This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of conducting a machine quilting workshop. The ladies in attendance (all members of The London Friendship Quilters' Guild) came with great attitudes, eager to soak up everything I had to share. The current skill level of these ladies ranged from the absolute beginner to fairly accomplished quilters, so I tried to cover as much as I could in the time we had and because of this, I am well aware that it may have been difficult to absorb, digest, and remember all of it. I thought a post touching on some of what was covered would make a great spot for them all to come to for future reference and perhaps there will be some tips you can use as well.
We started with a basic primer on proper quilt preparation, talked about having the backing be slightly larger than the batting and the batting being larger than the quilt top. This allows for shrinkage or minor distortion that can happen with all the stitching and gives you a place to "hang"on to your quilt while moving it through the machine, especially as you work near those outer edges. I tried to emphasize the importance of always working from the center out.
We discussed basting with pins and with thread, we talked about posture at the machine and about providing proper support to the quilt as it is moved through the machine. Everyone was given a little card with a checklist to keep beside their machines at home to help them remember the simple steps to going from regular sewing to a free motion sewing set up.I covered some methods for marking and explained how to use a variety of marking tools. I want to point out that you should always test any marking tool you choose to use on each and every project, to be certain everything is working as it should, and that you will be able to remove the markings satisfactorily.
Almost all of the products shown in this post are likely easily found at your local quilt shop.
I LOVE this white ink pen by Clover.....it flows nicely, gives a smooth, consistent thin line on dark fabrics, and it doesn't go away until you use heat from your iron.
These chalk pencils are made for quilting by General's, they are super easy to use, glide on smoothly and can be removed just by giving the marking a good rub. That little red tool you see on the right is a marker with a tiny little wheel that dispenses a fine line of chalk, it is wonderful for marking grids or just simple guidelines for things like free motion feathers.Below,on the left, you see my absolute favourite pencil, it is another product made by General's and unlike the other tools I am showing, is not made for quilting, you find these at craft and art supply stores. They are called Sketch n' Wash (use a light hand with them) they mark easily and will wash out. On the right is the old standard wash out blue pen, and while they do wash out, you need to be very careful to be absolutely certain you have removed the ink before it ever gets near your iron.........if you iron this ink it will NOT come out.I also demonstrated using a pounce pad with stencils, the chalk is available in white or blue and can be purchased in forms that simply rub off or remain until they are removed with the use of an iron.
Here are my favourite needles for thread basting a quilt. I put a bit of emphasis on the use of quilting gloves (they are a must have for the machine quilter) but you can even use gardening gloves.........just be sure you have a good snug fit. We talked about different types of quilting feet, you will want to visit your machine dealer to find what will work for your machine.
We looked at using stencils, both purchased and ones you can make yourself as well as super simple ways to create shapes from cardboard (you can just trace around) or freezer paper (a quick press holds it in place, stitch around the shape, peel it off and stick in in another spot, repeat the process. I also tried to give a few tips on planning how you will tackle the quilting, having the layout and even the individual blocks on paper allows you to do a little auditioning and is a great way to help you see what your finished quilt might look like with your choice of stitching.While I did spend time at my machine demonstrating a variety of stitch patterns, I also brought with me some "training" samples. These are nothing more than quilt sandwiches with stitch lines drawn using permanent ink........by removing the thread from their machines, workshop attendees were able to sit and get a hands on feel for the smooth rhythmic movement each stitch might require. I thought this might be a valuable learning tool as it can be used over and over. Even though you are not using thread you can see where you stitched by the holes left by the needle, give it a rub, the holes disappear and you can try it again! I did show how to stitch with out any guidelines but I think for those just starting out, having a line to follow is helpful. In the second of the photos below I had drawn the complete pattern at the top and just the grid at the bottom, once you get the hang of the movement you can thread up and stitch the pattern using the grid only.
One of the most important tips I can give about following a line to stitch, is the need to look ahead, in other words, have your eyes focused on the line where you intend to go (not on the needle) if you look at where you want to go, the machine will follow. One of the gals in attendance had a great analogy for this..........she said "it is just like driving your car.........you don't look at the steering wheel or the front end of your vehicle, you look ahead in the road to where you are going." Wonderful advice!!!
and the MOST important tip of all is, practice, practice and more PRACTICE! We all want to be able to achieve nice even stitches, smooth, beautifully flowing thread lines, we want to have a whole repertoire of lovely designs that we can apply to our quilts but like any other skill, it takes time, patience and oh, did I mention practice?