Acronyms can be annoying. So, FMQ = free motion quilting. It's a type of quilting where you sew without much help from the sewing machine. The machine just moves the needle up and down. (Ok, so maybe the sewing machine contributes a teeny tiny bit more, but it doesn't feel like much.) You have to set the pace of the needle, you move the fabric, you choose the direction of movement and even the pace of moving the fabric. And when it all finally falls into place, you say, "ooooooh!" Oh, and you're freed to quilt in curves instead of just straight lines.
FMQ is a tough nut to crack. He's really hard to get to know. Super stand-offish at first. Everything just feels awkward. It's enough to make a person swear off the curves and vote straight line quilting forevermore. I think I was there about two years ago? Fortunately, he keeps showing up in blogland, beguiling, making promises, teasing out love.
If you're still in the awkward stages, everyone says to practice. Practice, practice, practice! Yes, it's true, but there's also the whole sewing machine thing. Having a better sewing machine, one known to handle the tension problems associated with FMQ and with lots of throat space to maneuver - it can create a whole lot of magic even without practice. I truly started my journey when I got a bigger machine in 2012. This year, mastering the dogwood quilting style really cemented our relationship. Now I want to keep trying new things. And, it's exciting how much more readily it comes!
Take this continuous eight pattern. When I tried this about a year ago on a test quilt sandwich the results were laughable. As in do not pass go, do not try this on a real quilt, go straight to jail. So I'm pretty floored that giving it a spin today on my Unsettled quilt is going so smashingly well! I mean, it's not perfect (hahahahaha!), but I'm darn happy. Here, let me show you some tips.
First, I decided to commit to doing this on a real quilt because I never really practice. Practice is such a good theory, but I like to make patchwork more than I like to quilt and I like to quilt more than I like to bind and I like to practice on a test sandwich.... like not at all. So, I'm all in. Unsettled is a BIG throw quilt and it's mostly pretty busy. This means that my mistakes won't be glaringly obvious. Plus, by the time I'm done I'll be pretty good at the continuous eight.
Second, I decided to mark a path to guide me. I'm using a hera marker, which just creases the fabric, to mark long, straight lines. Since this quilt has rows, I'm just measuring from the row seam, easy peasy. You do have to have good lighting to see these creases. But, a hera marker applies faster than most pencils or pens and is endlessly reusable.
These paths are 3" wide. I aim for the edges of my loops to be right up near the crease lines. This keeps my eights nice and straight and mostly the same width. Oh, also the first continuous eights I stitched were on top of the row seam. Using the row seam as "center" helped me orient my loops.
Early on I checked the stitch quality on the back of the quilt (always a key practice when FMQing). As often happens, I had poor stitch quality in the curved areas of the pattern. The bobbin thread was not being pulled tightly enough towards the top of the quilt. Instead, the top thread was getting pulled in the direction of the curve on the backside of the quilt. When this happens, tighten your tension! Also, try to slow down at the curves. In my experience, some of the more affordable machines will have this pulling problem no matter how much you tighten the tension and reduce your speed. But, it's definitely worth a try!
Today I'm saying "oooooooh" because stitching this continuous eight pattern is truly joyful and therapeutic, one of those tantalizing promises Mr. FMQ likes to make. For me, defined patterns like this one and the dogwood are so much more relaxing than open ended stuff, like the meander, where I have to make decisions to go left or right. Denyse Schmidt uses this continuous eight a lot in her work and her books. I like that it has the durability and all-over style of the meander, but still has a defined shape. Next time I'll aim to make mine even wider, say 3.5" or 4" wide with less negative space between rows.
Want to know the clincher when it comes to me and FMQ? He's fast! Which is great because there's always another quilt top coming...