Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Free-Motion Quilting for Beginners and those who think they can't

I'd like to  introduce you to my friend Molly. She is one of the first online quilting friends that I made and over the years she has provided me with heaps of great quilting advice.
Photo Courtesy of Martingale, Brent Kane photographer
Molly has always been there to answer my questions and she has had an unwavering faith in my ability. When I decided to buy a darning foot, it was Molly who I turned to for advice and when I took my first wavering steps in fmq, she cheered me on all the way.

I am ashamed to admit that somewhere along the way, my piecing ability took off and I lost the confidence to attempt free motion quilt (fmq). As I documented last month, I stopped daring to try new things and I became scared to ruin my work.

Then recently, Molly contacted me and asked if I would like to be part of the blog-hop celebrating the launch of her new book. Having experienced Molly's enthusiasm and encouragement first hand, I couldn't think of a better person to write a beginners fmq book.

I was thrilled for her and honoured to be asked to take part! How could I say no to the invitation?!

At the same time, I was slightly nervous- what if I let her down and my FMQ was still a badly tensioned mess? That wouldn't be a very good advertisement for her book would it!?

I decided that it was time to get over myself, and start being adventurous with fmq again.

Sitting down to read her book, I was immediately relieved to see that Molly doesn't advocate doing hundreds of practise squares. I'll be honest, I'm a bit impatient and I always tend to skip over that kind of monotony. I was also amazed to see that Molly doesn't advocate starting with stippling. She suggest quilting words and letters. It sounded a bit difficult, but I was willing to give it a try. I did a few doodles with pen and paper as she suggested and this taught me that going round in circles was not a good ideas for me, so I settled on writing lines of text across the fabric.

Before starting to sew, I paid particular attention to the chapter where Molly describes how to fix tension problems. My previous FMQ experience has been beset by these kind of problems, so I was determined to learn how to fix any problems. Again, Molly had great advice- don't panic- but work logically through the problem to find the issue. It was this advice that spurred me on to write my mental checklist.

My First Practise Square after reading Molly's Book
Previous experience had taught me a few things. I made sure that I had a new and decent needle on my machine. I gave my machine a good clean and oil then threaded it carefully. Knowing that my machine is a thread snob and will punish me if I try to use cheap thread, I threaded it up with some of my precious aurifil thread.

I took a deep breathe and started to quilt a practise sandwich. Even though I trusted Molly as a teacher, and I had faith in her, I freely admit that I expected the worst of myself. Apart from the fact that I kept on forgetting how to join an 'o' in cursive writing, I was amazed by what I achieved! I didn't need to fiddle with the machine settings at all. The tension was perfect, the loops of my letters were smooth and the stitches were as even as I could dare to expect of myself.

I showed my husband and a look of amazement crossed his face. He cautiously asked "am I allowed to say that I'm amazed?!" Of course he was allowed, because I was blown away myself!

Molly's book is filled with small fun projects that you can use to help you perfect your skills.Tempted as I was to try them all, I decided that I had better use my time efficiently and finish a project that had been on my WIP pile for a wee while. As is often the case, I had a pieced block that was waiting to be quilted. It needed to be turned into a cushion for a friend.

The block in question was my ballet shoes pattern, so I decided that I would quilt the word "dance" on the back of the cushion. I had a quick practise and discovered that the word "hello" had been a lot easier than "dance", but after a couple of attempts it got easier.

Can you spot where it says "dancing"? I spaced out while I was quilting so a bit of quick problem solving was required!

After those initial lines of dance, I decided to add a few extra words- ballet, jazz, modern etc... In hindsight it was possibly not the best decision, but I'm still learning this quilting lark and can forgive myself a few mistakes along the way.


For the front of the cushion, I did a mixture of designs. Firstly I stitched the ditch around the ballet shoes (I used my walking foot for this). Then I stippled around the feet and added a couple of words in as I went. Finally I wrote "dance, dancer, dancing" around the border. I'm really pleased how well it turned out!


Over the years I have gained quite a bit of fmq know-how which I haven't always managed to implement. What this book did for me was to bring it all together in a logical way. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint any one thing that made the difference, but I have a huge "Thank you" to say to Molly. I finally dare to do fmq and I'm not planning on stopping any time soon.


As a relative novice to FMQ, who is still getting to grips with the technique, my final pieces of advice are these:

Believe in yourself- If I can do it on my middle of the road Toyota sewing machine, you can too.

Be realistic, don't immediately blame your machine or rush to change all the settings on your machine when something goes wrong, it could be as simple as needing a new needle or giving the machine some oil.

