The Free Motion Quilting Project: Practice Isn't Pretty

Monday, January 25, 2016

Practice Isn't Pretty

Have you been practicing free motion quilting lately? Have you been satisfied with your result or unhappy with the appearance?

It can be really hard to keep practicing and trying when you aren't getting the results you want. Watch this video to check out the new technique I've been practicing and the ugly practice sandwiches I've been making along the way:

I've been practicing free motion couching which is sort of a combination of free motion quilting and embroidery. Using a special foot, you feed thick cord or yarn through the foot base and stitch it securely to your quilt top with normal thread in the machine.

The motion is just like free motion quilting because you can move the quilt in all directions. However, it's even more challenging because you need to make sure the yarn or cord is being caught by the quilting stitches. If the cord isn't in the right place, the needle won't stitch through it, and it won't be secured to the quilt top.

Here's a list of the issues I've been struggling with: sloppy stitches, needle doesn't catch the cord, too thick cord, too thin cord, wobbly design, and broken needles.

In short, I'm stitching out a lot of ugly crap! Lol!

It's hard to stitch out square after square of imperfect, sloppy stitches. Many times I've wanted to give this up, throw the foot in the back of a drawer and forget I ever wanted to learn free motion couching.

But I know I'll never master it if I give up. The only way to master anything is to keep practicing, keep making ugly stitches, and keep trying new things until the right set of movements, stitches, and materials finally click together.

As I said in the video, this may take 20 practice sandwiches, or it may take 100. There isn't a magic number or a specific amount of practice before you are guaranteed great results.

Maybe that's the hardest thing about practice - there are no guarantees. You have to just keep working at it, spend out your time and materials, and keep a close eye on your attitude and patience. You may not see great improvement for days or weeks or months so keeping a positive attitude will be a workout.

But the rewards for all your practice and hard work are absolutely worth it. Stick with it, keep quilting, and I promise you will see improvement the more you practice.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Thanks for the reminder it does not have to look perfect every single time!

  2. Great words of encouragement. I so want to master free-motion couching, but so true it will take practice.


  3. I have been practicing and I must admit I am struggling with it. I am quilting a full size quilt on a regular machine and sometimes I want to tear my hair out. I feel like I don't have the range of movement and the quilt slips. I tried the grabber gloves but ended up grasping each side of the quilt to move it along. I am thinking I might have to invest in a long arm if I am going to get serious about this hobby.

  4. Feeling like I am wasting materials is the hardest thing for me!

    One big problem with free motion couching is that it is really hard to travel stitch- something so many of the good quilting designs rely on! I do like couched stippling though!

  5. Leah, I don't think these look bad at all. Oddly enough, I was just TODAY lamenting the fact that the Janome Horizon 8900qcp does not have one of these FMQ couching feet for purchase. They only have the feet that you use when couching with the feed dogs UP. If you know of any generic foot that would do the job for this machine, please let us know. Thanks!

  6. It's been a long time since I tried couching thanks for the reminder and the inspiration

  7. I haven't tried couching, leah but Helen Godden from Australia has some great Handiquiter
    sweet 16 youTubes on it. She uses it more to make a solid couched area for something such as a landscape quilt rather than the designs you are trying to work with. Maybe that's a key to success with it? Just a thought. Good luck!

  8. I love the title of this post. It reminds me to plan on being "less than perfect" whenever I try something new.

  9. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has a "problem" with practicing and throwing away my efforts. To counter that, I've come up with a solution that works very well for me and it might for other quilters: I make fat quarter practice sandwiches and quilt them to my heart's content. I put four at a time together using Quilt As You Go techniques, bind, wash, and dry them. The fat quarters don't match and they don't have to be "good" quilting. It's practice! Then I donate them to our local wildlife rehabilitation center or animal shelter. The critters couldn't be more appreciative and they NEVER analyze my stitches or technique. It's a win-win. I feel like I'm practicing with purpose and the critters get blankies.


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