When shopping for a sewing machine that will also be used for free-motion quilting, it’s important to get the best bang for your buck.
Free-Motion Quilting Tips
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Here are 6 things to look for to get the best sewing machine for free-motion quilting.
1. A large throat space for quilting
Also called the “harp” space, this is the distance between the needle and the edge of the machine. Having more space in this area allows you to move the bulk of your quilt through the machine quickly and easily.
Most standard machines, also called “short arms,” only have about 5-6 inches of space. As sewing enthusiasts have gotten more creative with their machine quilting skills, savvy sewing machine manufacturers have responded to the demand. Many of the newer machines offer up to 10″ or 11″ of open space.
2. An open-toe darning foot for better visibility
Any darning or free-motion foot made specifically for free-motion quilting will give good results. However, if you can purchase an open-toe foot, it will make for better stitching visibility. By getting a better view of the stitches directly in front of you, it will be easier to follow a line or designated stitching path.
3. Feet that snap on and off easily
While free-motion quilting is done with a darning foot, there are times when you may also want to quilt with your walking foot. Being able to quickly and easily change between feet is a plus when quilting your own quilts. Look for a machine where it’s quick and easy to change the presser foot without any additional tools.
4. Easy access to the bobbin
If you like to change thread often, look for a machine that offers easy access to the bobbin. You don’t want to have to take the quilt off the machine while quilting when it’s time for a thread change. If you can adjust the bobbin tension separately, that is an added bonus! Some newer sewing machine models offer a larger sized bobbin. That is a great thing to choose if available.
5. Needle up/down position
For best results, you want the needle to rest in the quilt whenever you have to stop stitching. Although many free-motion quilting designs can be stitched continuously, you will need to stop and adjust your quilt periodically to deal with the bulk. Some quilting motifs may also require starts and stops, so having the ability to control where the needle lands is very important for successful free-motion quilting.
6. Ability to drop or cover the machine feed dogs
The little “teeth” that are underneath the presser foot control the fabric moving through the quit when stitching normally. However, when free-motion quilting, you will be the one in charge of pushing the quilt through the machine.
So as not to fight the machine, you want the ability to lower the feed dogs out of the way. If that’s not possible, the next best thing to do is to cover them with a silicon mat such as a Supreme Slider.
Buy the best machine you can afford. Although you can free-motion quilt on any machine, quiltmaking is an investment and better tools can make for better results.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and was updated in December 2017.