Archives for September 2015

Machine Quilting is like a Giant Onion

onionMachine quilting is like a big onion, with many, many layers.

When you learn one thing you can peel back the next layer  

and absorb another concept at a deeper level.

First I want you to know, I am not a super human. I was who you are before I took a 3-day seminar that changed my life. I had your same insecurities and assumptions that I now know were incorrect; but how do you know better (unless you practice this for 15 years)? I know my quilts look intimidating but that is just to get you to look so I can show you that

if I can do this you can too

if you follow my formula for success. I can teach you to set up the machine, choose the right supplies and follow my tried and true process, but are you open to the possibility of your success? I consider each teaching event an opportunity to provide in-depth instruction for a solid foundation to rely on for a lifetime.   IMG_6547

Who are my classes for?

I do not assume that students have prior knowledge or experience of machine quiltingwhen I write a class, I provide everything you need to learn for each class. I get students of every level in my classes, you are all welcome!  I don’t expect everyone to comprehend everything that I tell them the first time, so I repeat it again and again until it all sinks in. It is SO wonderful to see the light bulb moments when someone sees their accomplishments!

What happens in the Classroom? 

My workshops each focus on teaching a specific technique, with plenty of individualized coaching on the machine quilting basics you will use every day. I want each student to take home confidence in the operation of their machine for the essential free-motion quilting process and the lifelong skills needed to complete their future quilts.

The first thing I do when arriving in a classroom is to declare it a problem free zone. Any issues that arise are considered an opportunity to learn something new, in a different way. Class time begins with introductory PowerPoint presentation where information is organized efficiently, for all to be able to see clearly. This allows students to relax, focus on the topic and understand the plan for the entire day. Everyone will see an illustrated explanation of the concept; learn recommended supplies and the machine set-up.

Next, time is spent practicing skill building exercises to gain confidence in a relaxed, non-competitive environment. Each student is coached to adjust their machine for good tension and may stitch at their own pace. The project is taught step-by-step and repeated as many times as necessary until each person feels ready to move on. Finally, these new skills are set in action stitching the beautiful project and sharing  thoughts as they learn the process. 

After teaching professionally for many years, I have a pretty clear vision of the needs of students. Most workshops include a kit with the best supplies chosen to get the job successfully. This avoids any struggle to purchase difficult to find products, assuring that class time is not wasted on unprepared supplies. With everything there ready and waiting, you can relax and focus on the suggestions for success.

How to prepare for a class

First, stop worrying about what you don’t know or haven’t done. I have listed everything you need to prepare right here for you with clear instructions.

At least two weeks before class:
Find the owners manual for your machine. Read the instructions for free-motion, lowering the feed dogs, adjusting the upper and lower tension (if possible) as well as how to adjust the pressure of the presser foot for thick bundles. Be sure the machine is clean and oiled if necessary according to the manufacturers recommendations.

Call or visit the dealer of your machine. Ask to see the smallest open-toe free-motion foot available for your machine. This is a case where less is better; avoid springs, wires, and clunky plastic parts that block the view of the quilt.

Gather the workshop supplies from the list provided. Go to a quality quilt shop, machine dealership or plan ahead to allow for shipping if you need to order online. If you are unsure about something, email me. If you are reading this at the last minute, don’t worry, just bring what you have and we will have an opportunity to try something different. I always have thread, needles, and basting pins available for purchase in class.

Pre-wash your fabric and partially dry in the dryer. Then, press it completely dry using spray starch to stabilize the fabric before you cut the pieces. Use a generous application for both the top fabric that will be marked with the design, and for the backing fabric, to avoid stretching during the stitching process. Press with the straight of grain with a hot dry iron until it is completely dry.
Pin-baste your practice sandwich and experiment with the lightweight thread in your machine. (100/2 silk, 60/2 cotton)  Adjust the tension if needed for the threads to catch one another in the middle of the layers.  Stitch some loops, or write your name. Take this ecercise a step further by following the steps in my book, Joanie’s Quilting Elements. Use the bonus CD odf quilting designs, trace a design on fabric and follow my stitching advice. You have done all I could ask to be ready for our big day.

Which Machine and Equipment

Bring your BEST machine. I know you don’t want to lug that heavy machine to class. If necessary, find help to get it into your car the night before class and ask for help when you arrive if you need it. Know your body and its limitations. I will be teaching you to adjust your machine so it only makes sense to learn on the machine that you will ultimately use to perform this skill. The only failure I have had teaching this workshop was when a tiny, lightweight machine unable to be adjusted for the specialty thread, was used. Remember to pack of the cords, the foot pedal and all of the machine accessories listed on the supply list. Some students bring their own portable sewing table, adjustable chair or chair pad, extra lights and magnifiers. If you are wondering if we might need something, bring it.

