As adults we tend to approach a learning situation with one of three goals:
- To learn something new,
- To fill in gaps in the knowledge we already have about something, or
- To refresh knowledge or a skill we already have, but haven’t practiced in a while.
I’ve been a quilter for a very long time. I make art quilts by machine. But I’ve made bed quilts only by hand, from piecing to finishing the quilting and binding. I know the fundamentals of putting a quilt together; I still need to build my skills of making bed quilts by machine.
There’s a psychological side to taking on a new skill, and a physical side to almost everything we do, whether it’s work or play, a game, cooking or quilting. The desire to learn to do and the how to do it must marry in order to be able to do. Here’s an example. After so many years of hand quilting, without any desire to take it to the machine, I recently decided I really want to learn to free-motion quilt on my domestic sewing machine. I’ve researched it, read books and articles, talked to other quilters, found out the things I needed to do to prepare for machine quilting and practiced it on sampler pieces. I’ve even documented my journey to learn how to finish my quilts with machine quilting in a Quiltmaker series (see 2017 issues May/June, July/August, upcoming Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec). I figured I was ready. Then, I sat down at my sewing machine—and everything just went haywire.
I took on my first project with confidence. It wasn’t a big project, a 25”x 52” pillow top. I should be able to handle that, right? Wrong. My thread kept breaking. I never figured out just what that stitch regulator was supposed to do. My stitches were totally erratic. And, talk about speed! How do you ever control that?!?! I thought I had prepared, but concluded it wasn’t enough for a REAL project. My husband called while I was in the middle of this crazy exercise and asked, “What’s wrong? You sound stressed.” You, think? I told him that I might never be a machine quilting quilter.
I’ve decided free motion quilting is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever tried to do in my life, even worse than when my new husband of 6 months decided we had to have a manual-shift car—and, I had to learn how to drive it immediately. You have to understand. I work with some of the most amazing quilters. Every day, I see their totally awesome quilting. We receive quilts from incredible longarm quilters that have beautiful even stitches and wonderful patterns. I really do have the desire to learn how. The question is, how do I build my skillset?
After a couple of days away from my trauma I can now logically break down this experience to figure out what I need to do next to beat this beast called ‘free motion’, (which, by the way, I made the mistake to think it was going to be the most liberating of all quilting just because of the name.) So, with experience in hand and a list of things to work on, I’m back to learning.
I’ve had a note to take a couple of classes on Craft U about free motion quilting for a little while, Express Lane to the Free-Motion Highway with Angela Huffman (I see it’s available for FREE access right now!) and a Sulky class with Eric Drexler, Fearless Free-Motion Stitching for Beginners. So, I decided to kick start the learning process again with these. For me, the two courses ended up working hand-in-hand, and by fortune I took them in a good sequence to refresh some of my initial learning about free motion quilting.
Angela’s class started with conceptualizing the free motion process from an artist’s viewpoint of how to identify themes for quilting and gathering inspiration for designs. With these fundamentals I better understood how to take inspirations into the practical aspect of using the sewing machine (or longarm machine) to create them in fabric. She provides a more in-depth approach to integrating inspiration, design and technique as opposed to just repeatedly practicing doodles that I’ve found in other publications. Her recommendations engage a clearer understanding of the inspiration to create free motion quilting designs. She spends time on developing the psychological aspects to build skill.
Eric’s class, on the other hand, is more practically-oriented in that I learned more about what’s behind the details of the process of free motion quilting: the techniques and tools that will equip me to free motion quilt with ease. He addressed all my questions, including how I can eliminate skipped stitches, manage machine speed and gave me tips that would help with moving the quilting sandwich while stitching. He talked about thread weights, top and bottom threads, needle sizes, types of stabilizer (such as temporary spray adhesive, soluble and tear-away stabilizers), presser feet and in general setting up my machine from the beginning to prepare it for free motion quilting. He showed examples of common free motion stitches as well as some fancy stuff that can be done with free motion.
I feel renewed after watching these classes, so much so that I think I’m ready to tackle that big bad machine and free motion quilting again!
Quiltmaker, McCall’s Quilting and Quick Quilts