFIl. Hm – I think that would be perfect for this little piece.

InvisaFil thread is a 100 weight – 2 ply thread which means that it is very thin. It’s recommended by WonderFil (in their very helpful pamphlet) that this thread is great for “stitch in the ditch”. I’ve used it before and absolutely love it! I could have used invisible thread, but I prefer InvisaFil as it doesn’t have a sheen to it whatsoever.

Another great advantage is that when you wind a bobbin, it lasts a long, long time! So I wound a bobbin with InvisaFil and also put it on the top. I did a sample stitch-out to make sure that the tension was fine. No problems and no need to adjust the tension at all. Yeah!

Small wall hanging quilted entirely with InvisaFil thread
Small wall hanging quilted entirely with InvisaFil thread

 

4 Learn to do free motion “stitch in the ditch”

I quilted the entire piece without stopping. I simply back tracked if I needed to move to a new location. No need for marking on this piece as I stitched in the ditch around the appliques and the border and followed along all the embroidery.

Here’s the most amazing thing about InvisaFil. Can you see the thread? Remember, I used the beige thread for the entire piece, even over the embroidery which in some cases, I had to cross over the embroidery stitching.

This thread is truly amazing and I would love to have all the colors, but if you can only manage a few spools, I would highly recommend a dark, a light and a couple of beige/taupes. You’ll be set for pretty much anything you want to stitch in the ditch!

Now notice in the photo below the foot I have on the Designer Topaz 50. YES – a free motion foot! NOT the Dual Feed foot as we commonly think of when stitching in the ditch.

Years ago, I had a big project to quilt with a lot of compass blocks. I wanted to stitch in the ditch around all those compass points and the thought of doing it with a walking foot made me ill. I learned how to do stitch in the ditch with the free motion foot and haven’t looked back since! I still use my Dual Feed foot for stitch in the ditch, but I’m very selective about using it!

Stitch in the ditch using a free motion foot
Stitch in the ditch using a free motion foot

 

In the photo below, I’m stitching in the ditch beside the hand embroidery stitches. The thread is so fine so it blends right in and you only see the texture, not the stitches.

"Stitching in the ditch" beside hand embroidery stitches
“Stitching in the ditch” beside hand embroidery stitches

 

Here are a couple of close up shots of the piece AFTER it’s been quilted. You can’t see the thread along side the borders or beside the applique or on the embroidery. The InvisaFil is truly a magic thread!

Quilting stitches are almost completely invisible on the wall hanging
Quilting stitches are almost completely invisible on the wall hanging

 

Even when I stitched on the blue fabric with the beige thread, the quilting stitches are pretty much invisible.

Think about it – you’re new to quilting. You’re afraid to quilt because you know your friends are going to look at your stitches which are not necessarily that consistent. Imagine if you used InvisaFil. What would your friends say when they can’t even see the stitches!

Quilting stitches are still invisible in the blue sections of the wall hanging
Quilting stitches are still invisible in the blue sections of the wall hanging

 

5 Use busy backings for your projects

And here’s another amazing trick. Use a BUSY backing for your quilt! Can you see the quilting stitches below? Can you see where I had to backtrack to get to a new spot? If you look really really close, you can see them, but nothing jumps out at you!

Be a good friend to yourself and use busy backings and fine threads. You’ll be happy that you did!

Quilting stitches pretty much disappear on the busy backing
Quilting stitches pretty much disappear on the busy backing

 

6 Keep your learning projects small

One other tip – keep your first projects small. You’ve got a lot of things to learn about how your sewing machine works, how you move the fabric, learning the designs and a whole lot more. Keep the piece small so it takes an hour to finish, not a week. You’ll be more encouraged with your progress!

The Snowman Tablerunner

Remember this table runner that I made in July 2017 when I was showing you 4 key tips to successful and stress free machine applique embroidery? I had used an embroidery design from the built-in designs in the Designer Topaz 50. Then added borders.

Now it’s time to get it quilted.

 

Snowman table runner
Snowman table runner

 

Remember how I wasn’t sure what to put in that center part? My applique snowflakes were a tad on the large size.

Here’s what I did to resolve this issue.

