Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Free Motion Quilting Journey

I'm writing a long-overdue post about my FMQ journey today, which fits with the Sewing With Certainty FMQ topic a few weeks ago. You can click on over there to read Christa's encouraging take on FMQ, plus 5 linked posts about other bloggers' journeys and FMQ tips!

 My most recent quilt/FMQ finish, Diamond in the Rough - each color is quilted custom.

I'm writing this post to inspire people (yes, you!) to try FMQ or branch out your FMQ no matter what machine you have. Let me start by saying that I FMQed for a year and a half on this little guy:

And in March 2013, I switched to my Janome 6300 (Elsa - yes, it's because I love the movie Frozen so much, and because they both have so much power):

At the very least, all you need is a darning foot (or free motion foot).*** The other products can come later if you want, like quilting gloves (I have Machinger's and they make such a huge difference) and Supreme Slider (this is on its way to our apartment!). Please comment below about any other tools you find helpful for free motion quilting (hopefully someone else will find it helpful!).

My first FMQ baby quilt had very uneven stippling (but man, was I proud!). By the way - sorry these pictures are so small. These were the early days of my quilting and blogging, and I can't make them any larger.

My FMQ was very shaky at first, which is to be expected. It is a bit daunting at first to move the fabric around like you are drawing. Basically, if you can draw it (especially in a continuous motion), you can quilt it (once you have a handle over this new movement). It took me a long time to get tension right (sidenote - it was never right on my Brother but I didn't really understand that until I got my Janome) and to learn how to quilt with more equal-sized stitches.

Bubble Trail was quilted on my first machine. I stippled by the bubbles in their respective colors, and quilted white on the white. I was getting much better because I kept practicing!

With Elsa, I quilted Facets of Emerald for the Emerald Challenge - and I got to try out all the crazy stitches I had sitting dormant in my mind (***I did have some difficulties with my small machine after a while - I didn't invest in an expensive darning foot and two of them broke. I gave up free motion for a few months until I bought the new machine because it was so frustrating. Overall, I'm not sure if it was the feet or the machine or both or the thread or the needle or what have you - something began to work against me! But please don't let my misfortune make you think you can't FMQ on a basic machine - because you can!!).

My wedding quilt was really a test of my quilty endurance; it is my quilting "magnum opus," if you will. I sampled a different FMQ design in each color block, and quilted special designs in the borders. Each section took an average of 2 hours to complete (without counting stitching every other part of the appliqued plate down first with my walking foot). Overall, this is THE quilt, so far, that holds my quilty soul in its clutches. :)

FMQ is the most fun with smaller quilts because you eliminate much of a heavier quilt's drag. "Hoot," for example, was an absolute delight:

 That hasn't stopped me from quilting quilts as big as a queen - but I do take a lot of breaks, wear my gloves, stretch, drink water, etc. If anyone ever tries to tell me that quilting must be very boring/nonathletic/sedentary, I will laugh in their face ;) It is a total body workout! Skip the gym and FMQ!

This is the largest quilt I ever FMQed (which happened to be on my first machine)- a queen sized Made in Cherry (Flying Purple People Eater. Sidenote - Adrienne recently featured this one on her blog as part of her tour of purple quilts for the Radiant Orchid Challenge - click here to read that post!).

I enjoy custom quilting, especially by color, like I planned for Sedona.

If I'm attempting a new design (like Pumpkin Spice Latte^^), I always draw it out first. I often reach for my graph paper pad, where all my designed quilts are, because it's so close. The gridding is useful sometimes! Make a journal of the FMQ you've tried so you can refer back to it for inspiration.

 You'll see more of this guy on Friday when I host TGIFF (come one and all to link up your finishes!).

I'm in no way an expert, but FMQ doesn't stress me out anymore (unless there's a deadline approaching). I bought a "quilting machine" (Janome 6300) for a reason and I intend to take advantage of it as much as possible! Though, I'd like to try a longarm soon just for fun (Jess? :)). Overall, quilting is now, hands down, my favorite part of the quilting process.

