• The Basics of Free-Motion Machine Quilting

    I decided to split it into three parts so it does not seem too long. The complete article containts the following chapters:

    THE BASICS OF FREE-MOTION MACHINE QUILTING
    TOOLS YOU'LL NEED TO BEGIN MACHINE QUILTING
    FREE MOTION QUILTING IN A FRAME
    QUILTING FEET AND NOTIONS
    PRACTICE QUILT
    BEGIN QUILTING
    REALLY FREE-MOTION QUILTING
    WORKING ON A LARGE QUILT
    WARM UP EXERCISES EACH TIME YOU QUILT

    Here is today's installment:

    THE BASICS OF FREE-MOTION MACHINE QUILTING

    Machine quilting is a different art form than hand quilting. There was a time in the recent past that machine quilting was considered inferior to hand quilting. Today many machine quilters are winning awards in national and international quilt contests. Their machine work shows skills of free-motion quilting that was not considered possible in previous generations.

    In studying historical documents we find that the women of the 19th century did indeed machine quilt. There are documented antique quilts that were machine quilted as early as the 1860's. Most women who had sewing machines at that time wanted to utilize them to save time in making quilts for day to day use. In fact because the sewing machines were so expensive in their economy, several women would purchase one machine on shares with each one having the machine in her home for a specified amount of time. The reason there are fewer machine quilted utility quilts available in antique stores today is because antique dealers thought the present antique quilt consumer wanted hand quilted quilts. And a lot of the machine quilted utility quilts were literally used up.

    Modern quilters today have very busy life-styles yet still want to make quilt tops and quilt them for their own use or to share with others. A quilt for a child, teen or nursing home resident will need to be sturdy enough to handle heavy use. Today our machine quilted quilts will hold up under heavy usage and many launderings.

    TOOLS YOU'LL NEED TO BEGIN MACHINE QUILTING

    You will need a machine for free-motion quilting that has the capability of dropping the feed dogs (the little teeth that pull the fabric through the machine). Some machines come with a small plate that clips on the needle plate to cover the feed dogs. If your machine doesn't drop the feed dogs or have a cover plate, you'll have to improvise with a business card. Punch a small hole in the center of the business card and tape it over the feed dogs to cover them. Be sure to line up the hole in the card with the small hole in the needle plate.

    If you will be purchasing a new sewing machine soon, be sure to look into the larger throat short-arm machines. A standard home sewing machine has approximately a 7 x 4 1/2" throat area (the distance between the needle and the motor). Some models are a little larger with up to a 9 x 6" throat area. If you do the math, the area of the larger machine is almost twice as much as the standard machine. This would give you a lot more area to maneuver the bulk of the quilt. Both of these machines are considered a short-arm machine. The machine I quilt on has a 9 x 6" throat area. It also has a thread cutter activated with a touch of a button on the machine or the foot control. Most major sewing machine manufacturers now have a larger machine available for quilting. These features will make your free-motion quilting much easier. Check with your local dealer about the availability of these larger machines.

    One step up from the larger throat short-arm machine is the mid-arm machine. These machines have a 15" - 17" throat distance. The mid-arm machines are much more expensive but still in the price range of many quilters. If you are only quilting for yourself and gifts, this would be a very nice machine.

    The long-arm machines are priced so high they are not cost effective for the average home quilter. If you would like to quilt professionally on a full time basis you might earn enough to regroup your investment.

    FREE MOTION QUILTING IN A FRAME

    There has been discussion whether it is easier to move the quilt in the machine or move the machine on the quilt. If your budget allows there are many short-arm and mid-arm quilting frames available. These frames have a system of two or three rails where the top, batting and backing are attached. Your standard sewing or larger sewing machine sets on a carriage that glides on rollers and ball bearings moving the machine on the quilt.

    I have experience in both methods. First I learned to free-motion quilt by moving the quilt. After about five years of quilting free-motion, I purchased a frame. I find my experience in control of the speed of the machine and movement of the machine carriage is transferable to frame quilting. The first time I tried the frame at the dealer she was surprised my friend and I could control the size of the stitches and speed of the machine so easily. We felt our experience in moving the quilt and controlling the speed of the machine with the speed of our hands was similar in both situations.

    It is possible to learn to free-motion quilt well on a regular home machine. One award winning national quilting teacher I know quilts all her quilts on a standard size machine. So your choice of having a frame or larger machine for machine quilting is a personal choice. I suggest you go to your local dealer and try one of the larger machines on a frame and see how it works for you.

    That's all for now. Next time, I'll post the following chapters: QUILTING FEET AND NOTIONS, PRACTICE QUILT, and BEGIN QUILTING.
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