Quilt top complete.
Machine geared up for a free motion quilting extravaganza.
It’s go time, baby!
But…where do you start? How do you take those first few stitches with confidence?
Conquer that blank canvas like a pro with a simple method I call “Building from the Base.” I begin with one basic shape that serves as the starting point for all the detail to come.
Video Transcript (Downloadable PDF):
Have you ever found yourself in the position where you just put together a wonderful piece of patchwork for a quilt and you look at it and go, How am I going to quilt this? Well that just happened to me but I was able to stitch myself a great solution. Let’s get started.
This is the Disappearing Pinwheel quilt I just finished. There’s a wonderful tutorial out there for all of you. But what happened was I got really concerned because of the intricate patchwork within the quilt. I wasn’t sure how am I going to machine quilt this. So I’m going to confess, I was so nervous to start with I used white thread on the white quilt because I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. Now I’m wishing I would have shown off a little more. The other thing I learned to do was I learned to mark off large base designs because I wanted like a wind swirl feel. It was a pinwheel quilt. So I used a salad bowl, a small one here. And I had a larger salad bowl I used over here. And I technically put down about five or so of those salad bowls on the quilt first kind of as my base marking. You are kind of maybe not following along so I want to show you again. I started doing it early on in one of my color strata quilts. Now this will be best seen from the back. And you’ll have to forgive me. I do make mistakes when I machine quilt, right? Actually don’t forgive me, just join my club. We all make mistakes when we quilt. But you can see here again some of these base designs. Here was a salad bowl. And on this one I put some triangles. And then I went back in and I backfilled all the space in between. So that’s what I want to show you today in our skills and drills for free motion. I want to show you how to create a base and then use that to kind of help settle your emotions and start your motif. So look here in the description below we have a wonderful printout for you. And we’ve tried to diagram where we start with our circles. And then those little hash lines, those are arrows for motion. So you’d be free motioning that direction. Once you have your base circles then you come back in and you could start some of your fun swirls. And I have a swirls free motion video you can check out if you need a little bit extra help with that kind of a motif. And this works for all kinds of styles. So let’s talk about that. Let’s get our bases started.
And as I’m saying that I’m going to slide this one out of the way because it’s about half done. So you can kind of see a little bit more where we’ve been going or where we’ll be heading in today’s tutorial. But first we have all of our sandwich basted. And you can see I’ve actually already started to free motion machine quilt in some of the big circles that were chalked down by tracing the salad bowl, for reals. However I want to point this out and you’ll see it in, in what I’m working possibly too. Look at these little jagged lines, right here, right? So those are from starts and stops where I’m pulling too much on my fabric or I’m not really positioned real well. So the biggest thing I want to caution you about when we’re doing these very large very symmetrical designs is be very cautious of your starts and stops because they could really show up. Now the outside circle, I’m going to build off of that so no one ever catches that problem. And on the inside circle I’ll probably want to do something as well to kind of fill in and catch that. So that’s the big thing, the big caution in today is just watch your starts and stops as you’re building your base. And then work from the base we build out our motif design.
On this sample here, all of them are basted with my safety pins. And as I come over to my sewing machine I’m just going to point out a few more things that I have that really help me out. I have a Sew Slip mat on the bed of my machine. And that is a teflon top and a silicone base. So it really turns my sewing machine like into an ice skating rink, right? No drag, no friction. It’s easier on my body. You see me putting on my Machinger’s gloves. These are going to turn my hands into like Spider Man. It gives me a good sticky traction. And that really helps me move my quilt sandwich with ease and that also eliminates some of the fatigue in my body.
So as I come down in here I still have one of my circles that we need to chalk out and we need to echo quilt. So we’re going to do that together first. Make sure my machine is completely set up. And in order to do that I’m going to go ahead, I’ve dropped my presser foot. I’m going to take a single stitch by hand. Lift this up here and I can either pull out to the side but my thread tail got away. Or I can try to floss. And I bet you I just used my thread cutter which means my thread tail from my bobbin is so short I may not be able to pick it up. Yep and that’s the case so we’re just going to move on. I’ll show you that trick again later. I’ll try not to use my thread cutter. I just love that tool though. So we’re going to take a few stitches in place. And then from here, again I don’t want to stretch that fabric. I don’t want to pull on it too much because I want a nice arcing design. And so I’ve got a nice light feel. And I’m just going to come around here, just following it down. And then when I get into that spot here, now the nice thing about where I’m working is I can actually cheat and go across the batting. And then I’m going to come over and I’m going to use the thickness of my foot itself to create that echo quilting. So now I’m watching the back side of my foot and I’m coming around that base.
Now let’s say I had to stop for some reason. And maybe my hand is too far away and it feels like things are slipping around. Right now because I’m doing some echo quilting I really don’t want to shift the quilt at all. I don’t want to pull so much. I might even take a stitch or two in place to make sure I really have myself going. And that’s better than those big jagged looking stitches. I’m going to come all the way down and I’m going to finish it off, ok? Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to actually not use my thread cutter. I’m going to bring it to my top and pull these out so I can show you that trick here in a second. Figure out if I can remember how to operate a pair of scissors this afternoon.
