Tag Archives: free motion quilting

The Bloomin’ Quilting Is Done

Bloomin’ is defined as “just a casual swear word” by The Urban Dictionary, and I used a few while quilting Rhody. As I recounted in an earlier post, I have been developing an impressionistic floral piece made with fabrics I had dyed, painted, and printed.

My original plan called for an undulating circular walking foot quilting design in several thread colors. Then, I decided to create the illusion of leaves around the edges. I had already reached the limits of walking foot quilting on the circular part, so I knew FMQ was the only way I could do leaves.

It turned out there was a lot more edge area to quilt than I had thought, so the FMQ went on for a few days, to allow my shoulders and temper time to recover. I tried several thread colors and weights to emphasize the leaves more, but I declared it was good enough when I found myself quilting the same leaves more than twice. Of course I managed to catch a bit of the excess backing fabric in the quilting, but the facing will cover that up. Only you and I will know about it.

I used seed stitch and french knots to give the flower center texture. It was backed with fusible fleece and satin stitched to the already quilted top.

“Rhody” about 33″ wide by 37″ high

Here are detail shots, plus a view of the back. As always, the back was made with whatever fabrics I had that were large enough. I pay attention to nice backs for working quilts, but not for wall art.

Of course the really boring chores – facing and hanging sleeve – remain. The fabrics are measured and cut, but sewing them on will await a time when I get stuck on my next new project and need thinking time.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, In Process

Idiosyncratic Quilting

It’s been a while since I bought a quilting related book, but I decided to spring for Paula Kovarik’s “At Play in the Garden of Stitch: thoughts that come while eyeing the needle.” Like the capitalization in the title, Paula’s work goes counter to standard practice. There are no feathers or flowers, lines are usually spiky, and her motifs often display a subversive sense of humor. In other words, she’s not to everyone’s taste.

I first saw her work at Quilt National in 2015, and again in 2017. Both entries are done on old linens and are whole cloth.

Paula Kovarik, Quilt National 2015
Paula Kovarik, “His and Hers Insomnia” Quilt National 2017

But, back to the book. First, let me tell you what this book is not about – specific FMQ patterns, step by step instructions, or student work. Instead, it’s about how Paula works and specifics of some pieces she’s made.

She doesn’t use fancy equipment. I didn’t see a longarm in the photo of her studio. She uses basic fabrics and old linens, and sews mostly with black and white thread. Her approach is process oriented – lots of practice that begins with working out design ideas on paper and proceeds to building up a story in stitch on cloth.

Doodling practice for “Glyphs”
Paula Kovarik, “Glyphs”

The book includes exercises to do on fabric squares after first working up ideas on paper. Other exercises address how to create focal points in the quilting (Paula calls them heroes,) add a bump, and one line drawing with thread. From what I gather, the last is best done after lots of practice on paper. Here’s my go at the fenceposts exercise. It was kind of fun, not something I often say about FMQ.

My thread doodling

I think the piece below is an example of one line drawing.

Paula Kovarik, “Do The Doodle”

I was surprised that Paula quilts with her feed dogs up. I tried it and found I needed to set the stitch length to at least 3; otherwise the resistance was too much for me. Another surprise was that Paula cut up one of her Quilt National quilts and used the pieces to make other work, including decorative masks. I have cut up quilts that didn’t work or I didn’t like, but if one of my pieces was in Quilt National I’d construct a shrine for it in my living room. I guess I’m not evolved enough to have such a “kill your darlings” attitude.

To sum up, this book can encourage you to jump in and take risks, and see quilting as process rather than product. It actually has specific ideas I hope to use in future quilting. I don’t think it will appeal to everyone, but sometimes it’s stimulating to see how a quilter can jump the tracks and live to tell the tale.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, Books, Inspiration, Techniques

In The Weeds

Sometimes I quilt a piece I’m not so enamored of to avoid dealing with a piece I haven’t a clue about and don’t want to screw up. Yet again I’ve sidestepped a larger (around 45 by 50 inches) piece by tackling a smaller one that I’m not heavily invested in emotionally.

In keeping with my recent efforts to use fabrics I created, I combined tissue paper and stamped fabrics with orphan blocks to make “In The Weeds.”

I kept cutting off bits and then adding strips, and finished up with a thermofax print; so the piece is a hodgepodge of surface design techniques. I decided it looked like a patch of weeds so I called it “In The Weeds.” I recalled that term being used by restaurant workers so I looked it up and came across this post at The Word Detective.

I decided the following sums up my methodology:

. . . as Mark Liberman points out, the use of “into the weeds” to mean “delving deep into the details” doesn’t carry the same sense of painful confusion as the restaurant use, and such “weed wandering” is actually the sort of thing true policy wonks enjoy. As he says in his Language Log post, “The metaphor here seems to be that when you wander off the beaten path, you can explore arbitrary amounts of not-very-valuable intellectual foliage (“weeds”) without getting closer to your conceptual destination.”

