I love free motion quilting

I love making whole cloth quilts. I particularly like a narrative/picture on my whole cloth quilts. I haven’t made many of late but I remember making my “Resting from the ride” quilt. It was published as a pattern in Australian Patchwork and Quilting some time ago.


In that issue I also shared my knowledge of free motion quilting techniques.

A whole cloth quilt is just that – a quilt made without piecing the top. It is one piece of fabric on the top.

Free motion quilting is a stitching technique, and, like any new technique, mastering it requires patience and practice. It is the best way to achieve complex stitching designs and allows you so much more creative freedom.

The free motion technique is not mysterious. The feed dogs (the metal teeth at the back of the stitch plate on your sewing machine) grab the fabric and feed it forward into and beyond the needle. When the feed dogs are lowered, there is no mechanism to feed the fabric through, instead the quilters hands do the feeding.

In addition, lowering the feed dogs takes the upward pressure off the presser foot, meaning that with the extra room between plate and presser foot, the fabric will move more freely. As there is no mechanical guide to the feeding, and the pressure against the presser foot is lowered, the quilt can move freely in any direction.

The distance that the quilter moves the fabric before the machine makes another stitch will determine the length of the stitch. The amount of speed applied by the foot pedal will determine how fast you can move the quilt under the free motion foot. So the faster the speed of the needle, the faster you move the quilt. The slower the speed, the slower the movement of the quilt need to be. And this is the practice part!

A free motion quilter will develop a rhythm with their own machine. As a persons confidence grows, inevitably, so does the speed at which they quilt.

You can stitch in any direction without turning the quilt, so if the design is marked on the quilt top simply follow the lines. It’s that simple.

There are some things that are worth considering for free motion quilting to be a pleasurable activity.

  • A sewing machine with a needle down button is valuable. It is important to ensure the needle is down in the fabric before repositioning you hands and the quilt.
  • There are many variations of a free motion foot, but their common attribute is a ring 1/4in away from the needle. This foot is your friend – it is an easy tool for measuring one quarter inch beyond other lines of stitching or other elements of your quilt.
  • Good lighting and a clear work space is critical – you need to be able to see where your stitching is going. 
  • Quilting gloves are necessary. 
  • Your quilt needs to be supported so that it can move freely and won’t pull away from the needle. An L configuration is ideal but not always achievable. You can use your ironing board adjusted for height on the left hand side and works a treat for bigger quilts.
  • the best machine needle is the one that matches the thread you are using. the smaller the needle, the smaller the thread and the hole left in your fabric as you stitch. Thread can often shred or break if the needle is too small or too old. ALWAYS start a new quilt with a new needle and change it after 4 hours of quilting or less if the fabrics are thick or rough. This can avoid skipped stitches from blunt or nicked needles.
  • TENSION. I used to get the dry horrors thinking about thread tension. Always check the tension on a scrap quilt sandwich before you start and every time you change the bobbin. If you use the same weight thread and the same colour thread in the top and the bobbin most tension issues will disappear. 

I hear a lot of discussion and advice given to people about whether to roll the quilt or “puddle” it. You will need to work out the best way that works for you. I “puddle” my quilts. Rather than rolling to keep the fabric inn easy to handle position, I concertina the fabric in the throat of the machine. This is not a big issue for small quilts but when working with large quilts finding the way that works best for you is important. Large quilts can be quilted on a domestic machine

Keep your hands firmly on both sides of the quilt area you are stitching. Complete all the stitching in that one area then reposition by smoothie out the next area. Ensure you keep relaxing your shoulders and breathe! it is really fun.


(Celtic Rose)

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