Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Thoughts about FMQ

I can't remember when I started FMQ (free motion quilting), but at some point I decided I was going to have learn.
       My fingers refused to cooperate when quilting by hand.  
       Quilting by hand takes too long.  
       Having someone else quilt for me is too expensive.
       I don't want someone else to finish the quilt I have created.

In order to start the learning process I took a class at the local sewing machine store.  I was told that I had to sew fast.  Every time the teacher came by my table she said, "Speed up, you are going too slowly."  When I speeded up I immediately lost control.  It was like my running:  if I run too fast I fall flat on my face.  What did I get out of that class?  Discouragement, a mess on the fabric, and a fierce determination to quilt only straight lines with my walking foot.  
    
Walking Foot Quilting
The walking foot quilting looked fine and was easy, but terribly boring.  I really needed to tackle FMQ again.  I had the opportunity to take a beginner's class with Harriet Hargrave, the lovely lady who began the FMQ movement many years ago.  She was a rebel, but persisted and taught others her craft.  Her philosophy is that you can go any speed you want as long as you keep the machine running at the same, regular pace...your pace.  Ah, that fit so much better with my psyche.

Now I was on my way.  All I had to do was:
       *Keep my foot steady on the pedal.  Riiiight!
       *Use my hands to move the quilt through the machine in such a way that the stitches were all the same length.  Riiiight!!  (It helped to discover that my machine has a slow speed button.)
       *Keep my eye ahead of the needle.  I was promised that my hands and needle would follow. Riiiight!!!
       *Manage the bulk of the quilt so it doesn't pull, doesn't hang up on a corner somewhere, doesn't fall off the machine, and goes through the harp neatly and smoothly.  Riiiight!!!!
       *Prevent needle breakage and thread shredding.  Riiiight!!!!!
       *Somehow do all the quilting without ever stopping because when restarting, the needle created an unsightly jog off onto a new trail of its own choosing.

...and so it went for awhile.

Early FMQ
The quilt above fits a double bed, and the quilting is all FMQ on my domestic machine.  I spent half my time changing broken needles and broken thread.  The other half of my time I was manhandling the quilt trying to maintain some control.  There wasn't much time left for sewing.  The stitches were not terribly even, and the quilting didn't follow my imaginary lines.  I hadn't marked my design because I was not able to follow the lines anyway.  I finally finished, was happy to be done, and learned a great deal about how to manage the process.  Although not exquisitely beautiful, it is functional, I did it, I got a little bit better.

TIP:  Be gentle on yourself.  I know you would like to be another Leah Day or Diane Gaudynski, but give yourself time.  Don't quit.  You'll never improve unless you practice, practice, practice.  Watch tutorials.  Read books.  Practice, practice practice.  Concert pianists didn't become professionals by sitting on the couch wishing for music technique to be assimilated by osmosis.
       
Does all this sound familiar?  Please don't get discouraged.  I caught on and you can too.  Tune in next week and I will share with you the things that have most helped me become a better FMQer.

TIP:  Did I mention that PRACTICE is the single most important ingredient in learning to FMQ?  

19 comments:

  1. I too was relieved to learn I didn't have to go full speed ahead all the time, but match my hand speed to my pedal speed. I practice on doll quilts and children's quilts because kids don't care.

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    1. That's a great idea. Much more fun than 12" squares!

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  2. I remember a long......time ago when I learned FMQ.......lots of practice and mistakes but so worth it!

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    1. Definitely worth it. I didn't enjoy it at first, but now I look forward to that part of making my quilts.

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  3. Those are very encouraging words. I have yet to attempt FMQ but I plan to try- perhaps in the new year. I enjoy your blog !

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    1. It takes time and practice, but I have come to really enjoy that part of quilt making. Go for it, and have fun.

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  4. It's funny... I was thinking the other day that after the first of the year I need to set aside time each week to practice my FMQing. I can meander pretty well, but I want to quilt feathers and flowers and spirals and.... Practice is key. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Good luck on your determination to improve. That's what it takes. Feathers are really not very hard and are always lovely on a quilt and don't have to be perfect. Spirals...well a bit harder to get them even.

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  5. I appreciate this post BUT I find my greatest challenge -- despite having a *great* quilting table with extensions, AND raising my seat up a bit so my arms are in the "right" position, AND using gloves, AND trying to relax my shoulders -- is that anything bigger than 24" - 30" square and the bulk just gets to me. The weight lands in my lap (even bunched up). I do fine on very small pieces but even trying to FMQ a bed quilt in bite-sized sections (48" square, to be connected later) is a challenge due to the *weight* of the stuff. Someone suggested to me that part of my challenge is being petite (just under 5' 2" with small hands, short arms, legs and fingers) -- in other words, not enough body mass to (wo)man-handle a quilt. Any suggestions? Thanks! :-)

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    1. Margaret, I am only a couple of inches taller than you and completely understand your problem. If I am making anything bigger than a cot quilt I use the QAYG method. The joining strips become an integral part of the design - either blending into the background or in contrasting colours.

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  6. Sadly, I don't have an answer. I am 5'8" with long arms. I am currently quilting a 50x x 70 quilt with two battings, wool and cotton. The blooming' thing is ridiculously heavy and bulky. I'll never do that again! I know what you mean as it is very difficult to manage the quilt. I also have stop for more thread jogs than usual. I think the best thing to do is reposition the quilt frequently and maybe plan a shorter block of time for sewing. Getting up and moving around helps too. Pile it up on top of itself all around the machine. It is hard, but it will get done if you stick with it. Hang in there.

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  7. Great post Mardi - thanks for sharing it. You're right, it's like anything in life, you have to keep practicing to be good. :) Love your work!

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  8. Thank you for your encouragement! I keep thinking I will go back and try some more FMQ, and then I wimp out and use my walking foot with straight lines! I am so afraid to ruin my quilt! I appreciate knowing your story, and will keep trying. Quilting friends have recommended doodling or drawing in FMQ patterns before I work on my sewing machine. Was that also something you did?

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    1. Absolutely! I doodle and draw on tracing paper, but any kind of paper will work. You develop muscle memory and it translates to guiding the sewing machine needle. I also doodle with the needle on my 12" squares...just fiddle with designs that come into my mind. Try Leah Day's designs on your squares too. You see the photo of my red quilt. My quilting was really quite poor, but the quilt is not ruined and still looks lovely on the red, iron bed that I made it for. I would do better today, but you have to take the plunge and start somewhere. Go for it!!

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  9. Hello Mardi,

    Thank you for linking up to Free Motion Mavericks!

    It's interesting looking back at the frustration involved when first having a go at FMQ. I think it is like learning to ride a bike or drive - suddenly one day you realise you really can do it, and the more you do it the better you get.

    Love from England, Muv

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    1. It is fun looking back and getting perspective on how far one has come.

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  10. I so identified with your experience! It has taken years and courage to machine quilt through the fear and discourgement and reach a place where all the elements are working together for the good! Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. That is so true. Persistence pays. Thanks for visiting.

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