How to hold the quilt in the machine for the best control and ease of quilting is an individual thing. We all find our “comfort zones” that will give us good grip and control, and still have ease of moving the quilt, plus no strain on our bodies.
Michelle, above, had a small blue piece in class last week and it was fairly easy for her to control the quilt with her hands. Alexandra's green quilt sampler was larger and she had more trouble moving it in class on a table-top set-up. Everyone persevered and had even stitches and control at the same time.
However, many quilters have a problem with this. I try to discourage students from “the death grip” on their quilts, even on small pieces. Too much pressure on it will only defeat everything you’ve done to make it move easily – pushing down on the quilt with your elbows in the air and shoulders hunched will give you pain and create uneven, jerky stitches.
Instead try relaxing your shoulders like Barbara, above, keeping your elbows down, and yes you many times do have to concentrate on that as many are completely unaware of their bird-like body positions while they quilt. It’s best of course to be able to rest your forearms much of the time on the surround or cabinet, on the quilt itself, and move the quilt with your hands, lightly touching the quilt and moving it easily.
Some helpful aids are a Supreme Slider to adhere to the bed of your machine, http://www.freemotionslider.com/, that makes it so easy to move the quilt. You really only need this slippery stuff right around the needle zone as the rest of the quilt is bunched up and not moving. The area you move with your hands and fine finger control is only around the needle. This little helpful addition to your machine makes an incredible difference.
Many quilters like to wear gloves so their “grip” is better. I never have worn them but instead depend on the quilt to move smoothly on a smooth surface, divide the quilt into smaller areas to quilt where I can rest my arms and move it with my hands, using a very light touch, not palms pressed down hard. However, if you find you need them and can't move the quilt without them? Go right ahead; it just lessens that tactile feedback to your brain from the quilt.
There are other devices available to help control and move the quilt. I've tried them all, and they are more of a hindrance to me than a help, and a visual distraction too. I do think there are possibilities if you have physical problems and have a very hard time holding and moving the quilt. Then look for an aid, a hoop, gloves, whatever it takes to let you machine quilt.
If I see a quilter come to class and don the gloves, they may have a machine that doesn’t have enough room under the foot for smooth movement of the quilt and perhaps needs adjusting, or they are used to quilting big simple designs where a lot of the quilt has to be moved smoothly in big motions.
Another way to improve the “slide” of the quilt is to starch the backing before layering. This really helps that fabric move more smoothly and I’ve been doing this for years. It also helps stabilize the fabric so pleats don’t form on the back. I’ve never had this happen and I think starch and good pinning has been the answer for me. I know some like to hand baste with certain threads or even water soluble thread but I so do not like working with a hand sewing needle that I do stay with my #1 bent safety pins for basting.
Learning not to press down on the quilt so hard, learning to lift and control the quilt and help it move smoothly will do SO much for your control of the consistency of the stitches that you will be amazed. Everyone has their own particular style, so do what feels right for you but if you still find you can’t seem to hold and move the quilt smoothly, try something else.
I many times will scrunch up and area of the quilt by the needle to give me something more substantial to hold, rather than pressing down with my hands. If you do grab the quilt and lift it as you move it you might lose some of the “hands are the hoop” technique that smooths out the quilt in that needle zone. You might be able to move it easily but pleats might develop with excess fabric and no place to go.
It's wise to find the right combination of controlling the quilt with ease and smoothness of movement. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.
Relax, let your shoulders drop, breathe. Take breaks. Don't be afraid to stop the machine, re-position your hands, start again. I'll write about smooth stops and starts another day.
Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.