Stay logical, believe in yourself (yup I'll say that twice because its important).

Find yourself a quilting friend or two who believe in you- it makes all the difference!

And finally get yourself a copy of Molly's book- its a really excellent resource full of help and encouragement.

See- I've moved onto pebbling and all sorts of other fancy quilting designs since finishing the ballet shoes cushion.

If you are struggling with your FMQ, then I have good news for you. I have a copy of Molly's Ebook to giveaway to one lucky winner. To be in the draw leave a comment below. It can be anything, but I'd love to hear about your fmq experiences.

I will leave the draw open until 8:00pm on Sunday 23rd November NZT

Please make sure that you leave some sort of way that I can contact you. I will do everything I can to contact the winner, but if I have not heard from them within 5 days, I will draw a new winner.

If you would like to find out more about Molly's book (or have more opportunities to win), then drop by the other stops on the Blog Hop:

Martingale http://blog.shopmartingale.com/ November 11th
Amanda Jean http://crazymomquilts.blogspot.com November 13th
Amy Friend http://duringquiettime.com November 14th
Angela Walters http://www.quiltingismytherapy.com  November 15th 
Juliet van der Heijden The Tartankiwi  November 17th
Lori Kennedy http://theinboxjaunt.com  November 19th
Cindy Weins http://www.liveacolorfullife.net November 20th
Thermoweb http://thermoweb.com/blog/ November 21st

Molly's book also inspired the quilting on this cushion- there is no stopping me now!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reindeer Overload

I was really honoured to be asked to contribute towards a collaboration quilt for this years Christmas Edition of the Fat Quarterly Review.

Photo borrowed from Lynne
We were shown the image which inspired the quilt, given our fabrics, and asked to design and sew five identical blocks. 

There was a special request that I provide reindeer for the quilt.

As with so many of these kinds of projects, I really do think that the sum of the parts is much much better than the individual parts. I love how the blocks all come together to create a dramatic and graphic finished quilt and I am really proud to have been a part of such a talented line-up of quilters - Nicky, Susan, LynneJoanne and Joanna.

Doesn't it just look like the most snuggly Christmas Jumper ever!?

I must admit that I got a bit carried making reindeer and couldn't resist  another wee reindeer project.

You will also find the details of both of these patterns in Issue 19 of Fat Quarterly Review.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Secret is Out

Today I shared a wee secret on instagram.


For the last couple of months, I've been working on something big. Its been difficult to keep it a secret, but I wanted to wait until the right time to tell you all about it.

I am going to host my first Quilt Along and it will be called In Flight. 

It won't start until January so you have lots of time to plan your fabrics and decide whether or not you are interested. There will be lots more detailed information in due time, but for now I thought that it might be a good to give you a heads up as to what's coming.


My pattern testers are working hard behind the scenes checking that the patterns work and making sure that they are as good as they can possibly be.

Today I could wait no longer, I sewed my first block. Its called Eagle Soaring High. I can't wait to sew some more!


Its my first time hosting a quilt along and I have a lot of decisions to make as to how it runs. One decision that has already been made is that there will be prizes, but you'll have to wait till January to find out what they are... 

If you have any strong preferences as to how you like quilt alongs to be run or advice I'm all ears!
Who will join me? Its going to be fun isn't it!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Free Motion Quilting- The Mental Checklist

Since writing my blogpost about free motion quilting (fmq) last month, I have taken some serious steps forward with my quilting skills. I don't want to say too much about it all yet, but what I will share at this stage is the most important lesson that I have learnt.

When the machine starts skipping stitches or misbehaving I don't start fiddling with dials, buttons or feed dogs on the machine. 
I don't start to panic.
I stay calm and work through my mental checklist (in no particular order):

  • Do I need a new needle?
  • Is the machine threaded correctly?
  • Does the machine need oil?
  • Do I need to clean the machine?
  • Am I using good thread?
  • Do I need to call it a day and come back to this tomorrow?

Its amazing what a big difference this simple change of attitude has made to my quilting. I used to feel despair each time that I came across yet another problem. Now I may grumble a bit, but I have the tools to cope. There is no despair, less frustration and more of a problem solving attitude.

Yesterday I finished quilting my Large Elephant cushion. I started by stitching the ditch around the elephant. 

Then, forgetting just how big the elephant is, I quilted background.

I don't have a large collection of good quality threads so the best option that I had available was white. It was a bold choice for me, as it meant that my stitches were visible, but I think my gamble paid off.
 
