Walking foot versus free motion – it’s all about the feed dogs!
There are different ways that you can quilt by machine. One way is to use your walking foot which has feet dogs that work with the sewing machine feed dogs to help keep the quilt layers from shifting apart as they move through the sewing machine. The feed dogs are metal teeth on the sewing machine that emerge from a hole in the throat plate. Feed dogs gently grip the underneath of the fabric and advance it under the needle. While most sewing is done with feed dogs up, darning and free motion quilting are performed with feed dogs down in order to give the person quilting control of fabric. Using a walking foot is great for times that you want to quilt straight lines or gentle curves but for more complex designs, free motion quilting works much better.
For free motion quilting, a darning foot is used with the feed dogs lowered on the sewing machine, allowing totally free movement of the fabric direction (there is a button on most machines that will lower the feed dogs – if your machine does not have this option you can get a cover to put over top of them). Obtaining even stitching requires lots of practice as the person quilting is in total control of the direction and speed of the fabric moving under the needle.
Free motion quilting is an art! You create your own design and use the sewing machine free hand to draw your design. The challenge is to keep your hands moving in unison with the sewing machine to create even stitches.
Some tips for success with free motion quilting
When I teach my machine quilting class, I ALWAYS give my students these tips BEFORE we start:
- Relax and breathe! And don’t be too hard on yourself. Becoming proficient at machine quilting takes practice – LOTS OF PRACTICE.
- Free motion quilting is like doodling with your threaded sewing machine needle – so practice with pen and paper first until you get the feel for the new design.
- When you first start stitching a new design, first focus on the shape, and then as you get the hang of the shape start to try to get your stitches more uniform in length. If your stitches are really small then you need to move your hands faster. If your stitches are really big, you need to move your hands slower OR speed up your machine.
- If you get frustrated, STOP and TAKE A BREAK.
- There are no right or wrong ways to execute a particular free motion motif. No one but you knows what design you planned to stitch on your quilt, and therefore no one will know if it looks different than you intended. As you practice you’ll find that you develop your own style of quilting – one that is comfortable for YOU.
Start with the basics – meander (stippling) and loops
The first stitch to learn when machine quilting is stippling or meandering. And then progress to loops. These are the basic building blocks for most other designs. And even if you don’t become comfortable with more complex designs, you CAN meander or stipple quilt any quilt! Here are samples of my meandering and loops and you can also view this YouTube video which goes over the basics of free motion machine quilting.
Swirls, swirls everywhere
Once you perfected your loops you can progress onto swirls and waves. These can be used on their own in borders and backgrounds or integrated into other designs with other motifs such as hearts or leaves. Here’s a picture of a few different swirl and wave designs that I often use:
Quilting to your heart’s desire…
One of my favorite designs is hearts. Once you get the hang of them, you can modify them into all sorts of different designs. Here’s a picture of my heart design stitching sample. I put arrows on the stitching lines so that you can see when I started and ended each part of the motif.
Once you mastered the heart, you can change it into different leaf designs. I usually add a little meander and/or loop in between each of the hearts or leaves. Here you can see how the heart shape can be changed into one type of leaf by adding veins and how the basic heart shape can be modified into a leaf shape.
The stars of the show
My other go-to design is stars. Star designs are great for those quilts that you can’t use hearts on – for example little boy-quilts. And they are fun to do once you get the movement perfected. Since I was a kid I have always doodled stars, so learning to quilt them wasn’t hard for me, but if you have never doodled a star yourself, you will probably need to practice on paper first. Here’s a diagram of how to draw a star using a continuous line. Following is a video that shows how I quilt my stars.
Free motion machine quilting a star design – YouTube
Time for a little PRACTICE
I think I’ve shown you enough for today and I have the first five pages of my machine quilting sample book all done, so now it’s time for you to go and practice on your own. Tomorrow I’ll show you some more of my favorite designs, in the meantime have fun practicing your free motion quilting skills with Fruitti threads!
This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: Machine Quilting with Spagetti
Go to part 3: Free Motion Quilting: Landscape Elements & Modern Quilts