The Free Motion Quilting Project: Free Motion Quilting Settings and Tools

Monday, February 2, 2015

Free Motion Quilting Settings and Tools

We're ready to start quilting our blocks for the Dancing Butterfly Quilt Along and this week I'm going to be posting tips every day to help you get started free motion quilting!

Let's get started by watching a video on Free Motion Quilting Settings and Tools:

Looking for more videos? Find ALL of the videos for making the Dancing Butterfly Quilt within the Dancing Butterfly Quilt Pattern.

Let's go over the many tips included in this video:
#1 - Visibility is key - In the videos I'm using the Juki TL-2010Q, which has great visibility around the needle. I don't have to hunch over in order to see the needle as I'm quilting. Another new tool I'm using is the Quilting Back Support which adds weight to my low back and helps me maintain a natural upright posture.

When quilting, you may work on a quilt for several weeks, quilting for several hours a day. Just make sure that you're really comfortable and not straining your neck or back as you quilt. Having an adjustable height chair can also make a big difference.

#2 - Feed dogs - I've written extensively about dropping or not dropping your feed dogs in the past. The truth is you can free motion quilt with feed dogs up or down. For many machines dropping the feed dogs causes issues like tension problems and thread breaks. Other machines handle it fine, but this is an important thing to test on your machine to see which option produces the best stitch for you.

I FMQ with feed dogs up in normal position. To reduce their movement, I just dial my stitch length down to 0 so the little teeth only move up and down a bit.
#3 - Darning Foot - One crucial tool for free motion quilting is a darning foot. You basically can't FMQ without it! This foot is specially designed to hover over the surface of your quilt so you can move the quilt in all directions.

There are a lot of styles of feet on the market, and unfortunately many of them are badly designed. I modify my feet by breaking the base open and bending back the top bar so they don't hop on the surface of the quilt. Here's a video on how to make this modification with an inexpensive darning foot:

#4 - Extra Tools for FMQ - To machine quilt, you really only need a darning foot and a sewing machine. That's it! However, there are some optional tools that make the quilt easier to move and help you reduce thread issues.
I use a Queen Supreme Slider to make the quilt move more easily on the surface of the machine. The slick, Teflon surface reduces the friction between the back of the quilt and the table surface, making it much easier to move in smooth, fluid motions.

I also use Bobbin Washers to improve my stitch quality. I find I have fewer thread breaks and birds nests and the stitches on the back of the quilt look better too. I put washers in all my machines and leave them in all the time, no matter if I'm piecing, appliqueing, or quilting.

I also wear Machingers Gloves which give me a great grip on the quilt so I can move it easily. The gloves give me the feeling of control and stability, and without them my hands feel like they're just sliding all over the surface of the quilt.

Find all three of these tools in the Queen Supreme Kit and save $10!

Even with all these tools in place and your machine set up with a great darning foot, please understand that free motion quilting is still going to feel a little weird when you first get started. It's very normal to produce very ugly stitches in the beginning until you learn how to place your hands and think through the designs you are stitching as you quilt your quilts.

So don't panic if your quilting looks terrible when you first get started! Join in this quilt a long and pick up your copy of the Dancing Butterfly Quilt Pattern and challenge yourself to work past those ugly stitches.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Thanks for your amazing blog Leah so inspirational. One question I have a Juki 98P but when I use a walking foot it gets stuck in the screw bar it sits over. Any ideas?

    1. Hmm...are you sure you're attaching it properly? Do you mean it feels stuck when you try to get it off or it gets stuck as you're quilting? Walking feet are always a little tricky to get on and off the machine, so it's perfectly normal to feel a bit stuck as you remove it.

  2. Make sure your little bar fits over the needle bar correctly, this is where I went wrong! Good luck!!

  3. Hi Leah, I have been quilting for a little over a year now on an entry level Janome. I would love it if you would do more posts and videos about working with a walking foot as that is where my comfort zone is for now. I have only been doing straight line quilting with my walking foot and haven't been very creative to date. Eventually I will make the leap to free motion quilting but truthfully I am still too intimidated by the whole process to do so yet. I have watched several of your free motion project videos and subscribe to your newsletter and would love to explore (with your guidance!) how to be more creative with my walking foot. So please, please do more follow up videos about walking foot quilting. Thanks, Carol


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