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Free Motion Quilting

Posted January 09, 2013 in Advice Column, Greene County

Free motion quilting is a way of quilting your quilt tops with your home sewing machine. It involves moving your quilt sandwich (top, batting and backing) under the needle to create a quilted design on the surface of the quilt.

As you’re adding your design, you are also securing the three layers together. Most people prefer to quilt only small quilts and wall hangings with their home machine because larger quilts are very bulky and more difficult to maneuver under the throat of a small machine.

The only equipment needed for free motion quilting is the machine and a darning or free motion quilting foot. Some machines come with this foot, or it can be purchased. This foot sits above the surface of the quilt so it can be moved under it. The length of the stitch is determined by how fast the quilt is moved and the speed of the machine. Many people do not realize that the operator is the stitch regulator. Practice is necessary to be able to coordinate these elements and move the quilt so a pleasing pattern results.

There are some recommended tools for free motion quilting that make the task easier:
•    Gloves with rubberized fingertips that make it possible to grip and move the fabric with much more control.
•    A teflon sheet with a self-sticking bottom layer that fits on the bed of your sewing machine. This enables the quilt to slide easily as the operator moves it.
•    Basting spray for holding the layers together.

Once your sandwich is ready, prepare your machine by moving the stitch length to zero. Test sew with a small practice sandwich. If the tension is not correct, adjust until the stitch looks equally good on the top and the bottom. Machines that have automatic tension usually need to be switched to a manual setting. Some quilters also purchase a second bobbin case that is set with less tension than for ordinary sewing. Finding the right tension is a trial and error process but well worth the effort. Write down your settings so you’ll be able to duplicate them the next time you free motion quilt.

Some other pointers:
• Surround your machine with tables so the quilt is completely supported. The edges of a quilt draping over the table edges will cause the stitch to be imperfect and also make moving the quilt more difficult.
•    If your machine has a start/stop button, use this instead of your foot controller. The speed will be constant without the variations that can occur when using the foot control.
•    Use the same good-quality thread in the top of the machine and the bobbin of the machine.

Information provided by Suzanne Sievers, The Stitch, 217 E. Lincolnway, Jefferson, 515-386-2014.

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