Posted in Sewing

Free Motion Quilting Set Me Free

January 8, 2014 - 8:30 pm

Actually I think it may have been the Daily Pages I’ve been doing since we got back from Texas at the suggestion of Donna Druchunas more than the Free Motion Quilting. But lookkit:


I’m not slavishly following the Artists Way. I may look at the occasional exercise if I get stuck in the future, but mostly I’m just getting back to a basic truth about myself. I’ve known since I was a teen: 15 – 20 minutes of scribbling in the morning pulls the bung from my creative spout.

Less than a week into this— in fact only 4 entries— and I have found a voice for telling a story I’ve wanted to tell for years, started free motion quilting, gotten back to blogging, and started belly dancing again. Oh, and cleaned the house and my desk. This is around caring for a sick dog and recovering the house from holiday and vacation madness. 


I know this about myself. I know I need to write inane drivel every morning. Life is better if I get that stuff out of my head and onto a page or committed to bits, but somehow it gets shunted to the side. Most of this should never be read by anyone but me, and possibly not even by me. It’s write once, read never data. Perhaps in 20 years it will be interesting to look back, but 90% of it is minutia and the rest is crap. 

I think I end up feeling like I should be doing something Productive and shouldn’t waste my time writing stuff that’s not readable or shareable. I call bullshit. I need this more than anything else I do for myself in a day. It’s probably more important to my well being than showering. Though I don’t intend to put that to the test. Ever. I can have both. 

So let me tell you about this here free motion quilting thing.

Firstly, thanks and kudos to Craftsy and Leah Day for a fantastic class. 

I’ve shown pictures of the quilt I’ve been working on with the Rocketeer. The one I drew in 1995, and have been   v e r y   s l o w l y   piecing ever since. The blocks are all pieced now. I completed the layout and I was 1/4 through sewing up the blocks when my iron exploded at the same time my ironing board cover ripped. (I can neither confirm nor deny the allegation that there was a chasing dog and a fleeing cat involved.) Which pretty much put an end to any sewing together of blocks, since I am a crazy believer in pressing. Here’s a crappy cell phone pic of the completed quarter quilt:


And here’s a pic of the layout in progress from a couple weeks ago. Stupidly I forgot to take a picture of the final layout before labeling the blocks:


The piece of paper is the pattern. Here’s more of a closeup:


The version with the pencil on it is the final layout, but the difference from the blue one is small. The Liberty of London Tana Lawn reproduction of the Strawberry Thief by William Morris was the inspiration for the color palette, and is used in a bunch of the blocks. If I could pick a historical figure to spend a year apprenticed to, Mr. Morris would be high on my wish list. But that’s a topic for another day. 

With the quilt top approaching completion and my desire to actually put the damned thing into use I realized I would have to figure out actual well, you know, quilting. Which I have never done on any scale larger than a practice block. The big blue section in the pic are designed for color-on-color highly textured quilting work, so I kind of really need to learn free motion quilting. Therefore the class.

I had plans of using the fabric wall project I have on hold as the quilting test project. I wanted practice managing a large piece and I don’t really care how that comes out looking so long as it’s together for March 22nd and the Seattle Mini-Maker Faire.

The ironing board disaster gave me another option for beginning to learn this stuff, since I need to make a new cover. I figured at worst case it could be a seekrit layer under a dressy cover, and at best it would be AWESOME. I think it’s leaning towards AWESOME, assuming the Isacord thread I am using can handle the heat of the pressing.

I was going to use cotton thread but, well, Ada the Rocketeer is not fond of free motion quilting and flatly refused to work with cotton thread. She snaps the Isacord if I try to “travel stitch” immediately on top of an existing line of stitching, which has caused me to embrace the idea of thread build-up and travel adjacent to stitching lines rather than on top. But I get ahead of myself.

Last night I cut two pieces of fabric and a piece of wool batting for the cover. The fabric is 1.5” larger around than the surface of the board. For reasons that defy my understanding at the moment I chose to make the batting the exact size of the table. I’m sure I’ll make it work somehow. Here’s a pic of me stretching out the backing and laying in the batting:


The white zigzag scrap thing? sacrificial bit of fabric from cutting waste knotted up to make a dog pull toy. The ziploc full of colorful things? That’s my answer to Leah Day’s PinMoor system. I am certain they are a wonderful tool, but they’re WAY too spend for someone who has never quilted. I read of a number of substitutes, but they all took work to make from various sorts of foam. Instead I’m using animal face foam craft beads from Amazon:


$8.95 vs $150. The beads are kind of gumming up the pins, probably because of the glue between the layers of foam. So this may be a sacrificial set of pins, and there may be a tiny bit of residue on the quilt, but I can live with that trade-off. Especially because of the monkeys smiling at me.


