I’ve blogged before about my halting attempts to learn how to free-motion quilt using my very basic, mechanical sewing machine. Last winter I wrote about finally using my open-toe embroidery foot for the first time, and in October I mentioned that I free-motion quilted a doll quilt my 3-year-old daughter helped me with.
The quilting on this doll quilt is not something I’m proud of and I’ve even considered ripping it out and having another go at it. Although not nearly the mess my first attempts were, the bobbin thread tension was still giving me problems — it’s just too taut and you can see the needle thread pulled through to the back in places.
Even so, that doll quilt inspired me to make a few more during the fall. The stakes are low because, well, they’re just doll quilts, but they’re much more satisfying to practice on than a sample quilt sandwich.
I pieced another doll quilt for a friend’s daughter using the J’Adore Stella collection from Dear Stella and tried quilting it with a diagonal side-to-side meander. Again, it turned out OK, but I found it difficult to match my hand movements to my foot pedal speed and it felt out of control. My bobbin tension had improved, though.
Next I made two “stuffed animal” quilts for a friend and former coworker who had recently given birth to her second boy. (As a child of the 1970s, I figured little boys love their stuffed animals and would want to take care of them as much as little girls would. My friend confirmed that her toddler knew exactly what his quilt was for and ran to fetch his favorite toy when they opened the gift.) (And if you’re curious, the large-scale focus fabric is from the out-of-print Magic Station collection by Andy Sklar from Red Rooster, which I’ve had in my stash since before I had kids. It looks like an illustration from a children’s book that I’d love to read!)
For these quilts I decided to try more controlled movements with a loop-de-loop design. The loops aren’t perfect, but my bobbin tension was greatly improved and I felt I could control my machine much better.
All of which goes to show that when the experts say it’s going to take a lot of practice and experimentation to get good at machine quilting, they know what they’re talking about. On Friday, March 1, we’ll air a new episode of Quilters Newsletter TV featuring Ellen Osten from Sulky that I hosted. After we were done taping I asked if I could try some free-motion quilting using the Brother sewing machine we had on-set — she had just been doing some FMQ and it looked great. Well, my stitches looked better using the Brother than they do on my old home machine, but mine were still nowhere near as good as Ellen’s. So although a good machine will certainly help, nothing beats good old-fashioned practice and experience.