In other words, I’m on a side spur just detouring around that larger, more serious piece. Because I didn’t really care whether or not the piece was ruined I ran roughshod over it with free motion quilting. That was fun but resulted in quilting that would elicit “strive to maintain consistency in stitch length” from a show judge. I also learned that tissue paper fabric needs a longer length stitch than I used.


October 20, 2017 · 5:11 am

Yet Another Finish

August has seen one finish after another, and when I say finish I mean I’ve even sewn down the facings. Here’s “Mean Streets” (33 by 22.5 inches) which I began as one of the last assignments of my Elizabeth Barton master class.

I used a grab bag of fabric – eco-dyed linen and silk organza, painted silk organza, coarse weave linen, netting, and a fabric softener sheet. There’s non-woven interfacing under the top to help stabilize the varied assortment of fabric.

The inspiration for all the shadows was a photo of a rough town on the Mexican border. A harsh light filters through a grill to cast stripes of light onto the buildings and street. Away from that light the scene dissolves into shadows.

I really did a lot of free motion quilting on this. In fact, it’s so stiff I think it can stand up on its own.

I made the graffiti with a freezer paper stencil and fabric paint.

I used black netting to give shadows to the side of the building.

Electric wires are strung haphazardly across the buildings.

This piece won’t hang in my house, if my husband has anything to do with it, though I’m proud I managed to realize my initial idea of danger and menace.


Filed under Completed Projects

Gilding Some Weeds

In my latest effort to quilt without quilting I played around with old free motion quilting practice pieces that were underwhelming to begin with, figuring I had no worries about ruining them. I found them when I sorted through my stash of made objects to see which needed a new home. I pulled out paint and paintstiks to gild these weeds in hopes of improving them.

Occasionally I try to work with pastels and the typewriter piece is an example of why I don’t use pastels more often. I just don’t get them. Anyway, I thought some letters would go with the typewriters. I used fabric paint and large letter stencils I had.

FMQ improv with word

For another failed pastel FMQ piece I rubbed a paintstik over the lighter areas. I like how highlighting the quilting gives the insipid yellows and pinks more depth.

FMQ improv

When I washed the pieces I found that I must have used all cotton batting as they took on serious crinkling. I may hang the QUILT one on the door to my studio or donate it to my guild for the refreshments table. I know it’s completely machine washable. The other one may await a lover of pastels.


Filed under Fabric Printing, Techniques

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

About two years ago I pieced a top based on a RaNae Merrill pattern. It was inspired by some hand dyed scraps from Vicki Welsh and augmented with a black gradient and graduated gray fat quarters from her Etsy shop. It’s been hanging in my fabric closet waiting for me to summon the courage to free motion quilt it.

Two weeks ago I pulled it out and forced myself to quilt it before I could start another project. I wanted the quilting to give the effect of clouds scudding across a night sky as the moon rises. I laid vinyl on top and drew quilting designs. Because the color values change so dramatically, I decided it was futile to mark my quilting lines.

Six different thread types and a lot of ripping out later, I decided to call this done. The black fabric on the left side of the photo is being auditioned for a binding.

moon riseI used Aurifil 50 weight cotton, Sulky 40 weight solid and variegated rayon, and Sulky Holo Shimmer threads. The last I found hard to work with – lots of breaking, knotting, not stitching well – even with the use of a spool stand. Finally, by accident I discovered that Superior polyester invisible thread in the bobbin made my stitches work.

moon rise detail 1My moons have extra batting to prevent the seam allowance from showing.

moon rise detail 3I had issues with the long quilting lines that run from side to side. Forget stitch regulators. I want a quilt bulk regulator.

moon rise backMy backing fabric does a great job of hiding my stitching. In fact, I hard a hard time finding the stitches when I had to rip them out.

I don’t know whether to put a binding on this with the black grunge fabric I have or face it. I’m in no hurry. This won’t be hung in my house any time soon as my husband’s reaction was, “that’s really dark.”



Filed under Completed Projects

Recent Dabblings

Besides work on two longer term projects that I tweak a bit each day, I’ve tossed off a few palate cleansers made with scraps on hand.

Spring @ 60 MPH is now done. I even washed it to get rid of the Elmer’s school glue I used in the binding process. I combined walking foot and free motion quilting and now wish I had done all walking foot quilting. My FMQ is a lot better on a 16 square than on a larger piece.

Spring@60MPHThis qualifies as my most frugal quilt of the year as I used mostly 2.5 inch strips I had, and a piece of fabric I was given for the back.

My FMQ was better on a small improv piece I call Dappled. I used scraps I had sewn together previously, plus binding leftover from another project.

DappledThen, I did more work on two improv pieces I started about a year ago. The one shown first, My Brain On Xmas, is weird enough to have left my husband speechless.

