Sunday, July 17, 2011

Free Motion Quilting Tutorial

My kitchen looks just a bit cheerier these days as I finished a fast-ish table-topper project called Coming Home from Simplify by Camille Roskelley.

Using a charm pack and a little yardage from Strawberry Fields by Fig Tree Quilts and Bella Solid in Bleached White, the finished project measures 36-1/2" x 36-1/2", perfect for my medium-sized table.

I free-motion quilted the project and thought I'd share with you my favorite tips and tricks for success. Over the last couple of years, I've learned the hard way what not to do. Maybe these ideas will save you some of the same frustration and heartache.

Tip 1: Baste Well. Smooth backing and top fabric is the very first step to a successful quilting project of any kind, but especially free motion when you're moving the needle in many directions. Pick your poison - spray basting, pinning (my choice), or whatever method your most comfortable with - and get your fabric as crisp as possible to avoid puckering.

2. Fresh Needle. While it's almost a cliche in the sewing industry, using a fresh needle can make all the difference in the world. I know they are sometimes costly, but, seriously, it's a small price to pay to minimize the potential for skipping stitches and tension issues.

3. Darning Foot. If you don't already own one, invest in a good darning foot. I've never tried to free-motion quilt without one - not sure you actually can - but it is an essential tool to making this technique work.

4. Down Dog. Don't forget to drop your feed dogs, which will allow the fabric to move in all directions with you in control, not the machine. It's an easy step to miss, but this simple oversight could get you off to a very poor start.

5. Practice Spin. Before you put needle to fabric, take 30 seconds and draw your intended free-motion pattern on paper. This will help you get the directional flow and make you more comfortable once you rev up your machine.

6. Breathe. Before you start, just take a breath and relax. If you are tense, your work will be tense. The whole idea of free-motion quilting is to look flowy and easy, not rigid and sharp. You'll have more control if you just stay calm. Sometimes I have to repeat to myself, "I'm the boss of my quilt." Cheesy? Sure. But a little confidence building can go a long way.

7. Wear Gloves. Fashion statement they are not, but wearing grippy gloves will give you more command of the fabric as you guide it around your pattern. (BTW - Where ARE the cute quilting gloves? Surly there is a market for something with a little more flair. Am I wrong?)

8. Balance. No matter the size of your project, fold up the edges so they are not spilling over the edge of your work surface. You don't want to fight the weight. I usually roll mine.

9. Lose Threads. No one likes to go back and clip threads. Your project will look much more neat and tidy (plus stay together better) if you pull the thread up as you start. Do this by taking 2-3 stitches in place while holding the top thread to one side. Then, lift the presser foot and pull up the bobbin thread. Drop the presser foot back down and begin quilting. After 1", stop and clip the threads. Some people knot too. I haven't done this, but maybe I should. As with everything, read a second opinion and make a decision for yourself.

10. Double Check. As you go along, check the back of your quilt to make sure your tension hasn't gone awry. Sure, you may have to unsew a little. But, rather than a humongous area, if you check every 5 minutes or so, you'll be able to catch a blunder before it turns into a disaster.

11. Focus. You can only quilt one area at a time, so only focus on one area at a time. Don't get overwhelmed thinking about the whole project. Instead, zero in on a small section. Before you know it, you'll have finished the whole piece!


  1. Beautiful tabletopper! Love your free motion tutorial too. Thanks!

  2. Nice Project! I just tried my hand at fmqing last night. I appreciate your hints.

  3. oh, i forgot to mention that I have the same lovely gloves!

  4. I did a free motion stipple on a queen size quilt last month, I was surprised how fast it went. I would have to say I was quite surprised how much the gloves helped.

  5. Hi! I love the table topper you made. It's a great pattern. Thanks for the tutorial. I've only done a little machine quilting and just winged it. Learning more about it is always good. Hope you're doing ok and getting through with the remodeling. If not, it'll keep. Precious little girls are more important. Take care!h

  6. Sarah - thank you for the step by step tutorial. I have not tried it myself but will come back to this post when I am ready to dive in. The table topper looks great! Hope you are feeling well. :)