So we went online together and checked out the address, opening times and other details when we happened upon their list of up-coming workshops! Amongst a lot of long-term beginner courses and twee projects, there was one workshop that I thought I could benefit from.
It was a machine quilting class, only £20 for 4 hours. Bargain! And within an hours drive!
We were given good instructions to hold the fabric firmly and let it do the moving, and were then able to practice on a fabric/wadding/fabric piece first so as to build up our confidence with the possible speeds, directions and styles.
Then were were given our (ugly) sampler fabric, and drew up the grid boxes to fill with 6 different styles of quilting stitches. Inside each box is an attempt at a different stitch. Clockwise from top left: Watery stitch back and forth, Stipple stitch, handwriting, Pebbles, stippling around an appliqued shape (I removed it), and "didn't get time". Around the edges are two examples of a running border, one is butterflies and the other are little flowers.
My favourite was the pebbles one. It really makes the fabric puff up beautifully and is the only one to make this hideous fabric look any good.
So in the end I bought myself the free-quilting foot for £12 and although my sewing machine doesn't let the feed dogs drop, it does have a darning plate to cover them up, which is something I wouldn't have learnt if I hadn't gone to this workshop. A whole new world of sewing possibilities has been opened up to me, just by knowing my machine a little bit better and by enrolling in my first workshop. Now I won't be as shy or nervous next time.