Learning Free Motion Quilting

While I’ve made a couple of quilts before, I haven’t actually been proud of or happy with them: they’ve either been rushed, wonky or I’ve used ‘practice’ fabric and as such the colour or pattern combinations have made them feel cheap or look unsightly. However, I’m happy to say that this has changed! I can finally say that I’ve quilted something worthy of being shared with the world. At the weekend, I finished my very first, proper, pretty, fairly precise, useable quilt! Ok so I’ll admit that it’s a mini quilt (which fits my sewing machine perfectly) but it’s a quilt nonetheless.

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So how did I manage it? Well, this weekend I attended a fantastic workshop on free motion quilting run by the talented Jo Avery of MyBearPaw in Edinburgh. The workshop lasted a whole day and it focused on the construction of flying geese and on the process of free motion quilting (FMQ).

I found the workshop so helpful! Not only did it teach me how to make flying geese and FMQ, but it really opened my eyes to the importance of precision. I was sitting next to an ex-tailor for the duration of the class and she was so knowledgeable. Of all the advice she gave me, she made a great point that when you’re cutting or sewing, a mm or two doesn’t seem like a lot… however, if you multiply that by the number of blocks you have and you could end up being an inch or two out, which obviously makes a big difference! While it hasn’t changed my slapdash habits overnight, I will aim to be more precise and maybe try to slow down a bit.

Before the class, Jo sent out a list of things we’d need to bring and I thought that it was particularly great that we were given the option of taking our own machines. I selected the fabric I needed from The Cloth Shop in Edinburgh (as per) because they have a great selection of quilting fabric. My only issue with them, which has only become apparent since I had my little boy, is that there’s no lift and the quilting cottons are upstairs. Not only does that mean it’s not pushchair accessible but it’s also not accessible to wheelchairs or those with mobility issues. Not cool. Anyway, it was worth lugging my sleeping, 19lb infant up the stairs because I’m really happy with my fabric and ribbon selection.

Although I’ve never made flying geese before, the workshop instructions on putting the geese together was genius: as well as resulting in no waste, it’s so speedy and easy!

No Waste Flying Geese

Firstly, once you’ve decided on the size of your geese (we used a 5.5 inch square and a 3 inch square), you need to draw diagonal lines on your smaller squares, which will act as a guide when we come to sew them. Align your smaller squares on top of the larger one, right sides together, making sure your lines match up.

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Using the line as a guide, sew along either side of the line. This is where a ¼ inch foot comes in handy. I actually don’t have one of these yet so I’m using the standard foot that came with my machine (which I think is 3/8) although this won’t give you as much space at the top of the geese when finished and you might find that you’ll lose your lovely triangle tip. Being new to quilting, I didn’t realise how important the ¼ inch foot is but alas I’ve now ordered one and it is winging it’s way to me! Once you’ve done this, cut along the line to give you two separate triangles.

 

Before you move on to the next step, you MUST press the seams open! I forgot this step on a couple of my squares and it was a NIGHTMARE! Poor Jo had to help me rectify the mistake and although we managed to fix it (you basically have to rip one side open and re-sew once you turn the triangles up), it really did affect the rest of the process.

Place a third triangle like so and then sew either side of the line, cutting along the line once you’re finished. Do the same again with the other one and voilà! You can get four geese from one large triangle and 4 small squares.

And that’s it. You’re ready to place them however you like in to your quilt.

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Once the quilt itself was constructed, then came the free motion quilting, which I LOVED! It was pretty scary considering how much effort had gone in to the geese and the construction of the quilt; however, once I practised and then got started, it was really liberating. I opted for a loopy meandering stitch and lots of mistakes were made, but it doesn’t really matter in the end because all imperfections just sort of merge in and become integrated in to the overall pattern.

If you’re thinking of giving it a go, I’d really recommend doodling beforehand. Jo had us do this and it really helped. There are lots of free designs here if you need inspiration! I decided to keep it really simple though and went for a loopy meander. I’ve since realised though that loops are deceptively tricky! If I thought about it too much, I’d end up with spiky bits or I’d panic (hehe) and end up doing some straight lines. It was so therapeutic though and really, really enjoyable. I think everyone at the class felt the same. Despite being chatty all day, at this point in the class, all you could hear was the hum of sewing machines as each person was completely silent and absorbed in their work. It was lovely and I really can’t wait to do it again.

Although we didn’t have time to apply the binding in class, Jo directed us to her tutorial on single fold binding and it was a real eye-opener and so much less fiddly than double fold! So there you have it. All done!

 Check me with the mitred corners!

I sewed the back of the binding by hand but I think that next time, especially if it’s a bigger quilt, that I’d attach the binding back to front and machine stitch it in place by topstitching the front.

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I’m so glad that I took this class. I wasn’t sure about it for a while because I’m not that confident with quilting and I worried that it would be beyond me, but it absolutely wasn’t (smug face). It was useful to see the accessories and machines everyone else had and throughout the course of the day, I realised that I might need to pick up another couple of things as well as the ¼ inch foot: an extension table, a better cutting mat and a long quilting ruler. I’m currently on maternity leave though so I might have to drop lots of hints and hope that Santa is kind this year. I should also mention that I have major machine envy! The PFAFF. Enough said, eh? What a beautiful piece of equipment.

It was a great day and so much fun to meet like-minded people! Although I’ve attended a knitting class before (on fair isle knitting, which I haven’t actually blogged about yet…), this was my first sewing-related one and I’m totally hooked. The new classes will be released before Christmas and I plan to sign up to a longer course where we construct a full quilt. Until then though, you’ll find me in my sewing room practising, practising, practising…

 

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