They say that learning new things help to prevent the decay of mental acuity as you age. I don't know if it is true....don't know that it isn't true either. What I do know is that when I stop learning new things I start getting board. (Don't you hate that word...especially when it comes out of the mouth of a teen.)
Over the years I've taught myself how to do a number of different things. Some of them were a lot of fun....like knitting socks. Some were fun, but not very practical...like spinning wool (in Texas?!) and needle tatting (in a house full of boys?!). Some not so much....like cutting my husband's hair...not much fun but very practical. In every case that comes to mind having the right tools for the right job was key to the degree of my success and enjoyment.
That doesn't mean that I have to have the best, or most expensive tools for the job. I needed to use the tools that were available to me. Take cutting hair - yuck - I am left handed. I usually cut things with my right hand. All of the scissors in my home are right handed. When I cut hair I tend to use my left hand more. Cutting hair left handed with right handed scissors doesn't work very well. It takes twice as long as it needs to, and it hurts my hands. Using left handed hedge sheers, or class room scissors don't work very well either.
Quilting is kind of like cutting hair. (Really? That sounds crazy even to me.) There are tools, like left handed barber sheers, that make the job easier.
No - you don't need a computer to run a long arm machine to have beautiful free motion quilting. You don't need to be able to draw either.
The back side of my long arm table - the part that counter balances the quilt while it is being worked on - has several advantages besides its ability to hold piles of neatly folded laundry.
It has a toothy edge. I've never used it...except in the class I took...but there is a nifty gadget that attaches to the edge and works like a Spirograph. Cool huh?!
It has a clear plastic sheet that lifts up. You put a paper template underneath the film so that you can follow it with a laser pointer. As you move the laser light along the pattern you move the machine in the same pattern, thus creating the design on your quilt.
I also have plastic templates and rulers that can be placed on top of the quilt and used as guides as I quilt from the front side.
Long armers are full of tricks and gadgets - all of them are invisible once the quilt is off of the table, bound, and on your bed - that help them get the designs that we all admire.
Here are a number of ways you can create beautiful designs as well.:
1 - and the one I hear the most about in FMQ circles - free hand the design as you are sewing it. I am in awe of people who can do this. I can't even draw with a pencil let alone with a sewing machine. You go!
2 - draw it on the fabric and then follow the lines - Ya, I just told you that I can't draw. True enough. I can trace patterns! Try tracing a pattern from a stencil onto your fabric with a pencil or erasable fabric pen. Did you know that there is a pen that has heat sensitive ink. The ink disappears when you iron it. Chalk pencils work great for this too.
3 - you can use a stick on template - I know a woman who does beautiful FMQ by first drawing it on Press & Seal. (They sell it in the grocery store where the plastic wrap is.) She draws the pattern on the not sticky side then presses it to her fabric and sews on the lines. The paper stuff then peals off. Another product that works like this is Transfer Eze. I've not used it, but it sounds like it would do the trick. Read about it on Sew We Quilt. You can actually put this stuff in your printer.
4 - masking tape - it works for painters! I've used masking tape to "draw" equi-distant lines on my small projects. If you sew along the edge of the tape you can then peel it off and move it over. It will let you stick and restick it several times before the sticky gets to fuzzy to work.
5 - the list is probably endless....but you have the idea now. Don't be afraid to try something new, or to use a tool to get the results you want.
Last summer I attended a regional guild rally day. We had a national speaker who told us she uses any means necessary to get the look she wants. That included paint and Sharpie markers. Her quilts have won a ton of prizes, and the paint and Sharpie don't come off.