Free Motion Quilting
The art of free machining quilting in patchwork quilting is one that quilters will find gives them the most control over their quilting. Even large quilts can be quilted by using free machining techniques because the quilt is not turned round and therefore however much bulk the patchwork fabric has it can be managed by the quilter without a lot of effort. There are a lot of uses for free machining but as a quilting tool it is superb.
To free machine the sewing machine needs to be set up correctly. This involves dropping the feed dogs, using a darning foot and adjusting the tension. Put the straight stitch length to zero as this keeps the feed dogs from moving while you are sewing. Most sewing machines these days automatically adjust the pressure foot pressure when the feed dogs are dropped. If you have an older sewing machine you may find that instead of being able to drop the feed dogs you have a plate which fits over them. And if you have neither it is still possible to do free machine quilting as long as you are able adjust the pressure foot pressure. If your older machine doesn't have a darning foot then there are special needles available which have a spring on them so that they perform in a similar manner to a darning foot. However with safety in mind you have to be very careful using these to keep your fingers out of the way of the needle! These needles are not suitable for free machine quilting as they work best when the work is in a hoop so unless your project is very small these needles won't be applicable. Note; working with the feed dogs up is not good for silk fabrics. Keep to cotton patchwork fabrics as they won't fray which is what might happen with silk or silky fabrics.
If your sewing machine doesn't have a large table area to work on doesn't worry as extension tables can be purchased from your sewing machine dealer. And sewing tables can be purchased that enable you to drop the sewing machine into the table. These give the quilter a large area to work on and help the process of machine quilting, especially free machine quilting. The other sewing machine attribute to make a note of is the width of the throat of the machine. That is the distance between the needle and the upright of the sewing machine. The larger this is the easier it is to accommodate your quilt.
When starting to free machine always bring up the bottom thread from the bobbin and hold the threads behind the needle. Do a sample piece which can be used for future reference. Start with the needle in the fabric and sew with a constant pressure on the foot pedal. Going faster enables you to move the fabric faster while going slower enables you to make longer stitches while moving the fabric slowly. It is important to be able to grip the fabric strongly and there are many aids to this available to the machine quilter from custom made quilting gloves which adhere to the fabric to a do it yourself remedy using finger tip covers that are commonly used for counting money or turning pages. Another tip is that unless you are going to have the machine set to do a zig-zag stitch it is better to use a straight stitch plate as a better result is achieved.
Perfect free machine quilting comes with practice. The more you do the better you will become. Start with simple stippled quilting and vary the size from very tight stitching which is known as 'vermicelli' stitching to very large and meandering. When you are comfortable with this type of stitching start increasing your repertoire of free machine quilting patterns. There are so many to choose from and you will probably invent a few of your own. For example feathers are a perfect filler for long and narrow spaces. Draw the spine of the feather with a temporary marker and then starting at the bottom of the feather work up to the top double stitching between the loops and then work down the other side. Alter the shape of the feather to fill the space.
The following sample pictures show a few different free machine patterns which are good for quilting. The first one below is very simple and would be good for borders and sashing. The second one below is useful for filling large areas and is good for water effects.
As well as large quilt projects free machine quilting can be employed on cushions, bags and other household items using. Choose your designs and make them fit the item you are making. Don't always use stippling think of different shapes and patterns. Circles, flower and leaf shapes or banana shapes worked closely together make interesting patterns. Do a sample piece first. Keep all your sample pieces and they will form a reference library which you will find most useful.