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22+ essential TIPS for free motion quilting success [beginners]

by Robin Bogaert

Happy Tuesday! I hope you have all your supplies at hand and your fabric cut ready for quilting. Today, I’m sharing tips for free motion quilting success, and demonstrating 3 fill designs to get you started. It’s so exciting! We’ll be working with Fabric Creations Cotton – Textured Grey, UNIQUE Quilting Therm Fleece, Gütermann Thread, Odif 505 Temporary Spray Adhesive and SCHMETZ Quilting Needles.

Important Please read all my tips for success and implement them. I’m confident they’ll improve your free motion quilting, and you’ll come to love your quilts.

22 TIPS for success

  1. The most important tip is to develop a can-do
  2. Find as much table surface area as you can for quilting; for example, extension tables to attach to your machine throat area and a table surface devoid of clutter.
  3. Make sure to have a free motion foot on your machine.
  4. Put your feed dogs down on your machine (read your machine manual to find out how to do this).
  5. If there is a needle down position on the machine, set it in needle down so that when the machine stops, the placement of the needle does not move.
  6. Move your fabric with needle down if you start to feel your hand position is awkward.
  7. Match thread colors and weight in both top threading and bobbin.
  8. You may have to adjust your upper thread tension and/or use a vertical spool pin or thread stand to avoid tension issues and thread breakage.
  9. Set your tension initially at the manufacturer’s suggested auto setting and adjust as necessary.
  10. Hide your mistakes with busy fabric prints for the backing of your quilts when starting out.
  11. Spray baste your quilts; it’s easier and quicker than pin basting or hand basting.
  12. Wear quilting gloves or finger grips to be able to grip your fabric and avoid hand and shoulder strain.
  13. Practice on scraps and small projects first, like potholders, coasters, and mug rugs.
  14. Choose simple quilting designs to start with.
  15. Come up with a quilting plan before quilting.
  16. Draw out your designs to audition them on paper first; this helps your brain to visualize the design and with hand coordination.
  17. Fill in the background areas with lots of texture. Use stencils and templates if necessary to assist in the drawing of a design.
  18. Use a removable marker to mark designs.
  19. When starting to quilt, always bring up the bobbin thread from the back of the quilt to the top so that there is no thread nest on the back of the quilt. Complete a few (3) stitches in place to secure, then cut the bobbin thread away.
  20. If possible, set the machine speed at the middle setting to be able to have some control over the stitching, and move your hands on your quilt sandwich slowly.
  21. Educate yourself, take classes, read, and watch tutorials.
  22. Practice, practice, practice!

Free motion quilting designs

Today’s 3 free motion quilting designs are your pathway to success and include classic stippling, e’s and o’s, and wavy lines. Draw them out on paper first to practice.

Three pieces of paper with quilting designs include stippling, e’s and o’s and wavy lines.

Drawings for classic stippling, e’s and o’s and wavy lines. Drawings are essential to train the brain prior to free motion quilting on fabric.

SCHMETZ Quilting Needles, Gütermann Thread, on a sewing machine.

Machine set up with feed dogs down, free motion quilting foot and SCHMETZ Quilting 75/11 Needle inserted, threaded with white Gütermann Thread Sew-All and ready to get started.

A package of Gütermann Classic Holiday Collection thread is next to a spool of white thread and a metal bobbin with the same white thread.

Bobbin thread is the same as in the top thread with Gütermann Sew-All Thread being used from the Classic Holiday Collection; ready to get stippling.

About thread

Use any thread preferred if it works with your machine. Gütermann Thread is versatile as it is strong, comes in many colors, thicknesses and types and works fantastic with my machine. A word of caution though, as with any thread, upper thread tension may need to be adjusted, particularly with metallic threads or decorative threads, and you may need to change the machine needle size.

How to free motion quilt

  1. Sandwich the quilt sample by placing one 12” square of fabric on top of the UNIQUE Quilting Therm Fleece, shiny side facing the wrong side of the top fabric (therm fleece is substituting as the batting as it would be used for a quilt). Place the backing fabric under the Therm Fleece with the right side facing down.

Note: If you wish to substitute batting, I recommend 80/20 (80% cotton, 20% polyester, for loft and durability). We are using Therm Fleece as these samples are being made into pot holders and it has fantastic heat resistance for pot holders, oven mitts and mug rugs.

