6 tips to set up the sewing machine for free motion quilting

Welcome back! This week is going to be all about free motion quilting. To some quilters, free motion is similar to a four-letter word, but if you have the proper knowledge, you can easily build the skills necessary to quilt like a pro. I’ve got 6 tips to set up the sewing machine for free motion quilting that will make the job easier for you! I’ll be using the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930 for my free motion exploration.

I’ll have tips on threads, needles, marking  and much much more. There’s a great project at the end of the week for you to get some practice at free motion quilting. 

Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930

From all the students I have taught over the years, their biggest issue has been how to regulate the stitch length. While consistent stitch length is important, there are many, many factors that can influence the look and appeal of your free motion quilting that have nothing to do with stitch length.

Many years ago when I purchased a sewing machine, I was very disappointed with the way it did free motion. I had skipped stitches, I had thread breakage, I had tension issues and I had no idea why or how to fix them. I’m going to provide you with some information that will allow you to understand why those issues occur and how to fix them – even better – how to prevent them from happening.

Let’s face it – if you run into problems and don’t know how to fix them, the chances of you liking free motion are very slim.

When I first started to quilt, I blamed the dealer for selling me a terrible sewing machine. Someone had to take the blame for my frustration! However I learned over time, that 99% of the issues are easily fixed with a bit of knowledge, experimentation and tweaking.

Let’s get started!

Tip 1 – enlarge the sewing space around the needle

If you look at the Sapphire 930 above, you can see that there isn’t a lot of room to the left of the needle. While this is okay for regular sewing, there’s no place for your left hand to rest when you’re trying to control your fabric when you’re quilting.

Husqvarna Viking has a gorgeous sewing table that’s easy to add to the Sapphire 930. Simply remove the tool box from the back of the sewing machine and add the table. Very quickly and easily, you just enlarged the sewing space!

Why is that extra space necessary? If you want to remain in control of your work, you don’t want your quilt to be falling off the left hand side of the sewing machine. By having this space to the left of the needle, you can use both hands to control the fabric. It’s like driving –  having two hands on the steering wheel of your car gives you better control than just one. 

I can’t stress this fact enough. I’ve seen students arrive at class with NO extension table. While some didn’t think it was worth it to bring the table, others don’t even have one and do not realize the importance of having one. This beautiful table by Husqvarna isn’t that big or heavy and has no feet to get broken off in transport. Perfect design to slip into your project bag.

A larger work surface allows for better control with free motion quilting

Tip 2 – use the single hole stitch plate

This is usually an extra accessory but well worth purchasing for your sewing machine. The large oval space that comes with the general purpose stitch plate allows greater movement of your fabric during the quilting process and the stitches may not be well formed as they could be. The fabric cannot be pulled down into the bobbin case when stitching, which can distort the stitch and even result in skipped stitches. While there are other reasons why skipped stitches occur, the single hole stitch plate can help to eliminate skipped stitches.

Some people shy away from this stitch plate because they are afraid of breaking needles. You’ve had it happen to you – the needle flexes and catches on the stitch plate hole and breaks. That’s why we’re going to discuss needles later this week so you can understand just how much or how little flex is necessary. Needles should not be breaking and I’ll help you figure out why!

Single hole stitch plate

Tip 3 – choose the appropriate free motion foot

There are different styles of free motion feet that can be used depending on the type of quilting that you will be doing. There are seven feet for the Sapphire 930 and you don’t need them all, but that would be nice. I’ve provided a brief outline of what they do. You can find more information on the links to the Husqvarna Viking pages.

There are also two major types of free motion feet that can be used on the Sapphire 930 and it’s very important to understand the difference between the two.

There are free motion floating feet and free motion spring action feet. So what’s the difference and where do I use each of them?

Free motion floating means that the free motion floating foot will float over the fabric when used at higher speeds. When the sewing machine is at a lower speed, the foot will raise and lower with each stitch to hold the fabric on the stitch plate.

Free motion spring action foot works with the up and down movement of the needle thanks to a spring and an arm that sits on top of the screw for the needle.

The  spring action feet work much better with thicker or specialty threads. It’s very important to have at least one floating and one spring action feet in your tool box. You would be surprised at the difference they can make to thread breakage.

These first four feet are free motion floating feet. Notice there’s no spring on these feet. Some of them snap onto the presser foot ankle while others require that the ankle be completely removed.

Below is the link for you to follow if you want to get more details on each foot.

Clear Open Toe Free Motion Foot Item #: 412860645

Clear Open Toe Free Motion Foot – no need to remove the Presser Foot Ankle. Just snap on this foot and go!