It was only after I had finished quilting the background that I realised that I REALLY needed to quilt the elephant as well.It takes up such a large proportion of the block that leaving it with only stitch in the ditch made the cushion look half finished.

I consulted a friend and she suggested that I do pebbling to represent the texture of the Elephants skin. I'll admit that I was VERY nervous about this as the last time that I did pebbling was a disaster. The tension was wrong, the stitches were ugly and the whole thing just drove me nuts. But my friend had faith in my ability so I gave it a go.

I was AMAZED by the result. I actually enjoyed myself. The effect looked good. 

It was fun to free motion quilt horizontal lines across the trunk giving the impression of folds and wrinkles in the skin. Finally all that was left was the quilt the ears. I freely admit that they are the worst part of the quilting. I think that I should have traced the edges the ladies profiles on the fussy cuts but it just seemed too difficult and there was too high a potential to muck it up. I decided to do wavy lines instead. I thought it would be easy, but it was harder to do than the other fmq designs, possibly because of the larger scale of the lines.

If you are thinking of giving fmq a go, then I will share more about my experiences in a couple of weeks time. In the meantime, get your nose away from the screen and stop scrutinising my work. I don't say this because I am ashamed of my work- far from it! No I say this because comparison is the thief of joy. You need to learn for yourself and accept your learning process and the mistakes that you make along the way.

 Write your own mental checklist and start free motion quilting!

If I can do it, you can too!!!
Polka dot navy minky for the cushion back- is there a better choice?!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Editing Elephants- A Pattern Release

Some patterns take longer to release than others.

The concept for this block sprung into my mind one day. 

I could see it really really clearly. 

The design was complete and the basic design has stayed the same since day one. There were no doubts, no worries, I knew that this was the way that I wanted to design an elephant pattern and I felt confident that it was unlike other elephant patterns that are already available. 

I could also see how I wanted to use my fabrics. I wanted fussy cut fabrics in the ears.

I drew the block, took some time to decide what size to make it and sent him to the testers.

When Afton, the first tester got back to me, she had several pieces of feedback.The first one was easy to fix. It was a mistake which was a remnant left over from an earlier version of the block (oops!). 

The second piece of feedback that she had was really good but I couldn't immediately see how to fix it. It wasn't a mistake as such, it was just an area that needed to be made more logical to piece. It worked ok as it was, but we both knew that it could be better. We discussed it back and forth, but couldn't come up with a solution so I left it and sent the updated pattern to the remaining testers. I waited to see their versions.

Joanne sewed a great elephant and had some more useful feedback for me.

When the third and final block came in from Kelleigh, I took one look at it and immediately realised how I could improve the pattern to get around the issues that Afton had mentioned. It was a simple fix, but I guess that I had needed a bit of distance from the design to be able to see it. 

I was impatient to release the pattern, didn't want to wait on another tester and having just managed to work through most of the things on my to do list, I rewarded myself by allowing myself the opportunity to sew the block.

I hadn't been planning to sew the elephant at this point (although there was never a doubt in my mind that I would eventually sew it), and I hadn't bought any fabrics specifically for it, so it was fun to look through my stash in search of suitable fabrics. I ended up using a lot of my favourites.

I was really excited when I remembered the piece of Tula Pink Cameo Sky that I had, it was a perfect fussy cut for the ears and a great starting point for my elephant. I must say that when I was looking for a suitable fussy cut for the ears, I became relieved that I hadn't made the pattern any bigger. It would have been really difficult finding a print to fill the area of a larger ear.

The block itself came together easily enough. 24 inch paper pieced patterns are definitely easier to sew that 30 inch ones.

I love the finished result, and feel that like the Big Bear pattern, the scale of this elephant pattern allows you to take artistic license with fabric choices. 

I am confident that the extra time that it has taken to prepare this pattern was totally worth it. The pattern is now significantly better than it initially was (even though the changes may not be easily visible to anybody but me). 

This pattern really underlined for me the importance of getting blocks tested. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference. Whether those eyes are somebody else's or my own eyes after a period of time really doesn't matter.

At the moment my elephant is slung over the back my sofa where I can admire him while I decide what to do with him. I think that he's going to become a huge floor cushion to form the beginnings of a reading corner for my daughter. Either that or he will become a mini quilt to hang on the wall of my sewing room.

What would you do with a 24 inch elephant?

You can now find this elephant pattern in my Craftsy store. It will be at a reduced price for the first 48 hours.

**This post contains affiliate links which means that I may be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.**


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