Free Motion Quilting Motifs

Now that the PFAFF Creative 4.5 sewing machine is all ready to go with the sensormatic foot in situ and the tension just perfect, I’m ready to play around with some different free motion quilting motifs. I’ll see which I like best and what looks good on the fabrics. Along with picking the motif or maybe more than one motif, I also need to choose a thread that will look awesome on all the fabrics.

The What’s Good For the Gal Is Good For the Guy quilt challenge is definitely moving along and, as the deadline approaches for the big reveal, there is still much work to be done.

Let’s check out some doodling on the sewing machine.

Doodling free motion style

Now, to decide what kind of motif I’d like to use for the quilting on this piece. Do I want an all over free motion design or a variety of designs throughout the quilt?

For these samples, I chose to use a high contrast thread for visibility in the photos. The actual thread or threads I choose will blend in much more and not be high contrast. Tune in tomorrow for the thread selection process…

I could do just good old stippling also known as meandering.


Free motion stippling

Or stippling with hexagons

These hexagons need a little bit of work, but practice will make perfect. Also, drawing them out as a design on a piece of paper prior to stitching helps to get your mind ready for the actual doodling with the needle and thread.

Free motion stippling with hexagons

Or, stippling with geometric shapes

I quite like the different shapes amongst the meandering stitches.

Free motion shapes

Or stippling with stars

I’m not so sure that this whimsical motif of stars is appropriate for this quilt, but, in a way, the design looks a bit like a constellation pattern. Maybe straight stitch stars would be better. Something to think about…

So many possibilities for quilting this quilt!

Free motion stars

Or echo quilting

This can be done either free motion or with a straight stitch and regular foot that has the IDT system engaged. The free motion stitching is more organic looking, whereas the straight stitching would be very uniform and even.

Free motion echo quilting

This is a big decision. Once I pick a motif and start with it, I’m committed for the whole thing because it’s no fun ripping out free motion quilting!

Tips for success

To ensure that the stitches are all uniform and even, set your work area up properly. Because the quilt is quite large – 6 feet square – I will extend the work space around the machine to the same height as the machine. Even when using an extension table, I do this to prevent any drag on the quilt, which can cause short tight stitches because the quilt is not moving freely.

I also always wear gloves with rubber tip fingers to help move the fabric under the machine.

Rubber tipped gloves for quilting

I add a silicone mat to the top of the sewing machine which allows the fabric to move more freely and easily under the free motion foot.

Silicone mat

Always start with a brand new needle and make sure it is the right type for the job and thread being used. For example, I usually quilt with a topstitch 90/14 needle, if I am using a 30 or 40 weight thread, or an 80/12 top stitch, if the thread is 50 weight. Having the right needle and a sharp needle is very important.

Husqvarna Viking has a line of needles called Inspira.

Inspira sewing machine needles

Either the start/stop button or foot pedal can be used when free motion quilting. I use the foot pedal because I can keep a nice steady speed with it.

Start/stop button or foot pedal options

It’s also a good habit to bring the bobbin thread to the top of the fabric when free motion quilting. This prevents any tangling of threads on the back which can make quite a mess.

Pictured below is the closed toe sensormatic free motion foot. There is also an open toed version available, which is what I prefer to use. I find it’s easier to see where I’m going with my stitching.

Bobbin thread pulled up to the top

Going too slowly will result in big stitches.

Big and long stitches

Going too fast will result in teeny tiny stitches. Sometimes when going too fast and getting these tiny stitches, you may also get thread breakage as I did here.

Teeny tiny stitches

You need a balance of sewing machine speed and hand speed to get great looking free motion quilting. Once you find that balance, the sky is the limit for what you can do.

Remember to change the speed control on the machine when you start. Not quite at the lowest speed but one bar up from the bottom to begin. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the speed slightly. I never go full out when free motion quilting; I aim for a nice medium pace.

Speed adjustment window

Free motion quilting is not mastered in one sitting it takes lots and lots and lots of practice and patience.

Now for the big decision on which of the highlighted free motion quilting motifs to choose and whether or not to use any straight stitch quilting as well. As the deadline draws near for the end of the What’s Good For the Gal Is Good For the Guy quilt challenge and the big reveal, I need to get some serious quilting done!

Happy Quilting

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Dana Burgess December 13, 2016 - 3:24 pm
I have just started free motion quilting and really appreciated these tips and ideas. I love the stippling with stars - gonna try it for sure.
Cindy M March 10, 2016 - 11:43 am
I thought that I got longer stitches by going fast and short tight stitches if I go too fast. Can you clarify this please. Appreciate your blog. I am finding some interesting things to work on here.
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