Free Motion Quilting Made Easier

How do you feel about free motion quilting? I think I was lucky I took to this form of stitching like a fish to water. I am comfortable with the process, since I am a mixed media art quilter, and I usually work small.

Oh, and did I mention that I am a rule breaker? That helps also!

Mola Fish quilt panel by Judy Gula

When I free motion stitch, I often choose to simply work with the pattern in the fabric. You can see some samples of my mimicking and branching off from the pattern of the golden yellow Women’s Business Gold Aborigine fabric in the photo above. (By the way, we have several of the popular Aborigine design fabric patterns back in stock).

You can stitch around the fabric’s design once, or in echoing “wave” fashion. You can stitch to fill the pattern in. Or maybe the design moves you to create a pattern of your choice. For instance, the circles and dots used as design elements in my fabrics, plus the fish bringing to mind water bubbles, inspired me to free motion stitch the small circles seen on the solid pink fabric the mola is appliquéd onto.

I try to keep my free motion stitching open and large, rather than tiny, even for my small quilts.

Once you’ve experimented a bit, try practicing your favorite moves larger! Then try them smaller!

I’ve found that the use of a few notions can really help the free motion process along. The Sew Slip II really keeps the fabric moving smoothly. Below it is pictured on one of my machines (which is sitting atop one of my Havel’s cutting mats).

The Sew Slip II aids free motion machine quilting

The back of the SewSlip sheet is formulated to grip firmly, so it sticks to your sewing machine bed using no adhesive (and thus no residue on your machine). The front features a non-stick top surface, meaning your fabrics slide freely as you manipulate them with your feed dogs down. The sheet has a precut rectangular hole for your feed dogs to show through, if you are choosing to quilt with them up, for instance to use a walking foot for thick or difficult fabrics, or sewing leather or fur, etc…this mat really helps any type of textile glide smoothly.

One side of the SewSlip mat grips with no adhesive, the other allows all textiles to slide freely

GRABAROOS gloves for free motion quilting


Another notion that contributes to free motion quilting success: I now use GRABAROO’S® gloves most of the time I quilt. There are tiny rubberized grips on every finger, so they really grab the fabric, which allows me to more easily manipulate it while free motion quilting. They are lightweight don’t make my hands too hot.

Regular readers already know how often I have often proclaimed my love of Star Thread in this blog! Today I’m going to make another suggestion for those who want to enhance their free motion quilting experience: using Seralene brand thread from Mettler in the bobbin.
I think that success in free motion stitching is at least partially due to getting into a “zone,” where you are relaxed and your creativity flows. Seralene is a thinner thread, meaning that you will load more thread on your bobbin. More thread on the bobbin allows you to sew longer at a stretch — thus getting you into the groove! No breaking your stride to change the bobbin!

Machine stitching/embroidery by Liz Kettle

And if you’re really ready to ramp up your machine stitching, Stitch Journeys with Liz Kettle: Your Guide to Amazing Stitching is coming this May. I really can’t recommend this class enough; and it’s not just that she’s my dear friend. Previous attendees rave about the tips and tricks she passes on as she teaches you all the necessary techniques to successfully machine stitch any weight of cotton, rayon, silk, poly and metallic decorative threads. We’ve already been asked about local hotels and restaurants — this is a learning opportunity well worth traveling for!

I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks — please leave me a comment!


P.S. More of my Fish Mola panels can be seen in the Artistic Artifacts website’s photo gallery.

Paintstik Rubbings using Vintage Tjaps

Paintstik Rubbing Art Quilt by Judy Gula

View larger image of above quilt. Note: this tutorial post updated September 5, 2018

Paintstiks are the perfect product to use for creating rubbings from Vintage Indonesian Tjaps. Tjaps, both new and the antiques I’m featuring here, are batik tools that are handcrafted from narrow strips of copper and copper wire that are used to stamp wax patterns into fabric. Tjaps are works of art on their own; while they can still be used to create batik fabric, many people simply display them to admire.

After several attempts on my own at using my tjaps to batik in the traditional method, I now prefer to buy my batiks! Instead, I use my tjaps as rubbing plates…I’m still creating beautiful fabric and using it in my quilts. I’ve previously blogged about this technique and I’m doing so again, as it’s such a favorite of mine!

vintage tjaps, Shiva Paintstiks and 505 Spray and Fix

To follow along with my tutorial, you need the following

Artist’s Paintstiks are an oil-based fabric paint in a solid crayon form. They arrive sealed and after use will selfseal — creating a thick and firm skin on the surface, which prevents the Paintstik from drying out and becoming unusable. The skin can be twisted off the tip with a paper towel or using a paring knife, but once I finally found out about using a potato peeler, it’s now my favorite method. It allows you to peel the coating off with minimal waste while creating a wide surface to use while rubbing.

Preparing the Paintstik for use in a rubbing using a potato peeler

When I am creating a rubbing, I only peel the cover off the one side that I will use. While they are terrific for other uses, I no longer try to use the mini Paintstiks for tjap rubbings: they don’t give me enough surface to hold onto or paint with. I prepare all the colors I plan to use first, and then wipe my hands with a baby wipe to remove the wayward paint before I begin handling the fabric.

In the past I have tried to create a rubbing without using a temporary adhesive, because I was worried that it would hurt the tjap. Not true, as I found when I finally experimented after some less than crisp results. I find that spraying the fabric with 505 Spray and Fix means my fabric will not slide and allows me to create a crisp and clear rubbing.

