Quilting Frustration

Sheep quilt

I finally finished a baptism quilt (we Lutherans baptize infants) that I think I may have started at the beginning of the pandemic. There are several reasons why it took me so long. In between, I made two lap quilts for my sister-in-law and I pieced a bed quilt for my son. Also, I disappointed myself with my fabric choices for the sheep block (but not enough to remake it). The pastel pink gingham I picked for the sheep’s body doesn’t show up well against the white background. (That block, by the way, is from Lori Holt’s Farm Girl Vintage book. It’s a favorite of our quilt ministry.)

Sheep quilt

I thought this might be the time to learn free motion quilting–I could quilt fleecy-looking swirls over the pink gingham with brighter pink thread. Problem solved.

Sigh. Some people have a long learning curve. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’d read that it was a good idea to try out your design with paper and pencil before trying to stitch it. So I spent several practice sessions drawing swirls. I was dissatisfied with my results.


Maybe I could try stippling.


My stippling drawing was okay, so I started practicing stitching with scraps of fabric and batting. I don’t have a long-arm, but I know lots of people do beautiful quilting on ordinary sewing machines. I have a 30-year-old Pfaff Tiptronic 6270, which has been excellent for piecing and for in-the-ditch quilting. I am very good at straight stitching. I can sew garments that involve curves.

Stippling practice

Stippling is another matter. You need to be able to think ahead, to visualize how you want your stitches to meander. I don’t have that skill set. I spent a couple months’ worth of Saturday mornings working on my stippling. I can’t tell you how many bobbins I wound–they get used up really fast when you do free-motion practice. I never got the hang of it. I think part of the problem was I’d slow down, and then my stitches would get too large. I eventually used up all the fabric I didn’t mind wasting and all my scraps of batting. Did I really want to cut into my good yardage? No. But I read that felt squares are good for FMQ practice. Folded in half, they have bulk similar to cotton plus batting.

I decided to try random loop-de-loops. Maybe they wouldn’t be so hard to control. Alternate looping to the right and to the left. I practiced for a while, determined to make it work.

FMQ practice

And then my sewing machine threw a hissy fit. It made my top thread form a massive tangle on the underside of my fabric.

Now I know how to handle this. Usually, underside tangles are caused by one of four things: a bent needle; dust, lint, or thread fragments in the bobbin carriage; inferior thread; or lack of lubrication. So, I removed the throat plate and cleaned and oiled the machine and changed out the needle and the thread. Multiple times. But as soon as I started practicing my quilting again, tangleation! Maybe my machine needed repair. But I just had it serviced in January! It should be good for a couple of years.

Maybe it’s time to retire my Pfaff. 30 years is a good life. For the heck of it, I did some straight sewing. No problem.

I tried FMQ again, problem again!

I gave up on the idea of quilting that sheep and just left the outline quilted. Then I bound it, buried my thread ends, and pronounced the quilt done.

Baptism quilt

Now it’s your turn–help! I’ve decided that if I want to take my quilting to the next level, I need a long arm. I’m going to research what’s out there–and I have no idea how to begin. I know I don’t have room for one of those huge frames with the computerized machine. So, quilters, what machines do you use? What do you like about them? What would your dream machine be, and why?

15 responses »

  1. Hey, Andrea 🙂 When I have a small area of fabric that’s too light, like your sheep, I use a Pigma pen or fine point sharpie to make darker dots or lines all over it. Nobody knows those weren’t in the original fabric, and it’s easier than quilting. And BTW, there’s quite a learning curve on a longarm, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a creative solution!
      I realize just owning a longarm isn’t going to make me into a great quilter. (Just like paying for a gym membership doesn’t mean you’ll get in shape–you have to do the work, darn it!) I realize it will still take time to build skill.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I discovered that I love computerized long-arming but I have no room at all. My local quilt shop lets people rent time on their long arm machine. It’s great! I went through training and they help me as needed when I’m there there. This may be a good way to start your journey if you don’t live too far from a shop that seems them. My shop is a Janome dealer and if you search their website, you can find locations that have/sell long-arm machines. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have found that I have to make several adjustments when I plan to FMQ. The tension really has to change, and I have to find that sweet spot of speed to keep things looking smooth. It feels a little out of control at first but then I get used to it. I’ve heard lots of good things about the Juli Sweet 16, which is between a regular machine and a long arm I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I still have problems with free motion quilting too — I am better than I used to be, but not expert enough to explain your thread tangles. 🙂
    I wonder what kind of batting you are using? It looks pretty thick.
    Also, did you adjust the thread tension? I actually like mine set to -1 to get the stitches to lock in the middle of the batting. And you might try pre-wound bobbins — I get the ones with 100 wt. thread.
    I have a Juki HZL-F600 domestic machine — free motion expert Leah Day recommended that brand and it works pretty well for me.
    And as Mary recommended going over it with a pen, I was thinking you could go over it with a thin wash of textile paint as well. I like Jacquard Lumiere paints but I think you could also use any textile paint thinned down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your input, Gwen. When the tangles started happening, I was using a folded square of felt with no batting. Earlier I had been using scraps of other batting, and though they look fluffy in the pictures, in real life they are not very thick. I think one was a wool or wool blend, they other may be a cotton or cotton blend. I don’t remember.
      I had decreased my tension to 1. I don’t think my machine goes to the negative side.
      I’ve never used pre-wound bobbins before, but I did buy some to quilt my son’s quilt. Thanks for the idea of using textile paints. I’ll try that sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I also have Pfaff machines and have found that a single needle throat plate helps prevent looping of the top thread on the wrong side of the quilt. I longarm with an APQS Millennium and love it. It is a real workhorse, and customer service is superb. Many of my friends appreciate Handiquilter machines. So check out those two brands.

    Liked by 1 person

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