The Free Motion Quilting Project: How to Fit Your Free Motion Foot

Friday, June 10, 2011

How to Fit Your Free Motion Foot

Over the last two years, I've championed breaking your free motion quilting feet (also called darning feet) so they work better and fit your machine perfectly.

I started modifying feet with my Juki TL 98 QE, when I had to break the base open in order to see what I was doing. With a solid base and the foot hopping up and down on the surface of the quilt, it was impossible to travel or echo stitch properly and I found I was picking out more stitches than I put into the quilt.

Whenever I teach a class in person, I usually end up breaking and fitting 10 feet for students. Several students have said that having her foot modified made the entire class worth it because it makes such a huge difference for being able to see and form designs.

So here's a video on breaking your foot, then fitting it perfectly to your machine so it works best for free motion quilting:

This generic free motion quilting foot is
available right here in the quilt shop.

I truly think it's the foot that gives quilters more problems than anything else in free motion. Straight out of the package this foot is no different.

The bar across the top is designed to go over your needle bar. When the needle is up, the foot is pulled up with it. When the needle drops, the foot drops too - way too low on your quilt and squishes it.

This means the foot will hop up and down on the surface of your quilt, making it quite difficult to see what you're doing. It also means your quilt is going to be hard to move, except when you're going really fast.

So the best solution is to get rid of that bar, which I do by bending that top bar back with a pair of needle nosed pliers.

free motion quilting | Leah Dayfree motion quilting | Leah Day

But once the top bar is bent back, on the machine, the foot is going to rest in the low position. Remember that's the position that is squishing your quilt badly.

To fix this we now have to insert a rubber band on the top of the foot between the spring and the bent metal bar so the foot is lifted slightly. I find 4 loops of a rubber band in this area does the trick:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Once you get the loops in place around the bar, just twist the excess rubber band around on top so it's out of your way.

Now here's the important part - every machine is slightly different. You need to fit this foot to your machine and make sure it is setting at the right height. Put the foot on the machine, then place a quilt sandwich underneath. Lower the foot and slide the quilt around.

The foot should move smoothly over the surface of the quilt. You should be able to move the quilt freely and without it getting hung up or squished by the foot.

But it should also not be so high that you can see space between the foot and the surface of your quilt. You know the foot is too high if you start quilting and suddenly your thread starts breaking constantly. This means the foot is allowing the quilt too much play and it's bouncing up and down and breaking your thread.

It's a happy balance and can be adjusted using that rubber band. If you need the foot to be slightly higher, add another loop to the top. If you need the foot to be lower, take a loop away.

While this might seem silly and rather pointless, it's absolutely necessary for getting your foot to fit properly. Once fit, you'll never have to mess with the rubber band again. You'll leave it in place and just forget about it.

Now there's one other problem with this foot and that is the base. I personally find that an open toe foot is much better for free motion quilting because you can see what you're doing. Traveling and echo quilting is always easier if you can see your needle.

So take a pair of jewelry clippers and clip on either side of the red marks of this base.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySand down any rough edges with a nail file or sandpaper so they don't hang up on your quilt or thread.

free motion quilting | Leah DayViola! You have a perfect foot, fitted to your machine specifically, and ready to do beautiful free motion quilting!

Try this out today and I promise you will see a huge difference in your quilting ability. Being able to SEE and MOVE the quilt properly is so important for this skill, so don't hesitate - go break your foot!

Let's go quilt,



  1. I have a Viking Designer I & I use their open toe stippling foot -- which is very similar to the broken clear foot you're using -- but it gave way too much play & kept breaking the thread. It took me a while to figure out to leave the feed dogs up & lower the pressure number on the foot by 2. I have another Designer I & it needs the same treatment. I guess you have to learn your machine & not be afraid to make adjustments. Thanks for spreading the love on FMQ-ing!!

  2. Leah, I have a question not a comment.
    Do you ever use the Presser Foot Pressure Adjustment to fine tune the pressure of the foot on your quilt sandwich? In normal sewing, I'm sure you know, it is adjusted according to how thick the fabric is that is being sewn. I usually put mine to zero or a low number. Since you have so much more experience FMQing I am curious of your experience on this aspect of the equation.
    Thanks for your all things FMQ.

  3. Virginia - ABSOLUTELY! The key is just not being afraid to make adjustments, to try new things, and see what works best.

