Monday, January 21, 2019

2019 Free Motion QAL: Part 1 - Lewe Setup, Planning, Basting

Hello all and welcome to Part I of our 2019 Free Motion Quilt Along (2019FMQAL) featuring the Lewe the Ewe fabric panel by World of Susybee

I've teamed up with my dear friend Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring for this fun quilting adventure. 

We're really excited to have ya'll on board.  Thank you for joining us. 

If you missed the 2019 FMQAL Announcement posts you can find them by clicking the links below. 

These posts outline Fabric & Notion Supplies necessary for the QAL.

As mentioned in the announcement we'll be referencing Wendy's awesome book, Stitching Pathways, to help create our motifs and get accustomed to the process of Free Motion Quilting.
Additionally, I'll be using my thread collection, The Subtle Sampler, for most of my stitching.

Looking for more details about the supplies necessary to quilt along, click here. 

Need to purchase supplies ? 
Check with your favorite local shop or 
visit our Participating Shops link == > here.

Did someone mention Giveaway?
Click "here" to learn about our sponsors & available prizes.  
Be sure to visit regularly to see updates to the Prize Packages.  

2019 FMQAL Schedule:    

Jan 7:  Announcement Post  
 🠞  Jan 21:  Setup, Planning, Basting  🠜
Jan 28:  Stabilization Quilting or Catch Up
Feb 4 & Feb 11:  Inside Center Panel
Feb 25:  Top and Bottom Rectangles
March 4:  Top and Bottom Squares
March 11:  Left and Right Panels
March 18: Narrow Sashing
March 25:  Outside Border
April 1:  Binding, Labeling, Hanging if applicable

Setup & Planning

OK!  Let's get this QAL show on the road!

Setup -- Some of you may think it's not important to talk "setup" -- but really -- I think it's one of the most important topics for free motion quilting success.

I share details of my machine setup on several posts from LONG ago. 

Links to these posts and corresponding videos outlined below.
BE SURE -- to review and watch them. 

If you're anxious to learn and be successful at FMQ -- setup is key.      

Also -- for this section take the time to read and digest the first 20 pages of Stitching Pathways.
Stitching Pathways - Partial Table of Contents
Wendy shares a wealth of information there-- you don't want to miss ANY of it!!

Also note -- although Wendy and I agree on many aspects of  Free Motion Quilting -- our approaches vary at times.
(Imagine that !!) 

I'll be sure to point out those areas where we may differ in opinion and personal preference.

Rest assured -- there is no RIGHT OR WRONG with FMQ.  It's all about finding what works best for you and your style.  It's a good thing to show differences -- it gives you options for success! 

We gracefully and respectfully accept our differences.  Love that woman!

Let's talk machine setup from my point of view... 

You see -- I'm a firm believer that your "setup" aids in your success!

I use a Janome 7700 for most of my machine quilting -- but honestly -- I'll be the first to say that you can stitch on any machine -- really!!     Wendy uses a Bernina - I use a Janome - both machines are awesome!
When I travel and teach I may teach on a Handi Quilter or a Baby Lock or a Pfaff or any number of other machines.  The key is the setup... 

Here are a few things I feel are really important:

The first item is:  Having the bed of your machine be flush with the table top.   I don't have a big studio -- matter of fact my studio moves between home and the cottage quite regularly.  In order to accommodate my traveling lifestyle I purchased a Gidget II table by Arrow.  

It allows my machine to sit flush with my table top.      

I share more images and a complete explanation of my quilting area setup on this blog post

And while you're there be sure to view the corresponding 2016 QAL YouTube Video that discusses setup, my favorite notions and also runs you through a suggested practice session.    

Leave feedback below if you have questions on any of this.

The other items are:  Thread, Needles, Darning Feet & Gloves

From the above post and YouTube Video you learned of a few of my favorites AND why! 
Let's do a quick review:


Aurfil thread is by far the best cotton thread on the market.  
I've been successfully using it for years! 
This high quality 100% Egyptian cotton thread has amazing sheen, minimal lint, and stitches beautifully.

Combine that with 270 choices of color and 5 different weights of 2 ply thread it makes an exceptional choice. 

High Quality Thread makes a big impact on successful quilting. 
This is something that Wendy and I strongly agree on!

I so often hear "I can't believe changing the thread could fix my issues".
It's true -- using a high quality thread (with high quality fabric and batting) can make a world of difference. 

