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3 key elements to successful free motion quilting


My passport to free motion quilting

I want to have the charity quilt I’m working on finished tomorrow, so I really need to finish the FMQ today so I can get the binding on tomorrow. I believe there are 3 key elements to successful free motion quilting on any domestic sewing machine.

I have yet to meet another quilter who doesn’t want to improve her free motion quilting skills. I not only want to get better at it, I have wonderful fantasies of actually becoming good at it and merging those skills into exquisite works of thread painting!

There’s only one thing holding me back – and that’s me. I need to practice, and practice some more, and quit beating myself up over my free motion quilting. So with my PFAFF Passport 3.0 ready to help me achieve my fantasy, let’s get started.

1.  Have a flat surface – luckily I have an extension table that was made for my PFAFF Passport 3.0. It slips on and off easily, giving me a great work surface with really good visibility.


Extension Table for the PFAFF Passport 3.0
Extension Table for the PFAFF Passport 3.0

2.  A good quilting foot is essential – I prefer the spring action type of foot like you see below. This is an optional accessory for my PFAFF Passport 3.0 but worth it’s weight in gold for free motion quilting.


PFAFF Passport 3.0 with the spring action free motion foot attached
PFAFF Passport 3.0 with the spring action free motion foot attached

3. TEST, TEST and TEST your tension.

I can’t say enough about this step! It doesn’t matter how good you are or how artistic you are in your quilting! If you don’t have a good quality stitch then it doesn’t matter if you have perfect FMQ feathers or pebbles, the stitches won’t hold up in the long run.

The tension is so easy to adjust on the PFAFF Passport 3.0 that it’s a dream to do free motion quilting on it. Just adjust the dial until you find the tension that’s right for your quilt.

The weight of your fabric, batting and thread could all affect your tension, so always, and I mean always, run a small sample through your machine. Don’t be intimidated by adjusting your tension. Once you figured out the correct tension settings through testing you’ll be amazed at your results.

Rule of thumb: If you see top thread showing on the bottom your top tension is too loose, if you see bobbin thread showing on the top your top tension is too tight.


The tension dial on the PFAFF Passport 3.0 is easy to use
The tension dial on the PFAFF Passport 3.0 is easy to use


A great picture illustrating proper tension.
A great picture illustrating proper tension.



I’ve run my tension tests, lowered my feed dogs and now it’s time to actually start the quilting. 3 key elements to successful free motion quilting are very helpful in achieving my mission. I really will be ready for the binding tomorrow. Another great day in my sewing room.



I fell in love with the art of quilting in my late 40s and it opened a whole new world of creativity and friendships. Thanks to this extraordinary way of life, I met amazing women and men I've come to love and call friends. I'm a blogger, long arm quilter, machine embroiderer, and a freelance educator teaching across Canada.


  1. Barbara verstraete

    Great article. Thanks

  2. Cathy C

    I am just beginning to try free motion quilting. I practice and practice!! I love the little tension diagram. I am going to checking my tension a little more closely.

  3. Barbara Archer

    I haven’t tried the spring foot as yet, but am certainly going to try it. Maybe I’ll be able to fmq. Love the diagrams of the thread, keeping for future reference.

  4. Carol

    Interesting article. Hope this is an ok to post a comment for the giveaway entry. Thanks for the chance.

  5. Donna W

    Great reminder to always test your tension. Thanks

  6. Cecilia

    Thanks for the tips. It is a good feeling when you’ve finished quilting your is own quilt.

  7. Diane

    Thanks for the picture – makes the whole process of checking tension a lot simpler.

    Now all I need is practice, practice, practice!

  8. Michele T

    Thank you for ou for these great tips!! I took a screen shot of the thread tension problems and solutions for a quick reference!!

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