Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Free Motion Quilting Journey

My Free Motion Quilting from Class Last Week!
Well, I finally was able to take that machine quilting class in Concord last week.  I ended up being the only one signed up yet again, but this time the instructor graciously agreed to teach the class just for me.  So I got three hours of one-on-one private quilting instruction!  This class was supposed to be a beginner's introduction to machine quilting with a domestic sewing machine, going over basics about batting, thread, and needles, basting, and using a walking foot, among other things.  Since I was the only student and I've done a fair amount of quilting with my walking foot already, we skimmed over that information pretty quickly and moved right into free motion quilting. 

One major frustration I had was that the instructor told me just about everything I had learned elsewhere was wrong.  Harriet Hargrave, a machine quilting pioneer whose book on this subject has been continually in print for 22 years, and Diane Gaudynski, another legend in machine quilting who has taught and inspired so many other quilters over the years through her books and classes, both recommend fine quilting threads and suggest monofilament nylon thread to help beginning machine quilters get past the fear of "ruining" their quilts with ugly beginner stitches.  My teacher last week started off by criticizing me for using the monofilament nylon thread in Lars's quilt, telling me that it "won't hold up" and that "you don't see any prize-winning quilts that are quilted with nylon thread."  She also told me that my 60 weight, 2-ply cotton thread, again recommended by Hargrave, Gaudynski, and other quilters whom I admire, was "too fine; it won't show up" and she had me quilting with 40 weight thread in the needle and 50 weight thread in the bobbin.  She said "the right way" to begin a new line of machine quilting is by stitching in place for several stitches rather than by starting out with a few tiny stitches and then gradually increasing stitch length, as others have advised.  "Won't that create little knots on the back of the quilt?" I asked.  "Judges don't take off for that, and no one needs to be looking that closely at the back side of my quilts," she replied.  Um, okay then! 
Here's the thing -- my teacher quilts beautifully using these heavier weight threads.  However, her quilting motifs are larger, more open, with lines of stitching spaced much farther apart than the other quilters who recommend the lightweight threads.  I think it's a style and personal preference thing, and the thread that works best for one quilter's style might not be the best for another's.  I would have preferred that an introductory machine quilting class would present more options to beginning quilters rather than "my way or the highway."  But I was there to learn, not to argue, so I threaded up with YLI 40 weight variegated machine quilting thread in the needle and Mettler 50 weight 3-ply cotton thread in my bobbin and did as I was told.

I had hoped that this class would be some kind of epiphany, a turning point that would catapult my machine quilting to the next level like the hand quilting class I took with Dierdra McElroy several years ago, but it wasn't like that at all.  The teacher demonstrated a machine quilting design on her machine, then sent me over to my machine to try to replicate it.  She made it look so easy, but I felt like I was doing terribly the whole time.  I never felt good about one design by the time we were moving on to the next one.  I felt like everything I was doing looked horrible and wasn't getting any better at all.  My spirals were wonky, my curves came out jagged, and my stippling was disastrous.  But then, when I got home and was unpacking everything in my sewing room, I happened to find a little sample sandwich of fabric and batting from one of my earliest free motion quilting practice sessions:
Progress!  Current Free Motion Quilting on Pink Fabric, Earliest Efforts Above

See that?  Look how much better I was able to quilt my name than when I first started!  All I've done is maybe 4 hours of practice (total, over the last few years) and I free motion quilted some curliques and wobbly echo quilting in the background of the Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt, but that's it.  I didn't think I'd done enough FMQ to see any improvement in my skill level, so it was a happy surprise to stumble upon this evidence to the contrary.

By the way, I did NOT use my BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator) foot in class at all.  When I got home, I put the BSR on to see if it improved the quality of my quilting any, and I decided that I really don't like it.  I'm used to controlling the speed of my sewing machine with my foot pedal, and I don't know why, but the BSR makes me feel like I'm not in control so I tense up and my stitches come out jerkier.  I also dislike the bulk of the shank on the BSR foot, which makes it impossible to see where you're going when you have to quilt away from yourself in certain directions.  I know that many quilters love the BSR and use it to create beautiful quilting, so I won't write the BSR off completely, but for now I feel more comfortable without it.  I'll put it away for now, and try it again in a couple of months to see if it grows on me.

7 comments:

Talented Chick said...

