Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tips Learned from Practicing FMQ

The community outreach program in one of the guilds I belong to has an appealing approach to quilt donations. No one quilter makes a gift quilt from start to finish. Some members assemble quilt kits, some members piece, some members layer and pin, others quilt, and others bind. I like this process because I can rotate what I do and it prevents me from becoming too attached to any one quilt since I am invested in only a part of its making. I have been layering and pinning once a month and tried using the Kwik Klip to close pins. It saves the fingertips. But this month I took home a layered, pinned sandwich from guild to quilt at home on my sit down HQ-16. Normally I spray baste my quilts using 505, so this would be different for me. The pins were not onerous to remove, but after this experience I think I still slightly prefer the baste method especially for smallish quilts. Once I get stitchin' it is enough for me to concentrate on repositioning my hands without introducing stitch glitches much less removing those safety pins.

The fabric selections and piecing pattern of the outreach quilt were not my choices and so I would be really stretched to contemplate what FMQ patterns would work. Quilting it would give me practice with my FMQ and allow me to try out designs that I would like to learn but may not have an appropriate quilt on which to place them. On this top, I decided to try pebbles as free form. I also planned to try clamshells as ruler work since I do have that design in mind for a quilt of my own. The sashings ...? Well I would figure them out when I got to them. Here is what I learned, highlighted.

I am so glad I took the time to do this. I learned not to be afraid with random pebbles and how to vary their size to fit a space. I learned if I need to travel to fill in a space with a smaller circle it looks better to retrace a path along the arcs of the circles. I aimed to maintain the majority of the pebbles a consistent size by visualizing and repeating to myself "quarters, quarters, quarters" – the metal monetary kind, not the fat fabric quarters. I tried to concentrate on a tangential stitching path where the circles joined. I veered off these ideal goals often enough though, that my "mistakes" in the jungle print and beige and green block portion of the quilt look like design features – sort of.

Here are Leah Day's pebbles. Mine are not quite as tidy as hers but they are passable. In retrospect they do, in a way, fit in with a jungle stream bed type vibe. I think this pebble pattern is more forgiving than I initially anticipated. I will not be so timid to use it in the future. It does require a lot of path retracing and therefore more thread. I was not aware of that until this experiment.

The fabrics on the top are busy enough that my less-than-perfect attempts will be camouflaged. A bright yellow print with exotic birds hides a multitude of sins and it is so cheery to work on. I chose to place 3" clamshells in the narrower bands and 4" clamshells in the wider bands and used this multi-clamshell ruler from HandiQuilter.

For the clamshell ruler work, I learned how best to hold the ruler to prevent slippage. I'd put two fingers, one from each hand, up in the half circle portion of the clamshell ruler. Sandpaper grippers on the back surface of the ruler were a must to give just the right amount of grab. I also learned how to fudge the shape when the width or height did not happen to be a integral number of repeats. I'd pause my stitching at the peak of the half circle, where it is relatively flat, and then slide the ruler tangentially to either widen the clamshell or narrow it. Since the peak is so flat in terms of the direction of travel, these adjustments are barely noticeable. Horizontal spacing adjustments would show up more at the crevices in the valleys between the clamshells if I overlapped or left spaces between the arcs at these points. The following photo shows the 4" clamshells in the center portion of the quilt. Vertical adjustments perpendicular to the rows of clamshells were a bit trickier. For the most part, I must confess, I was just plain lucky here, although I did lower the ruler so the dome fell below a top edge of the clamshell quilted area by ~¼". Then I strayed a bit out from the arc on the ruler edge near the crevices so the points fell where I wanted them.

I did learn another valuable lesson. Those sandpaper grippers on the back are necessary to prevent ruler slippage on the fabric. But they scratched up the slippery overlay on Heidi's work table (my sit-down HQ-16) when I did clamshells near the edge and the ruler overhung the fabric. The situation is easily solved by having a fabric underneath the quilt top where the table surface is exposed beyond the edge of the quilt but for now I have to live with a bit of damage. Were I more experienced, I most likely would have felt the friction difference as I sewed. I pointed out the scratched arcs to my husband and he commented philosophically, "That shows you are finally using your machine!" I have been slow to become fearless with FMQ-ing. I will live with the scratches for a while and see if they cause any gliding or sliding obstructions or snag on the backing. So far I have not noticed any problems. I worked upward from the bottom of the quilt, where the table top was exposed to the Handi Grips, so I think if there were any issues, they would have arisen by now. A replacement HQ Sweet Sixteen Table Overlay would cost about $90 (plus tax and shipping). I could cover just this small portion with a 100% Teflon Supreme Slider.

