Longarm Quilting: Making Muscle Memories

Machine quilting, whether it’s on a longarm or a domestic sewing machine, takes practice. Of course, you can do this sitting at the machine, but you can also work on machine quilting exercises which don’t require a needle and thread.

Dawn Cavanaugh shares a few ideas I’d like to try. I mean, you can’t go wrong drawing quilting motifs as you watch your favorite TV, am I right?

Here’s an excerpt from Dawn’s lesson about muscle memory from the APQS Longarm Certification Sponsored by Fons & Porter course she teaches, that I couldn’t resist sharing. Here are her observations about practicing and a few techniques so you can start building your repertoire of machine quilting motifs:

Gorgeous machine quilting by Dawn Cavanaugh.
Hours of practice have enabled Dawn to create consistent quilted shapes on this quilt top.

Very few people in the world actually enjoy “practicing” anything. Most of us simply want to “do it”. Practice seems like such drudgery and a waste of valuable time when you could be doing the real thing instead.

However, it doesn’t take long before we become frustrated with the quality of our stitches, the smoothness of our curves or the straightness of our lines if we haven’t invested the time to train our muscles to perform the way our brain is telling them to perform!

Practice machine quilting motifs by drawing them on a dry erase board.
Drawing on a dry erase board is a great way to practice quilting motifs.

To be a successful quilter, you must make your muscles remember what it feels like to make smooth curves, flowing lines, and graceful shapes over and over again. The best way to practice this is by repeating a single design shape multiple times until your mind and your muscles work in tandem together. If necessary, use the ruler (and fabric marker for the fabric) to draw reference lines to help you space the shapes more evenly.

Doodle. You can develop muscle memory by drawing as well as by quilting. Use a white board and dry erase marker to practice drawing shapes “to scale”. Concentrate your practice on only one shape at a time to speed up your quilting prowess.

Steal any free moment you have to doodle! Doodling improves your muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. Keep a white board and markers beside your chair when watching TV and doodle during your favorite program. The more you draw, the more your muscles will remember when it’s time to actually quilt!

Employ the “Power of 10”. Repeat a pattern ten times right on top of previous drawing lines or stitching lines. Drawing or quilting over the same lines over and over etches the motion into your brain and your muscles so that motion eventually requires very little conscious thought–it’s almost instinctual.

Draw your machine quilting motifs over and over to create muscle memory.
Draw over your lines to etch the motion into your brain to create muscle memory.

Test. After drawing or stitching a shape 10 times, it’s time to test your muscle memory. Wipe the board clean or move to a new section of the fabric and try it again. Compare your stitching on this new section to when you first started your practice. Are your shapes better? Good! Still need work? Practice 10 more times and test again. – DC

Once you’re happy with your motif you can start experimenting with the stitch, or drawn, direction. Do yourself a favor and give this method a try, you might be surprised by how much it improves your machine quilting.

To take your machine quilting technique to the level of a professional, register for Dawn’s online course and get your APQS longarm certification. Watch and learn using the 14 video lessons, along with easy-to-follow instructions, and an interactive online forum where you can collaborate with other students and submit your homework assignments.

Visit CraftU to learn more and to register for your seat in the APQS Longarm Certification Course Sponsored by Fons & Porter.

Happy quilting!

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