After many requests, I finally stopped quilting long enough to start a blog!

I thought a good place to start would be to show how I got into FMQ (free motion quilting).  

This first post covers the first 3 months of my learning FMQ from February 2017 to May 2017! 

The Beginning (sort of).

I inherited this Bow Tie quilt top which my beloved Granny pieced in 1960. In December of 2016 I thought it would be great if I were to finish it. This was the incentive. It’s all I wanted to do regarding quilting. I’d done hand quilting in the past and one using a walking foot, but this was not a walking foot project. (You will see this completed in a much later blog post!)

While I vaguely knew about computerized longarm quilting machines, I did not really discover FMQ until December 2016. I saw it mentioned in the manual to my little domestic Elna 6005 sewing machine. I could not imagine being able to lower the feed dogs on my machine while moving fabric under it without needles constantly breaking! The whole concept seemed crazy, even reckless!

So, I decided to look online for more information …and …wow. It seemed incredible so many quilters were able to do such beautiful work. Some of these artists stated that it would take hundreds of hours and even years to be able to do what they were doing. Gasp!…but… but (insert tantrum here) I wanted to do it NOW, in this lifetime, not years from now!!!

I reminded myself how I’ve been able to do a lot of creative things in my life, so why not this? I’m an artist, I told myself, I have good eye-to-hand coordination; surely this will give me an advantage over other mere quilting mortals?!

So, with inflated ego securely strapped in place, I made a small quilt “sandwich” (fabric, batting, fabric), lowered the feed dogs, and tentatively started moving the fabric under my Elna sewing machine with a 6.5″ throat.

The good news is no needles broke, but the bad news is my ego took a terrible beating. The results were so disappointing!! A drunk monkey could have done better (and surely has)! Maybe it does take hundreds of hours and years to do this? Groan. Frustrated, and humbled, I gave up and put it away. (Although my dogs will tell you I engaged in a short hissy fit, too; which in dog years was really like two months.)

December 2, 2016 – MY FIRST ATTEMPT (Yikes!)


Meanwhile… in January of 2017, I looked into hiring a longarm quilter!! I figured if I wanted my Granny’s quilt top done in my lifetime I’d be better off paying someone to quilt it. I discovered a shop near me, Over the Top Quilting owned by sisters Susan and Chris (wonderful ladies and friends now). I noticed they rented their machines! Would a 3-hour class really enable me to quilt my Granny’s top? Instead, I took a private lesson and a week later I rented a stand-up longarm to free motion quilt a sample lap quilt. The results were not bad, probably because for me moving the machine head was more intuitive than moving the fabric. Still, it was tricky. I did a second lap quilt and it was even better, really nice. A third lap quilt and it was terrific. But, I had no room in my house for a stand-up longarm machine!! I was not confident enough to attempt Granny’s quilt yet anyway. Time to get back to reality and consider a  sit-down FMQ once more!

I spent part of January creating Pinterest boards and studying videos on sit down free motion quilting. I thought if there’s this many people able to do this, then surely I can do this, too. Besides, I’m no quitter (well, not a quitter for longer than 2 months!). So, I tried again. Results were not any better but maybe, just maybe I could improve!


February 3, 2017 – Second attempt two months later!!


Just a few minutes of practice a few times a week was my goal. I am a professional photographer and can’t quilt all the time. Plus, I couldn’t do more because it was tiring and my shoulders would hurt! I knew I’d have to learn to relax … someday … hopefully, but it was intense trying to gain any sense of control…. not to mention avoid humiliating myself!  I was amazed at how being an artist with skilled eye-to-hand coordination did not give me an immediate advantage!


February 22, 2017  

 Wow! already seeing improvement! A few minutes now and then has paid off.  I practiced on 8″x10″ double thickness felt pieces. 


February 23, 2017  

What a difference one day makes! I realized at this point that every time I sat down I was actually seeing improvement. No broken needles yet either! Amazing. I thought it was interesting how I could sew in cursive but other things were so uncoordinated, then I realized script was already more familiar to my brain than all these new shapes. More practice on double thickness felt pieces. 