They are friends with Rafiki, who I’ve put to use helping me get thread from the Isacord cone to the machine:


The thread stand is a serious McGyver. There’s a boring metal one on the way from Amazon, but I wanted one NAO. So I put this together:


The colorful widget is a glass candleholder that has Sculpy surfaces on it. I’ve had it since my Santa Cruz hippie girl daze, and I adore it. It has a spool pin pulled from the Viking Designer I’s thread holder, shoved all the way through a spool cap which is under the cone, and smashed into a gob of that tacky putty for putting up posters that keeps it steady in the candle holder. The arm for the thread guide is a large knitting needle shoved through the base for my yarn swift with a binder clip on the top.

Please laugh. I am. 🙂 It was the best I could come up with this morning at 7am. And it’s working well enough!

I started working through the class last night, starting with “U” shapes and working towards stippling. That’s the bottom left corner in this picture:


What, doesn’t everyone have a poodle puppy helping them with every task?

It’s not apparent from the pictures, but there were dozens of thread breaks and bobbin snarls in that tiny area while I sorted out the machine. Ada the Rocketeer wants:

  • Straight stitch throat plate
  • Straight stitch foot (I’m using a modern clear 1/4” quilting one)
  • Stitch length lever in the middle of the “fine” area on the lever
  • Thread tension up a whole step from where I was getting good tension with seaming
  • Presser foot tension dialed down to zero
  • Darning plate in normal position, leaving the thread dogs engaged
  • 100/16 (“Jeans” or denim) needle

Oh, and NOT cotton thread, at least not the Mettler thread I had on hand. I may try Aurafil at some point, but I generally prefer poly anyway.

I tried three free motion feet before trying the metal straight foot that came with the machine, by the way. I am not thrilled with the poor visibility, but it’s working.

It’s still twitchy and I have to be in tune with the machine to catch bobbin thread snarls and snapping top thread plies if I go too fast, too slow, or run over existing stitches. I can’t find the teflon sheets I’d bought for approximating the Supreme Slider Leah Day uses, so I’m working without. I know from past experience I loathe wearing gloves to sew.

I have hopes that some more equipment tuning will make this even more delightful, but that’s hard to imagine. I am thrilled. I started out dutifully following the exercises, but at some point I cut free and just started playing. 




I started with the exercise shape, repeated it a couple times, and then riffed off it with my own take. Feathers should look like feathers. Preferably Ostrich. The paisley snake things needed curly flames sewn around them, I mean, duh. Can’t you tell?

I didn’t want to stop, but my hands were getting tired, and my patience was getting as frayed as the top thread. It was time to put it down for the night. 

I should be able to finish up the cover in the morning. My new Rowenta was delivered. I’ve used binder clips to attach the torn cover to the table well enough to press the seams for the new one. I am still hoping to get the rest of the top together this week. 

Wow, this free motion stuff is fun. I’m looking at the quilt top with glee. Can’t wait to start on it. 🙂

Recent Posts

Women who Weave

Last week I saw a weaving book advertised on craigslist for $10, and asked E to pick it up for ...

Read More

Accidental Chickens!!

So… The weekend had a big surprise. In a word, CHICKENS!!I am part of the local Buy Nothing group on Facebook, ...

Read More

Give Big! join me in helping the Seattle Somali Center

  Today, 5/5, is the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big! day, on which they encourage folks to donate to local non-profits to help out with ...

Read More

Fire Thief KAL!!

Fire Thief is getting popular on Ravelry again. I was so afraid I had muffed it when it went viral ...

Read More

Fire Thief Release Party!

It’s alive!!!I have so much to say about the process of designing, testing, revising, and releasing this pattern. It’s been ...

Read More


Deborah Robson

January 8, 2014 8:30 pm

WoW! You’re rocking. “Waste” those morning scribbles. They’re obviously an excellent investment.

Me, I’m packing wool in sandwich bags and thinking that mesh sleeves warrant serious consideration. I’ve figured out the labeling issue.

Progress on all fronts: big at your house, microscopic but real at mine.

Leave Comment

%d bloggers like this: