Thursday, July 12, 2018

Conquering My Fear of Free-Motion Quilting

Look! I can free-motion quilt!

I like straight-line quilting, and the motifs I can create with a straight stitch and walking foot usually serve me well. Every 12 to 18 months, however, I decide that I need to face my fear of free-motion quilting (FMQ). After all, FMQ has its perks. I like the idea of quilting without doing much, if any, marking (and I almost always mark when I straight-line quilt). Plus, some quilt designs require the softening that only FMQ’s swirls and loops can provide.

These forays into FMQ follow the same pattern: I get out my darning foot and plate, watch some videos online, give FMQ a shot, and throw in the towel when I’m not great at it from the get-go. In the end, all I’ve wasted is some thread and practice quilt sandwiches.

My most recent attempt was different, though. I started by hanging out with a friend—someone I consider an expert in FMQ—to pick her brain and practice a bit. And it was hard. I had to focus on so much! So we talked about different ways I could practice, improving my approach and building my muscle memory.

I ended up making some compromises. First I invested in some inexpensive stencils, figuring they’d help me work on maintaining a consistent stitch length and making pretty, round corners without having to think about where I was headed next with my quilting. Then I practiced with a stipple stencil. I’m not crazy about the look of stippling, but it’s forgiving—a good FMQ design to start with. I traced my stipple stencil on some freezer paper, taped it to my cutting board, and using a simple rectangle of leftover template plastic marked with a black dot, pretended I was moving a quilt under the needle of my machine. Then I moved to quilting practice sandwiches. Finally, I moved on to an actual quilt.

This was my simple solution to working on my muscle memory.

In the end, the experience went better than I thought it would. I offset each row of stippling to camouflage the fact that I used a stencil, and that worked well. Whenever things got too wonky, I stopped quilting, tied off the thread at a good spot, and buried the ends. It wasn’t efficient, but I wanted the final quilt to be good enough to gift. Of course, with the stencil, I had to mark every line of quilting with a water-soluble marker. Oh well—I did what I had to do to make FMQ work for me!

This was the ideal project to work on my FMQ. A lot of imperfections were
camouflaged by the gray thread and improv background.

Here is the finished quilt! Read more details here.

I haven’t done any FMQ since that project, so I suspect my next attempt will require a lot of practice again. That’s fine with me—I have the confidence to make it happen a second time.

Are you into FMQ? What words of wisdom can you share with a newbie like me?

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Friday, June 15, 2018

The Jelly Roll End Is in Sight

Read the Tutorial: Still Pretty Simple Jelly Roll Quilt

I used to be a girl with lots of jelly rolls. I think it’s how they display—all neatly wound together, with a peek of each fabric along the edge—that made them so irresistible. The thing is, jelly rolls aren’t as versatile as other precuts, so they tend to accumulate in my stash. A few years ago, I decided enough was enough. I was going to use up all the jelly rolls I had on hand and stop buying them in favor of other precuts. (See the fruit of that effort here, here, here, and here.)

I am pleased to announce that I have two more quilts—one finished and one in process—and then I’ll be down to zero jelly rolls. The end is in sight! To celebrate, I wanted to share how I used one of these last jelly rolls, in a log cabin quilt pattern I’ve named my Still Pretty Simple Jelly Roll Quilt.

This was my first time sewing rectangular log cabin blocks. The rectangular version goes together as easily as the square one, but unlike square log cabins, rectangular log cabins have an orientation. For this pattern, if you add logs clockwise around the center log, you get the block on the left. If you add logs counter-clockwise around the center log, you get the block on the right ...

I made 16 rectangular blocks—8 of the left block and 8 of the right—to create my quilt. By rotating the blocks, I could have created these other designs, too ...

My finished quilt features Franklin by Denyse Schmidt; the mockups use one of her more recent lines, Washington Depot.

The Still Pretty Simple Jelly Roll Quilt is a fun—and super easy!—way to sew through a jelly roll. For instructions on how to sew your own, see the accompanying tutorial.

For more posts on jelly roll quilts, see:

Read the Tutorial: Still Pretty Simple Jelly Roll Quilt

Linking up to Main Crush Monday, Needle and Thread Thursday, and Let’s Bee Social ...
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Tutorial: Still Pretty Simple Jelly Roll Quilt

 Read the Introduction: The Jelly Roll End Is in Sight

This is one of the four quilt designs you can make with this tutorial.

Fabric Requirements

32 jelly roll strips of printed fabric (I used Denyse Schmidt’s Franklin line)
1½ yards* of solid fabric or 21 solid jelly roll strips for the background (I used Kona Snow)
½ yard of fabric for the binding
3½ yards of fabric for the backing
63" x 70" piece of batting (this provides approximately 3" to 4" of overhang on each side)

*This measurement does not allow any room for error. If you prefer, buy 1¾ yards to allow for a mistake or two in cutting.

Finished size is approximately 56" x 64".

All seams are a scant ¼".

WOF = width of fabric. These instructions presume a 42" WOF.

Please read all of the instructions before beginning your project.


Please note: The lettered labels that follow correspond to the labels used in Sewing the Log Cabins.

Divide the 32 printed jelly roll strips into two piles, distributing the colors evenly between the two. (For example, my fabric came in two different colorways: orange/magenta and green/blue. I placed half of my orange/magenta strips in each pile and half of my green/blue strips in each pile.)

Cut one pile of 16 strips like this:

Cut the second pile of 16 strips like this:

If using yardage for the background, cut the 1½ yards of fabric into (21) 2½" strips. Using the 21 strips of background fabrics, cut:

  • 8 strips into (16) 14½" pieces (K) and (8) 10½" pieces (G/J), following the picture below:
  • 6 strips into (24) 10½" pieces (G/J)
  • 6 strips into (32) 6½" pieces (C/F)
  • 1 strip into (16) 2½" pieces (B)

Sewing the Log Cabins
Unlike square log cabin blocks, rectangular log cabins have an orientation. For this pattern, if you add logs clockwise around the center log, you get the block on the left. If you add logs counter-clockwise around the center log, you get the block on the right ...

For any of the four designs below, you will need 8 of each orientation.

To assemble a block that orients to the left, start by sewing an A piece to a B piece. Press the seam open.

Add the C piece to the block, working clockwise.

And the D piece.

Following the picture below, sew on the remaining logs.

To sew a right-oriented block, sew the same pieces counter-clockwise around piece A.

The unfinished block size is 14½" x 16½". Once you have completed 16 blocks and decided which design you want to make, sew the blocks into rows and then sew the rows together.

Finishing the Quilt

To make the backing, cut your 3½ yards of backing fabric into two rectangles: 63" x WOF. Sew them together along the long side. Trim down to 63" x 70". Quilt, bind, and enjoy your quilt!


It’s important that you use an accurate scant ¼" seam for this block to achieve the unfinished block size of 14½" x 16½".

I love chain-piecing, but to avoid making silly mistakes, I sewed just two blocks of the same orientation at a time. I’d lay the pieces for each block out on my sewing table, and then sew both A’s to the corresponding B’s and so on.

My finished quilt!

Read Introduction: The Jelly Roll End Is in Sight

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