    Debbie - If your machine has that dial, by all means use it!

    Not all machines have a pressure adjustment knob, but it is certainly helpful when they do.

    If you feel like the foot is setting up too high, adjust the pressure to bring the foot lower. If the foot is feeling too low, loosen the pressure the machine is putting on the foot to lift it a bit.

    I do like it when a machine has that adjustment, but not all do. With this foot and the rubber band adjustment, you can fine tune the foot without having to change anything on your machine.

    Let's go quilt,


  4. Leah -- Thanks for sharing. I use a Janome and also use the presser foot pressure control to fine tune. I have also just started using a metal darning foot (very small open toe) that does not hop and has an adjustment knob that does what your rubber bands do. The bottom part is exchangeable. The other two 'bottoms' are a large flat plastic foot that is useful for gliding over bumps (embroidery, etc) and a closed toe small metal loop (not sure what that is good for).

    Maybe you can comment on the following: with the presser foot pressure set to near 0, my traditional 'hoppy' quilting foot (open toe), just gently kisses the surface of the quilt on the down stroke and seems helpful in synchronizing my hand movement and the stitching (adds just a bit of resistance when the needle is coming down). I see better with the non-hoppy foot mentioned above, but am having a harder time getting even stitches, and I'm finding that adjustment is touchier -- a little too little distance and there is too much drag; a little too much distance and the stitch quality is not good. This is especially challenging when there are places with more seams. I work really hard to control seam bulk (even to the point of clipping, so part of a seam can go one way and part can go the other, or ironing open), but sometimes some extra thickness is inevitable and my fine-tuned non-hoppy foot doesn't clear. Any thoughts?

  5. Leah,
    I have a Janome MP 6600. Great machine, but your darning foot modification does not work at all on it.
    I bought the generic high shank foot, but the needle sits so far back, that it hits the back of the foot, and there's no adjustment for that. So I modified my Janome foot as per your video. Problem is, as soon as there is low enough pressure on the foot to be able to glide the fabric as you show, the top thread will not engage the bobbin thread - I end up with an unholy tangle. No adjustments other than increasing foot pressure to the point of too much resistance seem to work. So I clipped the foot more open but returned everything back to the original.

    I have found not dropping the feed dogs and decreasing the foot pressure via the dial to work well. Also am experimenting with INCREASING the stitch length rather than setting it to zero - seems to work well.

    Bottom line is that this modification might not work on all machines.


  6. Monica - As with all things with free motion quilting, I teach my method, I teach what works 99% of the time in classes and from students online, but no, it's not going to work for absolutely everyone.

    It's good to know that your Janome 6600 is having this issue. I would recommend seeing if you can get the QBH foot that comes with the 7700 as this is one awesome foot that is excellent for free motion quilting.

    And of course, anyone with a Bernina already has access to a fantastic foot (the open toe darning foot).

    Not all machine manufactures have feet like the Janome or Bernina feet so this tutorial was to show what to do in those situations. I hope that helps!



  7. Hi Shilsenbeck - Maybe try increasing the pressure of the foot, then adjusting the foot itself depending on the height of the quilt you're quilting?

    When it comes to seams, that is always tricky. I had a machine once that broke thread every time I stitched over a seam. Talk about annoying!

    The best thing to do is just keep working at it, keep adjusting and trying new things with your machine. You never know what might work so keep playing with it until you find the right combination of settings.

    Good luck!


  8. O.M.G. Thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I hate that frigging foot SO MUCH! I have been attempting to do free motion on and off over the last few years that I've been quilting and hated every single minute of the experience for those exact reasons - couldn't see where I was going and the damn thing jumping maniacally up and down all over my quilt. Up until today I thought it was just a case of PEBMAC (problem exists between machine and chair)!!!! Thank you!!!

  9. So...once the foot is no longer "hopping", and a good chunk of the toe is cut open, what is the foot actually doing? Is there some reason to use this foot rather than something like an open toe embroidery foot?

    I'll admit, I haven't tried any FMQ yet, but I just bought a foot and am going to start practicing.

  10. have you ever tried the foot that looks like a coil or spring?

  11. Adnohr - I'm not familiar with a spring foot, but I have tried spring needles. I found them tricky to work with because the spring was mostly in my vision. I also experienced some skipping stitches, but it's worth trying it for yourself.

    I hope that helps!


