Machine Quilting 101

When I started learning to quilt, I looked at blogs and read lots of books. This helped me decide what I did and didn't like. Project #2 and the yet-to-be completed Project #3 were found online. These sources helped me piece together a quilt top. Blogs helped me learn how to properly make a quilt sandwich and finish my quilt. But I knew enough about my sewing skills that I knew I would need help with the actual quilting of my projects. A local quilt shop, Prairie Shop Quilts, held a Machine Quilting class this weekend led by the very capable Elvia Illig.

Elvira had a list of supplies we were to bring to class, including a prepared quilt sandwich of muslin and batting. I purchased my muslin at a different store and unknowingly, or perhaps ignorantly, purchased 2 yards of very w-i-d-e muslin. 92 inches to be specific. Well, I figured it out and made my 1 yard muslin practice quilt and drew the very specific grid Elvira requested for her class. I used the purple marker that says the ink will vanish in about 48 hours. Here is my work:

Assuming the ink was light sensitive, I folded the muslin up and immediately put it away. (I did this Friday morning for a Saturday class.) Did you guess what I'm about to say? Yep, when I got to the class all my markings were gone. 48 hours? I laugh at the 48 hour time frame, ha! No bother, marking it up was easier the second time around.

During class, Elvira gave us some great hints.
  • use thread that matches your fabric
  • use monofilament thread when quilting "in the ditch" It's invisible and won't interfere with the fabric.
  • If you're having problems with your quilting, do some diagnostics: re-thread your machine and your bobbin; change your needle
  • In the middle of your stitching, when it seems like what you're doing is horrible, keep going. There is beauty in abundance.
  • To start and end your thread do the "bobbin trick." Pull the bobbin thread up through the batting. Practice this. A lot!
  • A fast needle and slow hand movements are the key to machine quilting.
These are the stitches that Elvira demonstrated and we "learned":
  • How to use the scary foot (aka walking foot)
  • In the Ditch
  • How to use the free motion foot (feed dog down)
  • How and why to use quilter's gloves. Use them once and you'll know why.
  • Meandering. Stippling (Meandering, Jr.), and microstippling (Meandering III)
  • Loops, Loops and Stars, Pebbles (small circles), and circles
  • Flames, Heartbeat, and Waves (I never did try Waves)
  • in the border: Alphabet (l's and e's) and Continuous Leaves in a border
  • Tear drops (graded) and Baptist Fan
  • and lastly McTavishing
This is my attempt at circles, loops, and pebbles.

Things I learned:
  • I thought I knew how to use my machine. I mean. I do know how to use my machine. But machine quilting? All bets are off! If I threaded that machine, I threaded it 25 times. Truly. As I was getting in the groove, the thread was gone. Get in the groove, snap, the thread broke. I was very frustrated. Elvira did what she could to diagnose the problem... re-threaded the bobbin, changed the needle. Snap. it was frustrating. After I got home, I showed Dave my attempt and told him how frustrated I was at the thread continuously breaking. Nonchalantly he said, "change the thread." Says I, "the instructor said the thread was good." As I was practicing in my sewing room, snap goes the thread. At this point, it wouldn't hurt to change the thread... and if I can actually see the thread wouldn't that be good? It worked. The thicker thread stayed in the machine and I learned a little more about how to machine quilt.
  • I need an extension table for my machine. The small surface is hindering what I'm able to do. I found a project on e-How to make an extension table. If I continue to quilt, I'll need a new machine. Until that happens, a homemade table will work.
  • I need to find the right needle speed for me. And this might change once I get that extension table. A fast needle and slow hand movements are the key. Fast needle and jerky hand movements = jumped stitches. Jumped stitches are bad. Bad. Uniform stitches are good and uniform stitches are formed with slow hands and a fast needle.
  • I need to practice. Rome wasn't built in a day. Quilting may or may not be for me. But I won't know unless I practice.
  • I should take more classes. It's good for technique.