Eight Weeks of Learning with the FMQ Challenge

I’ve just finished attaching the binding to my completed challenge quilt, and what a journey it has been!

The completed challenge quilt

I joined the Fall 2019 FMQ Challenge to fulfill one of my goals for the year: to attend a quilting workshop or class. Angela Walters of Quilting Is My Therapy was our excellent instructor, releasing a couple of detailed videos each week for us to follow.

Week 1: Preparing

In the first week, I washed the top and backing, then sandwiched and basted them. I used her pre-printed quilt panel as the quilt top, rather than making a quilt from scratch. It was a good choice because I could get right into the quilting without delay, and because I had exactly the shapes to practice on that she was demonstrating.

a quilt that has been sandwiched and pin basted

Week 2: Nine-Patch and Cross Blocks

A row of quilted blocks in shades of yellow and orange

The first quilting week’s lesson showed us different ways to quilt two closely related blocks: nine-patch and cross. The first, third, and fifth blocks in the row above are cross blocks and the others are nine patch. Angela showed us how to use the quilting to feature blocks where there were only two fabrics and blocks with three; how to highlight the pieced shape or make it blend with the background; and how to use straight lines, curved lines, and fillers to lead the eye around the block.

Blocks 1 and 2
Blocks 3 and 4
Blocks 5 and 6

I got a lot better at continuous curves while practicing these blocks (those are the curving lines that go from point to point inside a shape — they make the petals that you see in the blocks above). My straight lines aren’t quite straight, since I didn’t use a ruler this time, but I don’t mind them. I did get a lot of practice making short straight lines without marking.

Week 3: Ribbon Candy and Flying Geese

the quilting design called ribbon candy
Ribbon candy
pink flying geese blocks quilted with feathers and flowers
Flying geese with ribbon candy borders

Although I’ve never been good at ribbon candy, I decided to quilt it in the white border between the printed blocks. Might as well practice, right? I looked at some pictures of ribbon candy and realized the key is to make the loops as circular as possible. It’s really a row of offset circles, rather than two loops and a line like wishbone (you can see some wishbone in the pale parts of nine-patch block 3, above).

I noticed that my machine was skipping some stitches while doing the ribbon candy. After a lot of investigation, I found two causes: I had a 1″ length of thread caught in the workings of the machine between the feed dogs and the bobbin case, and my new ruler foot was too high off the fabric. When I fixed both of those problems, the skipping stopped. But you’ll see a few skipped stitches in this section because it took me a while to find both of those problems.

close up of quilt top with skipped stitches circled
Two really big skipped stitches (“toe hookers”)

I didn’t rip the quilting out at the time, thinking I’d somehow fix the skipped stitches afterward. A web search on how to fix skipped stitches in a quilt turned up a lot of articles about what to do to your machine to stop it from skipping, which is helpful but not what I wanted. I finally found this video by Lucky Needle. It shows how to fix skipped stitches in upholstery, like car seats, but it works for quilts too.

For the flying geese, I practiced feathers down one side because I really like the way they look in the triangle.

a pink triangle quilted with feathers

On the other side, I wanted to use my ruler a little, so I did a wide edge echo down each triangle. I learned to be careful about where I place the ruler’s guidelines — for the first triangle, I placed the edge of the ruler along the edge of the triangle, which gave me about a 1/4″ echo. When I turned the ruler to do the other side of the triangle, I placed the first marked line of the ruler on the edge of the triangle by accident. This gave me a 1/2″ echo. I decided I preferred the wider echo and did all the rest that way.

triangle blocks with quilted feathers and flowers
Look closely and you can see that the apricot triangle on the left has uneven echoes. Gasp!

I finished the triangles with continuous curves inside the main space, stitched in the printed ditch, and added ribbon candy in the next border. Then I was done with the lesson for Week 3!

Week 4: Square in a Square

Week 4 is exciting because it’s when I finally got into using the ruler. I worked out the kinks with the ruler foot in week 3, but I only used the ruler itself a tiny bit. I decided to go for it with the squares.

a quilted square in a square block
Square #1

This block shows off my very first long-line ruler work, and you can see it took a little while to get the hang of it. I thought it was funny that I used this same framing pattern in Bright Sisters, but without a ruler, and the lines were actually straighter. But I made myself keep going and by the end of the squares row I had improved somewhat. This block also taught me that I really, really don’t like contrasting quilting thread. For the rest of the quilt I took pains to use a quilting thread that would blend in.

a quilted block in pink
Square #2

I used the ruler for the straight lines in this block, except the bottom set, which I did un-rulered so I could compare. I admit that the lines where I used the ruler are straighter. I’m still trying to get the hang of figuring out where the quilting will be relative to the side of the ruler — the edge of the quilting foot is about 1/4″ away from the needle, so it’s not like using a ruler with a pencil where the line is exactly at the ruler’s edge. That’s why there are more lines in some patches and fewer in others. Live and learn.

