FREE Quilting Patterns, Tutorials, Magazine

Set up Your Work Space for FREE MOTION Quilting

I’m so excited to be back!  Last time I was here, we chatted about sewing machine maintenance and then I worked on some cushion covers. For the next couple days, I want to share some of the ins and outs of free motion quilting.Many people are convinced they can’t quilt large quilts on their domestic sewing machine. Like many things, if you know the proper technique, it’s easy! But, first, you need to set up your work space for free motion quilting.

This week, I’m still sewing on the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q. The more I sew with this sewing machine, the more I love it! I’ll be sharing my Top 10 reasons why I love the Sapphire 960Q later this week.

I also have a couple of very quick and very easy projects for you to sew.

The Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q
The Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q

 

Where does your sewing machine sit?

I’ve been teaching free motion quilting for many years. Most people want to learn how to free motion quilt, yet they give no thought to their relationship with their sewing machine. In particular, the physical set-up. If you don’t have the right set-up, you’ll become fatigued, you’ll get aches and pains and you’ll most likely abandon the project because you’re unhappy.

I hear the same comments over and over again:

  • My physical space isn’t big enough to quilt a big quilt
  • The throat space on my sewing machine isn’t big enough
  • I can’t quilt a big quilt
  • I get tired.

Over the next couple of days – we’re going to look at some of those complaints and see how it’s possible to quilt a large quilt on a domestic sewing machine.

Different solutions for different budgets

It’s important to keep in mind that we all have different budgets.When I started to machine quilt, I knew nothing about sewing tables or setting up my sewing space and I did not intend to spend a lot of money.

Before I talk about the various physical set-ups, I want to show you how I “package” a large quilt for quilting.When I’m doing free motion quilting, I reduce the footprint of the quilt to as small as I can and — while that may seem impossible with a large quilt – it is very doable if you know how.

The Sapphire 960Q set up as if I were quilting this queen sized quilt.The center of the quilt is positioned under the needle.
The Sapphire 960Q set up as if I were quilting this queen sized quilt.The center of the quilt is positioned under the needle.

 

Notice that I’ve bunched the quilt around the sewing machine — no rolling, no clamping, no folding. All of that makes for harder movement of the quilt as I free motion. Just loosely bunch the quilt around the needle.

See how I've created a hollow around the needle? I've bunched the quilt around the sewing machine, but left the area I'm about to quilt flat.As I move that section of the quilt around, there's little or no drag because the quilt is bunched up.
See how I’ve created a hollow around the needle? I’ve bunched the quilt around the sewing machine, but left the area I’m about to quilt flat.As I move that section of the quilt around, there’s little or no drag because the quilt is bunched up.

 

The entire quilt is supported on a small work surface.
The entire quilt is supported on a small work surface.

 

In the beginning…

My first work space that I used for free motion quilting.
My first work space that I used for free motion quilting.

 

I saved an old sewing machine cabinet that belonged to my aunt. The sewing machine was long gone, but for some reason I kept the cabinet. I found that two wooden banquet tables were the perfect height to work with the cabinet. One table slipped under the flip lid and the other table went to the back of the cabinet. This provided me with a very inexpensive space. I screwed a piece of shelving in the bottom of the cabinet to accommodate my sewing machine.

This worked for many years and I was quite happy with the arrangement. I’ve always wanted to share that arrangement because I feel it was a very creative solution to a big problem!

For those who do not have an old sewing machine cabinet kicking around, let’s see what we can work out with those banquet tables. I love banquet tables because they can double as a basting area, sewing area and cutting table (if you add furniture risers to the legs). I sewed on banquet tables for years. They can be folded up and put away and are very useful, if you need extra seating for family gatherings!  My preference is the wooden tables not the plastic ones. While the plastic tables are lighter for moving around, they vibrate a lot more during sewing.

If you don’t have room for banquet tables, you can make do with your kitchen table or dining room table. It’s just nice to not have to put everything away! Again – you have to find what works for you.

Two 5-foot banquet tables provide a 5-foot square work surface.
Two 5-foot banquet tables provide a 5-foot square work surface.

 

The Sapphire 960Q is placed in one corner of that arrangement and, this is very important, the extension table is added to the sewing machine. I can’t stress this enough – if you don’t have an extension table, then you’ll find free motion quilting extremely difficult. I’ll get into the details of that tomorrow.

A TV table is added to the left of the sewing machine to give some extra space to support the quilt.
A TV table is added to the left of the sewing machine to give some extra space to support the quilt.

 

If you’re fortunate enough to have a more permanent arrangement for your sewing machine and a bigger budget, check out this table.

The latest INSPIRA sewing cabinet complete with a beautiful set of drawers. The cabinet also comes in white.
The latest INSPIRA sewing cabinet complete with a beautiful set of drawers. The cabinet also comes in white.

 

There is a cut-out for the sewing machine to sit flush with the work surface and a custom cut plexi-glass insert fills the area between your sewing machine and the edge of the cut out. A chest of drawers and a side table for the right hand side of the cabinet are also available.

My cabinet (picture below) is an older model but it works like a charm and I use it all the time for sewing, quilting or whatever project I’m working on.

