Tips for using the free motion foot

Today, we start a new project. It’s a rag quilt and a perfect opportunity to practice free motion quilting. Here are tips for using the free motion foot you don’t want to miss.

The Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q is a fabulous sewing machine for free motion quilting. If you want to learn more about this sewing machine, you can check out this QUILTsocial post when I first introduced the Sapphire 960Q.

Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q

Supplies for the rag quilt

You can make the rag quilt as big or as small as you’d like. I made mine 7 x 9 blocks for a total of 63 blocks.

For each block, you need a 7″ square of backing, a 7″ square of fabric for the front and a 6″ square of batting.

I used flannel for my backing and my top. Flannel is very forgiving when it comes to free motion. The nap and the slightly extra thickness help to conceal a multitude of sins.

Supplies for one block of the rag quilt – backing, front of block and batting

This is a great project to use up scraps. I used up a lot of batting scraps by joining them together. If you’d like to learn how to do that, you can check out this QUILTsocial post.

I didn’t have enough of the backing fabric to make complete squares, so I pieced some of them. Same thing for some of the squares for the top – I simply pieced a couple of pieces together and then trimmed to the correct size. No one will care and no one will likely notice either!

Backing squares and batting squares were joined when necessary

Setting up the Sapphire 960Q for free motion

There are a number of features on the Sapphires 960Q that will make free motion quilting very easy and it only takes a minute or two to set it up.

To set the sewing machine for free motion quilting, I simply touch the Free Motion Technique icon (the bottom left button with the squiggly line).

Choose the Free Motion Technique icon (bottom left)

A pop-up screen appears allowing you to choose between Free Motion Floating and Free Motion Spring Action. I’ve explained the difference between these two in this QUILTsocial post.

I chose the Free Motion Spring Action mode because the thread that I’m using is heavier and the spring action works best for that kind of thread. The feed dogs are lowered automatically. I love that!

Choose the Free Motion Technique icon (bottom left)

This is how the screen looks once you have chosen the Free Motion Technique. The presser foot diagram changes and the Free Motion Technique icon is highlighted in green. The tension is also automatically adjusted and the stitch length remains at the default setting of 2.5 because once the feed teeth are dropped, the stitch length has no bearing on the actual stitch length.

Stitch length is determined by how fast you move your piece of fabric and how fast the sewing machine is sewing.

Settings for the Free Motion Spring Action technique

The Free Motion Technique remains selected even when you turn the sewing machine off and back on again. The Sapphire 960Q will remain in this mode until you turn the Free Motion Technique feature off which is easy to do, just hit the Free Motion Technique icon and deselect the free motion techniques.

Pop up message to remind you the Sapphire 960Q is set for free motion

Taking as many variables out of the picture as possible is one way to achieve great success with free motion quilting. The next variable we’re going to remove is speed. Adjust the speed of the Sapphire 960Q so when you start quilting, the sewing machine will only go as fast as you have set it for. It’s a good idea to mess around with the speed to find one that you’re the most comfortable with.

It’s amazing how many people are afraid to mess around with their sewing machines. Even worse is they think they should know all this stuff.

The more I play with different techniques, the more I learn and I can use that knowledge base to take things to the next step. I just recently read somewhere that if you don’t make mistakes and try new things, you’re not learning. So get some scrap fabric and batting and check out the various speeds. Which one do you like best?

Adjust the speed

Another good tip is to always use your Needle Stop Up/Down feature. If you need to stop for whatever reason, the needle will stop in your quilt sandwich which prevents it from moving when you take your hands off and you won’t end up with a big giant stitch.

Needle Stop Up/Down function is NOT selected (on the right)

Needle Stop Up/Down function is NOT selected (on the right)

You also want to make sure that you attach the Free Motion Spring Foot to the sewing  machine. I prefer the one with the wide open toe so I see my work clearly.

Choosing Thread

One of the things I love about the Sapphire 960Q is that no matter what thread I put on it, I got excellent tension and very nicely formed stitches. I can’t stress how important this is. While you can mess with the tension control on all sewing machines, I would much prefer to not have to.

I usually choose thread based on the color, not on the weight or the brand. In this case, all my backing fabric was the same, so I used the same 50 weight thread in the bobbin for the entire project. That’s the thread on the left. Then I chose heavier weight threads for the top – but only because that was what thread I had in the colors I wanted.

Two different weight threads were used for the bobbin and the top

I decided to be very adventuresome and use the same bobbin thread for all the blocks, but I changed the top thread depending on the color of my top fabric. I used three different brands of thread on the top with three different thread weights: a 30 weight, a 35 weight and a 40 weight. Only one of the threads required that I make a slight adjustment to the tension which I’ll show you in a minute.

Being able to use this variety of thread brand and thread weight is very exciting and so stress-free. The less I have to mess around with tension, the more quilting I do and the happier I am!

50 weight thread was used consistently for the bobbin, top threads varied from 30 to 40 weight

Top threads were all used in the horizontal position

I also love the fact that the stitches are very nicely formed and well defined. That makes the project look awesome even if the stitches aren’t super consistent. We really need to get over that fear that everything has to be perfect!

