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12 Common Mistakes You Can Avoid in Free Motion Quilting

Being a self-taught machine quilter, I've made lots of mistakes in my free-motion quilting journey. Some are painful and frustrating but they all helped me grow and learn faster within a year. If you're new to free motion quilting and want to learn some of the difficult quilting issues, then this is for you. This will help you troubleshoot some problems that you already have or may have in the future.

1. Not practicing on a sample quilt sandwich.

Yes, too much excitement could hurt our precious quilt if we rush into action. When a new needle and thread are set up on the machine, the thread tension also changes. So it's wise to check the thread tension on the top and bottom of the sample quilt before working on the actual quilt.

2. Not adjusting the height of the presser foot.

This mistake results in fabric puckering on both the top and backing fabrics. To prevent this, check the smoothness and flatness of the quilt while moving it around under the presser foot. Adjust the height of the presser foot by using the set screw. Or you can also adjust the presser foot's pressure adjustment dial.

3. Not squaring the quilt top before quilting.

Squaring a quilted sandwich is more difficult than just a quilt top. This is due to the stretching, shifting, and sometimes compression, depending on the FMQ design. But each quilter has its preferred method. For me, it's easier to square the quilt top before free motion quilting.

4. Not paying attention to the backing fabric.

This results in stitching over a crinkled backing fabric, which is a bummer. While I'm having fun quilting, and just lose myself in the process. I overlooked the position of the batting and backing fabric. It usually happens on big quilts.

5. Not starting from the center of the quilt, resulting in puckering.

For beginners, it's so tempting to start at any part of the quilt where you feel comfortable. But, it's best to start from the center to push the air out from the middle going outside. This will help minimize the puckering of the top and bottom fabrics.

6. Dense quilting on one particular area.

This issue is quite subjective as it all depends on how you design your quilting. But remember that small densely-spaced stitches will flatten the area resulting in distortion or warping. If you lay the quilt on a flat surface, you will notice the warping effect on that particular area. But you can plan where to put the dense quilting and place it strategically. It's also easier to square the quilt sandwich if the flow of the stretch is in a uniform direction.

7. Using wrong marking tools.

There are many types of erasable marking pens and tools available in the quilting market. They may come as air-erasable, washable, heat-erasable, and so on. Depending on the quilt, you can decide which one is suited for your need. When I'm quilting a tapestry, I use air-erasable pens instead of washable ones. This is because I don't like to wash my tapestry quilts.

8. Not planning the quilting design.

Yes, planning is hard but it will save us time during the process. Often when I don't have a clear idea of what design should I put in, I resorted to trial and error. Of course, it works only like 10% percent of the time.

When planning, consider sketching the layout of the entire quilt on paper. Then draw your design on each section. You can also do this in drawing apps or software. Consider this plan as your roadmap to your goal.

9. Moving the quilt faster than the needle.

Free motion quilting is a manual process. The stitch length depends on the quilter's speed of moving the quilt in coordination with the speed of the needle. Sometimes I get out of sync with the machine, I tend to go faster while the needle is still in the down position. This results in bending and stressing the needle causing it to break.

For beginners, start from a low speed to see how it works, then increase and find a comfortable speed. In my case, I like to set my speed controller to the middle setting.

10. Wrong positioning of the quilt under the throat of the sewing machine.

This can cause restraint on our movement if not properly planned. I'm using a domestic sewing machine, a Juki F600 with only 20 cm of throat space. And it's quite normal for a quilting sewing machine. Maneuvering a big quilt under a limited space is one of the biggest issues in free motion quilting.

But, we can plan the position of the quilt and the direction of our movement during quilting.

Starting from the center of the quilt, roll the edge of the quilt under the throat. Then quilt towards the rolled section to the right. This will prevent the accumulation of the bulk in the throat space.

11. Not taking a break to rest the eyes and body.

Machine quilting requires a considerable amount of energy to focus mentally and physically. It involves our eyes looking at the quilting stitches, and holding the quilt simultaneously. Eye strain and arm and back pains are very common problems among machine quilters. To prevent these problems, frequent breaks are necessary.

Below are tips to stay pain-free and healthy as a free-motion quilter.
  • While quilting, look ahead of the needle, focusing on the direction you're going.

  • Take a break every 30 minutes or depending on your condition, to rest your eyes and body.

  • Practice good posture while quilting.

  • Use a wide table to hold the weight of the quilt.

  • Use a comfortable chair with the right height for you.

  • Set the right mood by playing music or anything that makes you focused, relaxed, and happy.

  • Exercise your arms, shoulders, back, and neck to relieve muscles sores.

12. Not cleaning the bobbin housing below the needle plate.

With thousands of quilting stitches created in just one quilt, shredded lint from the thread will accumulate on many parts of the sewing machine. Sometimes they are caught up in the bottom stitches, which may cause skipped stitches and other issues. Depending on the thread you are using, some threads may have zero lint while others have minimal lint. It's good to check your bobbin area to see how much thread lint is accumulated. And make a plan when to clean your machine.


Many of us hate to make mistakes and we try to avoid them as much as possible. But the truth is we learn more from mistakes than triumphs. Learning free motion quilting will present you with challenges to overcome. Even if you know these 12 mistakes I made as a quilter, chances are you'll make them on your own unconsciously. But the good thing is you'll get better the next time you try.

If you noticed I didn't mention "ripping the quilting stitches" as part of the list. Yes, you'll gonna make a lot of mistakes on the quilting stitches for so many reasons. But whether you accept imperfections and continue quilting as you go, or rip it off to start again, it's part of the creative process, not a mistake. So be patient and kind to yourself, and consider any mistake you'll make as an opportunity to learn.

If this post helps you, please consider sharing it with your quilting friends. And for questions and ideas you like to share, please comment below. Have fun 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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