Open Toe Stippling Foot (Floating) Item #: 412801045

Open Toe Stippling Foot (Floating) –  you’ll need to remove the Presser Foot Ankle to use this foot. Like the previous foot – it’s easy to see where you’re stitching as the front of the foot is open. When you bring up the bobbin thread, it’s easy to tuck those threads behind the foot. When the foot is closed, this is much harder to do.

Free Motion Echo Quilting Foot Item #: 413320245

Free Motion Echo Quilting Foot – There’s some great information on using this foot on the provided link. I love this foot with all the lines – it’s perfect if you want to do echo quilting around applique shapes.

Check out the photo below to see how the cup shape allows you to skim over the edges of applique without the foot catching on the edges of the applique. If you quilt a lot of quilts with applique – then you must have this foot. Even a quilt with bulky seams would be easier to quilt with this foot.

Free Motion Echo Quilting foot glides over the edges of applique shapes

Free Motion Guide Foot (Floating) Item #: 412576445

Free Motion Guide Foot (Floating)  – this is a great foot if you’re echo quilting. Lots of guidelines to keep those lines evenly spaced.

While it would be great to own all four of these free motion floating feet, I would be happy with two of them. I would take the Open Toe Stippling (Floating) foot and the Free Motion Echo Quilting Foot.

And now let’s have a look at the spring action feet.

Open Toe Free Motion Spring Foot (Spring Action) Item #: 413037646

Open Toe Free Motion Spring Foot – this foot is open in the front which gives you a great view of your work area allowing you to get into small nooks and crannies and see where you’re going. It also allows you to tuck those top and bobbin threads to the back to get them out of the way when you start to quilt.

Closed Free Motion Spring Foot Item #: 413385645

Closed Free Motion Spring Foot has a small footprint which some people prefer because they feel there’s better visibility with the smaller foot.

Sensor Q Foot – Item #: 413192045

Sensor Q Foot – this foot can be used for embroidery, but is useful in free motion quilting when using thick fluffy batting.

Again – it would be great to own all three spring action feet, but I would probably be happy with the open toe free motion foot. Make sure that you have at least one spring action foot in your tool box. It can make a huge difference to the quality of your free motion stitching.

Make sure that you know how to install these feet properly. Because the spring action feet work in conjunction with the movement of the needle, the arm on these spring action feet must sit over the screw that holds the needle in place.

If in doubt – check with your dealer. These feet must be installed properly or they will not work!

Correct position of the spring arm on a Free Motion Spring Action foot

Tip 4 – set the Sapphire 930 to the appropriate free motion mode

Depending on the type of free motion foot you’re going to use – floating or spring action, you must set the Sapphire 930 to the appropriate setting. These settings are found in the SET Menu. You can choose one or the other but make sure it corresponds to the foot you’re using.

Machine set to Free Motion Spring Action

Machine set to Free Motion Floating

If you turn off the Sapphire 930 when you have one of the above two modes selected, you’ll get a reminder the next time you turn on the sewing machine.

Pop up message that sewing machine is set for free motion quilting

Tip 5 – drop the feed dogs

When the Sapphire 930 is set to either of the free motion modes, you’ll see a prompt on the Graphic Display suggesting you drop the feed teeth.

I have heard many discussions on whether or not the feed teeth should be lowered. When the feed teeth are lowered, the stitch length control is not activated. That means the stitch length is controlled by how fast the fabric is moved and the speed of the machine. More on that later.

Let’s say that we left the feed teeth up. That means the stitch length is set to a certain number. Under normal circumstances the length will be consistent because the feed teeth will be evenly feeding the fabric. In the case of free motion quilting, the operator is moving the fabric so the feed teeth are doing what? Some people feel they are in more control if the feed teeth are up and if that makes them happy then leave them up.

My opinion is that leaving the feed teeth up while doing free motion quilting is just providing additional wear on the feed teeth and you’re getting no benefit from that wear and tear.

Drop the feed teeth symbol

Tip 6 – use the Needle Stop Up/Down function

Make sure you engaged the Needle Stop Up/Down function. This is imperative to achieve good free motion quilting. The Sapphire 930 has this built-in feature which is way easier than having to manually put that needle into the fabric every time you stop.

Why is this important? If you have to stop and you’re working on a big quilt or even small blocks, if the fabric moves when you take a moment to collect yourself, then you end up with a big stitch which is time consuming to get rid of. If you stop with the needle in the quilt, then the quilt cannot move until you raise the needle. A big, big advantage to having a nice looking quilt.

Once you start to sew or quilt with this feature, you won’t want to sew without it!

