Learning to FMQ

I haven’t posted for a while! It’s already the 3rd of March, and this is my first post for 2015. In part, I was distracted by the Mouse breaking her arm in mid-January, a break that required surgery, and resulted in her spending almost two weeks at home. I was surprised at how many follow-up appointments with the surgeon and the physiotherapist have been required… but happily she’s already out of the arm splint, and can hopefully go back to regular routines before too much longer!

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Mouse enjoys the “arm jacuzzi” before physio exercises.

However, there’s another reason I have posted in a while. It’s because I haven’t been doing much sewing (other than altering sleeves to fit over Mouse’s cast). And I haven’t sewn much because… well, I’ve been intimidated.

Freemotion quilting seems like the best path forward for me: it would enable me to save a lot of money on getting my tops quilted by other people; it would also enable me to do that creative part — the actual quilting — myself, rather than hand it off to someone else. But there’s a learning curve. The first quilt I tried to quilt myself was, let’s face it, pathetic. The quilting really looked like a mess, although I thought I was starting with a simply enough design. And that left me discouraged — not because I was disappointed about the results themselves. I realize that I will suck at the start, and improve with practice. No, the discouraging thing was was I regarded as the waste of materials. Fabric and batting cost money! When my first FMQ attempt on a small quilt turned out so badly that I couldn’t even imagine myself giving it away to someone, I began to fear that I would have to throw away a lot of money in materials just practicing to get better. I didn’t want to go to a lot of work to piece something, and then ruin it with FMQ. So I resisted getting back on the machine.

Further, my wonderful DH bought me a beautiful new sewing machine for Christmas: a top of the line Janome Horizon. I couldn’t ask for more. Except, I haven’t actually used it yet. Seriously. All I’ve done so far is wind a bobbin, but the bobbin hasn’t even been inserted in the machine yet. Again, I feel intimidated by the learning curve — even though I know intellectually that learning to use this new machine might greatly improve my FMQ results.

jerabrandvig bookHowever! While volunteering in the library at guild the other week, I noticed someone returning a book that has changed my thoughts about how to proceed. It’s called Quilt As-You-Go Made Modern by Jera Brandvig. There isn’t really anything in this book that is revolutionary.

Basically, her concept is to piece your block onto a square of batting (no backing fabric) and quilt each fabric strip immediately after attaching it. You run the quilting lines off the raw edges of the fabric strip, and those run-offs are covered up by subsequent strips you attach. As a result, you don’t have to worry about stop-and-start or burying threads (unless you’ve chosen to start or end your quilting line in the middle of a fabric strip). You are only working with a small area at a time (easier to manage – no quilt bulk under the machine, no need to baste). And each new strip could potentially have different and detailed stitching.

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My first block. All straight lines.

When you are finished, the separate blocks can be attached using quilt-as-you-go sashing at the front, and then attached to a solid backing fabric, and held together with minimal quilting to stabilize. You won’t see a lot of quilting on the back, therefore, but lots on the front.

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Second block. Got more bold. Tried different stitching patterns.

But what really turned me on to this method was the realization that I could set up my old machine to piece, and then try FMQ on the fabric strips using my new machine. I would only have to worry about FMQing a strip at a time (thus, not screwing up a finished top), and I could make the blocks and even the batting squares out of scraps and off-cuts. This feels like a much less intimidating, and less wasteful method of practising FMQ.

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Third block. Different again.

Yesterday, I made three blocks using my old machine, and I didn’t even FMQ — I used my regular foot and my Pfaff’s dual feed to work on the stitch designs. But as I finished the third block, it occurred to me that I might be ready to try actual FMQ on my new machine using this method. Worst case scenario — I screw up on the immediate fabric strip. That’s not too much to rip out, if I absolutely felt the need to.

Once I start feeling more confident, I could attach several strips first, then try FMQ over that larger area. A few more blocks like these, and I’ll have a crib-sized sampler. Then perhaps I could move on to quilting the puppy blocks I have pieced for Bubs’ snuggle quilt. If I’m comfortable doing a whole block at a time, I could go ahead and add a backing piece, too, making it a true quilt-as-you-go. By then, maybe I’ll feel ready to move up to quilting a larger panel in one go.

So that’s my plan for going forward… onto setting up the new Janome for FMQ!

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