Beginner machine quilting headaches
I'm a beginning quilter (although more advanced in piecing) and am making a crib quilt and have a lot of trouble controlling my quilt on my domestic machine.
No matter how I roll it, throw it over my shoulder, curse at it, the bulk of it blocks my stitching by pulling it out of alignment.
I spend more energy trying to control the part I'm not sewing than the stitches themselves.
It seems to easy when you're just using a small practice block, but the real thing is another story.
Incidentally, I'm talking about ditch quilting and cross hatching. I wouldn't dare get into free motion.
If you're ready to throw your sewing machine out the window, then I most heartily welcome you to the club! Anyone who's quilted has experienced that very same gut-twisting frustration at one time or another. Myself included.
Let's go through some things that can help you along the road to becoming a confident machine quilter.
You only move what's between your hands.
a weird concept to make your own because it seems so counter-intuitive.
The only part of the quilt that you 'want' to have move is ONLY
that which is between your hands—not in front of—not behind.
That's because it's the only part you have control over.
I don't know if you're a garment seamstress, but when you're sewing garments you can really clip along at a good pace for a long time, simply because it's possible to 'walk your hands' as you sew. There are only two layers of fabric. Maybe a layer of interfacing or thin lining.
With a quilt, as you've experienced, that batting adds significant bulk. If you push or pull on it from a distance (i.e. in front of or behind your hands) it acts as if it's got a mind of it's own. It'll fold and bend of it's own accord.
Setup your quilting space for success.
If you can, get at least a table top sewing table like the Sew Steady. It gives you more room for your hands and quilt. Click here to learn more about it.
I quilted on one for years.
The best set-up is to have a sewing machine cabinet or table that your machine sits in so that the bed of the machine is flush with the table top. I've used both a Sew Ezi portable sewing machine table and a permanent one by Horn. All have different price points. But, again, the bed flush with the table top is a huge advantage.
Set up your quilting area so that the quilt is supported by a flat horizontal surface. One that the sandwich can't fall off of resulting in it being pulled and jerked from your control
. Use portable banquet tables to extend your flat surface space.
Quilt only as far as what's between your hands.
This next step is the hardest. STOP STITCHING
—preferably with the needle down to hold your patchwork. Re-position your hands and start again.
It takes discipline to stop to reposition. We seem wired to want to just keep stitching.
Arrange the quilt under the arm of the machine to suit YOU.
When I first learned to machine quilt, the standard instruction was to roll the quilt sandwich up into a big log. Bicycle clips were used to hold it together.
That sucker was stiff, rigid and hard to move...for me.
Now, I only use that technique if I'm quilting long lines through the center of the quilt. That's simply to get it all under the arm of my machine. But once I get a bit out from the center, then I re-adjust the quilt with something I call 'smush-push-and-fold'.
Sometimes it's a loose accordion fold. Sometimes the quilt is puddled around the needle (especially for free motion quilting). Sometimes the quilt is over my shoulder. Sometimes I
lay it on my boobs for support.
The point is, that you will need to try different things to find out what works best for YOU
. Be prepared. Different quilt 'positions' may work best for different situations. It is all relevant to YOUR
Ditch quilting doesn't always have to be in the ditch.
As children we learn to do things in baby steps. 'Cause we're children, baby steps isn't a bad word.
As we mature, somehow that word can take on a negative connotation—like we're not learning something fast enough or we should be able to do it already.
Learning to manage a quilt sandwich under the needle is a big thing all by itself. Add honing in on that ditch to perfectly lay your stitches down in, well that's a whole other skill.
Once learned, you will own
the skill and readily be able to call on it. That's the confidence factor. It's huge and worth every baby step it takes to build it.
So, for this quilt, you might choose to use one of your machine's decorative stitches—one that's usually called the serpentine. It wiggles evenly from side to side.
You aim for the ditch with your foot for practice. The stitches, however, miss the ditch on purpose. You can use this stitch for your crosshatching, too. It adds a great texture to the quilt. I've used it myself on baby and charity quilts.
As you've been piecing for awhile, one of the things you've probably learned is that you can do most anything in a quilt design. The important part is that it looks like it was meant to happen
An example of this is when you put an 'ugly' or really bright fabric into your quilt top. If you add it in a single spot, the eye is drawn to it like a beacon.
Piece it in at least 3 times, and it now forces the eye to survey the whole quilt. Add it in points that form a triangle. Now it looks like it was 'accidentally-on-purpose' and you're a quilting genius for making your design sing!
Using the serpentine stitch does the same thing. The stitching is never in the ditch so the eye never expects it to be there.
This way you get to concentrate more on the act of stitching and moving, adjusting and controlling the sandwich as you quilt.
Your baby quilt gets finished.
You get more practice.
More practice develops your confidence.
You've already done a couple of other good things!
You've expressed your frustration. Getting it out helps you relax. At my house we call it venting. When we acknowledge what it is and don't let it stop us, it's a good thing.
I expect that you should be able to do this. With practice.
I don't expect that you 'should be able to do this' right off the bat.
And I certainly don't expect that you should be able to do this PERFECTLY
. If you're like most quilters, only a couple of the quilts you in your lifetime will you consider 'perfect'.
It's just the nature of the craft.
The other thing that you did that was REALLY SMART
is that you're not starting with a 'quilt the size of Egypt', as my girlfriend likes to say.
Can you imagine how you'd feel if this was a king size quilt? But I've seen it happen time and time again where the first quilting experience a beginning machine quilter goes for is the quilt intended for her own bed. That'd be enough to stop me from quilting I fear.
Elzsbeth, I hadn't intended to turn this into a 'War and Peace' tome. I wrote it as if I was sitting next to you talking you through. You can
do this. I have faith in you.
I'd love to hear how this turns out.
To my readers...we've all been here. Please share your encouraging words below in the 'Comments'. Thank you.