Here are some of the things I’m learning as I become more familiar with free motion quilting. First—if you don’t like it, unpick it!!! When I first started on this quilt, I was really struggling with border designs. I watched quilting video after quilting video, and I practiced on paper design after design. My first attempt was a curved feather pattern. My curves were wobbly and it looked terrible—the feathers just plain ugly! So I unpicked it. My mother (Grace of the Grace Company) always told me, “You know Karlie, you just won’t be happy with it the way it is, so you might as well unpick and do it right.” Oh yes! When you spend so much time piecing a quilt you want it to look like you pictured it in your mind.
As a side note, during this attempt I used a black marking pencil that was supposed to come off the fabric. It probably will—with time—but it is still there. Lesson learned—don’t use the dark marking pencils!!!!
Then one day I was watching an APQS video. She was doing an overall design she called swans, which was pretty and was also one I felt confident that I could quilt. So I practiced on paper and was ready to try quilting it on the border. It looked okay, but still it was not the overall design I wanted. So again, I unpicked. My third attempt was again a feather design, which is the one you see now. I like it, and I’d practiced it several times on paper so I was somewhat confident.
Before putting the quilt back on the frame, I measured it in sections just by folding it so I had four equal sections. Then I found the center of those sections and marked them. I measured half an inch from the top and a quarter inch from the bottom, and then I found the center between those two lines. I marked and made my straight line in each section, drew my heart top and bottom, and then drew my feathers in chalk. Then I summoned up the courage and tried to quilt the heart top and bottom of one of the sections. Needless to say, I was so worried about making a mistake that it was all wobbly, and so—yes, I unpicked it.
I decided to do another practice run on my side practice pieces, and it turned out great! I didn’t move it so slow, trying to stay on the line I had drawn. Sometimes quilting is like learning to ride a bike—the slower you go the more wobbly you are. So just start peddling and you will get smoother and more confident, and before long we will all look like great quilters.
The mariners compass circles were another great challenge to my quilting experience that has helped me become better at free motion quilting. I tried making loops around the circles in all four corners; however, I really didn’t like it, so yes, again I unpicked it. I am okay with my feather design, but I’d probably do something different if I could figure out just what I wanted. So, for the inside of the compass I also tried to make loops, figuring that they would look good. Boy, was I wrong there! Through trial and error, I figured out that I needed to do each section without stopping.
Many quilters who have been quilting free motion have already learned these things. It’s new for me because I would always piece the tops and let my sister Sally quilt them. However, now that she is retired, I get to learn how to quilt my own quilts. While it is challenging, it is also rewarding to learn and figure out these designs. This mariners compass top was made because I saw the pattern and decided to make one. I found the design and used the paper piecing method to sew it. I chose red and yellow fabrics because my favorite color is red and my husband’s is yellow. We have four children, so the four outside compasses represent them, and the one is the middles is ours. I hope to get it quilted soon and start on another top, since there are so many to do and always more to come!
I look forward to sharing my quilting journey with you all. I hope that I can help inspire and encourage quilters everywhere to find a good unpicking tool and try something new. You will be frustrated with yourself, excited when you find the solution, and happy with the results at the end of your quilt.
Expert Quilter for 25 years. Daughter of our Famous “Grace” founder of The Grace Company