Ok now let’s come over to our big base design, right? And what I want to talk about a little bit is I want to run my wind swirls off in this direction. So the first thing I’m going to look at, I have a safety pin in the way. I have stitched here so this safety pin can be removed because I don’t need it to baste or to hold that all together any longer. I really don’t want to run over it with my machine. Ok, I tied myself a knot. It happens to all of us. There we go. Ok so I’m going to that little spot that I don’t like to start with, right? And I’m going to go ahead and bring up the stitch here. I’m going to catch it. And that was what I was trying to show you earlier. See how I was able to bring up my bobbin thread real easily. Remember to put your presser foot back down. And then from here I’m going to take a couple of stitches to lock that in. And then I’m going to begin coming out here to form kind of my wind swirls. So now I’m going to come around and back. And while I’ve still got my rhythm, I’m going to come out here. Now I’m going to stop at a point. We always want to be thinking about where our stopping spots are. Trim those thread out of the way. They bother me. I look at them too much, right? And then when I’m here because I stopped, I want to make that a point. And come back here. And then with this we can just kind of play with our swirl motif. Let me see if I can give you a couple of good pointers. As I come around, although it’s quite hard to talk and machine quilt at the same time. One of the things I found in my wind swirl design was I kind of kept making these big comma shapes and then bringing them back kind of to my origin or that base design, see that? Now the fun of it also though is let’s be unique with it, let’s not have them always go the same direction, right? So now we can come up here and go this way. And let’s say I was feeling a little stuck. Watch me, I’m going to echo around and come back to the base and stop. And take a deep breath. Now the neat thing about working off of this free motion with a base is it kind of gives it some great start and stop spot. And it also allows us to really build out the design we want without worrying about the rest of it. So let’s do a couple more of these real quick and we’ll talk about the inside of our bases, ok? So now let’s come up here and get ourselves so more distance. And you don’t need to make these all the same. And you can certainly go back up your base design too. Did you see how I did that? Keep it fun and fresh so that each stitch looks unique. You don’t want to make it look like it came right out of the longarm machine, right? You want people to really know you did all your own free motion work here.
So let’s say we completed our way all the way around the base, at this point, again instead of using the thread cutter let’s take a few more stitches in place, rotate our handwheel all the way up. Now if you lift your presser foot and pull out here you can actually kind of snag this thread and pull up on it. And what I’m effectively doing now is I’m cutting off a little bit of that knot. And if all went well I actually freed the thread on the bobbin on the back. So it’s a really easy way to cut that clear.
Now look carefully I can remove this safety pin right here. But anytime we have quilted ourselves into a circle or square or body, all of this batting, all of this fabric can’t go past that first line of stitching. So if I just start pushing stuff all one direction look what could happen, right? I can get some nice tidal waves. I can make some surfing tsunamis here for us. We don’t want that. So when I start to consider what to do inside of this I’m going to try to stay centered. I’m going to try to stay somewhat symmetrical. And when I looked at my quilt behind me and I was kind of concerned, what do I do, what do I do, I simply took my small salad bowl and I dropped it in the big salad bowl and one more ring and that was plenty of machine quilting. If you look at this one I pointed it out earlier, same situation. But look at that. I started with a big pebble motif. And then I started to do smaller pebbles around growing that distance out, ok? So let me do a little bit more machine quilting for you here so you can see that happen.
One of the other keys is if you start to get a ripple you want to work away from it and then come back to it. Any ripple that starts to form we want to start to divide the ripple up. See if I can make that happen for us here. So let’s come to the center. One of the things I love to do is start in the hole where the safety pin was. That way it looks like I know I’m going to hit it with my thread. I cut that thread tail nice and long. Oop my gloves are so greatly sticky I can hardly get ahold of my thread. There we go. Ok now I have both thread tails. Making sure my presser foot is down. We’re going to make a couple of stitches to lock that in. Ok now of course I’m not doing the circle inside of here because I didn’t draw that out. So let’s see what happens as we start to radiate towards the edges, ok? Ok so what we’re going to do is we’re going to take this here. And I’m going to come out this way let’s say. Let’s do a fun pattern inside. Let’s stop. Let’s cut these threads out. They drive me mad. Now what I want to do is I want to come back towards that same area so here we go. We’re going to come around. And let’s make it kind of look like our motif, right? So as we come around here now watch this, we’re going to come around. Now look I’m taking that and I’m bringing it back out to that outside edge. We can make this a little more creative now. Look see I’m working my way back to the middle, coming out here to that outside edge. You can probably see a little bit of the fabric building up in front of my presser foot. So I didn’t get too close to any other stitching so that I didn’t trap in that. Back here. There’s the fabric building up again, see it, see it? And then we’re going to work away. We’re not going to trap it. So when you’re doing some sort of quilting where you’re building off of a base you can actually do the inside or the outside of the bases first. It doesn’t really matter. But the key is to put your bases down because not only do they need to be laid out in an appropriate manner so you like the design but that also helps keep all of the ripple of the quilt moving towards the outer edges. And that’s just good quilting management no matter what kind of style of quilting you like to do. And I come around here. Now watch this trick. We’re going to come up, we’re going to create one more fun design. And now as I come back in I’m going to shoot right back for where I started from. I’m going to take a few more stitches in place. This time I’m going to go ahead and rotate that all the way back around. Pull it out, cut it off.
And the center of my design has some quilting on. I’m not going to say it’s done but it has some quilting in here. And I can keep playing and keep playing as I go. Now let’s talk about one last thing here. Sorry I get so excited. Here we go. Now with something like this, you have your two base designs. And obviously as they came together I was able to fill in the machine quilting here as those base designs. But what’s going to happen in an area out here like this? What I’ll often do is I’ll start off of my batting and I’ll just bring in the similar motif and fill in the negative space. So if you really think about it you’re doing your base, then you’re doing your motif quilting and then you’re doing any kind of fill quilting you need to make all of your quilting basically consistent in the amount of quilting that’s done across the quilt. I know that’s an awful lot to digest today but I’ve got to tell you, it really helps, remember you’re only quilting one small section of your quilt at a time. And if you’ve got an all over big quilt like that sometimes we have to create it in our own small sections by building off of a base.
I hope that gets you jazzed again about your free motion machine quilting skills and drills. I can’t wait to get back to my free motion machine. We’ll catch you next time right here at Man Sewing.