Free Motion Quilting for Beginners Using a Regular Sewing Machine

free motion quilting - featured image showing an example of this technique

Today, we’re diving into the wonderful world of free motion quilting (FMQ) using just a regular sewing machine. I’ve been using this technique more recently and it really is a lot of fun!

Whether you’re a seasoned quilter looking to try something new or a newbie eager to explore the art of quilting, this guide will walk you through the essentials of free motion quilting. Let’s get started!

Benefits of Free Motion Quilting

Free motion quilting opens up a world of creative possibilities. Unlike traditional quilting, which often follows pre-determined patterns, FMQ allows you to draw with your needle.

It’ll probably come as no surprise that free motion is a favourite technique of many textile artists as it allows so much artistic freedom.

You can create whimsical designs, intricate patterns, and even your own unique motifs. The only limit is your imagination!

Getting Started with Free Motion Quilting

What you Need

  • A free motion foot.
  • Spray temporary adhesive (basting spray).
  • Your sewing machine manual.
  • A good quality sewing thread.

Preparing your Fabric

Before you start quilting, you’ll need to prepare your fabrics. We’ll be creating a quilt sandwich, which consists of the quilt top, wadding (batting), and backing fabric. Press each of the layers to make sure everything is smooth and wrinkle-free.

Properly basting your quilt is crucial to ensure the layers stay together.

You can use basting spray, safety pins, or hand basting to secure the layers. My preference is basting spray, as this avoids you having to manoeuvre around pins and is sooooo much quicker than basting by hand.

basting spray being used on waddng

Start by spraying one side of the wadding. Carefully place your quilted panel on top of the wadding right-side up and smooth onto the wadding from the centre out so it’s all flat and secured in place by the adhesive (see below).

Smoothing out the layers of the quilt sandwich

Then do the same for the backing fabric.

Your quilt sandwich is now ready.

Setting up Your Sewing Machine

Showing position of lowered feed dogs on sewing machine

Lower the feed dogs on your machine (they’re the little teeth that move the fabric under the needle). This is essential, as it allows you to move your fabric in any direction you want. You may need to refer back to your sewing machine manual as every machine is different. 

showing the screw used to attach the free motion foot

Attach a free motion quilting foot to your machine. This is done by removing your existing foot (there is usually a screw on the side, but refer to your manual), and then fitting the new foot in place.  The free motion foot gives you great visibility as you are working. In the picture above you can see that my free motion foot has transparent plastic, but some all metal.

stitch length setting on sewing machine set to zero

Set your sewing machine to a straight stitch and set the stitch length to zero.

Mastering Free Motion Quilting

Practicing Basic Motions and Stitches

Practice makes perfect! Make up a small sample quilt sandwich with the same type of fabric and wadding that you are going to be sewing. Prepare this fabric in the same way as mentioned above. This then gives you a great test piece to work with, allowing you to practice stitching techniques and speed control.

practice free motion quilting piece on the sewing machine

Once you are happy that you’ve mastered your technique you can confidently move on to working with your quilt piece.

Speed Control

This comes down to you being confident and working at a speed that suits you and your machine. I found that I needed to work at a good speed, or I started to overthink the design. However if I went too fast, my machine started to jump stitches. So it’s a great idea to practice first.

You will also need to position your hands so that you’re able to guide the fabric but at the same time stay clear of the needle. Some people like to use quilting gloves with little rubber bobbles on them that grip the fabric.

Different Types of Free Motion Quilting Designs

Once you’ve become comfortable with the basic free motion quilting technique, it’s time to explore different types of designs you can create. Free motion quilting allows you the freedom to let your creativity shine in your quilting projects. Here are some popular designs to get you started:

  • Stippling: Stippling is a popular design choice for beginners as it involves creating small, random, and continuous curves and loops. This design adds texture and dimension to your quilt while also being forgiving of uneven stitches.
  • Meandering: Similar to stippling, meandering involves creating random curvy lines on the quilt. However, meandering is more open and flowing, and the lines don’t intersect as often. This design is versatile and can be used to fill larger areas.
  • Swirls and Feathers: Swirls and feather designs add an elegant and intricate touch to your quilts. They require a bit more practice and control but can create a stunning effect. Start by practicing small swirls and gradually work your way up to larger feathers.
  • Pebbling: Pebbling is a design that involves creating small, round circles closely together. This design adds texture and interest.
Example of free motion quilting

In the example above I used free motion quilting using the swirls and pebbling techniques. I’ve indicated it with arrows as it’s quite hard to see the white thread on a white background.

Tips for Successful Free Motion Quilting

  1. Warm Up: Spend a few minutes warming up on a practice quilt sandwich before working on your actual quilt.
  2. Start Small: When you’re just getting started, work on a small piece such as a pin cushion or gift card. This will help build your confidence.
  3. Take Breaks: Quilting can be physically demanding. Take regular breaks to rest your eyes and stretch your back and shoulders.
  4. Work with the Fabric Design: Consider complementing or contrasting with the design of your fabric. For instance, you could stitch around the shapes in your design or use a contrasting colour thread to stand out from the fabric.
  5. Use Gloves: Quilting gloves can help you grip the fabric better and reduce hand fatigue.
  6. Light It Up: Ensure your workspace is well-lit. Consider using a bendable lamp to illuminate your quilting area.
  7. Enjoy the Process: Remember, the goal is to have fun and express yourself. Don’t stress over imperfections—they add character to your quilt!

Free motion quilting on a regular sewing machine may seem daunting at first, but with practice and patience, you’ll soon be creating beautiful, unique quilts. Embrace the learning process, celebrate your progress, and most importantly, enjoy the creative freedom that free motion quilting offers.

Happy quilting!

4 thoughts on “Free Motion Quilting for Beginners Using a Regular Sewing Machine

    • Overdale Fabrics says:

      It’s great to hear you found the information helpful Anne. Thanks for commenting. Happy Sewing Cindy

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