March 3, 2017  

 I have been doing FMQ for 1 month now!! I’m seeing more control and getting the hang of coordinating how fast to move the fabric and how much to press on the foot pedal to achieve more consistent stitches (most of the time anyway). I strongly advise against chewing gum while attempting this!  


March 19, 2017  

Scrap flannel someone gave me. Up to this point I had been so distracted by the hopping up and down of the darning foot on my Elna domestic machine. Ugh. It made it hard to quilt. It was contrary to everything I knew about sewing. Then, the clouds parted and I heard about the Westalee ruler foot which was for high or low shank machines, and which could be adjusted closer to your fabric! I had no intention of using a ruler but I got the foot for my machine, and WOW, no more hopping, no more distraction! My quilting immediately improved so much I could not believe it!! I was truly euphoric. Truly.


March 21, 2017  

What a difference six weeks of occasional practice makes! Definitely enjoying no hopping foot. More cheap fabric and batting, but it’s JUST practice. It wasn’t until later after I had done a practice piece and wished I’d used better fabric that I realized it was time to start using better fabric! Also, using better fabric makes us try even harder–as if we’re not trying hard enough already, right?


March 22, 2017  

For this project, I rented a sit-down longarm machine. I was feeling so cramped on my little domestic machine with 6.5″ throat! Better fabric began here… just in case anything was salvageable! This was done on a rented APQS George with a 20″ throat and no stitch regulation.  I was not accustomed to the machine so my stitches here are a hot mess! 

I decided to turn this practice piece into a zipper pouch. It’s what I call putting lipstick on a pig. See how a cute zipper pull makes it seem almost fancy? ha. I soon decided to make “pigs” for my friends, too! I still carry this little bag as a reminder of how far I’ve come, and besides, I like pigs.


March 28, 2017  

A dolphin-loving friend was having a birthday in 2 days. I wanted to make an iPad case even though I felt nowhere near ready to do this. I watched a video on how to do these swirls, and then I sketched them a few times to become familiar with them. I then quilted this on the sit-down longarm (APQS George) because I wanted 20″ extra room without banging into the throat of my little machine.

I came home and did a satin stitch in variegated thread outlining my dolphin because he was lost in the waves. I had not yet discovered painting on fabric or the dolphin would have looked quite different. I confess I was too lazy to appliqué the dolphin, hoping the stitching would make up for my laziness – it didn’t; but the dolphin zipper pull saved the day, don’t ya think?!


April 1, 2017  

Another birthday gift. My friend was so impressed and loved it. Clearly, she has no clue what really good free motion quilting should look like!! Lucky me. haha.

I’ve learned if I take the practice pieces and dress them up, they really do look cute. I highly recommend it. So far I have not been marking my fabric, I just go for it. This piece uses sateen fabric and poly batting – which I don’t like.  I think wool batting gives a much nicer look. I did this one on my little domestic machine (no longer renting the longarm). Once again, a cute zipper pull really makes it even more impressive!


April 3, 2017  

I have been doing FMQ for TWO MONTHS now! Way ahead of where I thought I’d be. A practice scrap on my home machine using cheap (free) material and thin cotton batting. I wanted to try out a Westalee concentric circle making template I bought which worked great. I love freestyle best though. I am still only practicing a little bit a few times a week.


April 4, 2017  


My husband insisted I own a Bernina Q20 sit down longarm! OMG. I could never imagine owning such an amazing machine. But, he says if you own quality tools everything you do will be more enjoyable. I had some of that cheap pink fabric left so I sat down and took the Q for a test drive. The foot hops up and down, but I figured thicker batting would help (I did get used to it after a few months). The stitch regulation will allow me to focus on my quilting and give my poor leg a rest. I know, I know, some people pride themselves on doing FMQ “without stitch regulation”, but my philosophy is this: my sewing machine has stitch regulation so why not my quilting machine?  This is also why you’ll never see me bragging about making my clothes “without stitch regulation.” :-}  I love my Bernina dealer in Austin, Sew Much More; they have been terrific, and we’re all friends, now, too!


April 4, 2017  

I decided to not practice today, but to stop being a coward and try something that just might look really nice. I had wanted to stitch round “pearls” but wound up with pebbles. See, you’d never know I screwed up unless I told you! I used Kona cotton and wool batting for this piece; much more fluffy. I eventually turned this into an eyeglasses case! I was, for the first time, so pleased with how well this turned out. Hobbs wool batting, white Kona cotton, Glide thread.


