I used to be afraid of free motion machine quilting. I mean like frozen in my tracks scared. If I even thought about free motion quilting, and I tried not to, my stomach would get in knots and my hands would tremble. But I want to report that I have conquered that fear! I made up a few rules that have helped me and in the spirit of giving for the holidays I'm going to share them with you.
1. Never, ever, under any circumstances, let go of your fabric when the machine is still running. That could be compared to letting go of the hand of a five year old while standing in Times Square. Imagine that scene...you letting go, child in wide eyed wonder stepping off the curb weaving his/her way among the honking yellow cabs, strolling down the street gazing happily in windows and ending up at Grand Central Station peeping over the stand at the coming trains. It would be like that. Imagine Family Circus...how the child steps in every puddle, climbs every tree, pets every cat and talks to every neighbor on his/her way home from school. Your stitches will be in a giant zigzag here, there and yonder.
2. Your machine will not stop running unless you let your foot off the gas. All the way off the gas. So when you want to stop, get your foot OFF the pedal. You can't lightly touch it like you do your car at a red light so you can inch forward until your bumper is scant inches away from the bumper in front of you. While your foot is just lightly touching the pedal the fabric is still moving under the needle. And what do you get? Another zig. Without the zag.
3. If you still believe in quarter inch seams, triangle points that meet and seams that align then you need to go find something else fun to do. The goal of every free motion quilter I've met seems to be even stitches. There's no such thing. That's a story mothers tell their children at bedtime that sounds great in theory but doesn't work in real life. And it's not supposed to. For example, if you see two 80 year old women standing side by side and one has smooth, flawless, unwrinkled skin and the other looks like a normal 80 year old woman what would you think? That the first woman has had an inordinate number of face lifts? Yea, me too. She's not real. She's not beautiful. It's the second one that draws your eye. Oh the character in her beautiful, wrinkled face! Picture Mother Teresa...did you ever see anyone more gorgeous? You can see her life written there, on her face. Well, that's the way quilts should be. They should have life written on them. A few tiny stitches here, a few long stitches there, and a lot of fairly normal ones in between. Trust me on this. Quilts want character.
4. God made your hands the size He did for a reason. You can only control the amount of fabric that will fit in between your hands. If you try to put your hands too far apart so you can quilt a larger amount of the quilt before you have to stop....well, you'll just lose control of the whole darn thing. Quilts are like kids. You can only control them if you've got a tight grip. Loosen your grip and they're going to wiggle their way loose.
5. Use thread that is the same color as your background. Thread should be inconspicuous but always there in the background impacting the beauty of the quilt. Kind of like when you're a mother-in-law. I mean we all know that mothers-in-law have to fade into the woodwork the moment the wedding is over but if you work it right you're still in control...the kids just don't know it. :)
6. If it's 2:30 a.m. don't swear under your breath that you're going to finish this or die trying. Because you will. Quilts hear everything and they love a practical joke so they will silently fold themselves under so that just when you think you're finished you'll discover you've quilted one corner to another corner. And while that might be unique in a finished quilt it will be hard to bind.
7. Don't drink red wine while quilting. Or grape KoolAid. Or Mtn. Dew. Or Red Bull. All of those things will make you think you are the greatest quilter who ever lived. But you aren't. I'm just guessing about the red wine and the Mtn. Dew and the Red Bull but the grape KoolAid definitely is banned from my sewing room.
8. The definition of stippling is something like "sewing in a meandering way without ever crossing any of the previous sewing". I didn't I didn't look it up and I didn't write the dictionary but that ought to be close. If you're stippling and you like loops, add one or two or seven. If you want to cross from here to there do it and smile. And if you end up with a particularly weird place on your quilt then point it out to the recipient and say, "every time you see this think of me - I was waving my hand and winking at you when I sewed this so you'll always remember me." And they'll go "Awwwww, so sweet."
9. If you think that wall hanging will take you about an hour to quilt, add three to it and you might have it right. Give yourself plenty of time because if you rush you won't take your foot completely off the pedal (see number 2 above) and you'll forget that you have red thread in the bobbin until you've finished the quilting and turn it over to see the white background. Oops.
10. This is the most important rule of all. Put a lock on your sewing room door. Husbands, children and pets should be banned from the sewing room when you're quilting. They have urgent requests that you won't be able to ignore. And even though you think you can quilt and answer, I repeat from number 7 above, you're not that great a quilter. And besides that their requests aren't really urgent. If they tried they could find the milk in the refrigerator, the dog in the backyard, and the clean pair of jeans folded on their bed.
Okay that's all the rules I have for today. It's 2:30 a.m. and I've got a quilt to finish quilting. I think I'll have some KoolAid to take to the sewing room with me.