Free motion quilting is when you use your sewing machine to create interesting and creative freeform wavy patterns on your quilt sandwich. You can also do this by hand but these days most quilters use machines for this decorative technique.
In this article we discuss:
- About Free Motion Quilting
- How to Set Up Your Machine for Free Motion Quilting
- What Foot Should Be Used for Free Motion Quilting?
- How to Begin Sewing in Free Motion on Your Quilt
- 5 Tips on How to Perfect Your Free Motion Style
- Article Summary
About Free Motion Quilting
Also known as FMQ for short or meander quilting, this sewing method is one that takes a little practice and patience but is extremely rewarding once you get the hang of it and achieve good results.
Stippling is the most common and easiest of free motion techniques which consists of wavy, flowing lines that don’t ever cross each other.
Create some practice squares while you learn this skill and this will give you the confidence to then try it on a real quilting project.
What Foot Do I Need for Free Motion Quilting?
To be able to make these intricate swirly patterns, you will need to use a special free motion foot for your sewing machine.
They can also be referred to as a “darning foot” and will have a plastic or metal base with a circular toe. The clear feet with open toes are best so that you can clearly see your work and where you’re going. This is especially useful when you are following a certain pattern that you have drawn out on the fabric.
Some will have a spring built in to them which is an advantage when you are dealing with multiple layers of fabric as it prevents the fabric lifting each time the needle goes up.
How To Set Up Your Machine for Free Motion Quilting
Before you begin, you will need to attach the free motion foot. If you're not sure how to do it, it is always best to read your manual otherwise it may not be secure.
Because the feed dogs have teeth that feed your fabric through the machine, you will need to drop them for this technique so that you are working on a smooth surface and your fabric is able to move freely.
There are also some alternative methods you can try if you are unable to drop them or if you'd prefer to do it another way:
Instead of dropping the feed dogs, some people prefer to leave them up but set the stitch length to zero. This will mean that they won’t push your fabric through so you remain in control of the stitches.
It might be that you have an older sewing machine and simply can’t drop the feed dogs. If this is the case, you can purchase a “Supreme Slider” which is a sheet of thin plastic with a hole in the middle which basically covers the feed dogs but allows the needle to penetrate through the gap. This is also a useful product to use if you are setting your stitch length to zero and leaving the feed dogs in the "up" position. This plastic sheeting gives a good surface on which to slide your fabric easily through the machine.
If you don’t want to buy a Supreme Slider, try covering the feed dogs with a piece of card with a hole cut out so that the needle can pass through. This is really a last resort as the first 3 methods are the best way to set up your machine for free motion quilting.
Once you have everything in place, you are all set up to begin sewing!
How to Sew Free Motion on the Quilt Sandwich
With free motion sewing, it is your hands that will guide the fabric through the machine as the feed dogs are now disengaged.
You’ll find it a bit strange at first as there is a lot to think about.
Firstly you have to consider the pressure you put on the foot pedal as you don’t want to go too fast to start with.
Secondly there is the speed at which you move the fabric through the machine. It may take some time to get the balance of the sewing machine speed and your hand feeding speed perfect but don’t worry, it comes with practice!
Thirdly, your mind will also be on the pattern you are trying to create. To make it easier for yourself, work in rows of “U” shapes to start with or you could draw the pattern on the fabric and simply follow that.
Don’t worry about the length of your stitches too much to start with. They will vary in length because you are in control and not the machine. But as you learn, you will improve your style and develop a more consistent stitch.
5 Tips on How to Perfect Your Freeform Style
1. How to Fix Tight or Loose Stitches
You may have to alter the tension on your top thread if your stitches are too loose or too tight. If they are too loose, adjust the settings to a higher number, and if they are too tight, reduce the number on your top thread.
2. Keep the Foot Pedal and Hand Feeding Balance Right
Remember that if you stop feeding the fabric but still have your foot on the pedal, the stitches will keep going in the same place which you don’t want. Make sure you stop both at the same time to prevent this.
3. Try Wearing Quilting Gloves for More Control
You may find it easier to wear quilting gloves. This will make your hands stick to the fabric and can help manoevre it as required. Some quilters like to use these and some prefer their bare hands so try with and without gloves to see which you like best.
4. Are Your Stitches Too Large?
If the stitches are too large, try moving your hands a little slower to create smaller stitches.
5. Don't Box Yourself In
Be careful not to box yourself in when creating your pattern. You don't want to get to a corner and find there is nowhere to get to the next section. Working your design in rows will help avoid this.
The great thing about free motion quilting is that there are no rules. You create the pattern you want and if you make a mistake it doesn’t really matter.
It can take a bit of time and patience before you master free motion quilting but the results will be well worth it and you will have a unique quilt that you can be proud of.
Have you read our article about why quarter inch seams are so important?