September 21, 2011

Meandering advice

My friend Laura has been trying free motion quilting! We are time zones apart, so unfortunately I can't hover over her shoulder with encouraging words and hands on support, as I love to do.


Laura sort of hit a wall on meandering, which I think is a common experience when quilters first try this pattern. (It seems like it should be so easy, right?) She asked me about keeping the pattern even, how to see where you are going across the quilt when you are working one small area at a time. She said she felt like she was quilting an area and then drawing "a long lonely line" to get to the next area.

I emailed her my advice (this was, ahem, ages ago), and wanted to bring the subject up here too. Some suggestions I'd like to share:
  • Keep trying! Meandering looks so simple but it really takes a fair amount of practice. There are easier pattern for beginners to start with, so don't feel like you have to meander right out of the gate. If meandering is getting you down, stitch something else for a few quilts.
  • Sketch a lot. Every day. BIG sheets of paper if you have them. Paper is way cheaper than fabric and with meandering you have to get your brain used to figuring out where to go next while keeping the pattern curvy and consistent like you want it. This is just like any other skill, it improves with practice. Use a colored marker and you could reuse your sketch paper for wrapping paper!
  • Let the edges of any area you're stitching be curvy. That way when you stitch the adjacent area the "join" between the two disappears, and it looks like one cohesive unit instead of two separate areas. Stitch in blob shapes.
  • Make a plan before you start about how you will move across the quilt. Leah Day of the Free Motion Quilting Project talks about how she sections a quilt in this video. I like the way Elizabeth of Oh, Fransson plans her quilting, shown in this picture. Or you could just meander in wide (6-10") rows across the quilt, keeping the edges curvy on each row so the next row can nestle up against it. This lets you practice meandering while just moving in one general direction (to the right) instead of all over the quilt.
  • My own personal epiphany: when stitching, try to add twosies (two-lump units) and threesies (three-lump units) as you go to keep from getting into a crazy long wiggle. Whenever I get the feeling that "oh no! this wavy line won't stop!" I toss in one of these to get me off on a new direction.

If you've been stuck on meandering I invite you to spend a little time sketching, and see if the twosie-threesie thing helps at all.

Other snippets of advice:
  • If you get ahead of yourself and don't know where you are going next, STOP and take a breath and decide.  I could save myself a lot of ripping if I always followed this advice.
  • My meandering, and probably most people's, tends to loosen up a bit as I go, with my curves getting bigger the longer I quilt. To counter this I try to purposely make my stitching bigger and more open as I start. And every 10 or so minutes I find the area I started with and hold it up against the area I'm currently working, to see if I am loosening up too much.
I hope these thoughts are helpful if you're on the learning curve for meandering. I know there are some really great quilters and quilt teachers reading this blog, as well as newer quilters who are finding out what works for them. So, what advice do you all have to add? What has helped you get your meandering right?

20 comments:

Cyndi Nelson said...

Thank you so much for the advice!!! This is a technique that I am going to start working on, so your blog post was timely : ) I really like the idea of working on paper. I am thinking that may help me get a feel for the motion.

Thank you!

My Life In Quilts said...

Yes, working on paper sounds like a great idea! I find that when I meander I have a tendency to want to cross the lines, so I stop and restart when that happens. Very good advice!

Debbie said...

You are right on about adding the humps and working in blobs...and all the other things. I do listen to music when quilting...put on a CD and relax. Something about the steady music rhythm and my hand movement make a better result.

Suzanne said...

Well, I do declare you have the best timing ever! I am basting a queen quilt today and hope to start FMQ asap. Your suggestions are SO helpful. In fact, I'll probably print them and have them by my computer just to glean some of your FMQ mojo. Since we also are too far apart to work side by side, this will be the next best thing. Thank you also for the links too.

Katie M. said...

Great tips! Something I've told the few people I've taught - relax! Meandering is very forgiving and remember "your shoulders do NOT make nice earrings!" I've watched people as their shoulders inch closer and closer to their ear lobes as they tighten up (a sure way to end up with a stiff neck and sore shoulders)

Sarah Craig said...

Once again, a set of great tips that I'm going to e-mail to some friends who are currently having "meandering blues"! My only tip is that if you do accidentally cross your lines, make a little heart out of it - it adds a sweet touch to your quilt and turns an oops into a design detail!!

~Niki~ said...

I used to do a lot of free motion, now just straight lines. I like the look of straight better now on my baby quilts. Thanks for posting this though. I wish I had something like this in the past to refer to. It was tough.

Sallie said...

Thanks for the advice!

Charleen said...

Thanks for the tips! Now I need the time to practice. Someone told me to use a dry erase markers and a white board. You just wipe off and start sketching all over again!

Jamie Lee said...

I always enjoy your fmq advice! It is stellar, really. I havae never heard the terms "twosie and threesie", but that is perfect. I make twosies all the time, but never a threesie. Next time for sure I will try it. I am pretty successful at the fmq of squiggles. If I get stuck, I just take my line to the edge of the quilt and take a break. I also like to quilt horizontally from one side to the other in large swaths. That way I don't end up getting stuck somewhere or with a blank space. I always know generally where I'm going. I like these posts...keep 'em coming!!!

Suz said...

I think the best advice is that you can STOP when you feel like you're getting into a pickle - don't freak out and keep going because you'll always regret it. It's a bit like driving, just stop, look where you can go to correct, and proceed. If you can't work it out, finish off and snip threads. Start again somewhere else. Not the end of the earth. There is no award for doing it all with one continuous line of stitching. I've also heard the meandering shape described as being like the outline of gingerbread cookies with five bumps: head, arms and legs...

Cheryll said...

Great advice....ThAnKs!

matate10 said...

Love your advice!. Everyone always seems to think that meandering is easy, but it really isn't, if you want to make it look right and not a bunch of wavy sausages!! Thanks again.

Jeane said...

I always enjoy your tips and advice on FMQ Christine. When I first started FMQ the meander was the ultimate design. Now I have it somewhat mastered, the straight line quilting is gaining popularity. Thanks for your advice.

Lana said...

This was a great post...I am trying to meander my way through a quilt top that my cousin's great grandmother hand made - and this really helped...I am still learning, but with your post I could really see what I was doing and work now to correct it.
THANKS!

JoAnne said...

Thank you for your advice, it is good and I really appreciate it. I save all the junk mail and practice drawing on that. We recently received a new phone book (what are they for?) and am using the old one to draw on the pages. It will last me quite awhile.

I am Just One Mom said...

In-ies, Out-ies, Two-sies, Three-sies.
Use a sharpie on the daily newspaper (after it has been read ;) and practice whatever pattern you are working on (feathers, even meandering, leafs, rosebuds, etc) and you will feel yourself loosing up and flowing.

Keren Duchan said...

That's some good advice. I use the two-sies too when I'm blocked for ideas. And just stopping for a few seconds helps (best to have the needle in a down position). I too found out that I initially make tight stippling and slowly as I move along I make more open meandering. But after you wash the quilt and it becomes all crinkly, you really can hardly tell (if the thread is rather neutral compared to the quilt fabric).

Keren Duchan said...

Oh, and another tip that has helped me: you don't have to stitch a long coherent seam all over the quilt. You can always "go overboard" (out into the edge that will eventually be cut off or bound), and pick up again wherever you like.

Ulla's Quilt World said...

Thank you so much for your blog! :)

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