Free Motion Machine Quilting

Free motion quilting made with a sewing machine has become the technique of choice for quilting tops efficiently on a home sewing machine. It can resemble hand quilting in the sense that curved designs can be achieved by quilting free motion, unlike straight-line machine quilting. Fill designs, overall quilting designs, quilted motifs such as feathers or wreaths and block designs can be machine quilted once free motion quilting is mastered. The main difference between hand quilting and free motion machine quilting is the fact that there are no spaces between the stitches. Because of this, machine quilted quilts can feel somewhat stiff, more than quilts that have been hand quilted.

Preparing For Free Motion Quilting

In order to start free motion machine quilting, the sewing machine needs to be prepared just like for straight line machine quilting. The machine should be clean and oiled, a fresh needle should be in place and bobbins prepared to change. Make several samples of quilt sandwiches to achieve the correct tension between both upper and lower thread. Having the bobbin and the upper thread in two different colors when practicing will allow you to see any problems at a glance.

The quilter needs to sit comfortably in front of the needle, with feet flat on the ground, elbows at ninety-degree angle to the machine table and with a straight back. If your sewing machine doesn’t sit on a cabinet, a quilting table is a must. The quilting table fits on your sewing machine to create a large enough surface to allow your hands to hold and move the quilt in the direction you want. Quilting tables are relatively inexpensive. Light is another important consideration. Ceiling lights are not enough to see without eyestrain. The sewing machine light might not be enough either. Consider investing in a lamp with natural daylight bulbs that can sit near the machine. The lamp can be moved as needed.
A pair of gloves with rubberized palms is needed

Once the quilt sandwich is prepared, set your machine stitch length to 0 and cover or lower the feed-dogs in your free motionmachine. Change the presser foot to the darning foot and if you can, change the throat plate to a straight stitch plate with a small opening so the quilt sandwich doesn’t sink into the wider zigzag stitch plate. The big difference between straight-line machine quilting and free motion machine quilting is that the feed dogs don’t move the quilt, the quilter moves the quilt with their hands. The quilt needs to be rolled so it can be fed under the arm of the machine, but the rest needs to be open and over the table, so that the weight of the quilt won’t tug.

Free Motion Styles

The easiest form of free motion machine quilting is probably “meandering” lines. Meandering is an overall fill pattern that doesn’t need to be marked before hand. The meandering lines can be close together or spaced further apart. Start big and practice until you feel comfortable making the quilting lines closer to each other and the curves tighter. Think of these as slightly curved lines, like big mouse ears. The quilting lines never touch each other and never create jagged or free motionangular edges. Sit comfortably, get the quilt under the arm of the machine and lower the darning foot. Bring the bobbin thread up by lowering the needle while holding the upper thread. Tug and bring the bobbin thread up. It prevents the bobbin thread tail from getting caught in the stitches and gives the quilt a neat appearance. Once the thread is up, set your hands so they form a circular shape around the needle and start moving the quilt with your hands as you press the foot pedal. Your hands move the quilt, and you will have to find the combination of machine speed and movement of the hands that yields the correct stitch length. It takes practice to achieve even stitches, just like with hand quilting. When you need to stop, always stop with the needle in the down position (if your machine doesn’t have this feature, slow down a little to make sure the needle is in the quilt sandwich) if you need to re-position your hands.

When you free motion machine quilt, you need to keep your eyes ahead of the needle, like when you are trying to tracefree motion a curved pattern with pencil. Don’t look at the needle, look a few stitches away to see where you are heading up. You can only quilt in the space created between your hands. When it’s time to stop the quilting line, make a few small stitches by moving the quilt very little. Once again, bring the bobbin thread up and either snip the threads very close to the surface or tie the ends together, and with a hand needle, bury the tails of the threads in your quilt sandwich.

Balance The Quilting Designs

Once you feel comfortable moving the quilt to create free motion slight curves, you can try more complicated designs that are marked before the quilt sandwich is put together. There should be a good balance between quilted and unquilted areas of the quilt. It is best if you plan on making fancy designs, such as feathers or other motif designs to quilt those first, then do the simpler filler designs, such as meandering or echo stitching, since those tend to draw the quilt tight. Never leave large areas unquilted.

For more information on quilting for beginners please click here!


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