Snowflakes are a bit large for the scale of the table runner
Snowflakes are a bit large for the scale of the table runner

 

I decided to use the snowflake applique as a template and quilt the snowflakes into the center section! I thought that was a brilliant solution! I could have done something like a grid but I’m very happy with the snowflakes.

Now the question is how to mark the design so I can stitch it out. If I had the negative of the snowflake (essentially a stencil), I could have used that and a chalk pounce to mark the outline of the snowflake. But I didn’t have that. I could have cut it out of paper, but that was too much trouble!

So I got out my trusty Chaco Pen (my favorite marking tool) and I marked a line around the applique.

Using a Chaco Pen and the applique shape to mark the quilting lines
Using a Chaco Pen and the applique shape to mark the quilting lines

 

There are times when I don’t follow my own advice. I choose a thread color and I stitched out the first snowflake. Good grief – you can’t even see it! I was disappointed. Now if I would have used that blue thread on a sample of this fabric and even stitched out one section of the snowflake, I would have seen how awful it looked in the blue thread.

So I did the next one in white thread and I was much happier with the results. Yes, I ripped the blue one out. Grr!

One snowflake stitched in white, and one stitched in blue which is practically invisible
One snowflake stitched in white, and one stitched in blue which is practically invisible

 

I used a matching thread on the reverse side of the table runner. This backing isn’t that busy so a matching thread helps to hide any flaws.

If you want to get those nice points, make sure you hesitate ever so slightly before you change direction. It’s like dancing the waltz – there is a slight hesitation before you move to the next step.

Oh yes – I used the free motion foot for these snowflakes. Way faster than the Dual Feed foot.

Thread on the back of the table runner matches perfectly to the fabric to hide possible flaws
Thread on the back of the table runner matches perfectly to the fabric to hide possible flaws

 

In the photo below, you can see that I’ve pulled the bobbin thread up from the back of the work. I have it tucked behind the open toe free motion presser foot. I’ll continue holding that thread for the first half inch or so. Otherwise, there’s a tendency for the bobbin thread to get pulled to the back of the work and cause a knot or thread nest.

Pull the bobbin thread to the surface of the work and tuck it towards the back of the presser foot
Pull the bobbin thread to the surface of the work and tuck it towards the back of the presser foot

 

Below, you can see a knot that occurred because I didn’t hold the threads tight enough. In this case, that knot looks just like one of the stars on the fabric, but trust me, it’s a thread knot!

A knot or nest of thread on the back of the table runner
A knot or nest of thread on the back of the table runner

 

Stopping and starting the line of free motion stitching

If I wanted to do a super professional job, I would leave those long thread tails until I was finished the piece and then bury them with a needle into the batting. But this is a simple table runner and I don’t need to be that particular about it. Once I have stitched away from the start, I will clip those threads off right at the surface of the work. Because both the top and bobbin thread are on top, it’s easy to clip the threads.

When I arrive back at the beginning of the outline, I simply stitch over the existing stitches for a bit to anchor the beginning and end of the stitches. I could also do a couple of small stitches at the beginning and at the end of the line of stitching.

Stitch away from the start of the line of stitching and clip the threads
Stitch away from the start of the line of stitching and clip the threads

 

And here’s my three snowflakes nicely stitched into the center of the table runner. I’m thrilled with the results and it took a few minutes to do each including the marking! Marks that I don’t have to worry about removing. The chalk mostly bounces away by the time I’m done the quilting.

I did mark each snowflake and then stitched it immediately, before marking the others, so that I wouldn’t disturb the design for the others while stitching one of the other snowflakes.

Quilted snowflakes
Quilted snowflakes
Snowman table runner with three quilted snowflakes
Snowman table runner with three quilted snowflakes

 

That’s just the first section of quilting to be done on the table runner, but I’ll continue with the quilting in tomorrow’s post.

There’s so much more to cover in the world of free motion machine quilting. I won’t have time to cover everything this week and this is not an exhaustive tutorial. Just some basic tips and suggestions to get you over that fear of free motion quilting and to improve your stitching!

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I’m back with the Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 to finish quilting the table runner and hopefully get one side of my tote bag quilted.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: How to choose the right thread for your quilting project

Go to part 5: 3 essential tips that takes stitching in the ditch to a professional level

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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