More Free Motion Quilting Questions Answered

Kimberlee Tanner

Did you start FMQ on a regular machine? Is that the best way to try out FMQ?

I did. I actually learned Free Motion Quilting right after I made my first quilt. The very first one I did, I hand quilted, but then knew I wouldn’t get far if I kept doing that (it was a baby quilt and took me 2 1/2 years to finish). My mom had recently taken some free motion quilting classes and showed me what she had learned, so I tried it and was hooked from the beginning. I have quilted every quilt I’ve made.

I do think it is the best way to try out FMQ. If you spend time practicing and learning the designs on a regular domestic, those skills will transfer over if you ever decide to move to a longarm. There is a slight learning curve, but it will be more on learning how to move the machine and use it as opposed to learning what path to take or how to create the design you want. Those muscle memory skills are there to stay. So if you are interested in it, find a class at your local quilt shop or google some YouTube videos and just go for it. Aside from maybe needing to buy a free motion foot, there is virtually no additional investment you will need to make, so there’s no pressure!

I have trouble with large empty spaces. Can you give ideas on how to come up with a quilting design?

I’d also like to hear ideas on getting started quilting negative space and big borders?

Large empty spaces can either be the greatest or most irritating part of a quilting design. Sometimes ideas just pop out at me and I have so much fun with them, other times I’ll stare at them for hours with no inspiration.

Some things I’ve found that help when trying to decide are:

1 – Break down the space. Can I use the style of the quilt top or the piecing that is there to create new shapes in the background? If it’s modern, I can be more playful, if it’s a more traditional design, usually you can find connecting points on the blocks and draw lines between them (curved or straight) to give you smaller areas to focus on. I seldom will try to put one large element in the background space, it’s too overwhelming and hard to quilt. Making smaller shapes makes it much easier.

2 – Create a fill. Sometimes I can get away with a large scale fill through the entirety of the negative space. Creating patterns with straight lines and rulers and just filling in the empty space can be a powerful way to add texture, but leave the focus on the piecing.

3 – Ghosting. If I have really defined blocks and lots of negative space, I love to recreate those blocks in the negative spaces. I’ll mark out the whole thing as if it was pieced and just keep going with the same quilting plan. (See the photo at the top of the post)

Do you ever have to rip out stitches because it’s just not going right? How do you avoid “backing yourself in a corner” and have to break off and start again somewhere else? Do you usually go with a thread that blends or one that pops?

I wish I could say I’ve never ripped out a stitch, but alas, I cannot. If things just aren’t going right, or the design is just not what I envisioned, I will rip it out. I’d rather spend extra time ripping and really love the final product then quilt it all out and not really be happy with it. I’ll also rip for tension issues. What I will not rip for is minor mistakes. If I have a curve that is a little flat, or a line that is slightly closer than I wanted, things like that. No one is going to see them after it’s all done. Giant, big, obvious mistakes I will take out, but I’m meaning really, really obvious ones.

To avoid backing myself into a corner and having to break thread and start over, I will draw out my stitching path a few times with my finger before I start. I’m also not afraid to stitch back over lines I’ve already quilted to move around. I try to find ones along seams lines if possible, but if not, I’ll just pick one I know I can match. Also, this is where doodling comes in very handy. If I’m really stuck I’ll draw out my path on paper. With all over designs and fills, sketching them will help you learn how to move around the quilt top and fill the space without ending up stuck some where.

How do you longarm quilt a pattern that is radial from the center? Do you baste the whole quilt, and then just work from the center out for the actual quilting?

If it’s one that really needs to go radially from the center out, I will baste the entire quilt and start in the middle. If it’s one that simply has a lot of borders, if I can I’ll do the borders as I do the inside and work my way down, but these have to be border designs that meet the seams. Border designs that stay inside the border are quilted after I’ve completed the inside and in one continual loop around the quilt. These designs require lots of rolling of the quilt back and forth if you are on a longarm. If I’m on a domestic, I always try to start in the middle and quilt it first, working my way out to the edges as I go, regardless of the quilting design. I’ve just found it makes thing easier and the more you quilt, the less bulk under the throat you are dealing with.

If you have any more questions, please shoot us an email! I’m happy to answer them.


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