Greetings all! It’s been a while since we got crazy, crafty, and creative. And since we last spent time together, something amazing happened…
I learned to use the quilting foot on my sewing machine!!!
Given that this involved the use of a screwdriver and some light re-assembly, you can appreciate why this became such a “thing.” However, in the end, none of my fears about breaking the machine or failing miserably at the whole process were justified, and it has opened creative doors I never imagined. Using the quilting foot and my own creative designs, I have since completed entire quilts, purses, and… name tags in my personal handwriting.
Which is what we are going to learn here – how to “free motion quilt” your very own messages!
Here’s what you will need:
- Fabric – I’m using a small pre-cut quilt sandwich (top, batting, and backing) in light blue
- Thread – I’m using dark blue thread that will contrast with the light blue fabric
- Sewing Machine with a quilting foot (see above photo, and the odd, coiled contraption in the front between the thread and the pencil)
- Quilting Paper
- Quilting Clips
- Quilting Gloves
- Scissors, Pencil, and Ruler
Part One: Choose Your Words Wisely
For this project, we’re going simple with the best word possible: HOPE. But the options are endless. You can write your name, your favorite saying, anything at all.
I’m also going to do this in lowercase letters because it is a much less intimidating way to learn. For any cyclists out there, I’m also going to use some training wheels – because I’m a beginner at all this too, and free motion quilting is something that takes years to master. So…
At your local fabric/craft store or on Amazon, you can purchase Quilting Paper. It has the same consistency as tracing paper and it’s useful in the early stages when you need a little extra guidance keeping your designs consistent. You can also (obviously) write on it, your needle will sew through it, and it is easily removable from your fabric when you are finished.
I cut (with my Scissors) a piece of quilting paper the same size as my Fabric, and wrote with Pencil (in lowercase letters) the word “hope.” This was after a measurement with my Ruler where I wanted the letters to stop and start, as well as their general size. I also included a little ribbon on the top, because there is one fun skill I want to show you later.
Here it is (if you saw my handwriting, you’d know this is pretty darn close).
Before jumping over to the sewing machine, I clipped (using Quilting Clips – so much easier/less painful than pins) my quilting paper to my fabric. Like so…
Part Two: Prepare to Quilt
For anyone who has never free motion quilted before, here is some background info.
- When sewing with your regular (or zipper, etc.) foot, the “feed dogs” on your machine – the jagged little teeth sticking up out of the underbelly of the surface – are in the UP position. This creates a downwards pulling force that holds your fabric in place while you sew. When sewing with a quilting foot, you want your feed dogs into the DOWN position – in other words, you need to send them back into the underbelly. ***You’ll find a switch on your machine that makes this up/down adjustment.
- What does this adjustment mean? It means that all of the power rests in your HANDS. Specifically, rather than allow the feed dogs to hold down your fabric and guide it in a straight line, your hands will do all the guiding, and your fabric will travel in whatever direction and at whatever speed your hands tell it to go. This is why I like to use Quilting Gloves, which you can get in most fabric/craft stores or on Amazon. These gloves have rubbery fingertips, which help stabilize your fabric even more, but using them also means you aren’t touching your fabric with possibly dirty/sweaty hands.
- Free motion quilting is HARD. Like I said above, it takes years to master, and requires a lot of practice. Be patient with yourself, and learn to have fun experimenting.
So… now that we sort of understand the mechanics behind free motion quilting, go ahead and attach your “quilting foot” to your machine (your sewing machine manual should have clear instructions on how to do this), lower your feed dogs, position your fabric, lower your presser foot, and lower your needle into the top part of the “h” like so…
Part Three: A Writer Writes
Starting at the top part of the “h”, carefully navigate your needle over the writing on the quilting paper. Keep a steady and consistent pace so your stitches are even and straight. When you are doubling back over the same area, do everything you can to stitch over the stitches that already exist. Do this through the end of the letter “e.” When setting the speed, I start out at the lowest speed possible, and then increase it once I’m comfortable.
Now… remember I told you there was a skill I wanted to show you? You may have been wondering – how on earth does she plan to quilt the ribbon? To use another example, what happens in situations where you need to dot a letter “i” or include a hyphen, and don’t want to stop momentum, cut your thread, and start over? You don’t have to!
Finish the “e.” Lift up your needle, and gently slide your fabric over so you can drop the needle in the spot where you wish to start up again – in this case, the bottom left of the ribbon. Drop the needle, and stitch the ribbon the same way you stitched your “hope.” Now you are finished. Cut your thread, and remove the fabric from the machine.
Two final steps.
First, cut any loose threads. Also, if you look between the end of the “e” and the start of your ribbon, you’ll see they are connected by a piece of thread that was born when you lifted and moved your needle.
Cut each end of that thread – as close to the “e” and start of the ribbon as you can. Now you understand why that skill is so important – because it’s easy, it’s faster, and it looks just as nice.
Second, remove your clips, then very gently remove the quilting paper. It should peel off relatively easily. To the extent you need to work a little to remove the paper stuck inside the letters, it will come off if you do a little maneuvering and scraping with your fingernail. Just be careful and gentle, and you’ll be fine.
And here’s your hope!
Now, here is the most important part of the lesson. If you look closely, the stitching is not perfect. Look at the letter “p.”
See there is an uneven jump in the stitching on the top, that likely happened because, in that moment, I moved the fabric too quickly or inconsistently with my original speed. And guess what? That is going to happen as you learn to do this. Part of me debated doing the project over again to show you a perfectly stitched product. But then I realized the greater value in appreciating that you will NOT get it perfect your first time, or even your tenth time. BUT…
Part Four: Keep Writing
Keep writing. Keep quilting. Keep being creative. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come out perfectly every time, because it won’t. But you will get better.
Most importantly, thank you for joining me again! And I hope to see you all in a few weeks at the annual Cancer Hope Golf Classic that I am co-chairing. This year will be on Monday, June 3 at Crestmont Country Club (West Orange, New Jersey), where some lucky silent auction winner will take home a handmade zippered golf fabric tote bag made by yours truly!