Sunday, June 24, 2012

Free Motion Sewing Part Two

Well....where do I begin?

I heard the same thing over and over again:  PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND THEN PRACTICE SOME MORE...

I felt like I was learning how to write my alphabet all over again; we all know if we are teaching a kindergardener or first grader we tell them they need to practice.  I don't know why I feel I should not have to do the work to get the results but that's where I am at.

I can not say that after six hours in class that my work looks any better.  Right now I just need to take what I learned from this class and practice.  I have decided to dedicate one hour each day to free motion sewing. I can see all the potential in this skill if I can just work through the process of learning it.

Here's what I learned:
I learned about "being in the zone."  This means that you found the correct speed between the sewing machine pedal and your hands.  Sorta like learning how to drive a stick shift car for the first time.  Have you ever tried?  Well, let me just say it's not easy (on you or the person teaching you!)  If you floor the pedal on your machine, your hands better be as fast as Clint Eastwood in the Unforgiven.  Cuz, your machine is unforgiving if you don't control the speed of your pedal to the speed of your hands as the needles moves across the fabric.  You'll have tinny tiny stitches or huge gapping stitches depending on how well you control speed.  I'm happy to report that I was "in the zone" many times.  Almost as many times as I was out of it!  But I know with practice I'll improve my "zone" time.

I learned about just sewing the area right in front of you; about a four to five inch space from the needle towards you.  This will help with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the size of the project being sewn.  You're not supposed to keep your eye on the needle; your eyes should be on the fabric ahead of the needle where the needle is driving!  It's like when you're driving, you don't keep your eyes on the steering wheel; your eyes are watching the road.  Carol, the instructor, also gave us the instructions to start at the top of the quilt in the middle and work in four inch areas at the top of the quilt to the bottom of quilt.  I have never heard of doing this but once I did it I really liked it.  I like a beginning and an ending place and this works better for me than when I started in the middle.  I had learned to start the quilting process in the middle of the quilt.  So starting at the top breaks all the rules I had learned about quilting.  I love breaking some rules!

Here's some other tips I learned:
When learning something new, keep it simple.  

Thread:  100% Cotton, 50 weight.  Once you have mastered free motion sewing, you can move onto using different types and different weight threads.  You'll need to adjust tension when changing to different types threads.  Some are temperamental!  Right now, I need easy!  Everyone needs an easy going thread just like we all need an easy going friend!  
Pins:  Make sure you have basted your project.  About 5 inches apart and also stagger the pins.
Bobbins:  Have several bobbin loaded.  Use the same thread in bobbin.
Socks: Sew in socks, not shoes.  You will be able to control and feel small changes in the pedal. 
Gloves: I also like using gloves but again Carol doesn't use them.  I was the only one in class that used them.  If you have them, try them.  I think it helps you grip the fabric.
Needles:   Schmetz Quilting Needles #75/11.  Carol suggested changing the needle if stitches looked funny or  hearing  a "ping" while sewing.  Other size needles are used with different weights of thread used.  Schmetz website  explains the anatomy of needles and what needles to use with different types of sewing or different types of fabrics.  I found it helpful.  
Practice Muslin Squares:  Make some practice squared out of muslin.  We worked on 14x14 inch squares with 16x16 inch batting sandwiched in between.  These squares were very manageable to learn on.  They weren't too big or too small.  

Setting up your machine:  
Feed dogs down.  Our teacher didn't mention this but several sewist recommended using a Supreme Slider.  I bought one awhile back and do believe it makes a difference on how I move the fabric. Any products that makes it much easier to sew is my friend.  If you don't know what feed dogs are, look it up in your sewing manual.  It will tell you if you can lower your feed dogs.  If you can't, don't worry, just use a Supreme Slider to cover your feed dogs and you're in business.  

Extension table:  There were four students in my class.  Two didn't have extension tables and they had a much harder time with this type of sewing.  You need a flat sewing surface to be able to move your fabric.  My machine came with an extension table; you can have one made for your machine here.  I also own a smaller machine that doesn't have a table and I can't imagine trying free motion sewing on it.  My teacher brought her portable sewing table and I fell in love with it.  I had seen this on line but never saw one in action.  I plan to put in on my wish list for my birthday or holiday gift (I'll put it on the top of my list, maybe I'll get lucky!) The nice thing about this table was your machine fits inside the table and it comes with an insert that makes the sewing surface flush with the surrounding area.  You can also butt up this table to other tables so when you're sewing large quilts and such, your fabric is all on one plane.  You don't want any drag on your material. One of the problems I had during class was I was sitting too low in my chair (even with using an extra pillow to build me up) so my arms were reaching up to the machine.  This put a lot of tension in my shoulders.  This takes a lot of energy.

Tension:  You need to know how to adjust upper and lower tension on your machine.  Only a few months ago did I learn that there are two types of tension.  I knew about thread tension but I didn't know about foot pressure.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this video on the subject.  She does a great job explaining it.  When I made my first quilt, I had some puckering and on the back of my quilt it looked like there were a few pleats because I didn't know about adjusting the pressure foot.  What was surprising, none of my sewing teachers ever mentioned this to me as the reason for my quilt looking like it did.  When I pointed it out, they just said not to be so hard on myself about my sewing.  Well, there is an easy fix so this kinda thing doesn't happen to you.
Batting:  Honestly, I can't remember everything I learned about this!  But I do know it's important!  Leah Day addresses this issue on her website, Day Style Designs.  

You need to know your machine.  Don't be like men who never read instruction manuals! Read your sewing machine manual.  Always have it close by so if you encounter problems with your sewing, you can refer to it.  Many times it's just a simple adjustment that make the biggest impact on your sewing.  

Where to go to for help:
I think that my favorite place to go to is YouTube.  There are many people who have taken the time to show us how to do this and  are very insightful.  I like that I can play it back over and over and I'm not being annoying to anyone.  Sometimes I need to see something a dozen times before it clicks for me.  So I would go there first.

Another suggestion is Leah Day, who sells a two hour video for  beginners called "Free Motion Quilting for Beginners." .  I plan to purchase this in the near future.  I wanted to wait until I took a class locally to see if I thought I would need this.  Well, honestly, I do!  I sometimes am so focused on one part of something that I didn't hear what the teacher said about something else so having a video would help me. Many sewist have recommended Leah.  She also has many free videos on her website.

Here is another website to help with sewing.  It shares many things I listed above and much, much more! Very insightful and easy to understand, especially if you're new to sewing.

Honestly, I'm sure I left out much about free motion but I wanted to share with you my own experience.  If you know a technique that helped you with this type of sewing, please leave your suggestion in a comment.  All help is truly appreciated!  If you haven't tried free motion because of fear of failure or are just too scared, please don't be!  I think that once you mastered it, it will give a whole new dimension to your sewing.

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