Monday, September 5, 2011

Newbie's Guide to FMQ- Part 3

Ok, time for part three of the FMQ series.  Today we're going to talk a lot about getting yourself prepared.  First off: ergonomics. 

You always ways your shoulders to be at their natural height.  Sit too low and you can get neck pain, sore shoulders, and even numbness in your fingers.  Sit too high and your lower back will be strained...not to mention it will create terrible posture.  Ideally my table would be cut out for my machine, but it's an old farm table from my husband's family and I'm not altering it.  Our solution was to buy a chair that adjusts.  The only drawback is that I get thread caught in the wheels (and sometimes cords).

I have a personal theory about FMQ...I've noticed that Type B personalities like myself tend to like it more than Type A personalities.  I think it's because we are relaxed to begin with and we're not worried about perfection so we tend to try new things and practice skills that we aren't perfect at.  I could be wrong.  I definitely think being relaxed helps.  Put on some music, wait til the kids are in bed, or stretch your muscles a bit.  I've heard some people drink wine to get relaxed, but I wouldn't personally do that.  I've FMQ when I was tired before and I put the needle straight through my finger.  Have you ever had to pull a length of thread through YOUR finger?  Yeah, it's not something I want to repeat.

Give yourself a break...My limit is 1 bobbin at a time.  I keep my machine in "needle down" position and I stop when I notice I'm getting sloppier or if I start experiencing any pain.  When you start getting tired, it is really tempting to start making your motif bigger just to finish more quickly.  You end up with a quilt that has weird, uneven texture.

Clean off your desk...I recently tried to turn my table into a cutting station, too.  Big mistake.  I started getting loops on the bottom of fabric.  I checked all the usual suspects and realized after lots of reading that my tension was off because my machine wasn't level.  Besides, you need all the room you can to rest your quilt on so you're not tugging or creating extra drag.

PRACTICE!  Here you see a practice sandwich.  Unfortunately, free motion quilting isn't like riding a bike.  You can get very rusty.  It helps to practice if it has been a while.  This is also a great time to try out new motifs.  To get started on your practice sandwich, Pull your thread to the side with the FMQ foot down. 
Press the "needle down" or lower the needle to the bobbin manually with your hand wheel on the right side of the machine.  .
Lift the needle while still holding the upper thread.  It will pull up your bobbin thread, too.

Now pull your bobbin thread and top thread to one side (together).  This is sometimes called grabbing the tails. 
Now press the needle down button.  You can rock the needle back and forth 1-2 times to secure the stitch.  Then tie your 2 threads into a knot (twice) and trim off the leftovers.  This will keep you from getting ugly nests on the back.
You can use quilting gloves or "machingers" to give you a little more grip.  I can't stand wearing gloves.  An alternative is using "no slip" shelf liner cut to the size of your hands.  I actually just prefer using my bare hands.
And just start practicing. 
If you're unsure about what needle  tension works best, you can take 2 different colored threads (the same weight and brand!) and do a tension guide.  First make sure your bobbin tension is correct.  Mark off an area for each tension setting (I only have 1,2,3,4).  You may find somewhere in between numbers works best, but this will get you started with a general idea.  You need to move your hands slower than your foot pedal, and you don't have to be going full blast.  In fact, if you have loops in the curvy areas, that probably means you should slow down in the curves.  It's tempting to put the medal to the medal, but you'll end up with more broken thread and more uneven stitches if you are going 90 to nothing. 
Change the tension each time you reach a new section to the number indicated on the section.
What you're looking for is which tension will give you no loops on top.
And at the same time, no loops on the backside.

A couple of things about different motifs...Try to avoid doing 1 huge wavy line when stippling.  It will create an odd effect on the texture.

Pebble quilting like this is a good way to practice travelling (or quilting a new line on top of a previous line)
 Loops are great for hiding words of inspiration (just stay away from i and t!
 And when I stipple I like to think about 3 things...  1) Seaweed
 2) Duck Heads

3) Dog bones.
I dunno, but it works for me! 

Lately I have been turning to Leah Day's Free Motion Quilting Project for inspiration to try things outside of stippling.  Just this week I did her "Pumpkin Patch" design and it turned out beautifully.  She shows how to take the basic free motion motifs and expand them and tweak them a little at a time to create beautiful custom quilting for your quilts. 

Now it's your turn.  I want you to tell me what problems you have with FMQ and I'm going to put together (or try to!) a troubleshooting chart that you can print out for quick reference.  So if you have thread shred,  loops, birds nests, whatever....leave me a comment and let me know and I will do my best to list the common causes and solutions for you all.  I am not an expert, but I've had almost every problem you can think of and worked my way through it.  Alright y'all...list your problems in the comments!


  1. Love the dogbones, I always called them my dionosaur heads!

  2. If I'm stipling / meandering, I get stuck on what direction I'm going.

    From the middle outwards in spiral?
    top left, across, then back again in the next "row".


  3. Great post, Mary. I quilt on two old treadles, so I had to go the adjustable chair route too. I add a folded towel for my lumbar region when I'm doing an extended quilting session.
    I've used the rubberized shelf pads instead of gloves for at least a decade. Much better alternative than hot old gloves!

  4. I really want to try this, and have ordered the foot for my sewing machine, so looking forward to maybe practising on a mug rug or two!

    As for the setup, my table is a dining table, but even with an adjustable chair I still wasn't quite high enough (obviously Habitat were building tables for giants at that time!) so I ended up buying a booster cushion type foam block to sit on on top of the chair (which I do have intentions to cover eventually)

  5. Great information. I have trouble keeping a curve when meandering - I get an anvil sometimes.

  6. Thanks for this great tutorial!! I use the gloves myself and just finished my first FMQ a couple of weeks ago.
    If I pull the bobbin thread to the top and stitch in place 3 or 4 times, do I still need to knot the two threads tog. or is that secure enough? On the quilt I just fininshed I "hid" all the threads by stitching them by hand inside the quilt layers. Very time consuming.
    Thanks!! Deborah

  7. I did not know about starting and making a knot- this whole thing is very helpful and makes me want to try it out. I guess I will have to buy myself a table though, I was working on the floor when I pieced my last quilt - not exactly ergonomically correct.

  8. This post helps me a lot, as free motion quilting is my least favorite part of the quilting process. Perhaps it comes from being the Type A personality that you quoted in the beginning. Will have to keep practicing...

  9. Mary, thanks for your post! I enjoy FMQ, and today I was imagining duck heads and dog bones, and it may be the best stippling I have done yet!

  10. I just found your blog and read your FMQ tutorials. My problem is that I developed carpal tunnel syndrome while attempting my first FMQ on a small charity quilt. What do you think I did wrong and how can this be avoided in the future?

  11. This is going to sound really bad, I'm using the Singer Confidence Machine and I've been breaking at least two needles during each practice session and creating havoc not cute potholders. However when I quilt my full size quilt project, just straight stitches only, I have NO needles break on me. Got any ideas?


Thank you for taking the time to comment!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...