Saturday, March 22, 2014

FMQ Journey Over the Last Few Years

Here's my very first quilt and hand quilting project that I made ever. It was back in 1997 after my mom said, "you should try quilting", so I did. I don't recall where I got this pattern. I must have thought it looked like something I could make. The sashing and borders gave me trouble; they never lined up very well.

My stitches in the center six-point stars were around 2 per inch. I didn't even know there was such a thing as free motion quilting. I am happy to still have this piece in my possession. I continue to use these color choices to this day. I think I still have one of the fabric's scraps in my stash.

Quite a few years went by where I did no quilting at all. I would sew, make clothes and home decor, but not quilts. Then, I was in the local library and took out some quilting books. One had really cute blocks in it and I started making my first real pieced bed quilt. I had to change the patterns so I could fit them all into the quilt. I called it my calendar quilt, since it had a block that represented something about each month of the year. I stitched in the ditch around each month but still have to do quilting on it.

I remember stumbling onto Leah Day's website as I was searching for a place to learn how to do FMQ. I was making a bunch of blocks and had quite a few of them so I figured they should be joined into a quilt! And I wanted to quilt it! I just didn't know how!

I wanted to learn how to do something other than feed dog sewing. I didn't know anyone who did FMQ; the websites I found were all I had to go on, and there weren't many that helped me very much. So I watched Leah's videos on my phone app over the course of about 6 months before I mustered up the courage to try to learn this new skill for myself.

The day came in December of 2011. I was never so nervous in front of my Project Runway sewing machine! I made my quilt practice sandwich, put on that special FMQ foot that I bought, dropped the feed dogs, loaded up a bunch of bobbins, put on a pair of rubber tipped gardening gloves, and sat in front of this machine I was so familiar with, scared to touch it. Then, I remembered that I had to do a load of laundry...right at that moment. Off came the gloves and down the stairs I went with the wash. Yes, I was stalling. You know how it is.

Taking on FMQ is rough on the psyche. About a half hour later, I was back with my rubber tipped gardening gloves on, and this time I started to sew. I didn't expect to be perfect but I did expect to not have as many problems as I had. Watching the videos wasn't enough. My brain said, yes, but my body didn't know what it was doing!

Fortunately, I saved some of my earliest practice pieces. They were so bad. And I was so frustrated! I knew I could do this. Like the little train, I told myself I think I can! The front looked pretty good...

But the back was all wrong. I examined what was going on in the hot mess on the back of my stitches. "Change the tension dial" came to mind. That's a thought we don't ever want to have! Are you with me?!!!

So I started turning the dial that none of us ever want to have to turn. Press the pedal... make loops...make something that barely resembles stipple shapes. The front isn't too bad. Not better but not too bad...

And my heart would sink when I'd look at the back. "Well, I must have turned the dial the wrong way"...

More front work...

But it's not getting better, it's getting worse... gak! Now there's loose stitches on the front!

And the back looked like a toddler scribbled all over it! I didn't even know my bobbin thread could ever look like that!

I was totally convinced that I broke my machine! My mom, who was a wonderful seamstress, told tell me that most likely wasn't the case. She said it was pretty difficult to break a sewing machine. Then, she suggested to set the machine back up in normal sewing mode and try to sew and see if the stitches looked ok. 

Off to another little sandwich I started sewing... in normal mode... with messed up tensions... turning the dreaded dial... holding my breath...

And finally I saw the lines (on the right side) were back to normal again, so she was right. My machine was fine. It was me who needed the fine tuning and practice! ok, I can deal with that.

Back to my quilt. The reason I decided to learn FMQ in the first place. I had narrowed it down to 5 patterns and this was the one that I chose to do on each of the solid blocks. I figured if they were overlapping, they might stay together longer than if they weren't! Each of the other blocks had some roughly FMQ'd design that I thought matched the feel of the block. The final result was just great. And I was hooked onto free motion quilting!

My tool inventory shaped up too. I got rid of the gardening gloves for real quilting gloves, got bobbin genie washers, a supreme slider, some good isachord thread. I even upgraded to a Viking sewing machine. Yes, I'm hooked!

One smaller project I made, with Leah's online instructions, was this pretty number. We did a modern quilt and FMQ'd zen-tangles filled with various fills.

Basic stippling

Circuit board

Flame stipple (this was a hard one for me)

Loopy lines (this one is an absolute fave and I use it a lot)

And sharp stipple

One day, I got the idea to do practice FMQ-ing on prequilted fabric pieces. No pinning required! If I found any plain remnants in clearance bins, I'd pick it up on the cheap for when I wanted to noodle out stuff like this.

Nothing serious. Just whatever popped into my head would get stitched out. Including the overly large flower on the little tiny stem. What does that remind you of? The man-eating plant from the movie, Little Shop of Horrors? Regardless, the backs began looking much better than they used to!

Another day, I pulled out some fabric that I always pass over when I'm making projects and turned it into a practice sandwich that's ready for stuff like this. Leah Day fans will recognize them!

One of my favorite practice pieces turned into an actual mini-quilt. There are a lot of Leah's designs in this piece. I was getting the binding down on it here but it is done and on a table in my sewing room now.

If you've looked through Leah's site, you would have found, and possibly made, this project. I decided to make it a little smaller than her pattern so it would make a pretty wall hanging. I gave it to my mom as a gift and a testament to what she handed down to me that first time she encouraged me to "try quilting."

Who hasn't heard of Patsy Thompson? Well, I hadn't until late 2012. She was part of SewCalGal's 2012 FMQ challenge. This gorgeous wholecloth design was Patsy's project. I trimmed it out into a square and bound it in burgandy. I was so proud to make this! I have thought it would be beautiful to make a pair of them and turn them into pillows.

Now, I'm part of the FMQ 2014 Building Blocks Quilt Along and am enjoying it so much. Thank you, Leah, for teaching me from afar and giving me the push I needed to learn free motion quilting and for making a place for our community of quilters to connect.

Keep practicing and love what you do, each step of the way. This is an amazing craft and it can bring such life to your projects! I hope this overview of my journey has inspired you. I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for looking!

1 comment:

Dorthe said...

Great Blog, Pamelyn!