My Brain On XmasThe “brain” fabric is a paintstick rubbing of a kitchen trivet. The dog fabric is a bit of Indonesian print I’ve had since the 1970s. Yes, there’s Christmas fabric in there. All the blue/green/yellow fabric was hand dyed.

I began the other improv piece at the same time, as you can see by the shared fabrics. I hope to use an empty frame with a mat to display a small quilt, and this piece was the only one with a chance of fitting the frame. I’ve added strips to make it fit the mat opening. So much for carefully considered design.

Idea for frame



Filed under Completed Projects, In Process

It Works!

A few posts back I was moaning about my free motion quilting problems and mentioned the special low tension bobbin case I had ordered for my Janome.  I tried it out over the weekend and found that my eyelashing and other tension related issues are gone.

This bobbin case looks just like the regular one, except that the arrow to help you line up the case is blue, not red.

janome-bobbin-holder-for-free-motion-quilting-200445007_1_largeI tried it out on an old UFO left over from a class on circles.  Here’s the back.

free motion quilting back 2And the front.

free motion quilting front 1My tension issues are pretty much gone. Now if only my other free motion deficiencies could be fixed as easily. I think I’ve run out of remedies I can buy.


Filed under Techniques


I’ve had the most frustrating two days with my Janome 6500, normally a dependable machine.  I’ve been tackling the pile of tops that need free motion quilting and realizing, yet again, that free motion and I rub each other the wrong way.

Now, a dirty little secret of my Janome is that for free motion quilting you must use bobbins made/sold by the manufacturer, not the generic ones sold to fit several brands of machines.  If you don’t, your machine will seize up and leave a thread barf ball on the back after you cut your top loose. This sudden stopping does serious damage to any quilting rhythm you have going.

thread barf ball

So I’m doing my usual improv free motion quilting on a piece I call “Rust Never Sleeps” using my official Janome bobbins, and my machine seizes up four times in half an hour. Somehow the bobbin comes unseated in the bobbin case, though I don’t know if that’s the cause of the jam or the result of the thread getting caught and pulling the bobbin up. As soon as you cut the bobbin thread the bobbin drops back into the case. This doesn’t happen with the feed dogs up.

Between all the seizures I changed my thread and my needle, cleaned out the bobbin case, and changed to another bobbin entirely. Since the problem persisted I decided two possible causes of the fault remain – either my bobbins aren’t winding right or my bobbin case has gone rogue.

I plan to try winding my bobbins on my Elna, which uses the same bobbins as the Janome.  And I found something called a low tension bobbin case for free motion quilting on Amazon.  At $28 it’s a lot cheaper than a trip to the sewing machine store where a look-see would cost at least $100, and no one seems familiar with free motion quilting. Maybe I’ll buy a new regular bobbin case as well.  That would be an additional $30.

If you know of any solutions to my problem please send them along.



Filed under Commentary

Done At Last

For well over a year I’ve been working on and off on two small wall hangings.  I took very different design approaches by happenstance, yet both represent the current stage of my quilted work. They also reflect my obsession with circles.

Mosaic was planned to a fare-thee-well.  I found a photo of a mosaic composition that appealed, revised it for quilting, drew up a full size pattern for it, and used Gloria Loughman’s techniques to make it.  I’ve blogged about my process before so I won’t repeat the details here.

mosaicMy starting point, above, and the finished product, below.

MosaicI changed the color scheme and spent a lot of time appliqueing the fabric shapes on each section before I sewed the large pieces together.  Then the piece hung over a bannister for months before I forced myself to quilt it.  If only I had been able to replicate the quilting designs in my mind – sigh.  I had hoped to give the notion of the jagged mosaic pieces. If you question the quilting you can see, you should have seen what I ripped out and redid.

Mosaic_closeup2Pong, the other piece that’s been hanging fire, has been in a state of becoming for at least a year and a half. It started as bits of fabric sewn together willy-nilly.  Then, I decided to practice some big stitch embroidery with perle cotton.  After that, I thought it needed to be bigger so I added hand dyed fabric.  When I came across leftover bits of transparent fabric backed with Mistyfuse I decided to layer that over what I had already done. Finally, I found fabric backed with Wonder Under – more leftovers – and added spirals.  All that was topped off with more embroidery. At that point I declared the piece finished for real. It was becoming very heavy.

PongThe quilting was an extra challenge as I had to work around/between the embroidery.


pong_detail1This piece is named for the prehistoric video arcade game. I thought those circles seemed to be bouncing back and forth between the sides.

Taken together, these two pieces represent my attempt to integrate several techniques in a quilt without making the techniques the quilt’s focus.  They also mark my willingness to persevere with free motion quilting on a “good” piece. I don’t know why I always do so much better on my sample pieces.

And this wraps up my finishes for 2013.  One other quilt is almost done, but since only the boring part, the binding, is left, I decided to treat myself to fabric play time for the last day of the year.

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Filed under Completed Projects, Inspiration