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Practicing free-motion quilting with the PFAFF performance icon

by Sarah Vanderburgh

It takes time and practice to improve at free-motion quilting. I’m by no means an expert, but I’m getting better at practicing! In yesterday’s post, I got the PFAFF performance icon ready for free-motion quilting so today there are no more excuses. It’s the time!

PFAFF performance icon

Doing the same thing every time you sit down to the machine to free-motion quilt won’t necessarily improve your quilting. I used the features on the PFAFF performance icon to try different things and find my comfort level.

Not all free-motion quilting is the same. Sometimes you want to use free-motion quilting to fill in the background on a quilt and you’ll want to use swirls or repeat a geometric pattern. Other times you may want to quilt straight lines around applique or shapes in a panel or even details in a fabric print. I decided that my practice time needed to be divided around these two different purposes so I could get better at both.

I started out with the Open Toe Free-Motion foot. I also practiced with the Embroidery/Sensormatic Free-motion foot – this one is also called presser foot 6A and is included with the performance icon.

Open Toe Free-motion foot and Embroidery/Sensormatic Free-motion foot

The name of the foot also does a good job describing its best feature; in this case, the material of the foot is clear so you see through it and it’s also open toe – meaning there’s no material at the front opening of the foot.

Open Toe Free-motion foot on performance icon

The Open Toe Free-Motion foot attaches to the machine using the screw at the back of the presser foot bar. It’s easier to see in the photo below.

Open Toe Free-Motion foot attached to PFAFF performance icon

I selected the Spring Foot Free-Motion (optional) choice on the menu in the Multi-Touch Screen. How did I know which option to choose? The packaging for the foot told me! But sometimes just the name of the foot will be the clue you need – dynamic, spring, etc.

You can find all of the optional feet on the PFAFF accessory page.

Spring Foot Free-Motion option highlighted

It’s a good idea to have some practice quilting sandwiches ready to use. Layer a piece of the type of batting that you use for your quilting projects between two pieces of quilting fabric. It’s good if at least one of the fabrics is solid so you can see what the stitches look like as you practice. If you can see the stitches on both the top and the bottom it will help you see what type of adjustments you need to make to improve your free-motion quilting.

I also purposely chose thread you can see on the practice sandwich – again to help me learn and improve. Sometimes you might also want to practice with different threads before you use them on a project as well because not all threads are the same thickness and this affects how they stitch out on your quilt.

A peek at selecting threads for a project

With the machine setting selected, it’s time to start free-motion quilting. I started with swirls and was happy to see that I could find a comfortable speed to make them round and not angular. My stitches are quite large but mostly consistent.

Adjusting the speed of the performance icon is easy to do using the slider on the side of the machine. Figuring out how fast the machine should go to match the speed of your hands moving the fabric is one of the things to practice! For me, it’s not that fast 🙂

First attempt at free-motion quilting with the Open Toe Free-motion foot

I drew myself a flower with a stem and leaves to practice free-motion quilting around motifs. I switched to presser foot 6A for this work – it uses the Sensormatic setting.

Free-motion quilting lines with presser foot 6A

I liked the feel of the presser foot 6A and continued practicing with it; with this foot you can hear and feel the difference when you increase your speed enough to have the foot hover over the fabric. I tried continuing the free-motion straight lines into swirls around my drawn flower.

Free-motion straight lines and swirls

The reverse side of the practice panel helped reveal if my stitches were coming out even on both sides. If the stitches look good on the back as well it usually indicates that you have found that sweet spot of hand and machine moving in sync with each other.

The reverse side of free-motion practice panel

I felt pretty confident with this combination of thread and presser foot and think I’m ready for more. The PFAFF performance icon helped push my curiosity into creativity and I’m ready to try free-motion quilting on an actual project.

This is part 2 of 5 in this series

Go back to part 1: Getting ready to free-motion quilt with the PFAFF performance icon

Go to part 3: Oh! Free motion quilting! Oh! PFAFF performance icon!



Joan February 26, 2021 - 7:38 pm

I have this same machine , enjoy sewing on it , but FMQ is giving me pain ! I have the machine set up on a Q- hoop frame by Grace . I have loaded the practice sandwich on with cloth leaders ; it has a stitch regulator ( speed) but my stitches come out too long ! I don’t know what to adjust , Regular sewing I have no problems , please help

Sarah Vanderburgh March 1, 2021 - 5:23 pm

Hi Joan, the performance icon is a great machine with so many features – being able to free-motion quilt with it is a definitie bonus! I’m sorry to hear you are having problems with your stitch length when using it on a frame. I haven’t used it this way so I don’t have any technical advice to give, except that there are several different free-motion options to try. You may need to adjust the speed of the machine as well as try one of the four options on the machine for free-motion quilting. I prefer different options for different types of quilting as discussed in the post, my preference being the sensormatic with presser foot 6A. You can also adjust the length of stitches on the machine and see if that improves your stitch length. With so many options, I’m sure you’ll be able to find one that works for your project.


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