Needle Stop Up/Down Function

For those of you who think free motion is scary – this first part was pretty easy, right? Making sure you have the right tools and have the correct settings on the Sapphire 930 is the first step to having fun with free motion quilting, so hopefully, these 6 tips to set up the sewing machine for free motion quilting have helped. Join me tomorrow…I’m going to chat about thread. We’re going to look at how to thread the machine and what kind of thread to use and with which foot. Have a great day! Ciao!

This is part 1 of 5 in this series.
Go to part 2:  5 things you need to know about thread when free motion quilting

Related posts

Top 10 reasons why I love the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 930

3 tips for machine applique using non-traditional stitches

11 tips for blanket stitch applique


Laura White September 3, 2020 - 4:26 pm
This article was so helpful! I own the Sapphire 930 and now I can't wait to try (and hopefully enjoy) free motion quilting! Thank you!
Diane H May 27, 2019 - 12:03 pm
Great post! Will find and read the rest of the series. I have a single hole plate, but didn't know it was to be used for fmq. Thanks.
Suzanne November 15, 2018 - 5:15 pm
I've been sewing for almost 60 years and quilting for only 2, but I LOVE it! I have a different machine than yours (a Brother Innovis VQ3000), which has all of the same features as yours except the Sensor Q Foot. It's a fabulous machine for quilting - it has an 11.25" throat space and sews like a dream. I use the single stitch throat plate and was trying out almost every FMQ foot that came with the machine but remained frustrated with my results UNTIL I saw a posting on Pinterest which described how to change a spring foot into a floating foot. I thought, "what the heck, nothing else has worked for me so why not risk it?" I went ahead a made the change to my open toe FMQ foot and suddenly - I could do it!!!! And it was easy! My results still leave something to be desired but I'm improving and am no longer frustrated. I realized that my ancient eyes cannot "track" the needle when the foot is bouncing up and down; I was unable to focus on where I was going with the fabric. It was definitely a Eureka moment and I haven't looked back since. Now all my FMQ feet are floating and that works perfectly for me. I know others prefer a hopping foot but I believe it's just like anything else. Some say "to-maah-toe" and some say "to-may-toe". We are all different, what works for one doesn't for another but that difference is marvelous, don't you think? If we were all the same, there wouldn't be so many beautiful quilts in the world or lovely ideas and tips to share with one another. Thank you for your superb hints. As a relative newbie, I know I have much to learn.
Carla A. Canonico November 19, 2018 - 4:04 pm
Thank you for your story Suzanne, so glad you found the right foot for your needs! I'm sure many of our readers have experienced the same. Thanks again for visiting QUILTsocial!
Susan Beheler July 26, 2018 - 11:10 am
I have a 690Q machine and purchased a Westlee low shank ruler foot template set. Even with a supreme slider, I am having difficulty moving the quilt and as a result I am having difficulty keeping the templates in place. It seems that there should be a way to increase the spacing between the quilt and the ruler foot. Can you help me? Thanks
David May 16, 2017 - 10:01 pm
Great tips. I also have the Sapphire 930 and love it. I'm fairly new to free motion quilting. I have a large extension table (not the one that is made for the Sapphire. It's a generic table that can be adjusted to most machines. I really like it because it's quite large and it's made from clear plexilglass that I also use as a light table for tracing. I also use the single hole plate. I have broken needles but that is because I kept moving the quilt the same speed while slowing the machine. Also, I was using 70/10 microtex needles because I'm using 100 # silk thread and I don't like the large hole that larger needles leave. As for the feet and the feet settings, I do use the floating setting for floating feet but I don't like to use the hopping setting because of the delay that the machine does after you press the pedal but before it starts moving. I just seem to have trouble getting into the rhythm with the delay. I like to press the pedal and start moving. I also always use the needle down option and I always drop my feed dogs. Again, thanks for the tips.
Sarah C April 3, 2017 - 4:45 pm
Thank you lots of get tips my FMQ is terrible so every tip helps
cathy March 23, 2017 - 9:38 am
Can I use the embroidery foot "R" for free motion quilting or for sewing in the ditch on a quilt?
Kristen January 29, 2016 - 5:12 pm
I got a free motion foot years ago but have always been frustrated whenever I tried to use it. Thank you for the tips. Now I'll see if my 12 year old basic Kenmore will work. I have always wanted an extension table but they are so expensive! Any brands that are less than $25-$30?
Carolyn DiPerri August 19, 2015 - 10:04 pm
Great information on free motion quilting. I never realized how many different free motion feet there are. I can't wait to hear about the needles!
John De Fusco August 28, 2015 - 12:02 pm
You said it Carolyn! There's always so much to learn, even when we think we pretty much know everything!
Sue @ Sewing Furniture August 17, 2015 - 7:54 pm
I haven't done any free motion quilting, but this is a good tutorial to get started. Thanks!
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