A square of gray textured fabric lies on top of a piece of UNIQUE Quilting Therm Fleece, with a can of Odif 505 Temporary Adhesive on top; Fabric Creations Textured Grey

Quilt sample sandwiched together with right sides of the fabric facing out

2. Spray baste three layers together as shown; a very light spraying is all that’s needed to keep the top layer of fabric adhered to the fleece and the fleece adhered to the bottom fabric. Odif 505 Temporary Adhesives spray is fantastic as you can reposition your fabric; it’s invisible, light and stops your fabric and batting from shifting.

Spray basting a quilt sandwich; Odif 505 Temporary Adhesive, UNIQUE Quilting Therm Fleece, Fabric Creations

Spray basting with Odif 505 Temporary Adhesive

3. Thread the machine, insert a free motion foot and lower the feed dogs (this is essential).

4. Draw out the designs ahead of time on paper.

Drawing a stipple design for free motion quilting.

Starting to draw the stipple design

When I draw stippling, a classic, beginner design for quilting, I think of puzzle pieces and draw it out on paper ahead of time. It’s a continuous puzzle piece design. Start wherever you want to on the paper or quilt and the end goal is to fill in the square of paper or quilt sandwich. This prepares the brain for the drawing and free motion quilting as it will be done on fabric, and is an important step.

A piece of white paper with a stipple design drawn on it.

Stipple quilting design drawn on paper to prepare for stipple quilting on a practice sample

5. Once the drawing is complete, start on a quilt sandwich by bringing up the bobbin thread and stitching 3 stitches in place to secure, then cut the bobbin thread. Refer to the stipple drawing and stitch out a stipple. Make sure to set your machine speed at medium, with your hands gently moving the quilt sandwich as you go.

Important Think of the needle as a pencil and draw the stippling onto the quilt sandwich. There are no feed dogs, so the machine operator controls the movement and stitch length. Once this is practiced many times, there’ll be a rhythm and the stitches will become very consistent. It’s all about practice.

Bringing the bobbin thread up for free motion quilting; SCHMETZ Quilting Needle

Bringing the bobbin thread up to the top of the quilt sandwich avoids thread nests on the back of the quilt

Free motion quilted stipples on a white piece of fabric; Fabric Creations Textured Grey

Free motion quilted stipples should look like this approximately

Another design is e’s and o’s. This design also looks great as strands of Christmas lights.

E’s and o’s drawing for free motion quilting

Completed e’s and o’s drawing ready to sew out on a practice sample

Drawing e’s and o’s quilt designs on a white piece of paper.

How to start drawing e’s and o’s – they can be drawn in a straight line or all over the page.

Free motion quilted e’s and o’s, with a package of Gütermann Classic Holiday Collection thread and a spool of blue thread.

The finished e’s and o’s practice sample, using Gütermann 50wt Sew-All Thread in royal blue from the Classic Holiday Collection

The third design for today is wavy lines. When I first started to quilt, wavy lines were my signature quilt design because I could achieve these easily. As a beginner quilter, I found it difficult to quilt a straight line and therefore I used wavy lines. Wavy lines look great on most areas as a fill stitch. Draw lines vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Cross over the lines in any way with a preferred uniformity and density.

Drawing of wavy lines for free motion quilting practice.

Wavy lines drawing completed before attempting to quilt it out

Drawing wavy lines to learn free motion quilting.

Drawing wavy lines in preparation for free motion quilting on fabric

Note: I used a UNIQUE Sewing Wash-out Marker (Blue) and a ruler to draw the quadrants on the quilting sample as shown. It washes out immediately with a spritz of warm water. It’s an amazing removable blue marker.

A gray textured piece of fabric with blue lines drawn on it and the pen lying on the fabric next to a quilting ruler; UNIQUE Sewing Wash-out Marker, blue

Drawing of quadrants on wavy lines sample completed with UNIQUE Sewing Wash-out Marker, blue. An excellent tool to mark quilts and removes easily with a spritz of water.

Four different wavy free motion quilt designs with a spool of teal thread lying on top; Gütermann Cotton Thread

Wavy designs quilt sample completed with Gütermann Cotton 50wt Thread in Teal

3 potholders with different quilting designs.

Stippling, e’s and o’s and wavy lines on practice samples, made into potholders

That’s it for today. Join me tomorrow when I expand on the 3 designs I shared today, and tackle some versatile spiral designs. I’ll use some Gütermann Metallic Thread, oh so shiny and gorgeous. Spiral designs are so easy and expandable. I’ll show you a simple continuous spiral, how to make some ocean waves and flowers built upon a spiral foundation. Sew much fun!

This is part 2 of 5 in this series

Go back to part 1: 10 key tools for successful free motion quilting and how to use them

Go to part 3: How to free motion spirals on your quilt: 3 dynamic designs

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