Free-Motion Quilting Skills

Do you want to improve your free hand machine quilting skills?  This was one of my personal goals this year.  There are many ways to do this, from reading books, watching DVDs, taking classes.  But hands on practice is critical.  But what if you are traveling without a machine, or find yourself stuck on the phone, or in a carpool?  While I’m not an expert about machine quilting (or an expert on anything), I wanted to share some tricks with you for how you can develop your free hand machine quilting skills, even in times when you don’t have a machine handy.

There really isn’t a secret to becoming a great free motion quilter.  It requires practice, practice, practice.  But not all the practice times requires a machine.  And, in addition to practice, to become a great free motion quilter it needs inspiration (or great creativity from within).  As I don’t have “great creativity from within”, I look for various opportunities to inspire.

Practice

To start, I recommend that you create a 3 ring binder where you can compile all your notes about free motion quilting.  Or, you may want to create an electronic file.  I actually have a 3 ring binder where I keep flyers, class notes, and prints that inspire and share insights.  And, I also keep a power point file where I’ve collected various designs that I’d like to master (hard copy of this file is also inside of my binder).  I like my electronic copy, as I can easily take it with me any place I take my laptop.

Be sure to right this tip down:  Get a stack of paper, or a tablet, or an white board that can easily be erased.  And keep marking tools, appropriate to each of these tools handy.  Strive to find 10-15 minutes daily “doodling” various free motion quilting designs.  When your mind and hand can easily doodle a free-motion quilting style, then give it a try on a test quilt sandwich or actual quilt.  For the purpose of this post, where I’m focusing on tricks that will work when you do not have a sewing machine handy, I’m not going to take time to talk about creating test quilt sandwiches, or what you would do on a machine. This post is about how to get your mind into that free flowing mindset, and your hand obeying the mind, to freely create designs on paper that you would want to place on fabric.

When you practice, don’t think of it as practice time. Think of it as doodling.  Close your eyes, breath in, breath out.  Visualize the free flowing line draw the image you want to create.  It might be left, right, left right, or loopty left, loopty right, or feather, feather, feather…but visualize it while you relax and breath in, breath out.  Now doodle to that same comfortable pace, while remembering to breath in, breath out.  Hear that simple beat while you are doodling?

Don’t stop in the midst of your doodle and criticize yourself.  Breath in, breath out…doodle.  Get the rythym down.

You may choose to save your drawings in your notebook, but I do not.

Inspiration:

For inspiration you can take classes, attend presentations and/or quilt shows.  Reading blogs,  websites and youtube videos are also helpful.  Some of my favorites are:

Thread Head
365 Days of Free Motion Quilting

My Quilter
All Things Quilty
Bobbin & Threads
Quilt Vine
Quilting Arts – 
Thrifty Quilter
Feathered Fibers
Diane Gaudynski
Karen McTavish
Sharon Schamber
Patsy Thompson Designs
Judy Madsen (Green Fairy Quilts)
Google Images

But in all of these opportunities, remember while you are visiting, that you need to slow down and take time to really look at the machine quilting.  Breath in what you see.  Get your mind to visualize the start, the direction, the flow and the rythym till you can close your eyes and repeat it in your mind.

I also find great inspiration from DVDs, books and various online classes.  I’ll share more on these in the future.

For now, I need to get back to my free-motion quilting without a machine (my doodling).  I’ve got that beat in my head and my mind has that whimsical flow of the needle swirling on fabric, but as I’m traveling with out my machine, I’m doodling on my whiteboard!  Great fun, and a great way to develop my free-motion quilting skills!

Do you practice your free motion quilting skills without a machine?  What tips & tricks do you recommend for others?

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4 thoughts on “Free-Motion Quilting Skills”

  1. When I used to teach free motion quilting, I would tell my students to doodle on paper and to draw out something they wanted to quilt on the paper first. It really does help. That was also the ONLY way I ended up being able to learn how to “McTavish”, was by approaching it on paper any number of times before getting it right on the machine. (shhhh…don’t tell, but…) sometimes when I am bored, even without any paper, I’ll trace out feathers with my fingertips on a desk, or other nearest available surface! It’s very relaxing!

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