10 Beginner Tips for Successful Free-Motion Quilting

Do you want to add beautiful machine quilting texture to your quilts but aren’t sure where to start? Check out this list of 10 tips for successful quilting on your home machine.

Overcome your fear of free-motion quilting with the Craftsy class Machine Quilting: Free-Motion & More. Instructor Wendy Butler Berns will guide you through five easy walking foot designs and simple free-motion stitches, before graduating to complex free-motion quilting patterns. Sign up today!

Quilt Being Sew on a Machine

Photos via Christa Quilts!

1. Find as much table surface area as you can for quilting.

A drop-in table where your machine sits flush with the bed of the table is ideal for free-motion quilting on a domestic machine. Gravity will pull the weight of your quilt down and cause it to drag, creating friction, which prevents good stitches from forming. By getting the quilt up off the floor and onto a table, this will prevent drag from occurring. If you don’t have a drop-in table, use the largest table top surface you have access to, and set up portable tables around you to control as much of the bulk as you can. See our post on 5 tips for an ergonomic sewing table.

Chevron Design Quilt

2. Match thread colors in both top and bobbin.

When you’re threading your sewing machine, you’ll want to be aware of thread choice. Unless your tension is absolutely perfect, you may see dots of bobbin thread showing through on the top of the quilt, or your needle thread poking through on the backside. To eliminate this, use a matching thread color in both the top and bobbin of your machine. They don’t necessarily have to be the same weight or even the same fiber content, but by using matching colors, you will prevent all of those little “pokies” from being seen!

3. Hide your mistakes with busy fabric prints and thin, blending threads.

By using multicolored “busy” fabric prints, all you will see is the texture of your quilting rather than any less-than-perfect stitches. Choose a thin (50 weight or less) cotton or polyester thread for machine quilting in a color that blends in with your quilt top. This helps prevents a “thready” look to your quilt and hides all sorts of mistakes!

Love  Quilt by Christa of Christa Quilts!

4. Practice on scraps and small projects first.

It may be tempting to want to dive in and begin working on a large quilt right away. However, just as you should practice the steps of cutting and piecing before you make your first quilt top, practice makes perfect with free-motion quilting, too.

Start off by making a few practice samples: two 10″ or larger scraps of fabric with a layer of batting in between. You can play with different thread combinations, try out a variety of batting types, check your tension, and stitch out a few designs to see how they look. Keep these samples as a reference and make notes along the way.

White Quilt Featuring Free Motion Pattern

When you are happy with your results, make a small project such as a potholder, table runner or baby quilt, and give it away. The recipient will be pleased and will not notice your imperfections!

Quilting on a Sewing Machine

5. Quilt all of your quilts yourself. (This is another way to say practice makes perfect.)

Most quilters spend a lot of time piecing but then outsource the quilting to someone else, so they never get comfortable with the machine quilting process. If you force yourself to quilt all of your own quilts from the beginning, your machine quilting skills will be in line with your piecing skills, and you can improve both techniques one quilt at a time.

Beautiful Fabric Being Quilted on a Sewing Machine

6. Choose simple quilting designs.

Just as your first quilt will most likely be made from a simpler design using large squares, strip piecing, or pre-cuts, choose a simple quilting design that will complement it. For example, you can quilt effectively with a walking foot utilizing straight lines, or with your free-motion foot in an allover stipple or swirly design.

I like to use a technique that I call “stitch near the ditch” when making charm quilts. I select a decorative stitch on my machine and simply quilt over the seam lines in a blending thread. It’s a quick way to quilt and does not have to be perfect to create beautiful texture. I can always go back in later and add more quilting if desired.

Winter Tree Quilt

7. Come up with a quilting plan before you quilt.

I like to take photographs of my quilt tops or sketch them out on the computer using quilt design software (such as Electric Quilt). I then draw my quilting motifs on the printed paper before I start quilting. This allows me to “audition” designs and see how they will interact with the pieced top. It also helps me figure out where I need to move across the quilt while quilting.

8. Educate yourself.

I read a lot of books and take a lot of quilting classes to improve my techniques. My favorite online classes are Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine with Ann Petersen, and Design It, Quilt It: Free-Form Techniques with Cindy Needham. Both classes focus on teaching you how to quilt your own quilts on a domestic machine.

Free Motion Quilting a Tree Quilt

9. Fill in your background areas with lots of texture.

Contrary to popular belief, some of the most intricate looking free-motion quilting designs are actually the easiest to stitch out. The key to adding beautiful background texture is variety and asymmetry. You can use stencils and washable marking tools to place key elements of your quilting design, then fill in all the spaces around them with dense background quilting in a variety of sizes.

10. The most important tip: develop a can-do attitude!

Most people are not natural born artists. Many of us have to work at what we do and take the time to acquire the skills needed to be successful. Just as you had to learn how to print your name in school before you learned cursive, learning machine quilting skills takes time and practice, too. Your first completed quilt may not be perfect, but you can call it your own and then move on to the next one!

This guest post is brought to you by blogger Christa Watson of Christa Quilts! She loves to teach and inspire others to make their own quilts from start to finish. Machine quilting is her favorite part of the process, and she tries to sneak in as much sewing time as she can while raising a family in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What intimidates you most about free-motion quilting?