Open Line Friday–Questions and Answers

Scissors, Questions and Answers


I would like to try something new today.  I’m calling it Open Line Friday--a chance to answer questions and a place where we can bring together the collective knowledge of the group.  The following are questions that have popped up in the last week or two.   Please add your input to the following questions:

Rebecca at Cheeky Cognoscenti   writes:  You know, I always thought that “free-motion” quilting was done completely freehand, without any markings on the quilt top. Looking through your tutorials, I am struck by how many different motifs require (or at least greatly benefit from) marking lines to guide spacing, etc. My question is, at what point would you do the marking if this was a big quilt instead of a small sample? Do you mark the entire quilt top before you layer it and baste it for quilting? Or do you mark the quilt sandwich as you go, and if so, how do you keep your lines straight when you’re drawing on a puffy quilt sandwich? Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful tutorials, by the way!

Lori:  Free Motion Quilting refers to stitching with the feed dogs lowered or disengaged.  (When the feed dogs are “up” the sewing machine will advance the fabric–in a more or less straight line–  When the feed dogs are “lowered”  the fabric will only move when it is guided through the machine)  This allows the quilter to move in any direction and stitch motifs and patterns, not just straight lines.  Perhaps there is some confusion because it sounds a bit like “free hand drawing”.  Some marking is essential on almost all quilts.

As for marking:  I use the stitched seam lines created by piecing as my “rails” or guidelines whenever I can–in order to avoid marking.  In large quilts, I do a combination of marking methods.  I usually don’t mark until after the quilt is pinned–I like to use chalk and if the quilt is being moved around a lot the chalk comes off.  Even if the quilt batting is bulky, I am usually able to add enough markings.  I also add markings as I quilt.


Chris:Dear lori do you have any problems with your foot jumping is there anything I can do to stop this I have a Bernina 440 and love it.

Lori:  I’m not sure what you mean by the foot “jumping”…Perhaps you need to increase the presser foot pressure? Also, don’t forget to lower the presser foot–that can cause the foot to jump. Send more details…Maybe some other readers can help?

Bernina, Feed Dogs

Feed Dogs, Offset quilting foot


Ruth at StitchSewQuilt     I would like to try FMQ with a thicker-looking cotton thread as I have feeling it will last longer and look better, and not eat through my cotton patchwork??? Is that true? I keep snapping needles in my practice FMQ; really not sure why, I think the tension’s okay. That’s another reason I want a thicker thread, so it will match a thicker needle and hopefully decrease the possibility of snapping when I cross a seam.     Are all of the retailers that have been mentioned on here American? I live in Britain and am hoping to be able to find the supplies you are discussing. Thanks.

Lori:  I don’t think the problem is the thread or the needles.  Most of the time when I break needles it is because I am pulling too hard on a heavy quilt.  Make sure the area you are stitching is free to move. Also, an improperly threaded machine can break needles.  Have you had your machine serviced lately?   Are you using quality needles like Schmetz 80 or larger?    (Note–check out Ruth’s blog where she has a few images of her work.)  Most of the products I have recommended are available from online retailers.   We have a lot of followers from the UK–can you help Ruth with local retailers?

Marking Tools

Thank you to the readers who offered questions. Please help these readers with YOUR input!

We will try this again in a few weeks, if anyone has a question they’d like answered.

20 thoughts on “Open Line Friday–Questions and Answers

  1. I wanted to add another idea for the quilt marking question: I was at a class recently with a longarmer who was teaching mini background fills, and she said that she lays out and marks the entire quilt before she puts it on her frame, because that way the top is as flat ash she can make it before quilting, and she can see the overall design. This wouldn’t work with chalk and domestic machines, but other methods would.

    • By the time I get a quilt top finished and basted I am in a hurry to get on to the fun part–free motion quilting! I do as little marking as I can. Also, I like to be more spontaneous when I am quilting. Often it is when I am free motion quilting a quilt and am “in the groove” I get my best ideas. That’s what works for me, but I love to hear how other people work. Mandy–how much do YOU mark? When do you mark?

      • Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and am really enjoying it. I’ve been quilting about 8 years now and have gotten into modern quilts using a lot of FMQ. I never mark unless I am sectioning off a part of the quilt for a different design or unless I am doing a motif that I am unfamiliar with.Once I’ve done it a few times I just go for it. I find your technique really interesting Lori, as I don’t do my quilting in lines as you do and it’s teaching me a new way of trying things.

