Making the Leap: Free Motion Quilting

I started quilting this baby quilt I call Dragon Ball Baby as a gift for a Round Rock High School Graduate, in the usual way: walking foot on, not many curves, feed dogs up and fighting me every stitch.  The results as you can see in the photos is okay.  Not horrible, somewhat creative, following the dragon design on the fabric but still a little stilted for what I am trying to achieve.  Sometimes I feel like I am trying to paint a landscape with a hairbrush or perhaps fighting a ball for fabric for my very identity.

I am quilting this with clear monofilament thread and pre wound embroidery bobbin.

I must reposition and shift the whole quilt frequently using this method if I want to go around or echo the design elements of the quilt.  Using the walking foot and traditional sewing techniques works fairly well if you are mostly quilting straight lines.  I use this technique and frequently try to quilt curvy lines.  I call it quilt frustration.

At some point in this process I became disgusted with myself and said “This is ridiculous!” I have a machine (actually several machines) that will lower the feed dogs and have a free motion foot (or two). I have been practicing doodling free motion designs for 3 years or more (since I took that class on Free Motion Quilting and decided that not only was I NOT a natural but I actually was horrible at this particular sewing skill) and the only hope I had was to muscle train my hands to make the designs.  I have all the equipment, hell, I even have a machine with a stitch regulator! (lets not discuss that fact that I am scared to use it at the moment)  I decided at 10:30 in the evening in early November, I am running out of time, the baby this is for is 2 most old already and I have to get it to her in New Zealand. I am tired of trying to quilt this way, this is stupid, JUST DO IT ALREADY!

So I took off the walking foot and the standard A foot of my Viking Diamond machine.  I loaded up the free motion foot, figured out how to turn on the free motion setting , quickly picked ‘floating’ vs ‘free motion spring action’ (I have no idea which is better but if I overthink it I will chicken out) and the open toe foot.  I don’t remember if I practiced briefly or not but I put the quilt in position and started.

Now, my experience as a seamstress, craftswoman, and quilter have yielded mostly results that I felt were acceptable but often a tad disappointing sometime downright awful and discouraging. I can honestly say this was an exception.  I was blown away by the results! Only in design/color/arrangments do I ever find such satisfying results in my work.  I guess that is the payoff for staying with sewing for over 30 years.  You might actually become proficient or in my case miracle of all miracles, good.


I guess I can comfortably add free motion quilting to my list of sewing and crafting skills.  It was actually a stated goal of mine to achieve proficiency at quilting my own quilts above novice.  Quilting my own quilts that I would be comfortable to sell and to replace the long arm service that I have paid for over the years in many  of my nicer quilts.  With my dearly loved and appreciated long arm quilter retiring, I was faced with the hated situation of establishing new relationships (that might or might not be satisfactory)  OR establishing a new skill.  Looks like the skill was the lesser of two evils AND a big punch off the goals list.  That retirement was just the kick in the pants I needed.  It looks like my long armer will be building houses for Habitat for Humanity and I will be quilting my own quilts.  Not a bad arrangement I think.

Sweet Stripes Baby Quilt: II

I have made two of the Sweet Stripes baby quilts, using the same design premise and many of the same fabrics for two separate sweet babes in two families.  This one was for my niece whose name is Lia Kaliani and I am thrilled to say that she loves her quilt!  She will be two in a few months and so I completed her quilt quite late. I did give her a quilt I bought at the Austin Area Quilt Guild show when she was born.  The joy of giving her a quilt made with my hands was significant.  That she loves to sleep with it and pulls it up over her head every night is the icing on the quilting cake!

I have had a policy to send my large quilts to be quilted on a long arm professionally, but the many baby quilts I make to give to friends and family I have quilted myself. My quilting on this quilt is unsophisticated and looks somewhat stilted to me now. It was one of the last made before I decided to stop being scared of free motion quilting and JUST DO IT already!  I have entered a new era in my quilting journey and started quilting with a free motion foot and the feed dogs down and I am truly on my own!  I will track that process in another blog post.  I am not apologizing for the simple quilting here because learning to quilt and really being at the stage you are at is part of the process.  We cannot all be expert level when we begin and too many people deny themselves the joy of crafting and the arts due to feeling they must be perfect or at least good. I say that is nonsense.

