Hello! My name is Renee, I blog over at Quilts of a Feather (@quiltsnkids on IG). I've been quilting for about 5 years now, and free motion quilting continues to be my favorite part. I quilt on a Janome MC6300, which does not have a stitch regulator.
Let me start with my setup. I think it's important to have good setup because then you can more easily make consistent stitches and smooth quilting lines!
I always use quilting gloves and a Supreme Slider for FMQ. The gloves give me really good grip on the quilt (which decreases stress and fatigue in my hands, arms and shoulders!) while the slider prevents the quilt from bunching up, and decreases drag/friction on the table. It makes a huge difference! The bottom of the slider collects dust and lint (which decreases it's stickiness, which can cause it to shift while I'm quilting=bad), so after a few uses I rinse it with cool water and let it air dry.
|Machingers gloves and Supreme Slider.|
I quilt with barefeet (or with just socks in the winter), which helps me better feel how much I am depressing the sewing machine pedal. You can also see in the photo how I put the pedal in the middle of my foot, with my toes kind of hanging off. That gives me a lot better control over the speed of my machine--I can more accurately feel how much I am depressing the pedal.
Another thing to note is that my other foot is flat on the floor. It really helps me to keep it on the floor, but often it finds it's way onto the foot of my chair, or the foot of the table--which decreases my control and throws off my posture.
In the next photos you can see how I place my hands and elbows.
|Elbows resting on the table for smaller quilts.|
I keep my hands open, and mostly quilt within the space between my hands, especially for smaller/tighter quilting patterns.
|Working on swirls and McTavishing.|
Now let's talk about quilting! The best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. Experiment with how much you push down on the sewing machine pedal and how fast you move the quilt--the goal is to find a good balance between how fast you move the quilt around with how hard you push down on the sewing machine pedal.
I like using mini quilts from muslin or scraps, or orphan blocks that are around 12-18" square--this gives me plenty of room for my hands to be on the quilt, but doesn't bunch up under the machine.
|Stitches fairly uniform in size!|
Ideally our hands move the quilt at a speed that is proportional to how much we push down on the pedal with our foot. By proportional I mean that when you are moving the quilt slowly, you are only pushing on the pedal a little (slow stitches), and when you move the quilt faster you are also pushing down more on the pedal (fast stitches).
When your hands and pedal-foot work proportionally to each other, your stitches will all be the same size. Sometimes that is tiny and sometimes that is large--it doesn't really matter, what's most important is that they are all the same!
|Stitches on the left are pretty uniform and a good size for me, but on the right they got larger--which means I was moving the quilt too fast in that area.|
But when they aren't consistent it means that your hands and feet aren't communicating properly. You can see some issues in this photo:
|The red circle shows where the stitches are too big (compared to most of the others) and the yellow shows where they are too small.|
The inconsistent stitches happen for lots of different reasons, here are my top reasons:
1. You don't know where to move the quilt next, so your hands slow down (tiny stitches).
2. You do know where to move your quilt and move it too fast (big stitches).
3. Your quilt snags on something (mine will get pinned between my tummy and the table, or pinched between tables, or a pin will catch on the sewing machine)--and then you get tiny stitches, often followed by big stitches when the quilt is suddenly freed.
4. If you stop and then start again on a smooth line, you can sometimes cause some awkward stitches:
|The yellow circle shows a spot where I stopped (needle down) and then restarted--a small hiccup in the smooth line and a few tiny stitches before I got back into my rhythm.|
I can usually avoid these little hiccups in smooth lines of quilting by only stopping and starting where there is already some stitching--so on the photo above it would be on the stem, or where the quilting lines cross. If nothing else the other stitches in those areas hide the little hiccup.
My last piece of advice is to remember the bigger picture! Here's the finished quilt from the above photos:
|Butterfly Mini Quilt II|
I showed you several mistakes on that quilt, but now that you see the whole thing they are really hard to find! And most people will never notice the stitches that are too big or too small.
I hope some of this information helps! It is a hard thing to teach over the internet with so many variables!