Check out the details of the latest INSPIRA sewing cabinets. The cabinets come in white and teak. They are gorgeous with lots of new features. I wonder ……

When you do not need the extra space to the left of the sewing area, you simply remove the table top from the top of the drawer and close the drawer. A brilliant design. Small pins hold the table top in place on the drawer.
When you do not need the extra space to the left of the sewing area, you simply remove the table top from the top of the drawer and close the drawer. A brilliant design. Small pins hold the table top in place on the drawer.

 

Let’s think about height

Now that we’ve figured out where to put our sewing machine, there’s one more very important aspect that we need to check out. That is the height of the sewing tables. If the tables aren’t the right height, we’re going to get in trouble very quickly. If you think about it, the height of the sewing machine on the banquet table is a different height than the sewing machine in the sewing cabinet.

Since we probably can’t change the height of the tables, we need to have an adjustable chair so that we’re sitting at the sewing machine at the correct height.

Let’s set up a quilt on the banquet table and the sewing machine cabinet with the Sapphire 960Q as our test machine so you can see what I’m talking about.

Note the position of the quilter's arms. They're sort of splayed out from her body. Kept in this position and moving a quilt around, she would soon get a lot of fatigue in her shoulders. Her chair needs to be raised in order to bring her arms tighter to her body.
Note the position of the quilter’s arms. They’re sort of splayed out from her body. Kept in this position and moving a quilt around, she would soon get a lot of fatigue in her shoulders. Her chair needs to be raised in order to bring her arms tighter to her body.

 

The quilter is now sitting at the sewing machine cabinet. The sewing machine is about 4-inches lower than it was when sitting on the banquet table. Notice her arms are not as splayed out as they were before. She'll be able to keep her arms tucked closer to her body.
The quilter is now sitting at the sewing machine cabinet. The sewing machine is about 4-inches lower than it was when sitting on the banquet table. Notice her arms are not as splayed out as they were before. She’ll be able to keep her arms tucked closer to her body.

 

Notice that her feet have no problem reaching the floor. If you have to adjust the height of your chair because of your sewing arrangement, make sure that you're not sitting on the front of the chair. Get a foot rest for your left foot and also raise up the foot pedal, if you need to.
Notice that her feet have no problem reaching the floor. If you have to adjust the height of your chair because of your sewing arrangement, make sure that you’re not sitting on the front of the chair. Get a foot rest for your left foot and also raise up the foot pedal, if you need to.

 

Throat space

One of the other complaints I get is there isn’t enough room in the throat area for a large sized quilt. Oh, yes, there is! You just have to know how to find it. Have a look at this next picture to see how to maximize the throat space.

Even with a queen-sized quilt under the needle, there's plenty of work room in the throat space of the Sapphire 960Q
Even with a queen-sized quilt under the needle, there’s plenty of work room in the throat space of the Sapphire 960Q

 

Notice how much room there is to quilt in the throat space of the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q. Don’t forget that the center of the quilt is under the needle. See how I’ve pushed the quilt up on the right hand side? I can still put my hands underneath the quilt on the right hand side to make full use of the 10-inch throat space on the Sapphire 960Q.

How much throat space are we talking about? Even with half of this queen-sized quilt to the right of the needle, I still have a full 8-inches of space.That is a lot of space. I "lost" two-inches to the thickness of the quilt.
How much throat space are we talking about? Even with half of this queen-sized quilt to the right of the needle, I still have a full 8-inches of space.That is a lot of space. I “lost” two-inches to the thickness of the quilt.

 

There is about 8-inches of workable space to the left of the needle.
There is about 8-inches of workable space to the left of the needle.

 

Using the extension table for the Sapphire 960Q, there’s about 8-inches of work space to the left of the needle. If I’d put the sewing machine in a sewing cabinet, there is no limit to the space on the left! The space to the left of the needle is as important as how much space there is to the right. Again, I’ll go into more depth on that tomorrow.

The above is a quick run down of how to set up your space for free motion quilting. I want to make you aware of your sewing space and to show you that it is possible to quilt a large quilt with a domestic sewing machine like the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q.

Take some time and look at your sewing space. How can you configure it differently? Check the height of the tables and check the height of the chair. Notice that I did not give you any measurements. We’re all different heights, sizes and shapes and your space should conform to you. Find a flexible solution. Send us pictures of your sewing space – especially when it’s set up for free motion quilting.

Tomorrow I’ll share some more tips on how to set up your work space for free motion quilting, including free motion feet, dropping feed dogs and some good exercises to get you warmed up.

Ciao!

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.

4 Comments

  1. Pam

    I I love the suggestion about the old sewing cabinet. I actually have one that belonged to my grandmother. I’m going to try it!

    • Pam – that’s awesome. Send us a picture when you get things rigged up! Elaine

  2. Diane Sinclair Meigs

    Thank you for all your tips and tricks on Viking answer sewing.I so enjoy it all

    • Diane – thank you so much for your feedback. Glad you like the tips and tricks and hopefully making your sewing/quilting a bit easier. Thanks for following QUILTSocial. Elaine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

It may take up to 24 hours for your comment to appear above.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.