Applying 505 Spray and Fix to the fabric and placing it on the tjap

After spraying 505 — again, on the fabric, not on the tjap — I place the fabric sticky side down atop the tjap and gently smooth it out.

Beginning the tjap rubbing with Paintstik

I begin rubbing gently with the full side of the Paintstik. You only need a very little pressure when you are rubbing. You will see that it’s easy to feel the edges of the vintage tjap. My own experience has been that the Vintage/Traditional Tjaps, which feature a lot of intricate details create a much more interesting rubbing than some of the new tjaps.

Paintstik rubbing in process

Once you have completed your rubbing, allow the Paintstiks to fully dry on the fabric. Shelly Stokes of Cedar Canyon Textiles, a Paintstik expert, writes that “Rubbings (and any direct application technique) take longer to dry. Allow 3-5 days for the paint to dry. I allow 7 days if I make several layers of rubbings — or during humid times of the year. Test the paint by rubbing your finger over a section of paint. If you see paint on your finger, it’s not dry yet. Set the fabric aside for another day. Once you no longer pick paint up with your finger, it’s ready to heat set.”

Shiva Paintstik color is permanent on fabric and washable once it has been heat-set with an iron, so if you choose you can incorporate a fabric rubbing into a garment or tablecloth. (Note that because of the oil composition of the paint, note that fabric can’t be dry-cleaned.) While it’s not necessary to heat set your fabric rubbing for an art quilt that won’t be laundered, it doesn’t hurt to do so, and it’s a quick process.

Tjap used for rubbing, right, and Paintstik rubbing

Above is the finished Paintstik rubbing and the vintage tjap together pictured together. Pretty cool, huh? (The tjap looks slightly larger than the rubbing because it is resting flat on its handle and thus is a couple inches closer to the camera.)

Paintstik rubbing with tjap used

The above sample, pictured with the vintage tjap used, was created with two Paintstik colors on a light batik fabric. It’s a pretty illustration that the fabric doesn’t have to be black for the rubbing to pop.

The piece featured at the top of the posting (click here for a larger view) resulted from a demo at a show. I used many different vintage tjaps to create a garden.

Stewart Gill textile paint highlights Judy Gula's flower garden rubbings

After the Paintstik rubbings had dried, I painted the background with textile paint — see detail above. The paint I used was water-based, and since oil and water don’t mix, the paint accents I added did not hide any of the rubbing.

I thread painted the rubbings (detail above) with what was then a favorite variegated thread. This further embellished the colors. Now that Artistic Artifacts sells WonderFil Specialty Threads I have even more beautiful thread options to explore!

To finish off the quilt, I added an inner red mini piping using the Groovin’ Piping Trimming Tool by Susan K. Cleveland (previously reviewed in this posting. My center panel is bordered with some of our beautiful Aborigine design fabric: Landscape Red by Stephen Pitjara. The outer binding was created with Bush Yam X2 Red by Jeannie Pitjara (updated 9/5/18: these fabrics have been discontinued).

I hope I’ve encouraged you to give Paintstik rubbing a try — it is an easy and satisfying method of surface design!

Visit Me in Hampton, VA!

I’m on my way to the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival! The show opens on Thursday, February 27 and runs through Sunday, March 2 and takes place at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton, VA. This is the 25th Anniversary of the Festival so I’m hoping for a crowd! I know a lot of my quilting colleagues from the various Quilter’s Unlimited chapters travel down for this show, which is one of the best on the East Coast, so if you’re attending, please stop by to say hello — I’ll be in booth 1021. I’ve packed a nice assortment of fabric and notions, plus selections from the Batik Tambal side — vintage and new tjaps, batik panels and more.

The shop will be open as normal Thursday and Saturday, so if you aren’t attending the show, stop by and shop! Plus there are still seats available in Saturday’s class, a too-cute handmade house journal created from food packaging and paper bags (most materials provided for you!). You can register online for House of Memories: Recycled-Materials Book with DJ Gaskin, which begins
Saturday, March 1, at 10:00 am.

Post-SAQA Classes Coming this May!

Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) logo

As noted in this week’s enewsletter, this May the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) 25th Anniversary Conference is taking place in Alexandria, VA, just a few short miles from us. We are planning ahead and have a special week of events and classes planned for May 4 through May 10, following the SAQA conference. My Colorado buddies from Textile Evolution, Liz Kettle** and Ruth Chandler will be visiting Artistic Artifacts again, as will Carol Sloan, a wonderful mixed media artist from South Carolina. They will join local instructors Cyndi Souder, Susan Gantz and Nadia Azumi for these special post-SAQA classes, which are open to all. Schedule your vacation early this year and enjoy a fiber/mixed media retreat by taking more than one!

Many of these classes have already been published with an online registration link, and others will be online soon, so keep checking. Visit both our classes page as well as our online calendar for additional details, and stay tuned!


** Speaking of Liz, take a look at one of her recent blog posts as she shows off her latest creation.

Liz Kettle Fabric Journal

She is teaching a fabric journal class at the Kansas City edition of Art & Soul and designed a beautiful new creation. As she phrases it, one “cure for winter” is gazing at those warm, sunny colors!

I’m proud to be affiliated with Art & Soul the on-site store for Art & Soul Portland and Virginia Beach! This is one of the original creative retreats (held since 1999) and it remains one of the best. Learn more and register at