Do you want to add beautiful free-motion 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.
1. Find as much table surface area as you can for quilting.
Quilting on a domestic machine can be tricky if you don’t have much space to work with. Gravity pulls the weight of your quilt down and cause it to drag, creating friction, which prevents good stitches from forming.
Getting the quilt up off the floor and onto a table will prevent drag from occurring.
The very best option for FMQ on a domestic machine is a drop-in table where your machine sits flush with the bed of the table.
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, too!)
2. Match thread colors in both top and bobbin.
When you’re threading your sewing machine, 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. Busy fabric prints and thin, blending threads will hide your mistakes.
By using multicolored, “busy” fabric prints, all you’ll 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!
4. Practice on scraps and small projects first.
It’s tempting to dive in and begin working on a large quilt right away. However, just as you should practice cutting and piecing before making 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 a few designs to see how they look. Keep these samples as a reference and make notes along the way.
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.
6. Choose simple quilting designs.
Just as your first quilt likely uses 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 using straight lines, or with your free-motion foot in an all-over 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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. I also teach a beginner’s class called The Quilter’s Path: Plan It, Stitch It, Quilt It. All of these classes focus on teaching you how to quilt your own quilts on a domestic machine. Want more machine quilting inspiration, check here!
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!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2014 and was updated in December 2017.