Complete Beginner's Guide for Free Motion Quilting
Updated: Mar 10
This will teach you the basic principles of free motion quilting (FMQ) to help you start your FMQ journey.
This answers some of your most important questions about FMQ such as the following.
What is Free Motion Quilting?
It is a machine quilting technique that uses a domestic sewing machine. The quilter moves the quilt sandwich under the presser foot in different directions. This is to create the desired quilting stitch pattern design.
It requires the "feed dog" of the sewing machine to be disengaged by lowering it down so that it will not touch and feed the quilt during quilting.
Below is a sample of machine quilting stitches done using a domestic sewing machine.
What do you need to do free motion quilting?
You need a quilt sandwich, a sewing machine, quilting gloves, and a Darning foot to perform free motion quilting. Below is an infographic that summarizes the basic principles that you must understand before you do FMQ.
There are many types of domestic sewing machines in the market that can be categorized into mechanical, electrical, and computerized. Many of the modern quilters use computerized quilting sewing machines, but you don't need to have a fancy one. If you have a regular sewing machine and wondering if it can do free motion quilting, then check if the "feed dog" can be disengaged by lowering it or by covering it with a plate. Also, check if the Darning foot or quilting presser foot is included in the accessory list. Check the user's manual for free motion setup and of course for your safety.
Other sewing tools that you need are the following.
Erasable Marking Pens (for drawing the quilting design on the quilt top)
Scissors (for cutting threads)
Tweezers (for pulling the thread on the needle area)
Drawing paper (for practicing quilting designs)
Is free motion quilting hard or easy?
Depending on your sewing skills, it can be as easy as writing something on paper. Learning a new craft or skill requires a certain amount of time and practice before becoming good at it. If you have a 'can do attitude' with your sewing skill then it will make a difference. With practice, you will see better results each time you do it. But most of all having fun while learning will sustain your enthusiasm.
What presser foot is used in free motion quilting?
The presser foot used in free motion quilting is called Darning Foot. It is sometimes referred to as Embroidery or Pogo foot as it is also used in machine embroidery, thread painting, and monogramming. Some brands call it as free-motion foot, quilting presser foot, open and closed-toe foot.
The shape of the Darning foot is circular, this is to provide good visibility of the stitches around the needle. I recommend checking the user's manual of your sewing machine to find out your correct presser foot.
The mechanism of the presser foot can be categorized into 'hopping-style' and 'non-hopping-style'.
The hopping-style foot has a spring in the shaft that gives a bounce on the foot while the needle is stitching. While the non-hopping foot is floating on top of the quilt surface. These two styles allow the ease of movement of the quilt during quilting. My user manual recommends "1mm space" between the surface of the quilt top and the presser foot. This will help a smoother movement of the quilt during quilting.
The height of the quilting foot can also be adjusted according to the thickness of the quilt by rotating the setscrew that holds the spring on the shaft.
How to do free motion quilting?
Below are the simple steps that I do when preparing and starting free motion quilting in my domestic sewing machine, which is JUKI Quilt Exceed HZL-F600. Please do consider this as a reference guide only for you might be using a different sewing machine. You can check your user's manual on how to install the presser foot and how to disengage the feed dog correctly.
For disclaimer, this post is not sponsored by any brand, please check the Disclaimer Policy if you want more information.
First, you must have a practice quilt sandwich, a good quality thread, a new needle, and quilting gloves.
Set the Darning Foot or Quilting Presser Foot on your sewing machine. Follow the steps provided in your user's manual.
Set a new needle, it must be a bigger size needle than your corresponding thread's weight needle size.
Set the upper and lower thread of your sewing machine.
Lower the feed dog by sliding the 'drop feed knob', following the indicator guide. Or cover the feed dog with a plate if your machine has this type of feature.
Set and adjust the speed controller to middle-speed or lower.
Place the quilt sandwich under the Darning foot.
Check the pressure of the Darning foot on the quilt. Adjust the height of the foot by using the setscrew that holds the spring. You should be able to move the quilt sandwich in different directions.
Set the position of the quilt where you like to start stitching. Lower the Darning foot and wear your quilting gloves.
Step on the foot controller slowly to start quilting. Feel the speed of the machine by stepping harder to increase the speed.
Move the quilt sandwich in your desired direction. Feel your speed in coordination with the machine. Notice how the stitch length changes as you vary your speed.
Try straight and curved stitches by moving the quilt in the right direction.
Congratulations you are now free motion quilting!
Here is a video for your visual reference.
What is the best stitch length for free motion quilting?
Generally, a walking foot quilting will recommend 15 stitches per inch, or 2mm. But for free motion quilting, the sewing machine cannot regulate the stitch length. This means there is no standard stitch length for FMQ. As long as the stitches look good to you, then it's perfectly fine. That's why it is an art, no rules, just your own creativity.
Many quilters recommend setting the stitch length to "zero," but I leave mine to 2.4, the normal setting. It doesn't matter anyway because the feed dog can't move the quilt at a certain speed to make the stitch length.
But recently, Bernina, one of the sewing machine brands, has a new free motion quilting foot called BSR or Bernina Stitch Regulator. This product is only compatible with their sewing machine. If you have a Bernina machine, try to check if it works for you.
To help you understand more about stitch length, I conducted a test on my sewing machine. I also covered thread tension in this experiment. Check out the result below.
As concluded, the stitch length will depend on your speed of moving the quilt, plus the speed of the machine. In my free motion quilting experience, I slow down whenever I am making straight lines, and speed up whenever I'm making curves.
You have learned the fundamentals of free motion quilting, the correct presser foot to use, how to set up and start FMQ, and how to achieve a good stitch length. Now I hope this gives you a clear good start for your free motion quilting journey.
If you want to explore more, read the following articles.
9 Free Motion Quilting Designs for Beginners
Good luck! Let me know if you have questions in the comments below.
And if you're interested in free FMQ quilting designs in the future, then subscribe to get updates whenever they are ready for download.
Thank you so much for dropping by today. Have fun quilting, and stay safe.