a quilted square in a square block
Square #3

The third square is one of my favorites. It’s the same framing pattern that I used in the first square, but look how much better the lines are! Progress!

a quilted block in pink
Square #4

I was so thrilled with my progress in the third square that I went nuts in the fourth square and used the curved side of my ruler to make that lovely crosshatch pattern in the center. It has some issues if examined closely, but I’m pleased it came out as well as it did.

a quilted square in a square block
Square #5

I took a break from the ruler in the fifth square and did the whole thing freehand. The short straight lines aren’t hard to do.

a quilted block in pink
Square #6

In the final square, I used the ruler to echo the edges of the center square and the paler patches, but everything else was freehand. I chose to practice more ribbon candy here as well.

Week 5: Stars and Background

More ruler practice, especially in the two stars at the ends of the row. The two center stars each feature a different pattern inside the arms of the star.

The two stars on the ends are quilted in the same way, just reversed.
One of the center stars features a hook-swirl pattern . . .
. . . and I quilted a fern pattern in the other one.

The stars themselves weren’t too challenging and I like how they came out. The real learning this week came when I tackled the white background behind the stars.

I followed Angela’s pattern because it’s unlike anything I’ve done before. I struggled a little with working my way across the quilt top — I didn’t position the design correctly in a few places and I had to backtrack quite a bit. I do like the geometric patterns next to the star blocks. Some of the geometric shapes are a bit uneven, but it’s okay.

geometric quilting in white space between quilt blocks

I have mixed feelings about using the wishbones as a filler between the star row and the next row down. I tried it because it’s not something I would normally do, and I think it’s going to stay in the category of things I won’t normally do. The first row came out a little wonky.

Those are some weird wishbones, ma’am.

I almost didn’t repeat it on the second border, but I wanted to see if it would make a difference to quilt it while moving the quilt vertically instead of horizontally. It certainly did, and I like the second row of wishbones much better. I think I was better able to see the spaces I would need to fill.

The good wishbones

Week 6: X Blocks and Pinwheels

two quilted blocks
Blocks 1 and 2

These ones were fun and not too challenging, except that I decided to match the thread to the block color so I ended up swapping thread colors a lot. My favorite one is the pinwheel where all the pieces line up even though I quilted all the blue patches first and all the white ones second (block 2, above).

two quilted blocks
Blocks 3 and 4

Around this point I noticed that I’m getting better with the ruler. The needle usually ends up pretty close to where I wanted it to be, and my lines are coming out straight. I seem to have a better feel for which side of the ruler foot to brace against the ruler depending on the direction I’m quilting, too.

two quilted blocks
Blocks 5 and 6

I quilted the fern design in the lower border, and then finished up the second row of flying geese blocks using some designs I picked out during Week 2.

a row of quilted blue triangles
Some of the second set of Flying Geese blocks

Week 7: Complex Blocks

The last week of the challenge involved quilting a pattern over complex blocks (complex in that they are asymmetrical in color and/or number of patches). I really liked the continuous curve option for these blocks, so I did it in all of them to get extra practice. I even tried to overcome my dislike of having the quilting thread not match the fabric, because there would be too many thread changes otherwise.

I found a nice light green thread that looks good in all the colors, even the white areas. The only trouble was that it kept breaking. I adjusted everything — new needle, tension changes, height of the ruler foot, speed of the machine, you name it — until I finally swapped it out with another spool and the problem stopped.

green and white quilt blocks with complex quilting

I finished up by quilting swirls in the background around the last set of blocks, and then it was ready to trim and bind. Week 8 was all about finishing up.

Ready to bind

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually follow the published schedule. I was going full blast on another quilt that I wanted to finish in time to deliver it at Thanksgiving, so I put this project aside. But I was determined to complete it before the end of 2019. I put in a bunch of work after Thanksgiving and got it all done in about two weeks.

I’m really glad I chose to do this challenge. I got a huge amount out of it and I feel really good about the progress I’ve made. I feel ready to tackle new quilts in 2020!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa J. says:

    This looks great. I’m planning on starting to work on this in a couple of weeks.

    1. Rachel says:

      Good luck and have fun, Lisa! It was definitely a learning experience 🙂

  2. Sonja says:

    I love the fern pattern! The ribbon candy really looks like ribbon candy. This entry reminded me that when I worked as a pastry chef, I noticed every little flaw in my plated desserts and showpieces. I never understood that other people didn’t see the glaring defects or heavy-handed garnishes the way I did (until reading this post). Your work, as always, is beautiful! Even the parts with the skipped stitches. 🙂

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