Maybe you won't care very much anymore now that it's near the end of September. Anyway, don't let it bother you about people with such strong opinions. I've heard the only real quilts are the ones which were hand quilted. Judges DO look at the back. Since the quilts are for your handsome boys, do as you will. Have you ever noticed on the interior decorating shows or even the fashion shows how the critics will be nearly apoplectic with insulting tones when a short while before the out dated horror was all the latest rage proported by these same people? LOL (Did that make sense?) Re your ruffler: I've got my new ruffler #86. I have to make pleats for tray liners. The fabric I'm using is already a disaster - fraying if I even look at it. I'm serging first. I'm praying it doesn't make the pleats impossible to accomplish.

Enjoyed reading your blog. :)

Talented Chick said...

Maybe you won't care very much anymore now that it's near the end of September. Anyway, don't let it bother you about people with such strong opinions. I've heard the only real quilts are the ones which were hand quilted. Judges DO look at the back. Since the quilts are for your handsome boys, do as you will. Have you ever noticed on the interior decorating shows or even the fashion shows how the critics will be nearly apoplectic with insulting tones when a short while before the out dated horror was all the latest rage proported by these same people? LOL (Did that make sense?) Re your ruffler: I've got my new ruffler #86. I have to make pleats for tray liners. The fabric I'm using is already a disaster - fraying if I even look at it. I'm serging first. I'm praying it doesn't make the pleats impossible to accomplish.

Enjoyed reading your blog. :)

Talented Chick said...

Maybe you won't care very much anymore now that it's near the end of September. Anyway, don't let it bother you about people with such strong opinions. I've heard the only real quilts are the ones which were hand quilted. Judges DO look at the back. Since the quilts are for your handsome boys, do as you will. Have you ever noticed on the interior decorating shows or even the fashion shows how the critics will be nearly apoplectic with insulting tones when a short while before the out dated horror was all the latest rage proported by these same people? LOL (Did that make sense?) Re your ruffler: I've got my new ruffler #86. I have to make pleats for tray liners. The fabric I'm using is already a disaster - fraying if I even look at it. I'm serging first. I'm praying it doesn't make the pleats impossible to accomplish.

Enjoyed reading your blog. :)

Talented Chick said...

Maybe you won't care very much anymore now that it's near the end of September. Anyway, don't let it bother you about people with such strong opinions. I've heard the only real quilts are the ones which were hand quilted. Judges DO look at the back. Since the quilts are for your handsome boys, do as you will. Have you ever noticed on the interior decorating shows or even the fashion shows how the critics will be nearly apoplectic with insulting tones when a short while before the out dated horror was all the latest rage proported by these same people? LOL (Did that make sense?) Re your ruffler: I've got my new ruffler #86. I have to make pleats for tray liners. The fabric I'm using is already a disaster - fraying if I even look at it. I'm serging first. I'm praying it doesn't make the pleats impossible to accomplish.

Enjoyed reading your blog. :)

Proving I'm not a robot is making me doubt. I must be a robot because I'm having the darndest time understanding what I'm seeing. :( Here's to hoping I'll get it right just once!

Talented Chick said...

Maybe you won't care very much anymore now that it's near the end of September. Anyway, don't let it bother you about people with such strong opinions. I've heard the only real quilts are the ones which were hand quilted. Judges DO look at the back. Since the quilts are for your handsome boys, do as you will. Have you ever noticed on the interior decorating shows or even the fashion shows how the critics will be nearly apoplectic with insulting tones when a short while before the out dated horror was all the latest rage proported by these same people? LOL (Did that make sense?) Re your ruffler: I've got my new ruffler #86. I have to make pleats for tray liners. The fabric I'm using is already a disaster - fraying if I even look at it. I'm serging first. I'm praying it doesn't make the pleats impossible to accomplish.

Enjoyed reading your blog. :)

Proving I'm not a robot is making me doubt. I must be a robot because I'm having the darndest time understanding what I'm seeing. :( Here's to hoping I'll get it right just once! Really!

Talented Chick said...

Oops! How many times does that make it? Sorry! Boy am I embarrassed!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Talented Chick! Good luck with your ruffling. I've wanted to try ruffling a double layer (folded raw edges together) and thought about serging the raw edges together first so the layers feed evenly, but I haven't tried it yet. Come back and let me know how it goes!

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