Today, I'm presenting to you the second of three parts of the article on free-motion quilting. You can find the previous part here.
QUILTING FEET AND NOTIONS
It is essential that you have a darning foot or free-motion quilting foot that fits your machine. Some free-motion feet are square of clear material with a small grid printed on it, some are shaped like an oval, and some are open like the letter "C". The foot allows the fabric to move freely between stitches yet is down as the needle enters into the fabric. Usually the free-motion foot has a bar that is placed above the needle screw and is attached to the machine with the thumb screw like any other foot. Check with your sewing machine dealer for the correct foot for your specific machine.
For machine quilting use a new needle. An 80/12 or 90/14 universal needle would be a good choice to start. If your needle is too small your thread will shred or break. Do not use ball point needles for machine quilting. Universal needles pierce the fabric and ball point go between the weave causing stitches to look uneven. Machine quilting needles are available and would also be a good choice. When you begin to use specialty threads you might want to try specialized needles such as Microtex.
Good quality thread is very important. You don't want thread that will break and shred. It will only add to your frustration. For a beginner I suggest using regular 100% cotton thread. Many quilters recommend clear monofilament thread because it is hard to see after quilting and your mistakes are less visible. It is also hard to see to thread the needle and take out misplaced stitches. If I am using monofilament thread I prefer Sulky Polyester Invisible Thread. I know a lot of quilters use nylon monofilament thread but I find the polyester is softer. The little knots and ends are less "pokey". Nylon thread would not be recommended for a baby quilt or an elderly person. For the bobbin use 100% cotton thread even if you are using monofilament in the needle. Later when you are more experienced you can experiment with rayon, metallic and other novelty threads. With novelty threads in the needle a 100% cotton bobbin is recommended.
For batting 100% cotton or a cotton blend batting is recommend for beginners. I do like the loft or puffiness of a low-loft polyester batting and do use it regularly. High loft polyester batting is not a good choice for machine quilting. I find it is slightly more difficult to quilt the polyester batting as evenly as cotton batting. An advantage to cotton batting is it clings to the fabric and you may have less puckering.
I wear gloves to quilt. I tried several products on the market especially for gripping the quilt as you are moving it under the needle. Quilting gloves were too warm and caused my hands to perspire. I tried spongy disks, a plastic tool like a steering wheel, and office supply fingers. I now use small stretchy acrylic winter gloves that have plastic grippers on the palms and fingers. They are not too hot and they grip the quilt. I do have to remove them if I have to re-thread the needle. If you live in a warmer climate and these are not available to you maybe a friend or relative in a colder climate would send you a pair. I usually buy them at chain discount stores or dollar stores.
There is a silicone product that is a flexible sheet about the size of a sheet of paper. You tape to the bed of the machine to help the quilt slide better. As with any quilting notion you will have to decide for yourself what works best for you.
For practice make a "quilt sandwich" approximately 20" square of muslin backing, batting, and muslin top. Baste with safety pins approximately 4-6" apart, pinning through all three layers. You don't want to use straight pins because you'll scrape your arms on the points as you quilt and they will fall out. Hand basting with thread is not sturdy enough to hold the layers as you are machine quilting. I have had some lap-size quilts machine basted by a long-arm quilter and it worked well.
Many machine quilters mark their quilt with continuous line quilting designs especially for machine quilting or a design you might use for hand quilting. Continuous line quilting stencils are readily available or you might find a pattern in a book. Mark your quilt with a marker that is easily removable. The marking should either brush off or be washable. You don't want to see your marks when you are finished.
Thread your machine. Drop your feed dogs or cover them with a plate or business card. Check your manual or with your dealer for any other instructions for free motion quilting. Some suggest you set your stitch length to "0" (zero) so the feed dogs are not working as you free motion quilt. This may save wear and tear on your machine.
Place your basted quilt "sandwich" under the pressure foot. When using the darning or free-motion foot, be sure to have the presser foot in the down position. If it is up, the tension is loose and you will have knots and loops under your quilt. Bring bobbin thread to the top. Hold both top and bobbin threads, begin by stitching very small stitches for 1/8" to lock the threads. Place your gloved hands on either side of the needle. Your fingers are forming a hoop. Don't stretch the quilt but keep the area you are working flat and taut. I find my fingers and thumb resting on the quilt more than the palms of my hands. Relax your shoulders. Once you have stitched a few inches you can clip your threads. After stitching a few minutes check your tension and make any adjustments necessary. To end stitching, stitch very small stitches for 1/8" to secure and clip threads. Remove basting pins as necessary.
Now start stitching on your marked line, moving your quilt sandwich at a medium speed and running your machine at a medium speed. I find that if I sew fast I cannot move my hands fast enough and the stitches are very small. If I sew too slowly my stitches are very large. You will need to practice so you can learn to synchronize the speed of your hands with the speed of your machine.
Move your quilt from side to side and from front to back following your marked lines. You don't want to turn your quilt. You won't NEED to turn your quilt. As you practice you will see how easy it is to move the quilt in all directions.
That's all for now. Next time, I'll post the following chapters: REALLY FREE-MOTION QUILTING, WORKING ON A LARGE QUILT, and WARM-UP EXERCISES EACH TIME YOU QUILT.