Prepare for Success!

This is just one day (or three days) in your whole life, and you have invested your hard-earned money on this workshop. You have this golden opportunity to learn this skill, put time into the preparation for the class. You will feel more relaxed when you arrive, better able to achieve success because you know you have done all you can to put yourself in the best environment to learn. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast and leave some extra time for traffic on the way to class!

From the first seeds of inspiration, right through to that very last stitch, each step of quiltmaking is important and can be so much fun! Enjoy the process and delight in your progress. Do your best and you will achieve a great sense of satisfaction in your work. I look forward to seeing you in class!


I am offering two Machine Quilting classes this fall, a 1-day landscape filler class and a comprehensive 3-day skill building seminar. I got a late start on advertising them so there is a potential that these could be semi-private lessons. I still want to hold classes and hope to attract a few more students. I received several notes about the classes which prompted me to write about who these classes are for, how much experience a student needs to be successful when attending one. UPCOMING MACHINE QUILTING CLASSES.

Becoming a partner with your machine, Continued

Before I get into machine features that really benefit you in becoming a partner with your domestic machine for quilting the layers of your projects, I will write about using a domestic sewing machine with a frame and without a frame.

Domestic machine with a frame

This system uses your regular size or stretch model domestic sewing machine mounted on a rack with the individual layers of the quilt attached to rollers. Handles are attached to the machine for you to move it back and forth across a strip of exposed quilt. The operator stands or uses a rolling chair. Since you are using a normal sewing machine, you know it was manufactured to easily be adjusted for refined work. One advantage to this system is that when the quilt layers are attached to rollers, basting is not necessary. However, one must consider the time it takes to accurately load the layers on the rollers to prevent the layers from being misaligned.

I do not own this system and do not have photos. To view photos of these frames do an image search for Sewing Machine With Quilting Frame.

It may be the rollers that present the greatest challenge for the operator. The take-up roller with the completed section of the quilt is between the needle and head opening and unless you are using a stretch model, that space can be quite narrow. As the top is quilted, the space gets smaller, sometimes limiting access to the stitching area to 4″. Planning the quilting designs to fit that narrow space or interlock with one another may be tricky and time consuming.

Domestic machine without a frame

When using a domestic sewing machine for quilting the layers the machine is stationary, positioned on the largest work table you have available. The quilt bundle is moved, guided under the needle with your hands as you sit in front of the machine. There are no rollers to hold the layers so they must be basted. The machine was manufactured for refined threads and needles, these machines require little or no adjustments when using fine thread. The use of a stretch model increases the space to maneuver the quilt bundle.  

The good news is that you can use the equipment you already own to complete small projects and the quilt tops that you may have waiting in your closet to be completed. When using a domestic sewing machine with the walking foot or for free-motion quilting, stitching can occur unrestricted anywhere on the quilt, from top to bottom and from one edge to the other. You can plan wonderful quilting designs that easily flow anywhere on the quilt surface because you have the freedom to access to the entire quilt.
working  puddle copy

Joanie Happily sewing a large quilt on a domestic machine!

The key to using a domestic machine for quilting is how the quilt sandwich is maneuvered under the needle and how choosing the right supplies makes that job much simpler. I am delighted with the results I can accomplish with my domestic machines and have no desire to change. Here are the reasons I continue to use a regular size domestic machine for quilting.
• Practicality. I already own several domestic machines. (Who’s counting?)
• Unrestricted design possibilities. Having access to the entire surface maximizes the quilting potential.
• Many designs I create require maneuvering intricate motifs; my machine was built to handle it.
• Delicacy of the results. My stitches are tiny and the thread is very lightweight so my machine was designed to easily adapt to these lightweight supplies.
• Logistics. I teach on domestic machines, students can learn on their own equipment in class.
For me, at this moment, I am able to stitch anything I want with the machines I already own. I recently completed a piece that was 92″ x 92″, which is big enough for my requirements. My aspirations have never been geared toward making quilts to sell or to transform a top into a quilt for someone else. I love to draw, write, teach, and create designs for you. However, I am also old enough and wise enough to say never say never!

Next time, features of a sewing machine that are beneficial for machine quilting.

If you are interested in learning machine quilting on your own sewing machine, you can read about my hands-on workshops in the Madison, WI area by clicking on the Upcoming Machine Quilting Classes tab on the navigation bar of this website.