It is the process that is a large part of the joy. I have loved learning to quilt over the last 21 years and much of it did not come naturally to me. I was not great at it. I came to quilting from a design standpoint ( I loved the design process of  a quilt) and my crafting ability was mediocre at best, my attention to exact detail nonexistent.  Designing, choosing fabrics, and sewing quilts is a difficult process with multiple steps and a dozen or more skills.  Especially if you are not using a pattern but are designing your own.  So many skills to learn, so many abilities to master. I did it even when I was not sure I could or I felt the outcome would be crappy. And sometimes it really was.  There are new studies that show doing something creative helps humans be happier and healthier even if they are not good at their chosen craft.

And it did make me happy and it did improve the quality of my life, as creativity does every single day. So I have keep on doing it and it makes me happy still, even when my quilts are not perfect. I am enjoying the process, being exactly where I am in this creative journey. I am pleased to say that little Lia seems to enjoy this quilt with all its imperfections that are so lovingly stitched.


If It Looks Like Fabric…Or Stash Transparency

I have a (not so) secret obsession.  I used to keep it mostly in bins, boxes and closets–in the back of the house.  Something happened, something went wrong, horribly wrong.  (as I write that I am smiling gleefully inside my minds eye, the same minds eye that is picturing my fabric stash) My fabric stash has grown since I moved into this house in 2004.  When people notice that there are an exorbitant number of books and stacks of fabric in my house, I feel guilty, I squirm and try to explain…I tell a lot of people that I inherited my beloved grandmother’s stash of fabric when she died–and it is true I did!  She had a LOT of fabric. It is here, I sew with it, Lexi and Jianna sew with it and we do projects with it. I tell a lot of people that my friends move overseas and bring me their fabric, books and various treasures that they are not taking with them.  And it is true!  That really happens.  I explain that I keep clothing that is made of fabrics I like to cut up and sew with. And it is true! I do, I really do and I have for a long time.

But seriously, I have gone beyond that amount by about 10 times at this point.  I can’t believe I am really writing this. Sigh, I want to come clean about my stash.  It is like nothing I have ever seen except in one place.  I was watching a video about quilting that I love and have watched over and over and there is a short clip on a Quilt Artist filmed in her studio.  The studio is about the size of a large 3 car garage and is filled with those white folding tables.  Every table is covered in bolts of fabrics lined up standing up and down bolt edge on the table! An incredible amount of fabric to be sure.  She was unapologetic and her work was fairly well celebrated on this show.  I frequently want to whip out a picture and say “see there are quilters with even MORE fabric than you are seeing here in my living room/hallway/storage container/guest bedroom!” 

If you are sensing a bit of conflicted feelings about this fabric, you are a very astute reader! I am conflicted.  I want neat orderly areas to work and sew and live and store the materials that I work with and create among AND I want to have access to thousands of excellent options for sewing and crafting and designing and quilting at any given time. I want to be able to think and say I am a moderate person who does not carry material goods to excess  AND I want to own any and all fabric that I see, would like to use in the future and is accessible to me as well as keep any and all fabric that I have ever owned or had the option to own for the same reason.  I want to be moderate, but for me and my work style this is moderate!

My habits as a quilter/seamstress are somewhat disorderly in that when I am working on a project I start with an inspiration piece and then I begin digging and looking and sifting and sorting through my stash, looking for the perfect colors/prints/textures to complement my inspiration piece.  As you might picture to do this successfully lends itself to a large, messy, accessible stash of fabric. My greatest nightmare is that someone comes along and puts all my fabric in boxes.  You would think it might be losing my stash but with it all out of sight, I might as well have lost it because I can’t work with it that way.

Perhaps I am an extreme person, not exactly on the same scale as everyone else (I think some professionals refer to that as being on a certain end of a certain spectrum). Perhaps I am trying to set up for the way I work.  Perhaps if I called myself a quilt artist, had all this fabric in a studio and was not apologetic in the least it would simply be the materials an artist will work with.  But somehow I am not there yet.  Somehow I feel both guilty and completely justified and an artists delicious anticipation at such a vivid variety of fabric (paints) to work with.