April 14, 2017  

I wanted to make a quick little Easter bag for my granddaughter in Indiana. I guess this is where being an artist comes in handy because I was able to cut out the rabbit without a pattern, and freestyle quilt everything without marking the fabric. Although I did the rabbit and sun first, then decided to do a flower beside the rabbit, but it didn’t quite fit as planned. (It was a last-minute gift!) Oh well. Raw edge appliqué, Hobbs wool batting, Accent 12 wt variegated thread.


April 25, 2017  

iPad case for my granddaughter in Austin. My horse-crazy granddaughter loves the color purple, so I made a purple horse. I cut out the shapes (again, being an artist does come in handy!) and fused them to the background fabric then quilted freestyle, as usual (am I fearless, crazy, or what? Who knows.). I did a little better with the spiral waves since the dolphin bag. 


April 28, 2017  

I love experimenting with contrasting threads. Another freestyle project with intention. I wanted to do leaves. No pebbles this time just winging it with variegated King Tut thread on the leaves, and Wonderfil 100 wt. thread between the leaves to help make the leaves pop more. I was pleased with how this little zipper bag turned out. Zipper bags make great gifts. There, I said it again! Although I will also say this, I’d rather be quilting than sewing!!!


April 29, 2017  

A more ambitious practice session. I love doodle quilting, just sitting down and letting my whims take me wherever. This whole mishmash was an experiment of trying to put a bunch of things together on the fly. I learned that it’s not as easy as some people make it seem!  I had to stop (needle down position) and sit there thinking what to do next and where to go, and how to get out of a tight spot. I seem to recall having to stop, move to another area, and keep going. Learning! Hobbs wool batting, white Kona cotton, Glide thread.


April 30, 2017  

I drew lots of designs on paper, on dry erase board, and studied videos until I was ready to do this sampler pillow. I used different threads, variegated and solids. I love contrasting threads on solids because if I’m going to go to all this trouble I want to see my stitching! (Although there is a lot to be said for matching your thread and fabric; it hides a multitude of wobblies.) This is a standard pillow size. I use it on my lap to hold my iPad, a book, a dog, whatever finds its way onto my lap, which is often a dog who gets jealous of my iPad. The scary thing about doing variety is at any point you can really ruin the whole thing. I actually did ruin the purple area, but I cut a new piece of purple and quilted right over it. Nobody is the wiser… unless you touch it; but hopefully you will be too polite to ask me why it’s so stiff there!


May 1, 2017  

I have now been quilting for THREE MONTHS! I can’t believe it. It hasn’t been hundreds of hours either, probably not even 40 hours yet. I’ve aged ten years, but who’s counting? ha.  Very excited.  I freestyle quilted this, no stopping and having to start over, just pausing to think what designs I wanted to do next. Very fun! This is a grunge material, wool batting.


I’ve been told, “but you’re talented to be able to do this well so quickly.” Well, that’s part of it I suppose, but I think practice had more to do with it in the beginning. I spent more hours drawing on paper and my dry erase board than practicing on the machine. I did this over and over, so when I sat down at the machine it would be familiar.

I also immersed myself (somewhat obsessively) in this stuff, pinning hundreds (ok thousands) of pins on Pinterest, watching all kinds of videos and telling my brain, “This is me doing this!” (Your subconscious believes anything you tell it, so why not feed it phenomenal FMQ propaganda?)  I think collectively it all paid off. 

NOTE:  There were lots of other practice pieces and some projects during this first 3 months, but I have chosen to give an overview of my progress for the sake of brevity! Lots of practice! Lots of drawing! Lots of watching videos, reading, pinning!

So, by now I am primarily using Glide thread, wool batting, and always freestyle quilting on my Q20, in case you were wondering. Oh, and buying too much fabric. Trust me, you’re not a real quilter if you’re not buying more fabric than you could ever possibly use. 

Subsequent posts will be projects I did in 2017 and eventually catching up to where I am now!

Copyright Beverly Guhl 2018