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Beginner Quilting Series Part Six: Introduction to Free-Motion Quilting

Welcome to Part Six! This week, we're talking all about free-motion quilting and how to get started. While I could definitely fill a book with information about this, I'm trying to keep things short and sweet (well kind of short)! Keep an eye out in the future for a more in-depth tutorial on free-motion quilting. Definitely check out the video for this week. It's much more helpful in explaining all the things!




To see what you've missed in the Beginner Quilting Series, click here. Don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter here so you never miss a post!


Supplies Needed:

-Free-motion Quilting Foot

-Spare Quilt Sandwich for Practice



Quick Jump Links:



Before You Begin Sewing

Let's practice! This is the most important part of free-motion quilting. Practice makes perfect. I know that I sound a little cliche...but it is SO true. Do not...I repeat...do not get your beautiful quilt and attempt to free-motion quilt on it for the first time!


First, before we start sewing, we will practice drawing out our design. When you are working with free-motion quilting, the idea is to be consistent and continue your design in one fluid motion. Doing this does take practice and muscle memory. This can be achieved by first drawing your design out so your brain can begin to understand how it's created. Then you will be able to keep creating it even without you having to overthink it.



Another form of drawing that mimics free-motion quilting is to set up a pen above you (or have someone hold it) and move your paper underneath in the same way you would quilt. This is great if you just want to practice moving your hands as you would with a quilt. Experiment with different designs, draw your name, move in circles, etc. Any type of moving like this his helpful!


When learning a new free-motion design, the goal when drawing the design is to be able to fluidly fill an entire page of paper without having your brain have to stop and wonder what to do next. This is developing muscle memory and helps keep your quilting free flowing and consistent. If our brain pauses while quilting, it results in odd stitches, irregular shapes and frustration!


How To Install Your Free-Motion Foot

If you've been following along the past few weeks, you may have seen how to find the foot that fits your machine. Definitely do not shop off of Amazon or sites like Temu for such important pieces! You'll thank me later. Sewing Parts Online has a huge selection of parts from so many machines.


To install your free-motion foot on your machine, first unscrew the screw that attaches your current presser foot. Replace it with your free-motion foot and tighten the screw back. Make sure that the bottom of your free-motion foot aligns flush with the presser foot bar on your machine.


Before you begin sewing- your feed dogs must be lowered! This enables your fabric to move freely through your machine. For directions on how to do this for your specific machine, refer to your owner's manual.


How to Start/Stop Quilting

When we begin quilting, we have to start things a little differently. If we were to just start sewing as we would when we piece blocks together, it would create a little nest of thread on the back of our quilt that doesn't look so pretty. Let's fix this! We just need to pull the bobbin thread up before we start.


To Start Sewing or Begin Where You Left Off: Place your quilting foot down where you'd like to begin. Grab the thread from the needle and hold it firmly with your left hand. With your right hand, rotate your hand crank in one full rotation towards you (always towards you, never away!). Gently pull the needle thread with your left hand, bringing up the bobbin thread. You should now have two threads held securely in your left hand. From here, take a few stitches in place. You are now free to start free-motion quilting! Cut the tail threads at any time.


To Stop: When you're finished free-motion quilting, simply take a few stitches in place and cut your threads. It's all secure!


Free-Motion Quilting Tips

One of the more difficult things with free-motion quilting is learning how to control the speed of your machine with your foot while simultaneously moving your quilt with your hands and understanding how that affects your stitch length. The stitch length dial means absolutely nothing when your feed dogs are down.


You are completely in control of how long your stitches are while free-motion quilting.


Getting into a good groove where your machine's speed and your hands work together to get a nice, even looking stitch throughout your quilt takes time and practice! With that in mind...here are a few other tips that can help!


  1. Have spare bobbins ready: Free-motion quilting tends to use a lot of thread! Have spare bobbins handy so you can quickly change them out and continue on.

  2. Get a spare quilt sandwich ready and spend some time with your machine getting a feel for how the quilting process works. It will build your confidence!

  3. Keep an eye periodically on the back of your work for any tension issues.

  4. Quilting gloves will be your best friend!

Practice Ideas

Now that we have covered the basics, have our foot installed on our machine and know how to begin quilting, let's talk about some ways you can practice. Grab a spare quilt sandwich and just start quilting. This is perhaps the scariest part! Try writing your name. You can also try different shapes. If you really want to, grab a pen and draw out some different designs on the fabric, then follow your lines as you sew. As you work, look and see how your stitch length looks.



Easy Free-Motion Design Ideas

While we aren't discussing as many designs as last week, each of these can definitely be used as starting points and transition into your own creative designs! Scale them differently, mix them together, or just let your hands move freely. This is the fun part about free-motion!


Meandering: This is perhaps my favorite type of quilting! It's versatile and easy to acheive. It can also be scaled smaller or bigger depending on the type of density you're trying to acheive.

A meandering (or stipling) line is basically a waving line that moves in all directions. The trick with this is to constantly have your line moving. It's never straight. Think of a river and how it flows around a canyon.





Free-Motion Waves: Much like the waves we created last week with our walking foot, these are very similar in nature but can be created faster since we don't have to start and stop so much.


Starting on one end of your quilt, create a wavy line that moves back and forth. Sew just off of your quilt top then move over to the left a little. Now, we will be moving in the opposite direction as we create our second line. Get creative with your lines! You can let each one mimic the last or let each line be free-flowing and go it's own way.


Swirls/Loops: Another simple quilting design is swirls or loops. This is a great option if you'd like to practice creating circles.


Think about the meandering line we learned early and periodically stop to create an entire circle. Then, continue on with your line as you wind around and flow into another circle. These can be big or small and don't have to all be the same.





Can you believe that we only have one more week in this series! Next week, we will be squaring our quilt and binding! Two very important topics- squaring our quilt and binding. Leave a comment and let me know how your quilt is going! I'm always happy to answer any questions. Email me at ashleyponder@southernsewingco.com.

Until next week...




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