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How to make free motion quilting a smooth operation [Tips and Tools]

by Elaine Theriault

The Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160 is set up, threaded; we checked the tension, and we practiced with the controls. So today, let’s work on an actual quilt and see what happens. Am I a bit excited? You bet! I can hardly wait to get an actual quilt under the 16” throat space.

A white stationary quilting machine on a white table; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

The Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

As I mentioned yesterday, two things can cause us grief when doing free motion quilting. One is not knowing what motifs to quilt, and the second is not knowing your machine. Hopefully, you practiced with some quilt sandwiches to understand how each quilting mode works. It’s pretty easy to learn, so that’s good.

However, choosing quilting designs and stitching them out is a different story. My blog post about The power of paper, marker and clipboard for free motion quilting designs provides ideas on how to practice so you’re ready to go when you sit down at your quilting machine.

You want to start by gathering your tools. I love using my quilting gloves. Even with all the extra space, my hands and the fabric are slippery, so the gloves help me maintain control over the work. The more control you have, the easier it is to get smooth lines of stitching.

My favorite ones are the ones that fit close to your hands. There are many other options for getting a grip on your quilt. If something isn’t working, ask your friends what they use and then try other options. We’re quilters, and we deserve the best!

You also need a pair of snips. Again, there are loads of options, but make sure they work well for you. Some people like to have the snips attached to their shirts with a pull-out cord or a magnet pin, or leave them on the table. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you. Don’t be afraid to ask people for their advice; instead of just getting their opinion, ask them why they prefer one tool over another. That’ll help you make your decision!

A pair of white quilting gloves and a metal pair of snips on a white table with sewing machine; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

Quilting gloves and snips are essential to successful quilting.

The tabletop is pretty smooth, but if you wish, you can add a silicone sheet to smooth out the joint between the table and the machine. Several brands are available, and you’ll have to position it differently than you would for your domestic sewing machine.

A white silicone sheet on the table of a stationary quilting machine on a white sewing table; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

A silicone sheet on the table of the quilting machine

See how it covers the Stitch Regulation sensors? The stitch regulation does not work if the sensors are beneath something other than your quilt.

The two black stitch regulation sensors under a sheet of silicone on a white stationary sewing table with sewing machine; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

The Stitch Regulation sensors do not work if the silicone sheet conceals them.

You can cut out a rectangle at the front of the silicone sheet or position the sheet behind the needle to smooth the joint on the area behind the needle.

A sheet of silicone lies behind the needle and the Stitch Regulation sensors on a white stationary sewing table with sewing machine; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

The silicone sheet behind the needle and the sensors

Now that we have all our tools assembled, let’s look at our quilt.

I picked a small project measuring 26” x 32”. It’s a good idea to start small! You need to get the concept of free motion movements before you tackle a large quilt. I’m not saying you can’t do a large quilt immediately, but I find it helps if you do things in stages. Get comfortable with one thing (in this case, the PLATINUM™ Q160), and then start practicing your free motion.

Although, with all that throat space, it was tempting to pull out a large quilt!

A wall hanging with spools of thread and a sewing machine in bright colors

The quilt for free motion quilting

This project was sitting in my ‘to be quilted’ pile for many years, but we won’t go there! It’s one of the first projects I made, and of course, not having a good quilting machine and no confidence to tackle free motion quilting, it has sat. While I gained the confidence to free motion quilt, this project never reached the top of the pile. I know you can all relate to that!

When I learned to quilt, my teacher told me muslin made a wonderful quilt back because it was inexpensive. WHOA! I used muslin in the past and was never happy with the results. Why? Every little blip shows like crazy, especially if you’re using a different color of bobbin thread or top thread that can show through to the back.

I debated getting a new backing for this wall quilt, but decided to forge ahead and put the PLATINUM Q160 to the test.

A piece of cream fabric

Muslin as a quilt back – friend or foe?

You always want your batting and backing larger than the quilt, but it’s even more critical if you use the Stitch Regulation mode on the PLATINUM™ Q160. I do have a solution which I’ll show you later, but ensure you have at least 3 inches of batting and backing on all four sides. It’s not just for the stitch regulation, but also to have something to hold as you quilt the borders!

Next, take your practice sandwich and test the tension before starting. Sometimes, things change, and sometimes we forget to make changes if there was an issue the day before. Sometimes, we need to know if we’re in the mood to quilt, and we also need to remind our brain what quilting pattern we want to stitch.

Loopy stitching with brown thread on cream fabric; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

A practice run before starting on the actual project

Once everything looks good, place your quilt under the needle. Here’s a great tip on how to position your quilt.

The table for the PLATINUM™ Q160 is 32” wide by 36” long. You can get an extension (18” x 36”) for one or both sides of the table if you frequently do large quilts.

