FMQ speed

I answered most of the questions I got on yesterday's post about making copies as comments, so if you had a question, check it out and get my answer or my thoughts or whatever. I'm sure there are as many camps on quilt marking as there are quilt marking tools and my theory is "use all of them". I hate marking quilts and will look for what I think is the easiest solution every time. I also get caught by not knowing what I want to quilt when I make my sandwich, so I don't give myself the opportunity very often to mark it by tracing onto the quilt in advance. I'm usually marking a partially quilted quilt. But, I get by, especially now that I can cut my own marking templates out of template plastic.

There was one question yesterday that I didn't answer and that one is about sewing speed when I FMQ. Pauline asked if I set my machine on slow speed and I decided that needed its own post.

The answer is "I used to".

When I started to FMQ, I went slow. Very slow. I tried to be very precise about following the lines. And, I did good work, but will tell you that going slow makes it easier to stay on the line, but harder to get all my stitches to be about the same length. Going slow meant that my stitch length would be consistent when I started, but as I got warmed up, my hands would want to move faster and faster and that would make my stitches longer and longer. Hand speed and machine speed require careful coordination when free motion quilting. With practice, I've found a great speed to start out at and as I warm up, I still move my hands faster and faster, but I also speed up the machine while I'm doing that so my stitch length remains consistent.

When I started to free hand FMQ, which means FMQ without drawn lines, I found that the faster I ran the machine, the easier it was to get the stitch to happen in the place I wanted it to. It's like drawing. Sit and draw a curve with pencil and paper and move your hand really slow. The curve will probably not come out the way you want it to. But, imagine the curve and then just put pencil to paper and draw it fast and what I found was that I got more accurate as I moved faster.

I also found that when I quilted slowly, my hands moved in a jerking motion; move a little, then when the needle pierced the fabric, it anchored the quilt and stopped my hand motion and when the needle rose out of the fabric, I moved again...until the needle came down and stopped my motion. And, I bobbed along like that for a year or so; not sure whether it was wrong and not sure how to stop. My quilting was bump, bump, bump. I moved between the bumps.

What I finally learned was that I needed a faster needle speed so that my hands moved consistently in the direction I wanted without all those jerky stops (think bump, bump, bump). That really made the difference. Again, it's like drawing. Take that pencil and try to draw a curve where you stop the pencil every 8th of an inch and then proceed and stop again after an 8th inch. That is really tough to make a consistent curve. So, now my machine whirs along and my hand movement is consistent and the needle piercing the quilt does not stop my motion. My motion continues and the needle does its thing as I go.

So, what do I recommend?

First, take some ugly fabric and some ugly thread and some leftover batting and make sandwich after sandwich and use them for practice pieces. Quilt whatever you want. I quilted my name and quilted quotes and verses. Then, like doodling, I would go back and fill in the circles, like the circle in the letter a. then, I would echo around the writing (echo quilting is the hardest thing I've found so far and is still what I practice...a lot!) Fill that practice sandwich up and then throw it away. Don't try to learn to FMQ on a real quilt. You will not be happy. Believe me, I am the voice of experience on this one. Don't do it. Wait until you've made a couple of practice sandwiches and then pull out a real quilt top. Or, if you insist on learning on a real quilt, use an ugly quilt that you're going to give away...preferably to someone you don't like or someone that's moving away so you won't have to see that piece of work again.

Start slow and then get faster. Build on your speed. If you've ever watched Leah Day quilt one of her 365 filler designs, you'll be amazed at how fast she goes. That's what you're after; the ability to sew as fast as you would draw. (I picked that flame stitch at random as I think the video is a good one, but can't remember exactly and can't view them from this pc so feel free to look around at some of her other videos to watch her quilt.) To me, that's real control over the fabric and the needle when you FMQ.

Make a whole cloth quilt. I make a whole cloth every year. I made my first one 4 years ago by marking a template onto a piece of fabric and quilting along the lines. That was nice and it reflected my skills at the time. But, it is very plain. The next year, I traced that same template onto a new piece of fabric and it was MUCH better. And, I filled in around everything with background filler. And, this year, I made a fancy quilt. This is an annual reminder of how much better I'm doing.

Finally, my advice is to give it a try. Don't be stopped. Diane Gaudynski says: Keep quilting, your work gets better every day. And, it's true. The more you do it, the more you'll enjoy it and the more you enjoy it, the more you'll try and the more you try, the more you'll find you can do. Whatever is stopping you; the right tools, courage, project; get it out of the way and just give it a try. You'll never know what you're missing if you don't give it a try. And, if you don't like it, well, at least you'll be able to say, I don't FMQ because I don't like it. That's better than I don't FMQ because I'm afraid of it. There's plenty to be afraid of. There's no need to be afraid of anything that you do in the privacy of your own sewing room.

Take care and have a great Tuesday. Lane


Shevvy said...

I like the tip about speeding up the machine when you've warmed up. I never thought of doing that.


Stormy Days said...

Words of wisdom, I agree with everything you said. Before I started quilting, but was getting the bug, I was at a friends and asked her about her FMQ. She said it's easy and fun just watch. So when I wanted to do it, no problem, no fear, I just dove right in. It wasn't easy or fun, but I kept at it.

Michelle said...

Excellent post! You are right. Speed works much better.

Rhoda said...

Like you, I find that I can get a much smoother rhythm going if I go a little faster. I think sometimes I go too fast, but then we're all always still learning, right?

Elizabeth said...

Amen to everything you said!

And, not that I'm any expert, but I think that doodling it out with a pencil and paper before moving to the practice quilt sandwich really helps. Paper is cheaper than fabric. I got a few notebooks when they were on sale and have used them as doodle pads for quilt designs. It helps get my brain in the right frame of mind.

xo -El