Wendy and I recently joined forces with 19 other amazing makers to share our love of thread in a new program called Aurifilosophy. 
We teach at shops, guilds and private groups -- yep we are Aurifilosophers ! 
You can read more about the Program here.

I was honored to be offered an opportunity to create my very own Aurifil collection in 2017 -- this is when I curated The Subtle Sampler. 

Many of the threads I use for the FMQAL are included in The Subtle Sampler.  

I'm excited to share my choices in color and weight with you during the Quilt Along.  Thread education is one of my favorite things (besides FMQ) to discuss.    

Here's a quick view of the thread colors and weights that are in The Subtle Sampler.

Notice that Aurifil's thread spools are color coded by weight! 
At a quick glance I can understand weight and color without looking at the label.


Superior Titanium Coated Top Stitch Needles have grown to be my favorite needle.  
You wouldn't think that a needle could have much of an impact on the success of your quilting -- but I'm here to say it can.  

The top stitch needle has an elongated eye and a groove down the entire shaft.  It gives your thread a fighting chance when quilting through multiple layers of fabric and batting.  I LOVE these needles. 

If you are experiencing any trouble with breakage, skipped stitches or shredding --  give them a try!   I purchase the assortment pack because having the right size needle to match your thread weight is important.  
On this free reference sheet I share thread weight to needle size comparisons and also discuss tension adjustments that may be necessary when you change thread weights.  Download the guide for all the details.

Free Motion or Darning Feet

  Another important aspect of my quilting adventure is my foot.  I really dislike stitching with a foot that is rectangle or oval.  Personally I love a foot that is rounded or open toed (a horseshoe shape).

 The rounded nature of the foot helps me think round and stitch round. 
See this informative blog post from 2014 -- where, early on in my stitching & educating adventures I talk about the basics of FMQ.

I chat other setup basics in the 2016 FMQAL Post and YouTubeVideo  mentioned above. 


I love to stitch with Machingers Gloves.  Wendy and I have a slightly different approach here.  I keep both of my hands on the quilt top - using my fingertips to control the movement of the sandwich.   With the lightweight, yet gripping Machingers Gloves, I can control the sandwich so it doesn't control me.   

Be sure to purchase the smallest size gloves that comfortably fit your hands.   It's nice to be able to leave them on when changing a bobbin or needle.  Excess fabric in your fingertips is NO FUN. 


  My go-to batting to add amazing loft to any project is Quilters Dream Wool batting.  
It really does "Quilt Like a Dream".

There's minimal shrinkage and it can be machine washed and dried
 (albeit on cool temps) .  
You can read more about Dream Wool by clicking here.
A Crib size piece of batting is perfect for this project (60" x 46").

If you prefer to avoid using wool -- consider using Quilters Dream Blend or Dream Cotton.

Now -- Let's Talk Basting!!

 Wendy has some great information on basting in her book -- check out page 17 for that information.  We have very similar approaches to basting.  

It's important to always cut your batting and backing a few inches larger than the quilt top.  This affords us something to hold on to when nearing the edge of the quilt top.

Also for ease of placement and taping, after pressing, be sure to have straight and square lines on your backing fabric.

Begin the basting process by positioning the backing fabric -- right side down -- on a table top or large flat surface.
Tape one side down.  
I use blue painters tape and attach every few inches.
The painters tape does not leave residue on my table top.

Now smooth the fabric in the direction opposite of what you taped and tape another edge of the backing.

The key is to ensure there are no gathers in the backing. 
If I run my hand over the backing and a ridge is created ahead of my hand then it needs to be more taut.  

You can read this blog post and watch this video from my 2016 FMQAL for great detail about basting.

Once the backing is ready I place the batting over it and smooth it out.

For this FMQAL I choose to use 1 layer of Dream Wool.

 Next I position the quilt top on the batting.
Again I smooth it out -- from the center in an outward moving motion.

Now I grab my basting pins by Dritz.  I generally use the smaller pins to baste.  But I do own larger ones too.  The smaller ones don't get in the way as easily as the larger ones do.
I may choose the larger one when I pin the center of a subject I know I won't be stitching right away.

Notice how the basting pins have a slight bend in them.
This enables you to easily scoop-up all layers of the quilt. 

I start pinning from the center of the sandwich outward -- smoothing as I go.
You'll notice in my images that I do not close my pins -- I save that step for later because it's a more efficient use of my time.