  12. Leah, let me just say I love your lessons... :) I'm a beginner at FMQ, but I'm lucky enough to have an Open Toe Free Motion Foot for my Pfaff Smarter 1100Pro. I think it works great so far, but my mind might well change when I learn more... However, it's wonderful to have a resource like this to go to since quilting here in Finland is not a "big thing"... At least not yet! So keep up the brilliant work! :)

  13. This is a wonderful tip -- thanks so much! I just adjusted my fmq foot, and it's so much easier to use now. :):):)

  14. I know this is an old post... but just in case you get automatic comment emails -- I wanted to tell you that I'm really excited to see your rubberband trick for the FMQ foot - I was FMQing a few days ago - going so fast just cruising along, and that hook fell out of the FMQ foot! It wiggles loose every few minutes, that rubber band trick will surely fix it! :) Thanks for saving me from having to buy a new FMQ foot!

  15. Just followed your video to alter my FM foot .. wow .. who would have thought it could be that easy - my practice piece just went from frumpy to fine ... thank you ...

  16. Thank YOU! I bought a machine off eBay which I didn't get to test out first. I had such an old machine before buying this one that I never knew there were machines in which the presser foot could NOT be manually adjusted. Of all things to leave OFF a machine! I live up north, so most of my clothes are on the thick or bulky side. I have thought about ways to drill a hole in the top of my machine to try to adjust the shaft of the presser foot that is way too tight for all but the thinnest fabrics I work with. I also wondered if there was a way to adjust a free motion foot to be less tension. Thank you for this fix!

  17. Thank you! The FMQ teacher at my quilt shop was blaming all the breakage on the quality of my thread, but then it even did it when I tried with Aurifil, and I was completely frustrated because I didn't have any other ideas. I have always wanted my foot closer to the material, anyways... it just seems like it's too easy to move it, so it would dart too much, and that some bit of drag would help me move things more smoothly.

  18. Totally off subject, but Leah, is your mother's name Ginger by any chance??? Have looked for her for years....

    1. Nope! Sorry, you've found the wrong Leah Day!

  19. Oh My Goodness! I saw this video a few months ago and thought, "It can't possibly be that simple to make my darning foot work properly. There must be something seriously wrong here, and I'm going to have to buy an expensive foot if I ever want to learn to free motion quilt."

    I finally decided to give this a go today. I held my breath, bent that wire, cut open that toe, and wrapped a rubber band around the top. It is like night and day. I can finally start practicing my free motion skills!!!!!

    Thanks, Leah!!

  20. i just bought an ECHO foot for my machine and have no idea how to use it or what the lines mean - could you please explain it to me - Ive looked on the internet but have found nothing-thanks Eileen

  21. Good Morning Leah, I've not read the comments, but wanted to add my 'two cents worth'! I finally got brave enough to take my darning foot/quilting foot and do as your tutorial suggested (my old 14 yr old Janome; can't do that with my 40+ yr old Bernina, it does not have the bar nor the spring visible), along with pinches and a puncture, so need to be very careful when changing your foot!!! But it is worth every pinch and puncture. I could not believe the difference it makes when practicing Free Motion Quilting. I love it!!! I had to 'lay my bar down flat after bending' because my foot would not fit back on the machine. Also the rubber band is a necessary 'tool' in getting your presser foot at the correct height for your material/quilt. Can't express my gratitude for your suggestion/instruction on this issue! So much easier to Free Motion Quilt!
    Now a couple of questions, please! 1) I left my feed dogs in the up position, my stitch length at 0, stitch width at 0, started out with tension at 4 (wrong!!!!) went to 6, then 7, then 8 and I'm still having those 'eyelashes' in certain areas, can you help me understand a little better about that? I will go to 9 in the upper tension (that is my highest point); 2) I noticed in your Free Motion Videos that you practice blocks look really stiff. How do you get such.....starching? If so, liquid or spray? Thanks again for all your tutorials! They are great!

  22. OMG - I thought I was just too stupid to FMQ until I saw this! I followed your instructions and it worked like a charm.... Thank you!!!

  23. I have just bought a Pfaff Quilt expression. I was having terrible problems and had to return the machine. It now works perfectly and even the sensormatic foot works. I learned through a blog that reducing the pressure on the foot has an effect. I take mine down to -3 and it works great. Because it doesnt jump about now I can see what I am doing. The only problem I have now is ME!! LOL


Related Posts with Thumbnails