Some links that inspire me to FMQ:
Grab button for I Quilt @ Pretty Bobbins
  • I love the book Free Motion Quilting with Angela Walters. She spoke to our guild last year (and signed my book!). She recommends quilting fast and not worrying about mistakes. I LOVE that. Check out the post I wrote about her visit to hear more from Angela.
 Angela Walters
I hope some of you are inspired to start/keep free-motioning! Let me know - where do you stand with FMQ? What is the quilt you are most proud of, quilting-wise?

Linking up to Let's Bee Social @ Sew Fresh Quilts and I Quilt! @ Pretty Bobbins.



  1. Your FMQ looks so good. What helps me the most is space. I set up extra tables behind and to the side of my machine.

  2. I just got myself a Janome ... I'm excited to try some FMQ :)

  3. I'm just about to FMQ my first BIG project (just waiting for my extension table to arrive). May machine is also on the smaller side (Janome DC3250), but I at least want to give it a try. Reading all the different blog posts and hours of watching Leah Day videos encouraged me to give it a try. Practice makes awsome ;)

  4. For me, FMQ used to be something I dreaded. The right thread for your machine can make all the difference! Great post, Jessica! Your dresden wedding quilt will always be my fave!

  5. I found gardening gloves work better for my small hands than the quilting gloves. I can get a tighter fit which allows me to remove the safety pins without taking the gloves off. One thing that still messes me up is the correct thread color to choose when quilting a high contrast quilt with an overall pattern.

  6. You've definitely come a long way :)

  7. Great post! I love that our quilty histories are so similar! So glad to hear you're getting the Supreme Slider (finally!)--I hope it lives up to the hype for you! I didn't know you were hosting TGIFF--now I must finish one of these quilts so I can share it then!

  8. You inspire me to learn how to FMQ. One day...I just need to get a free motion foot for my machine. ;)

  9. great inspiration-I have just a simple basic sewing machine-and the few quilts I have tried the FMQ was not totally pleased-I will try again-

  10. Love your fmq journey. And all your pretty quilts. I'm just getting fairly good at it myself, after waiting a long time with a lot of pieced tops to get on with it. BTW, if you imbed your machine into your table so it is flat with the table, it will make a HUGE difference. My quilting really took off when I did that to my table. Google it to get ideas.

  11. My favorite tool for FMQ is my longarm - bought it 9 months after I pieced my first quilt! If you turn your sewing machine so the sewing head is facing you (like a longarm looks), it is easier to quilt because you are not running into the side of the machine with your hand. Regardless of the machine you use for quilting, the thread you use is VERY important! You need to use high quality thread (yep, it costs more but it is so worth it). My personal favorite is Superior Threads - their cotton threads are made with extra-long staple Egyptian cotton so they don't break as easily as the cheaper threads do. For thread education, you can't beat the free information Superior Threads offers on their website. Remember, quilting is not brain surgery and no one will die if you make a mistake!! Put on some music and play with quilting! Oh, and look where you want to go...just like a car, where you look is where you end up!!

  12. You're doing a great job at FMQ! Getting better every quilt. I love the Machingers & the Supreme Slider for my Bernina but I love it when I get to do custom FMQ on a quilt with my longarm. Great job you're doing!

  13. I have ordered my darning foot! I really want to give this a go, and thanks for encouraging me that it can be done on a little machine!

  14. Love seeing your fmq journey. I've done a teeny bit but find myself too intimidated to go further. Really need to get over that. Love the Bubble Trail and your Wedding quilt so much!

  15. my FMQ improved when I got a table my machine can sit into so I quilted with no drag across the machine.
    Yours looks great, but you will enjoy the process more if you figured out a way to set the machine flat into a table, believe me! There are ways to rig one
    LeeAnna Paylor

  16. I'll be counting on you for tips specific to Janome when I plunge into FMQ later this year, things like thread, tension, needles, etc.

    You're doing so well!

  17. Thank you for sharing your amazing progress FMQing! I am finally beginning to make some progress with my quilting to the point I truly look forward to the quilting stage. In terms of tools, I find spray basting on the large quilts is a big help.

  18. Great fmq! That bubble trail is my fav!

  19. It's great to see your progress with FMQ. I'm now planning to try my hand at new designs. I'm debating getting a supreme slider as I feel it would make things easier but they're very expensive to buy in the UK.
    I adore your dresden quilt.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing your quilting journey! Your work (colour selection, piecing and quilting) is wonderful and truly inspirational to others! Thanks for linking up xx


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