You can find MUCH MORE DETAIL about basting in this blog post and by watching this video from my 2016 FMQAL.

One of the reasons I pin baste is because it allows me to "think" during the process.

I'm thinking about where I will begin quilting.
I try avoid pinning there. 
I rarely start quilting in the center of a subject.  So this is a safe place to pin.

Second, through the entire pinning process I think about "How to Quilt That".... 

Pinning gives me time to inspect every few inches of the quilt top. 
I really LOOK at the fabric -- I try to let the fabric speak to me as I pin. 

This part of the process helps me begin to decide what motif(s) to use for the quilting.

I'll will chat more about motif and thread color and weight selection as we stitch along -- but if  you would like to understand my thoughts on this from our 2016 QAL -- read the blog post here and view the video here.

When pinning I choose to pin about a fist width apart.   I don't generally use any pattern to pin -- just start in the center and work my way outward, smoothing and pinning as I go.

When I'm done pinning I use my favorite tool, the Kwik Klip to close all the pins.
It's an efficient way of getting them closed and saves your finger tips too!  
Check out my this video to see it in action

So -- I work from the center outward, smoothing and pinning as I go.
I try to avoid spots where I know I will begin stitching.

In next weeks' post I'll show you how I stabilize the quilt top with a top stitch.
Because of that I avoided pinning along the outside of each section of the panel.

One more thing I do in the Setup, Planning and Basting phase...
I  "audition" available thread colors and weights to make sure I have what I need.

To audition a color it's best to unwind some thread from the spool and place it over the section you want to stitch.  The thread color takes on a whole different look once it is unwound.

I generally stitch with thread colors that complement the fabric.
I will often vary the thread weight to achieve a focus effect.  

In the sample below -- the 40wt color #5004 seems a little to "much" for quilting the border on Lewe.
I probably would not stitch with something with this much contrast.

In The Subtle Sampler -- color #2000 would work fine here -- or, if you have a stash of Aurifil one of the white/ecru colors would work fine too. 

Next week we'll talk stabilizing the quilt.
I love to use a heavy weight thread (12 wt) and top stitch for stabilization.
It works beautifully and looks awesome.

This 12wt thread (red spool) in color #6722 from The Subtle Sampler will work just fine.
Note though, you'll need to have one of those top stitch needles (mentioned above) in size 100/16.
If you don't have these supplies -- no worries.  Just use what you have for now and it will work out just fine.  It's a learning process -- when you have time and funds to experiment -- do it then!

Be sure to jump over to Wendy's blog post and gobble up what she is sharing.
What a great opportunity to learn from a master.

If you have questions -- leave them below and check comments later for an answer. 

We may also be discussing the QAL on my Redbird Quilt Co Facebook Page
or the group I host on Facebook -- Free Motion Quilting Frenzy.

Are you excited!

I know we are....

Please share with your friends!

Until next week.
Keep on Stitchin'


Follow me on Instagram too!!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Connie -- we'll have some fun with it! I hope you are well -- nice to hear from you.

  2. This post is so exciting. I would love to join in but I can't. Daddy needs me. So I have portable projects
    I absolutely love all of your great tools and advice.
    I am looking forward to following along as the audience haha

    1. Thanks for commenting Rosemary. We're happy you can follow along with us. Prayers for your Daddy.. Wendy and I both understand taking care of what is most important.

  3. It's so funny and I had to smile a lot during reading, because I thought at every supply: Yes! I agree! That's a perfect choice! 😅
    I hope, I will find enough time to join. Time is running. But I really would love to see, how you and Wendy are going through the quilting process.
    Greetings from Germany Rike

    1. Thanks for the sweet comment Rike -- we're happy you're following along -- even if you're not sewing along.

  4. So exciting! So talented and sharing your knowledge is a real blessing for those of us who have tried FMQ and failed😆 Thank you both!

    1. Aww -- thank you my friend It's always a joy to share our love of quilting with others ...

  5. Thanks Karen for all you have shared. Do you recommend washing your materials first?

    1. Hi Marianna -- when fabrics are cotton and not a bold color (like red or black) I would not wash them ahead. Personally I do wash fabrics when I'm mixing cotton and flannel (or flannel and anything but flannel) or if I have red-red's or black involved. Other than that I do not wash and might starch if necessary. Great quetion -- thank you.