Notice I piled the quilt around the needle. The quilt is not flat, there are no rolls or folds, and the immediate area I’m quilting is flat around the needle. Positioning the quilt like this reduces its drag, making it easier for you to manipulate the quilt around the needle and giving you way more control and precision! You’re only moving small sections, not the entire quilt.

If the project is smaller, like my wall hanging, then do the best you can as it won’t bunch up that easily. The point is to not have any part of the project hang off the edges and to reduce the footprint as small as you can make it while still having room to work.

Be careful you don’t get any of the quilt edges tucked under the area you’re quilting! Not that this has happened to any one of us in the past!

A red, white, and black quilt on a white table for a stationary quilting machine; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

Position the quilt around the needle to reduce drag.

What is the first thing you do when you’re about to stitch? Yep – bring up the bobbin thread. Use the foot pedal or the needle functions on the touch screen. Pull the quilt away from the bobbin thread so you can more easily grab it, and then holding the top and bobbin thread, pull the quilt into position, so the needle lines up with the hole for the bobbin thread. This process prevents messy thread nests, especially on muslin backing!

Two white threads on cream fabric with a purple border, and other bright colors; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

Pulling up the bobbin thread

I chose to do a loopy design as a background stitching in the applique area as it resembled the satin stitched thread. It looked so good that I decided to quilt all the background with the same loopy design. It’s a super easy design, and with the large throat on the PLATINUM™ Q160, it was a dream to quilt. It took no time at all to finish that part of the quilting.

Sewing theme motifs of a tomato pin cushion, a pair of silver scissors, and a black sewing machine threaded with red thread on cream fabric; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

The loopy free motion stitch for the background

I used the Stitch Regulation in the Cruise mode. I used the Pause/Play button and the foot pedal to operate the PLATINUM™ Q160 and found I was equally comfortable with both. For more control in smaller areas, I found the foot pedal easier to use as I could stop and start without removing my hands from the project. In larger areas, I used the Pause/Play to start and the foot pedal to stop — many options to fit the operator and the style of quilting required.

After touching the Pause/Play function, the PLATINUM™ Q160 started stitching ten stitches per inch immediately. There’s no time for hesitation – push and go! Since this was a large loopy design, this stitching mode worked fabulously, and when I was ready to stop, I touched the foot pedal.

A control screen on a stationary quilting machine; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

The touch screen in the Stitch regulation Cruise mode

Once the background was quilted, I knew I wanted to stitch in the ditch around the applique shapes.

An Applique of scissor handles made with silver lame fabric on a cream fabric

The applique shapes need stitches around them

Since the stitch in the ditch requires a lot more precision, I stayed in Stitch Regulation, but this time, I used the Precision mode, and I used the foot pedal to control start and stop. It was so easy to use, and the control was incredible. I’ve never been this accurate on my free motion stitch in the ditch before. Remember, in this mode, the PLATINUM™ Q160 only stitches when you move the fabric.

An applique of a tomato in red and green fabric on cream fabric; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

Stitch in the ditch around the applique shapes

Depending on where and how I wanted to quilt the motifs or the background, I used all three modes – Manual, Precision, and Cruise with the latter two falling under the Stitch Regulation. What is my favorite?

For applique, I prefer using Stitch Regulation in Precision mode and the foot pedal. So easy and super accurate.

For background fills, I prefer using Stitch Regulation in Cruise mode; sometimes, I used the Pause/Play function and the foot pedal to stop and start quilting. It all depended on the size of the area and the level of accuracy I needed.

And other times, I used the Manual mode just because I’ve been quilting free motion in manual mode for years on my domestic sewing machine.

The stitches below were stitched using the Stitch Regulation, resulting in a consistent stitch length.

Quilting straight stitches in yellow thread on yellow fabric

Consistent stitch length

And what does the back look like with the muslin? I’m pleased with the back, as none of the colored threads show up. However, I would never use muslin again because there are so many pretty fabric options, and why shouldn’t the back be as nice as the front (it’s like a surprise)? If there are glitches, they’ll never show on a busy print.

Cream quilting stitches on a cream fabric

The back of the quilt looks great.

Look at how much space I had to quilt this wall hanging with. Yep – I was a kid in a candy store with the PLATINUM™ Q160.

A wall hanging with quilt-themed applique motifs in bright colors; Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

So much room!

I think back to the industrial quilting machine I spotted so many years ago, and while it had lots of space to play with, it did not have all the bells and whistles you get with the Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160.

It was a dream to quilt with this stationary quilting machine.

But wait – there’s more to share with you tomorrow. There are optional accessory feet you can purchase, and tomorrow it’s all about using the ruler foot!

Have a super day!


This is part 3 of 5 in this series

Go back to part 2: Exploring the features and benefits of the Husqvarna Viking PLATINUM™ Q160

Go to part 4: Ruler work: The STRAIGHT talk on quilting STRAIGHT lines


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