Saturday, February 20, 2010

Keepin' It Real

Being a beginner is humbling.

I wanted to learn to do free-motion quilting, so I bought a new sewing machine right around Christmas. It's a Juki TL98Q.

Yeah, like that doesn't need a nickname you can remember.

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited when it arrived. I threaded it up with some hot pink serger thread lying around and started sewing away on a scrap quilt sandwich. That's backing fabric, batting in the middle, and pieced block on top, for my non-quilty peeps.

Free-motion quilting is kind of like learning to write cursive while driving a car. Your foot is on the speed control and your hands are on the quilt doing the steering. You start out herky-jerky. You're not sure where you're going with your curves and turns. Your stitches are uneven. Your speed is too fast, too slow, then really-really fast. Then you stop abruptly.

It's exhilarating and intimidating all at the same time.

You so want to be good at it, but you suck at first. Viz:

On the second attempt, I changed thread to a black fancy-schmancy type made specifically for machine quilting. I'm not sure what makes it so awesome, but it does have a fancier price tag and feels very silky and smooth. I trust the people who recommend it know way more than I do.

More scribbling. I even tried writing my name.

I then commenced to crap up -- er, I mean practice on -- a different piece. I hummed along for a bit.

Then my fancy thread got a little loose looking on top, so I stopped and flipped the piece over. Witness the horror:

Oh, the humanity.

There was weeping and gnashing of teeth, followed by clickety-clacking of keyboard to post an S.O.S. on the Juki users group board. Well, those wonderful folks swooped to the rescue like Wonder Woman being chased by Superman. An alternate threading pattern later, and all was put right.

However, I remained a bit traumatized. I procrastinated. That's what it's called when you piece a whole other quilt top, wall hanging, and table runner on a different machine, go thrift store shopping, start a blog, sew for a mannequin, bake cookies, and do 9,563 other high-priority items in between. Like laundry.

But today I put on my big-girl panties and gave it another go. I changed the thread to a long staple cotton that came with the Juki. Got my practice quilt sandwich ready. Bobbin washer, Supreme Slider, Machingers gloves--check, check, and check. Dropped the feed dogs, pulled my bobbin thread to the top, lowered the presser foot, and hit the gas.

Stopping to check the underside. Looks okay so far. Whew.

Fifteen minutes later, I had accomplished this.

The tricky part was trying to keep my speed even and my hands and shoulders relaxed. I only quilted myself into a corner twice.

I see lots of practice ahead, but I am encouraged.


  1. I love it!!! I love that quilt top, too. I believe Ian Malcolm (from Jurassic Park--the book, not the movie--the bok is much better) would call it fractals. Fractals are awesome to to look at and have some sort of mathematical significance that only math geeks...uh...I mean mathematician--would know about. That means Ed might know. Over the last year he's become quite the math geek -- uh -- mathematician.

  2. Oh my! (she says with smile on her lips) Your description of FMQ is perfect! I love it. But also, I'm quite impressed. Your final piece (after fixing the tension) problem is terrific! Way to go!

  3. What are the gloves for?


  4. Hi Joe, They're made with special fingertips that help you grip and maneuver the fabric.


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