Free Motion Quilting is one of my favorite parts of making a quilt, but that has not always been the case. What helped me overcome my free motion quilting fear was establishing a daily practice, but instead of practicing at my machine every day, I made it a goal to draw or doodle quilting motifs every day. My motto is: if you can draw it, you can quilt it. Let’s take a look at how to put a daily drawing practice into action and what you can learn as you draw to apply to your quilting.
The tools for establishing a daily practice are simple, and here are a few options:
- Use your Quilter’s Planner and your favorite pencil / marker / pen / colored pencil / crayon
- Paper and pencil / marker / pen / colored pencil / crayon
- Dry erase board and dry erase marker
I personally like using scrap paper and a pencil, but feel free to use whatever you are most comfortable with. A few tips to get started:
- When drawing, try to keep your writing hand off of the paper. It might feel a bit shaky keeping your hand elevated, but it will help you move directions more freely.
- When drawing, do not lift your hand / writing device of choice. Try to keep the tip of the writing device of your choice against the paper. If you need to pause, come back to the spot where you left off to begin again.
We are very accustomed to writing from the left to the right. To begin a free motion quilting practice, I suggest starting with linear designs that are meant to fill spaces: think about quilt borders or sashing strips or a jelly roll race quilt. Many quilts come with great pre-defined areas to fill in a linear fashion.
You can use a ruler to draw lines, lined paper, or simply free hand sketch (like I did above) a few horizontal lines. Starting on the left hand side of the paper, see if you can create a continuous design filling the horizontal space moving from left to right. Remember to try to keep your hand elevated and from dragging on the paper as you fill the space.
Note that the best thing for you might be to pick one design and practice it for several days in a row. You don’t have to start by trying all the designs that are shared in this post; the designs here are merely presented to give you ideas to try.
Once you have practiced linear designs and are feeling comfortable, a good follow on practice would be to create variable size linear shapes to fill. Think about curved piecing or the background behind applique: the size of the areas to fill on a quilt can contract and expand. How will you vary the quilting motif to fill the space?
Speaking of filling space, using a motif to completely fill a page is a great exercise. It helps you think about how you plan to move and how you will deal with backtracking to fill areas as you make progress.
Challenge yourself to start at the bottom of the page or surface you are practicing on. Start in the center. Start in the middle of an edge. Draw quilt blocks and practice filling in shapes of Friendship Star Blocks or Economy Blocks or whatever block you are making.
As you become more comfortable in your daily practice, here are a few things that you can begin to notice that will help as you transition from drawing to free motion quilting:
- Pay attention to the speed that you draw. Each motif will likely move at a slightly different pace. This speed will be important to think about as you coordinate your hand motion and sewing machine speed when you are free motion quilting.
- Which motifs come the most naturally to you to draw? The designs that are the easiest for you to draw are going to be great choices for motifs to use in free motion quilting first.
- How long does it take to fill a page with a quilting motif? This will give you an indication about the relative difference in the amount of thread quilting motifs use. If you ever have a shortage of thread on hand that you want to use, knowing which quilting motifs use less thread might be great knowledge to have!
- How are you sitting and holding your shoulders? Sitting (or standing) in the way that you will sit (or stand) at your machine to quilt will help make the practice translate to quilting more seamless.
- How are you breathing? Are you relaxed? Don’t forget to take breaks to stretch!