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Free motion machine quilting tutorial & top tips

Free-motion quilting (or FMQ as it's affectionately known) is a great way to add impact to your quilting, and you don’t have to have a fancy machine to do it. Follow our tips and tricks to get started on your home machine.

Free motion machine quilting tutorial

Bored of quilting in the ditch? Don’t get us wrong, we’ll never lose love for straight line quilting with all the speedy stitching it has to offer! But we’re here to help you level up your quilt skills for the new year. Free motion machine quilting is when you ditch your sewing machine’s straight line settings and replace them with wonderful freestyle quilting patterns – you can quilt absolutely any shape or design you like this way and it is an unbeatable way of adding additional texture and interest to your finished quilts. Use it to quilt patterns to brighten up large areas of patchwork (anything from stars to flowers to lettering) or to quilt a pattern which enhances the patchwork quilt top beneath your stitches.

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If you like our guide to free motion quilting, you might also like our guides to How to use quilting stencils or Foundation Paper Piecing for beginners. But first, let’s dive into how to raise your quilting game and discover the brave new world of freestyle quilting.

Sewing machine set up

Free motion quilting can be a bit intimidating if you have never done it before. The set-up of a domestic machine varies from machine to machine so trial and error can be involved until you find the right settings for your machine. But try these common settings as they are quite universal across machines:

  • Reduce your stitch length to 0.
  • Drop your feed dogs. (If your machine does not allow you to drop your feed dogs then you might want to consider purchasing a mat like the easy glide which sits on the bed of your machine and goes over the feed dogs allowing for easier movement of your quilt.)
  • Lower the foot pressure as much as possible.
  • Use a free motion quilting (or darning) foot.
  • Set your needle position to down.

Preparing your design

The basic concept of free motion quilting is to quilt using a continuous line of quilting. Picture your needle as the pen and your quilt as the paper. The line is drawn moving the paper, not the pen. It is very helpful to spend some time doodling with pen and paper practicing simple FMQ patterns before you proceed to fabric and thread.

Free motion quilting tips

Take a test run

It is also useful to make a small quilt sandwich with scraps and practice on this before starting on your actual project. I still do this when trying a new pattern. This also allows you to make any tension adjustments that may be required. Always check the underside of your quilt as well as the top at the beginning of free motion quilting to ensure that the tension is balanced.

Freemotion quilting trouble shooting

How to achieve perfect stitches

The amount of pressure you place on the foot pedal and how quickly you move your fabric will decide your stitch length. If your stitches are too long then you need to apply more pressure on the foot pedal and decrease the movement of the quilt. If your stitches are too small then you need to reduce the pressure on your foot pedal and increase the movement of the quilt.

How to do free motion quilting

Practise, practise, practise

Free motion quilting takes practice. It is easier to do on smaller projects so cushion covers are an ideal starting point. If you are quilting a larger project it is helpful to have several bobbins already filled for when your bobbin runs out. If you are in the middle of your quilt when this happens then make sure you have enough length in your thread ends to knot them off and sew into the layers of your quilt. To start stitching again place your quilt in position and pull the bobbin thread through to the top. Do several stitches in the same place to secure the thread and proceed with your FMQ. You can choose to cut the thread ends flush with the surface of the quilt or knot them and ‘pop’ the knot into the layers when you sew your ends into the quilt.

Top tools for free motion quilting

There are a few handy tools that you can try to help you with free motion quilting. Why don’t you give them a go and let us know if they work for you?

Quilting gloves

Can be worn to aid in gripping a quilt. The grippy fingertips  help you move the quilt.

Spray basting

Spray basting a project instead of pin basting can eliminate the need to always be watching for pins whilst quilting. This can be especially beneficial with free motion quilting where the path you quilt is not always predictable.

Silicone spray

A silicone spray can be used on the bed of your machine to make it more slippery and ease the movement of fabric. Make sure you use a sewing grade spray, and always test it on a piece of fabric to check that it won’t cause any stains.

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Quilting gloves