I cannot blame the Handi Grips. I really like them since they are the few ones on the market that are clear when applied and do not interrupt the field of view looking through the ruler. A little goes a long way. I only apply a ¼" wide rectangle in a few strategic locations on the ruler back. I will just be more careful with their potency. This minor mishap also strengthens the recommended convention of assuring the backing and batting extend 4" to 6" beyond the quilting area. Sit-down longarms do not really need this much free border since there are no rollers to contend with; but here is a situation where that fabric buffer would have provided protection to my work surface.

For the sashing section out of dog bone fabric I initially considered just sewing parallel lines using my Pfaff with its even feed feature and the feed dogs engaged; but where would be the skill growth in that? Also, although easier if done on a domestic with auto-feed, straight lines might look out of place since nothing else on the top was straight stitching. In the dog bone section I began to practice what I nick name my ribbon candy undulations. They have rounded ends and a narrow mid-section like the contours of a bone.

A couple of uneven blips in my execution provided inspiration. If the loop end had a small central dip, the undulations began to resemble the ends of a dog bone. I was hooked on the look and proceeded with that variation. In the following photo, the top line of sashing is how I started out without the bone indentation. I also got better at my spacing and smoothness by the bottom row where the path is more half-bonelike.

I learned that the slant angle in traversing from bone end to bone end is important in maintaining the smooth flow and appearance. It is finally sinking. Practice all you want on paper before you stitch, but nothing can substitute for the fabric – how you hold it, how you angle it, how fast you move it.

This top is such a cacophony of colors and prints, that picking a binding fabric was a challenge. There was not quite enough of the backing fabric left – the birds among the curving branches against the  yellow backdrop – to make binding. I could have passed this stage on to another guild member but I wanted the satisfaction of finding a fabric for the binding that was more quirky than a safe solid would be. I found this stripe in my stash. Believe it or not, I think it has ALL the colors of this top, from the burgundy bones to the green jungle prints, from the jewel-toned exotic birds to the primary-colored domestics kitties.  It even has teeny tiny birdies on it and tropical huts. Serendipity. I added an ⅛" flange insert to give a bit of separation from the binding and the quilt edges. I auditioned a solid black but it seemed too harsh. The white dots on the black seem to soften the effect and reinforce the fact that this quilt does not take itself too seriously. Uncannily, there are also black stripes with white dots in them on the binding fabric. More serendipity. Nobody will probably notice these tiny details, but I get a real kick out of discovering them. It is like a reassurance that some things were just meant to be. The phrase "meant to be" reminds me of the chorus in the 1961 Elvis Presley song which is now running non-stop through my head. I Can't Help Falling in Love with You can be heard on YouTube. For me right now, "you" in the song refers to quilting.

Like the river flows, surely to the sea,
Darling so it goes, some things are meant to be
So take my hand, take my whole life, too.
For I can't help falling in love with you.

Here is the binding as seen on the quilt front. The flange insert provides a buffer that allows the binding to play well with the bright yellow bird print at the top and bottom edges as well as the burgundy bone print at the side edges. 

From the back of the quilt there is no black spotted flange. Gee, "black spotted flange" sounds like another species of animal, doesn't it? The binding holds it own and complements the backing fabric.
The clamshells at the top and bottom are the 3" size. I did not push them too near the top because I did not want to risk having them eclipsed by the binding.

I am not revealing the entire quilt, just these snippets, because, quite frankly, the quilt is not mine to share. Only my lessons learned and the reward of the FMQ experience were appropriate topics for my blog. Someone else will attach the guild label. Another person will present this "menagerie" quilt to its new owner. I couldn't help myself. I had to give it a temporary name. I hope whoever receives this quilt enjoys using it as much as I enjoyed experimenting on it and growing from it.


  1. Very wise plan - for various members to work on one quilt. Great way to keep from becoming bored and to practice different parts of quilting.

    I had to smile at your husband's comment. It just sounded so like my own husband.

    Your quilting looks wonderful. Keep showing your progress. It inspires me and eventually I will FINALLY use my machine to try it out. :)

    1. It is great to have a husband who supports your hobby/passion, isn't it? Enjoy some holiday sewing on your new friend. Thanks for dropping by.