Friday 22 September 2023

Practice, Practice, Practice...

I am sure you heard that before. What makes good practice when it comes to freemotionquilting.

I have been thinking about this when I sat down to practice a little bit the other day after a few weeks of not quilting.

This is what my practice piece looked like
Looks random but it actually is not. In order to get the most out of freemotionquilting practice it is important to:
1. Decide what you want to get out of your practice, i.e.
- preparation for a particular design you might want to use on a quilt, i.e. an allover design or a particular motif
- trialing a new design that you have seen and would like to try out
- improving your muscle memory concentrating on the quilting path of designs that you already know
- improving your stitch quality
- trialing a new thread combination
- concentrating on a particular machine function like for example the use of the stitch regulator or a particular speed or even ruler quilting.

In the above example I started with a particular design, i.e. the swirls. Had seen a little video on IG and thought I give that a whirl. As I am not looking to quilt this on a quilt any time soon, I then continued with my usual practice which has the purpose of strengthening muscle memory.
2. Working on muscle memory
This can involve working on a design where you might feel that you need to get better at or just going through your repertoire of designs to reinforce the quilting paths. As you can see I did a lot of feathers in all sorts of direction because I have got a workshop coming up where I will have to demonstrate some feathers. In going around the perimeter I practiced different shapes and sizes and different ways of stitching the plumes. Sometimes I used a continuous feather and other times I used the heirloom feather. Some sizes were too big or too long, I then practiced building groups of feather plumes to manage not getting too big and also did the dragon fin feather for a bit of fun. In doing this I stitched very deliberately, not necessarily nicely but really thinking about the shape and sizes I was stitching and making a mental note of when the plume just got too big and started to look wonky.  Started echoing around some of the shapes and moved onto backfillers.
3. Working on auditioning different backfillers, looking at density and transitioning
Once I get going there are usually areas that are empty and lend themselves to filling. I usually do some pebbling or stacked swirls, just moving around and concentrating on the speed that I am quilting the pebbles with. I quilt them in manual mode and often need to start a bit slower until I can into the swing of it. As I am pebbling along I start incorporating other fillers into my arrangement which is a good way to manage transitioning from one design to another and finding out where you might struggle.
Moving on from the pebbles, I did little swirls, some flower arrangements, little swirls and a fern which completely went under and clearly did not fit that arangement.  

Preparing for quilting an allover design onto a quilt, I usually do the following:
- practice the design on a smaller scale by drawing on my Ipad until I feel that I got a quilting path worked out
- draw the design on paper and have it sitting next to my machine so I can glance at it from time to time to remind myself which way I am going
- prepare a large practice sandwich so that I can practice the design to the scale that it needs to be for the quilt that I am about to quilt
- quilt the design out following my drawn design
- repeat the process, sometimes a few times depending on the difficulty level of the allover design.
- once I feel comfortable with the scale and the path, go on the quilt...
Sometimes I practice particular motifs that I might want to use in a quilt like the Amish feathers in the picture below. For some reason I could not get that together in drawing it and found it easier to stitch it out. This clarified the way I had to draw them into a wholecloth design.
Similarly when I want to quilt with a ruler, I usually practice on a scrap piece first to familiarize myself with how the ruler sits in my hand, whether it slips and where it might need a sticky grip thingy on the back. 
This is the piece I quilted when I got Bethanne Nemesh' heart ruler
So, all in all, I guess what I am saying is to practice with purpose rather than doodling, although at times I also just doodle for the fun of it. But I think if you want to get better at FMQ practicing with a distinct purpose is more beneficila.



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