Nicely formed stitches on the front

Nicely formed stitches on the back

Let’s have a quick peek at that slight tension issue that I had. It occurred when I was using the yellow thread on the top. Keep in mind that in this sample below, I used PINK thread in the bobbin. I don’t see any pink thread – do you? This is the sign of an excellent sewing machine that is able to handle different weight threads (35 weight in the top and 50 weight in the bobbin for this example) and gave me absolutely no thread pops on top.

No sign of the pink bobbin thread

In the example below, you can see that some of the yellow thread came through to the back of the blocks. Mostly when I went around the corners. I could probably have left it like that as it only occurred in one or two spots, but I knew that I could make a slight adjustment and get the tension correct. In this case, I tightened the top tension slightly and it worked like a charm.

A little bit of a tension issue

Corrected by slightly tightening the top tension

Starting and stopping

When you start free motion quilting, you must bring up that bobbin thread to the top of your work. If not, you’re going to get a mess on the underside that is nasty to get rid of. If you have no idea how to bring up that bobbin thread to the top of the work, check out this QUILTsocial post where I’ve explained it.

Always bring the bobbin thread to the top of the work

I’m using the Open Toe Free Motion Spring Action Foot so I can easily tuck those two threads to the back of my work.

Use Needle Stop Up/Down and tuck the threads to the back of your work

Ugly thread nest

An even uglier thread nest

Start by anchoring the beginning of the line of stitching with a few very tiny stitches. This is very easy to do since you’re completely in control over the length of the stitch. Slowly start the sewing machine and move your fabric slightly while you take a couple of stitches.

Once you have your anchoring stitches, you can bring the machine up to the speed you’re comfortable with and stitch to the end.

Just before you get to the end of your line of stitching, slow the sewing machine down and take a couple of small stitches to anchor the end of the line of stitching. Then use manual scissors to clip the top and bottom threads. Scissors can be used on the sewing machine, but I really like to control the length of those threads and I’ll always have a long tail on the bobbin to bring to the top if I cut those threads manually.

The end of the line of stitching is anchored with a couple of small stitches

What to do when the bobbin runs out

You know it’s going to happen. The bobbin will run out at some point and it won’t be at the end of a line of stitching. The question is ‘What to do?’.

The first step to clip all the loose thread ends on the top and bobbin of your work as you don’t want to have loose threads that cause unsightly messes.

The end of the line of stitching is anchored with a couple of small stitches

After filling the bobbin and placing it back in the bobbin case, I again bring that bobbin thread up to the top (sometimes this is hard if you’ve cut the bobbin thread short when inserting it into the bobbin case). I often leave that bobbin thread long so I’m in control of the length at all times.

I start about ½ʺ over the previous stitches. I take one or two tiny stitches to anchor the end, then go into my previous stitches to secure the beginning of the new line. This is best done manually to get the new stitches to follow the same stitch length as the old stitches. Then finish the line of stitching.

Restarting after the bobbin ran out

One last piece of advice

To quilt the rag quilt squares, I started at the outside of blocks and worked my way to the center in a squarish/roundish spiral depending on how I felt. No two blocks look alike – the more consistently inconsistent you are with your quilting, no one can tell which one is the right one! You’ll see the quilting motif tomorrow. Since there wasn’t a lot to hold onto, I did pivot my block for the first row. Normally this is a NO-NO when free motion quilting, but these blocks are small enough that it’s OK to pivot and easier to maneuver. I also used the guidelines on the stitch plate to keep the lines of stitching the same distance from the edge of the block.

Using the Needle Stop Up/Down, the needle would stop in the fabric block at each corner, making it very easy to pivot.

Once I had that first row of stitching, I just moved the block around without pivoting to get the quilting design.

Use the Needle Stop Up/Down to pivot on the outside stitching line for these small blocks

That’s a lot of information to digest, but the bottom line is that using the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q to quilt these rag quilt blocks was so easy that I was kind of disappointed when I ran out of squares.

Not to worry as I have a couple of other projects in the wings that I can pull out. But quilting these small squares is a great way to try a new design or perfect your stitch length and it’s a rag quilt. These quilts are meant to be loved, used as a car quilt, used for the dog. It’s a super quilt to practice on and uses up a lot of scraps. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I used the Sapphire 960Q to sew the rag quilt together. Have a great day! Ciao!

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3:  Tips for sewing Y seams
Go to part 5:  How to make a rag quilt

Related posts

How to make a rag quilt

Tips for sewing Y seams

2 ways to machine stitch a binding on a quilt


Irena Blaszkiewicz August 9, 2019 - 4:35 pm
Thank goodness I've found you. I have a Sapphire 965Q, it seems to have the same features. I'm just learning and playing with the free motion. My first attempts were terrible. I knew it was me. Skipped stitches, it didn't like going round curves, and in fact, the first time it didn't even pick up the stitches. There is nothing else on the web regarding this machine, so this is ideal. Thank you. It has helped a lot. I think I've got it sussed now (ish) Still got lots to learn, and try out and practice.
Elaine Theriault August 21, 2019 - 7:46 am
Irena - so glad that we were able to help you out. Free motion takes patience and practice. One of the most important things to remember is the needle/thread combination. If it's not right, you will have problems. Good luck. Elaine
ConnieDe April 6, 2016 - 7:36 am
Great article...informative!
Quilting Tangent March 25, 2016 - 12:39 pm
Thanks for all the advice and tips in this tutorial.
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