Free Motion Quilting ~ Home Machine Features & Tips
We know many of you want to learn more about free motion stitching on your home machine. Kellie from our board and Don’t Look Now blog does a lot of free motion stitching and does it well! Today she shares some tips so you can feel comfortable jumping in and trying it out on your own machine, plus features to consider when looking for a new machine conducive to free motion stitching!
From Kellie: So would you like to try your hand at free motion stitching? Or perhaps you’ve been wondering if your sewing machine can handle it? Maybe you’re thinking about purchasing a new sewing machine and would like to know what features you should look for in a machine that will make the process a whole lot easier? Hopefully I will be able to shed a little light on this for you.
What is Free Motion Stitching and why would I ever want to do it?
Free motion stitching gives you total control over the direction and stitch length of your sewing. Normally when you sew, your sewing machine takes care of all of these things. When you push down on your foot pedal activating the motor of your machine, the feed dogs under your presser foot move in perfect timing with the movement of your presser foot, bobbin & needle creating the stitches in your fabric. Aren’t sewing machines wonderful?!
Free motion sewing involves lowering your machine’s feed dogs and releasing the pressure on your presser foot… Once you have done this it’s now up to you to move the fabric while gauging the speed of your machine’s motor to perfectly time the creation of your stitches… Sounds tricky! It is definitely a learned skill, and one that requires patience and perseverance to perfect, but it isn’t rocket science and anyone can do this with practice!
Free motion stitching is used to create the beautiful swirls and curls and any other number of designs that you may like to use to quilt your quilt. Free motion sewing allows you to move your project in any direction you desire to create whatever design you desire! Sounds fantastic doesn’t it? It can also be used to finish the edges of appliqué, which I love because it provides me with the freedom to create any design I dream up!
There are a few features that will make the process of Free Motion Stitching a whole lot easier should you want to give this technique a burl…. Here are a few:
Lowering Feed-Dogs: This is enables you to disengage your feed-dogs which stops the machine from grabbing hold of the underside of your project in an attempt to feed it under the presser foot. If your machine doesn’t have this feature then you are able to cover your feed-dogs with a plate… However, I would guess that if your machine doesn’t have this feature it would be unlikely to have many (if any) of the other features that make this process more pleasurable!
There are people who don’t lower their feed dogs when they quilt. I have on occasions spent time sewing away only to find that I haven’t lowered my feed-dogs. My stitches are fine and no one would probably ever be able to tell… However I find that the drag created by the feed-dogs makes it harder to make my project move smoothly under my machine.
Needle Down: This feature enables you to program your sewing machine to stop with it’s needle down. This is a particularly desirable feature because it means that your project doesn’t move around while you reposition your hands, readjust your quilt or take a sip of your cup of tea!
Again this isn’t essential. If you are particularly careful you can try and time your stopping to coincide with the needle being in the down position. Alternatively, you just need to make sure that you hold your project still while you lower the needle with your other hand.
Hands-Free Needle Down: This is a terrific feature that allows you to raise & lower your needle using your foot pedal. This allows you to keep your hands on your project the entire time. When you need to raise or lower your needle you only need to give your foot pedal a little tap.
Knee Lift: This is one of my absolute favorite features! It took some getting used to but I wouldn’t be without one of these now! When using a knee-lift your presser foot is controlled by your knee! This is perfect for free motion stitching because you never have to lift your hand while you are sewing a project – giving you more control and you will be more likely to create better shapes.
Darning/Free Motion Foot: There are many different looks to these feet. In addition to this there are many different styles for each different brand of sewing machine! My best advice to you when you are looking at purchasing one of these feet: Make sure that you can see your work clearly around it! Many brands also have a lot of mechanics around this area and it can make it virtually impossible to see behind the foot, so look out for this if you a buying a new machine!
This foot looks like it would be easy to work with, however I find that the clear plastic actually distorts the view of your project beneath it making it very hard to sew precise and intricate patterns or around the edges of shapes. You can get a foot similar to this one with the centre part between the two red lines removed which corrects this issue
This foot is particularly difficult to work with. The metal foot obscures your vision and the mechanics behind it are right in your field of view.
This foot isn’t a bad one as it has a clear field of vision behind the foot and the front of the foot is open. I do find that the clear plastic is not as easy to work with as the next example…
This foot not only allows you to see your needle, it also allows you to see the stitches around it and your project behind the presser foot. It’s amazing how much of a difference being able to see your work makes!
Extension Table (or a cabinet capable of lowering your machine into): Being able to work on a large flat surface really helps to make your free motion stitching lines and shapes smoother and more consistent.
Many machines have optional extension tables or even better if you have a sewing table that your machine can lower into you will be amazed at how this alone improves your technique… It also helps a lot with your posture!
If you do give this technique a try make sure you are kind to your machine! Free Motion Stitching can be hard work for a domestic sewing machine! Clean out the areas around your bobbin case and under the foot plate regularly! Oil your machine regularly. Change your sewing machine needles regularly– They don’t last any longer than around 5 hours of sewing!
If you are looking to buy a new machine and you intend to use it for free motion stitching, make sure you sit down and try out the technique on the machine before you buy it! No good just taking my word or the advice of others as to how good or bad a machine might be! Sit down and give it a try… Last but not least, if you want to free-motion sew or you think that you may want to at some time in the future and the machine you can afford doesn’t have these attributes wait and save up a little more money… You won’t be disappointed!
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