REALLY FREE-MOTION QUILTING
Meandering -- In an area of your practice quilt that is not marked practice meandering. Meandering is large squiggles sort of like puzzle pieces that loop in and out and around. Meandering is 1/2" apart or larger. I have seen meandering that was spaced as much as 2 inches. Stippling is similar to meandering but 1/4" or smaller.
Loops and curlicues - Make a row of loops, tall ones like a cursive letter L. Make a row of short loops like a cursive letter E. Alternate L's with E's.
Quilt curlicues like a series of cursive "C"s. Quilt random loops or a "question mark" shape. Use your imagination.
Waves -- Quilt a series of waves. Quilt upside down waves.
Write your name - Quilt your name.
Echo Quilt - Echo quilt around your name. Echo quilting is simply quilting around again and again sort of like dropping a pebble into a pond and watching the concentric circles rippling toward the edge.
Stones -- Quilt small circles nesting in near each other so it looks like a stone fence. Or quilt grapes in a similar manner.
Angles, stars, icicles -- Quilt random angles making pointed loops. Quilt five-pointed stars -- remember from childhood -- meander -- quilt another five-pointed star, continue. Quilt a row of icicles. Quilt another row of icicles.
Flowers -- Quilt a five or six petal flower -- with or without a center -- meander -- quilt another flower, continue.
Hearts -- Mark a vertical line on your fabric. Start at the top and quilt half a heart on the right side of the line -- continue quilting half hearts to the bottom. Start at the top and quilt half a heart on the left side of the line -- continue quilting half hearts to the bottom.
Curvy Grid -- Mark quilt with both vertical and horizontal lines. Quilt a curvy line like a continuous "S" on all the vertical lines. Turn quilt and quilt a curvy line like a continuous "S" on all horizontal lines.
Loopy Grid -- Mark quilt with both vertical and horizontal lines. Quilt loops on all vertical lines. Quilt loops on all horizontal lines.
Fill your practice square with a lot of quilting. Relax and play while you get the feel of moving your quilt with the speed of the machine. Don't be too concerned with variations right now. Remember it takes time to become proficient.
Make several more practice quilt "sandwiches" and continue practicing to get the "feel" of the machine and the speed you need to move the quilt. Continue following your marked lines and keeping your stitches as even as possible.
Continue with more practice on small projects such as placemats, table runners, or wall quilts. Graduate to a baby quilt, then lap quilt and on to a full size quilt.
WORKING ON A LARGE QUILT
Some quilters recommend "packaging" the quilt by rolling or fan-folding and securing with bicycle clips, "butterfly" hair clips, or clothespins. I have tried these methods and find that just "scrunching" the quilt works best for me. The rolls or folds are heavy and awkward to handle. I keep the area I am quilting flat on the bed of the machine and scrunch the remainder of the quilt on the table. I mentally divide my quilt in quarters and work from the center out, quilting each section. If your quilt has sashing or block divisions, you could quilt your straight lines with the walking foot first, this will keep layers from shifting. Then go back and free-motion quilt in the block areas.
When I first learned to machine quilt, many books I read, talked of large tables at the side and back of the sewing machine to hold the bulk of quilt. That is not always possible if you live and sew in a small space as I do. I have quilted a queen size quilt with my machine on a 20" x 40" table with no extra space to contain the bulk of the quilt. Some of the bulk was in my lap but the majority was scrunched on the table. Remember you are only working in the area on the bed of the machine. That part should be flat and taut but the remainder of the quilt can be randomly piled on the table.
If you see a mistake when you are quilting, don't stop and take it out immediately -- place a safety pin at the mistake and when your piece is all quilted, look again. In the overall appearance of the piece, you might find the mistake is less obvious and just leave it. The more a piece is quilted the less you will see the deviation in one area.
WARM-UP EXERCISES EACH TIME YOU QUILT
I enjoy machine quilting, but find that large projects are just too cumbersome to do in my limited sewing area. Personally, what works best for me is to work in smaller units. I actually will assemble small units of a quilt sandwich and machine quilt,although not too close to the edge. When all of the small units are quilted, I fold back the batting and backing and pin away from the edges. Then, I sew the quilt top units together. After this is done, then I trim the batting close to the seam allowance. Finally, I fold, press and pin the back seams. These are blindstitched by hand. This will work on any size quilt. It can also make quilting portable. The hand work finishing portion can be taken anywhere for those "hurry up and wait times, " such as the doctor's office or waiting on your child at soccer practice!.
Make a quilt sandwich using a baby or juvenile cheater panel. Have it near your machine. Each time you sit down to quilt you might want to do a "warm-up exercise" on your practice piece. Just stitch some swirls and loops or a sample of whatever design you plan to use on your quilt. When this cheater panel is all quilted, you could bind it and donate it to charity.
I have been told if you practice free-motion quilting for 20 minutes a day you will be proficient in three weeks. I also have been told it takes up to a hundred hours of practice to become proficient. It will depend on your machine skills and other sewing experience. If this is a skill you would like to perfect, don't give up. Continue practicing until free-motion quilting becomes second nature.
There are several machine quilting books available that I have found helpful that will give you tips and pointers for free-motion quilting.
Guide to Machine Quilting by Diane Gaudynski, AQS, 2002
Heirloom Machine Quilting by Harriet Hargrave, CT Publishing, 2004
Machine Quilting: a Primer of Techniques by Sue Nickels, AQS, 2003
Show me how to Machine Quilt by Kathy Sandbach, CT Publishing, 2002
Show me how to create Quilting Designs by Kathy Sandbach, CT Publishing, 2004
Easy Machine Quilting, Jane Townswick, Editor, Rodale Press, Inc., 1998