A Beginner’s Adventures in Free Motion Quilting

If you have been reading my recent posts you will have seen that I recently made a sewing machine mat using fabrics and thread from Empress Mills in Colne. As I was reviewing the thread I decided it would be a good idea to do some free motion quilting on the mat to  see how well the thread performed.

I am very much a beginner when it comes to free motion quilting. I had tried it just once before this project and cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to know what I am doing. I hope that this blog post, based on my complete lack of experience in FMQ, will help others who are also beginning this particular journey.

I sandwiched the top and backing fabrics with the wadding between and basted the three together. Now was the time to decide what design I was going to use for the quilting. I had used a batik fabric for the face of the mat. I decided that if I used a stippling effect for the quilting it would probably look wrong, clashing with the batik design. Similarly, if I used a precise geometric design it would ‘fight’ the fabric. In the end, I thought that the best I could do would be to roughly follow the design on the fabric. The pattern on the batik was a repeat so this approach was probably workable.

The next challenge would be the actual stitching itself! I dropped the feed dogs on my machine and off I went.

When I had tried FMQ previously, I had found it difficult to move the fabric around the machine smoothly. As I began quilting the mat I found that I was having the same problem. This resulted in some of the curves in the stitching looking quite angular. Also, several stitches ended up rather longer than I would have liked.

I found it difficult to find the optimum speed for my quilting but eventually arrived at a speed that felt comfortable for me to work with. At the same time, I was also trying to follow the pattern on the batik. This was not easy as the design is such that it is not always obvious where the stitching would be best placed. After a while I began to recognise where I wanted to stitch, which lines I wanted to follow. Consequently, some parts of the mat look neater than others, but I am prepared to accept that.


Whilst I was doing the quilting I remembered having read or heard somewhere that the stitching in FMQ should not go over itself, so I attempted to keep to this rule – in addition to everything else! (Oh my goodness… There is such a lot to concentrate on when you do 

FMQ. No wonder it is not easy for the beginner!) I didn’t always manage to stick to the rule, but at least I tried.

Actually doing free motion quilting well is very much more difficult than it looks! And, my goodness, isn’t that frustrating!
A few days after I had quilted my mat, I saw on the Shortcuts to Sewing forum that the tension on your sewing machine has to be turned to “0”. Oops! I didn’t know that! That would probably have made it easier. Oh, well, at least I know for next time.

I have a couple of secret weapons for next time. Several weeks I entered a ‘giveaway’ on the Pile o’ Fabric blog and was fortunate enough to win. The prize was donated by Purple Daisies and included a quilting hoop and a teflon sheet which is placed on the bed of the machine to make it easier to slide the fabric around. I have not yet tried these two items but am looking forward to doing so. I’ll let you know how I get on!

My Tips and Hints for Beginners to Free Motion Quilting

  • As the feed dogs help your fabric to move through the machine between the plate and the foot when stitching in a straight line, they have to be dropped so that you can move the fabric in any direction when doing free motion work.
  • Drop the feed dogs before starting. There is usually a button or lever on the base of the machine to do this [check your user manual for specific instructions].
  • If the feed dogs on your machine cannot be dropped, it may be that a special plate is available specifically for your machine which can be placed over the feed dogs to cover them.
  • Make a note of the number the tension on your machine is set at BEFORE you turn the dial to “0” before stitching.
  • REMEMBER to reset your tension dial when you have finished your free motion work.
  • Practise, practise, practise. Do lots of practice before you try free motion quilting on a particular item. It is VERY easy to place stitching where you don’t really want it!
  • Don’t panic when you are stitching, just take your time.


5 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Adventures in Free Motion Quilting

  1. Dina, this is a great insight into FMQ, thank you. I'll be interested to know how you get on with the 'Quilt Halo', I tried to by one when we were in the States but none of the quilting shops we visited, had them in stock. I see that Barnyarns sell them over here.
    Jenny x


  2. Thanks, Jenny. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I found FMQ so scary before I tried it that I thought a post showing someone's attempt, including things that went wrong, might be welcomed by a beginner!


  3. Dina, it doesn't matter what you set your stitch legnth to. As the feed dogs are dropped your machine isn't pushing the fabric through anyway.
    Your quitling is looking good – for a second attempt you are doing fine. As for crossing lines, the quilting police will get you -LOL! Unless it's for a competititon wuo cares, and i think the “rule” only applies to stippling.
    My quilting is getting better but is far from perfect – keep practicing you'll get the look you want.Ifound what helped me was watching the fabric where i want to go rather than the needle.It will follow anyway.
    Looking forward to seeing your next projects.


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