The Free Motion Quilting Project: A Week of Review

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Week of Review

This week we're going to spend some time reviewing all the different ideas and techniques we've learned over the last 14 weeks of our quilt along.

It's super important to continually return to the beginning and the very basics to form a solid foundation for your quilting skill.  I know many new quilters are only now finding this project and quilt along, so let's take a day to review the basic ideas behind free motion quilting, setting up your machine, and getting started.

So to start, take a minute to read this post on Understanding Free Motion Quilting.  This article walks you through exactly how free motion quilting works on your domestic sewing machine, how your stitches are formed, and why you may have issues with your stitches when you're just getting started.

Next, spend some time reading about Memorizing Quilting Designs.  Memorizing a design sounds difficult, but really it's as simple as learning cursive writing and how to sign your name.  Simple rules dictate each design and can easily be memorized so you know exactly how to fill any space with a particular design.

Now the biggest questions I receive are about dropping the feed dogs on your machine.  Most books written about free motion quilting, and most teachers that teach this technique advise you to drop your feed dogs down into the machine.

Unfortunately this doesn't always make the machine stitch nicely.  Take a look at this article: Do I Really Have to Drop My Feed Dogs? to learn more about this topic and how you can probably find better looking stitches by leaving your feed dogs up.

Of course, there are several tools that can improve your free motion quilting and make quilting larger quilts easier.  Here's a 10 minute video that will show you how to set up your machine and explain the tools and thread that can make free motion quilting easier:

Several steps were mentioned in this video including modifying your free motion quilting foot to fit your machine.  This is a super important step which will make the foot glide smoothly over the surface of your quilt and enable you to see the needle, and your stitches, very clearly.

Learn how to modify a generic free motion quilting foot right here.

I also discussed hiding your loose threads tails, a super important technique so no one will know where you stop or start quilting.  Find instructions for hiding those threads with a cheater needle right here.

When you actually get started quilting, you may feel wildly out of control.  Remember, you're using your machine in a totally different way so this is normal!

With free motion quilting, the machine is no longer doing all the work to maintain an even stitch length.  You're in control of the stitches by balancing the speed of your machine with the movement of your hands.

A great article to read is Playing with Speed to learn more about finding this balanced ratio to produce beautiful stitches.

Of course, I'd be lying if I told you all your stitches are going to look great from day one.  Unfortunately no one is born knowing exactly how to free motion quilt.  Everyone goes through a period of very ugly stitches and thread issues.

So if you get started and everything looks terrible, don't worry!  Just keep on stitching, keep trying to find that balanced ratio of speed and movement.

If you find yourself feeling very afraid of even trying to quilt, make sure to read this article on Quilting Without Fear and the general advice to just shut up and go quilt.

Always remember that you're just stitching thread on fabric.  The world will not end if you mess up!

The best way to blast through the beginning period of ugly stitches is to quilt every single day if you can.  Here's a great post on how to find more time to quilt by adjusting your lifestyle slightly.

You don't need to spend an enormous amount of time on this either!  Even if you have just 15 minutes, this time will definitely help you gain more skill and feel more comfortable with free motion quilting.  Check out this post to find a quick way to practice every single day.

That just about covers this review!  Take some time to read through all these articles and watch some videos today to review all these ideas about free motion quilting.

If you're just joining us, take a few days to watch through all the Quilt Along videos and Question Thursday articles posted so far.  No, you definitely don't have to stitch through each tutorial to join in this week, but it will help to gain a good idea of the lessons and techniques we've learned so far.

Whew!  It's high time to shut up and go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. Fabulous summary! Now, off to finish the whole cloth mini. Can't tell you how much I appreciate all you do for the "quilting world" (whew! That sounded gi-normous!!!!). So thankful to be a part of this wonderful caring & sharing quilting community....Hugs, Doreen

  2. The link for the 'thread hiding' video just shows the needles to purchase...I can't see the video any it just me? Thanks (just want to double-check I'm actually doing it right!)
    - Angie


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