      • I self identify as a modern quilt maker and designer, but take loads of classes on traditional quilting and just pick and choose what I incorporate. I’ma longarmer, so the options for marking are slightly different because they don’t rub off the way they do if using chalk. For me, I find it helps to make general lines if I want to fill a specific large area to help me know generally where I am (chalk or hera marker), and maybe tic marks if there are specific lines I want to hit. Since I’m not quilting for show, the 1/2″ grid for background fills doesn’t happen all that often! If I do make a grid for fills, though, I do it off the longarm and before any batting and backing has been basted on so that there is no distortion. I use the blue pens, the “fatter” chalk pencils for general stuff, and the fine line chalk pencils if there is something I really need to sketch out. Most of the time, I just wing it.

  2. Lori, what is your opinion of spray basting products? I know they must be washed out when the quilt is completed, but worry that if a project is shelved for a while that the glue left in over time would be harmful to the fabrics.

    • Barb,
      I use spray basting products for almost all of my small and medium sized projects. I really like the convenience. I have been using Sullivan’s Basting Spray for nearly eight years and have never noticed any ill effects. (I use Sullivans because that is the first one I tried and I liked it–and one can lasts forever–I understand the other sprays are very good as well.) I don’t use spray on larger quilts because I am not sure how to do it–though I know it can be done. I have a reasonably efficient pinning procedure for large quilts. I have not even washed all of my small projects and I can’t tell any ill effects even without washing. The only problem with spray–make sure the nozzle is clean-if it is not, you can get “drips” and then you have to wash it–looks like a drip stain. One other tip when using basting spray-make sure you allow it to dry thoroughly before quilting through it. You can not free motion quilt through a damp quilt! (I’ve learned this the hard way!)

      • I agree with the basting spray, I leave mine for at least a day before trying to quilt, to let the glue dry. I have had good success spray basting a large quilt on a carpet in my sewing room. Now this carpet is old and I don’t care if it gets sprayed on. I use large blocking pins and pin down the back right onto the carpet, then center my batting, spray, then center the top and spray. Then I start to pin the outside border, once that is complete I take out the blocking pins and lay it on the dining room table and pin the rest of the quilt. It’s cumbersome but it does work. Course if you had a really nice carpet I wouldn’t recommend it!

  3. Lori, thanks so much for posting my question and for your response! I’m going to try doing more marking on my next quilting project.

    I thought I might be able to help Chris, who asks about her foot “jumping” when she does FMQ. She mentioned that she’s using a Bernina 440 QE, and I know that machine has the capability of using the BSR stitch regulator foot. That BSR contraption took me awhile to get used to and I suspect that she’s having trouble with it. Chris, if you’re using Mode One and having trouble with the BSR foot, try Mode Two. Also, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got for the BSR foot was to use it with the Needle Stop Down feature engaged, BUT when I stop quilting to reposition my hands with the needle in the down position, use the heel tap on the foot controller to RAISE the needle once your hands are in place, before resuming stitching. If you don’t do that, you can get an ugly jerk of a stitch at the beginning every time you stop and start, and I’m wondering if that might be the “jump” that Chris is referring to. Also, the BSR foot can skip stitches occasionally if you are trying to move the fabric too fast. If neither of these suggestions helps, I think you should schedule a trouble-shooting appointment with your Bernina dealer, bring in your machine and a practice quilt sandwich, and show them the problem you’re having when your foot jumps during FMQ. They will probably be able to help you fix it right away once they watch you in action!

    And for Ruth, who asked about needles and thread: FMQ Goddess Diane Gaudynski uses teeny tiny size 60 needles when she quilts with monofilament or with #100 silk thread — you should not need to use a big, heavy needle for quilting unless you are using a big, heavy thread that warrants it. Broken needles are most likely due to running your machine too SLOWLY while you are moving your quilt very QUICKLY — so you’re jerking your quilt sandwich around while your needle is still down in the quilt. Snap! 😉 As far as the needle penetrating through a bulky seam allowance, you should still be fine with any size needle as long as it has a SHARP point (like a Microtex, Quilting, or Topstitching needle rather than a Universal, Ballpoint, or Stretch needle) — and as long as you have a FRESH needle that hasn’t been dulled by thousands of stitches already. Free-motion quilting, like embroidery, takes its toll on needles, so if you start to see stitch problems cropping up or you begin to notice a punching sound when your needle goes into your fabric, it’s a good idea to discard that needle and put in a new one. As far as quilting thread is concerned, you should not have to worry about any cotton quilting thread cutting into the cotton fibers of your quilt over time. As long as you are using cotton thread with cotton fabrics rather than polyester threads, which are MUCH stronger than cotton and can actually perforate the quilt fabric over time, you should be fine. I have seen gorgeous quilting done with heavy 40 weight cotton quilting thread as well as with the finest #100 silk threads, but heavier threads do look best with larger-scale, more open quilting designs. You will want a longer stitch length with a heavier thread, and if you try to use a heavy thread to quilt a dense background fill you will see much more obvious heavy thread buildup wherever you backtrack over previous stitching, and tiny circle shapes won’t look as smooth with a heavy thread as they do with a fine thread. I personally found that my free-motion quilting instantly looked about ten times better when I switched from a 50 weight thread to a lighter weight 60/2 cotton embroidery thread for quilting. It’s just that much more forgiving. 🙂

