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10 Practical Tips for Learning Free-motion quilting

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

Learning a craft takes time and effort, but with a clear guide on how to improve your skill will not only save time but also frustration. Free-motion quilting seems challenging to beginner quilters, mostly out of fear due to lack of knowledge and experience. With these 10 practical tips, I would love to share my experience with you so you wouldn't get overwhelmed on your first attempt.

1. Draw or doodle your quilting design on paper before using the sewing machine.

Yes, free motion quilting is actually the same as drawing something on paper, except that we are using "needle and thread" to draw on the quilt. Practicing on paper is the best practice we can do to get our hands coordinated with our brains. This will also help you practice scaling the size of the design. So take your time to doodle on paper before diving into your sewing machine.

2. Practice the design on the machine for at least 15 minutes or more.

Getting it right for the first time would be great but in reality, it takes time to get better at something. Most of us get frustrated after 5 minutes of quilting when the design is out of shape and proportion. But the thing is we need to build our muscle memory until we get it right. So don't give up yet when it looks unappealing to the eye, continue until your design started to take shape. Keep going until you feel comfortable and confident.

3. Use an erasable marking pen.

Those erasable marking pens are indispensable on our quilting journey. First, you can use it to mark lines for the layout or placement of the design. Then you can use it to draw the actual shape on the quilt, in this way it is easier to follow the lines during quilting.

When I started quilting feathers, I would draw them and just follow through with the drawing. This helps me when I couldn't see the stitches well because of the blending of the thread color with the fabric. Plus when using a domestic sewing machine, we can't see the whole quilting area.

4. Use a paper pattern template.

Starting can be quite overwhelming when our confidence is still low. And the fear of making mistakes is creeping in our heads. If drawing using your marking pen is still difficult, this method may work for you.

I figure this out after making a table runner with a monogram on it, and I used a paper template for the letters. It turned out fantastic and well-proportioned. You can take your doodle practice paper and pin it on top of the quilt, and stitch over it. This is a good starting point for beginners as well as for quilting a complicated design.

6. Fine-tune your sewing speed to achieve your desired stitch length.

The stitch length depends on your speed of moving the quilt under the needle. So it is important to find your own comfort level to get that nice stitch length you wanted.

For me, the medium speed of 3 is my comfort level. I would slow down a bit when stitching straight lines, and faster when making curves. I can do this by adjusting the pressure I put on the foot controller.

7. Don't get caught up with perfection.

Well, we are all guilty of this, we think that art and creativity are about making perfect artwork. But it's actually learning to embrace imperfections that will help us sustain enthusiasm. If we give up every time we make mistake then we can't finish a quilt.

So, when you make a mistake don't stop, continue until you fill up the entire space. Yes, it can be quite frustrating when a line or curve gets wobbly. But chances are you won't notice it when you have a finished quilt unless you think of it!

8. Start with a small quilt project.

If it's your first time doing free-motion quilting, don't get carried away by tackling your best-pieced quilt top. My first project was the Dream Big panel from Hoffman Fabrics, and I was so excited thinking it would be easy and fun. But I got exhausted quilting for 10 days straight, while also searching for designs. Anyway, you get the point, the smaller the quilt the faster and easier it is.

9. Keep looking for good resources, inspirations, and ideas from different platforms.

For us to improve our quilting skills we need to keep our eyes open for inspiration and ideas all the time. For me, free motion quilting is a visual art form that gives our brain a boost of dopamine whenever it meets the eyes. So I collect not only books from my favorite quilters but also from shapes and textures found in nature.

But of course with social media these days, everything is just a tap away. You can collect FMQ designs on Pinterest by creating your own inspiration boards. Instagram is also a good place to follow your favorite artists.

10. Get a teacher or take online courses.

I am a firm believer that every great artist started as an apprentice. So with formal training, your free motion quilting skill will improve in a shorter period of time. Plus you'll get feedback and help whenever you needed it.

In my case with a low budget, I learned free-motion quilting by watching a lot of free online resources, particularly on Youtube. Of course, this blog is for you, so stick around and keep looking for resources that might help you.

If you are a complete beginner, then you can read my posts here:


If these ten practical tips help your free motion quilting, then let me know in the comment below. I promise if you practice consistently you'll improve in no time.

And here is my bonus tip, learn the foundation FMQ designs first before doing the complicated designs. Check out my posts on 9 Beginner-friendly Free-Motion Quilting Designs to learn more.

But please do take your time to learn at your own pace. Don't get overwhelmed by doing big projects on your first attempt. As quitting might be better than quilting, kidding!

If you have questions please don't hesitate to leave a comment, I would love to know your quilting issues. Also, you can get updates on free patterns and resources in the future if you subscribe to my mailing list. Thank you so much for hanging out with me today. Happy quilting!

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I’m Judith from Osaka, Japan. I’m a machine quilter and I love free-motion quilting using my domestic sewing machine. I like learning new quilting  patterns, designs, and techniques, which I would love to share with other quilters. If you’re looking for quilt ideas and inspirations, or you're new to free-motion quilting, then this place is for you. You can find my original works in the Gallery.

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