I recently completed quilting Toni Whitney's Zirafah for Bigfork Bay Cotton Company. This is a beautifully designed quilt and the 4th one I have quilted.
All of the quilts from Bigfork Bay Cotton Company's pattern company are quilted using free-motion quilting and matching the thread color to the fabric. When I began this type of quilting, I was hesitant and unpracticed. I had often used my open-toe foot with the feed dogs up using decorative stitches to quilt. This technique worked well and looked good but was not the accepted technique for Bigfork Bay Cotton Company. I took the challenge and began quilting with my free-motion foot and the feed dogs down and a new love bloomed. My quilting has greatly improved with practice and I enjoy the rhythm I fall into when quilting.
When teaching students how to machine quilt, I begin by helping them to understand the importance of rhythm. We all have a rhythm whether it be fast, slow, or in-between. Finding your rhythm is the key. Listen to the sound of your sewing machine. Don't let the sound scare you into quilting with it. Instead, listen for the sound that occurs when your hands and the needle move together comfortably to produce a stitch length you like. That sound can then lull you into the rhythm that's appropriate for you. Be mindful that you will generally have more success quilting faster than you think you can handle. If your quilting is too slow, the jerkiness of stop and go will not let you create a rhythm to find. Give it a try. What's your rhythm?
If you are new to learning to free motion quilt, I strongly recommend that you practice making your stitches on the small side. Once your small stitch length becomes consistent, it is easier to drop the stitches even smaller as was necessary for Zirafah's spots and still have them look good. It is always easier to increase your stitch length rather than decrease your stitch length once you become comfortable with large stitches. Consistent stitch length is the important result necessary for successful quilting.