    • Rebecca, Thank you for your very thoughtful response. I have not used 60 cotton thread, but will give that a try as well. I agree that thread matters in stitch quality and each of us need to find a few threads that work–for our machine, our batting, our style of free motion quilting. That takes a bit of time and experimentation.

      As I think about the broken needles more, if it is not as you say above–there may be something wrong with the alignment or timing of the sewing machine–a trip to the dealer for a check is in order. Also, after it is repaired, ask if you can stay at the store and quilt for awhile to make sure it is fixed or to get a little direction from the dealer. I have done this on a few occasions and it is better than bringing the machine home to find the problem is not corrected.

      • A thought for Ruth and threads, if you do want to use a thicker thread it’s easier to use it in your bobbin and quilt with your quilt bottom up. You definitely need to mark when doing this technique so you know where your thread is going, and you may have to loosen your bobbin tension. On a drop in bobbin I have bypassed the tension guide and not had issues but definitely test it first! It also works great for using fancier threads, such as a thicker metallic thread. I almost always quilt with a 90/14 topstitch needle or an 80/12. I am also now tending to use a monofilament thread in my bobbin for quilting. I started using it when I didn’t want the color of the bobbin thread to show on the topside which it can do, and it solved that problem quite nicely, and now I’m just getting into that habit.

        This is a great idea Lori, I have gotten some great tips already!

    • Hi Rebecca thank you for that help I have given up using the regulator as I tried things and found it frustrating and as I couldn’t use hand controls I gave up with it. It’s so good to know it wasn’t my inadequacy and someone else understood my problem. Many thanks xxx

  4. If using chalk to mark your quilt a light spray of hairspray(any cheap brand will do) will help keep markings

  5. I would love to add I have become “spoiled” by Judi Madsen & Cindy Needham’s suggesting using a double batting — Hobbs 80/20 doubled is lovely as is Hobbs 80/20 with their wool batt — the texture of the stitches is wonderful and for me, makes it easier to stitch and see what I’m doing — now a single batt looks “flat” to me . . . I’m an Aurifil 50 weight for everything user. I domestic quilt on a Bernina 440 QE and don’t use the BSR — nothing is hopping — the needle does of course and the needle bar — perhaps it’s the needle bar ?? whiich has to hop and yes, can be distracting. Also use a Juki tl-2200 QVP longarm which I’m on the learning curve with — so far so good!

    • Diane, I love wool batt, too–though I have never tried doubling it. I will definitely give that a try. I read about a quilter who used two batts–one silk and one wool to combine the best of both worlds. (By the way…wool batting is machine washable and dry able–it gets better, much better with washing.) My twin daughters have “Doodle Quilts” made with wool batting that they wash and dry in the college dorm washers and dryers and they are even better now that they’ve been washed multiple times!)

  6. I like this idea Lori! To the person who thought thicker thread might break less… not so much! Thicker thread will pile up on the surface, it will give you a lot more thread build up- and quilting through the thread build up would be a likely place to break a needle or thread- the thicker the thread the more likely this is to happen. Also every little mistake will be much more visible in a thick thread. I would suggest the opposite… if you want less breakage use a thinner thread! High quality machine threads that are 40 or 50 weight would serve you much better (and you won’t be filling your bobbin every 10 minutes- which you would be with thick thread) – also it is much more cost effective- as you get so much on a spool. Lori is right, make sure you can move your quilt freely and make sure you aren’t moving your hands faster then your speed allows- perhaps you need to push the pedal harder if you are moving quickly- that is another common time for a needle to break. – remember not to stress or flex that needle at all- your quilt shouldn’t ever be pulling on it.

  7. Thanks for the questions and answers. I too had wondered about marking my quilt top and the chalk and hairspray are interesting. I use chalk, but by the time I get too the end of ansection it is either gone or my sight is one:).

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