Free Motion Quilting – The Secrets of Success



These notes are a companion to my lecture. It is recommended that you attend my lecture to get the full meaning of the following notes

Below is a list of the Top Tips for Successful Free Motion Quilting. Applying ALL the tips at the same time is the real secret for success.

Let’s get started:

Extension Table – An extension table that attaches to your sewing machine is a must. Your left hand needs a solid flat surface to the left of the needle. The sewing machine’s bed is not wide enough.

Quilting Gloves – A must. After all, it is your hands that control the stitch length. The stitch length will be erratic if your hands slip

Sew Slip- Free Motion Slider: A slippery sheet to cover the bed of the sewing machine. The “Sew Slip” has a non-stick top surface which is bonded to cured silicone. The tacky back holds the “Sew Slip” to your machines surface. “SewSlip” eliminates the drag on your free-motion sewing and quilting projects. Best of all, you don’t need to tape the “SewSlip” down to have it stay where you put it.

Drop the feed Dogs – If you leave them engaged they tend to fight against you when you move the quilt sideways and backwards

The backing and batting should be at least 2” larger all around the outside of the quilt. This will give your hands something to grip. If there is little or no extra batting and backing, you will not be able to do your best stitching around the outside edges of your quilt.

Your frame of mind: If you are a novice, take on this new experience like a five year old kindergartener. Be excited, and proud of every stitch. Be proud of every scribble, as you progress, your scribbles will become calligraphy! Have fun, no negative thoughts allowed!

Like a pilot working towards his license, you need to put in the time. As the hours pile up, so will your skills.

Now that I have convinced you to get started, here are more secrets for success:


  1. The machine should sew at about ¾ speed, quite fast. (This can be set on the speed control slider or button) Your hands however should move the quilt at a slightly slower, steady speed.
  2. Engage the needle down function
  3. Bring the bobbin thread to the top of the quilt, hold onto the threads, sew a few stitches, stop, snip the threads and continue to stitch
  4. Your hands must move at a steady but slower speed.
  5. Never let go of the quilt while you are sewing. Don’t lift your hand(s) of the quilt while the needle is going up and down.
  6. Only quilt between your hands, not above your finger tips or below the palms. Simply “STOP” reposition your hands, and continue stitching
  7. Never rotate the quilt while you are stitching. Although you may be practising on a small piece and you see no reason why you shouldn’t rotate the fabric, keep in mind, once you have a large quilt in your machine YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ROTATE THE QUILT WHILE STITCHING. So don’t develop a habit that will make you feel uncomfortable and awkward.
  8. Tackling a very large quilt in a very small machine: Start at the center of the quilt and stitch towards the right only. Give the quilt a ¼ turn and start back at the center. Repeat a total of four times until you have the center 2/3 of the quilt done. Then quilt the outside perimeter of the quilt in a clockwise manner.
  9. More on the subject of speed: When Quilting to a point or around a corner of a quilting motif such as a star or a flower, do not slow down your speed. How fast you move the quilt compared to how fast you are stitching should not vary. If you do, the machine will place several extra stitches at the point of a star or as you slow down for the curve. This is manifested on the underside, looking like mini French knots of the top thread!
  10. This tip is for those of you who have an older machine. Always remember to put the presser foot down. Every time you stop or pause your quilting, your right hand reaches to lift the presser foot. It is an automatic reaction. When you resume quilting, you may forget to put the presser foot down. Why? #1 you may not remember putting the foot up and #2 the foot looks like it is still DOWN because of the loft of the quilt under the foot. Why is this important? Presser foot down means that the tension is engaged. Presser foot up means NO TENSION ON THE UPPER THREAD. Result? A big jumbled mess of TOP THREAD on the UNDERSIDE of your quilt. My tip, always give the presser foot lifter a quick stroke with your hand before you resume quilting, just to make sure it is down.
  1. Aurifil thread is wonderful for piecing and quilting. I use 50 weight, the finest Aurifil thread if I don’t want my stitching to show much. It is also great for quilting in the ditch and quilting that back tracks over previous stitching, less bulk. The 40 weight (on the green core) is the favourite for free motion machine quilting, the stitching will show just enough and definitely adds texture to the patchwork.  The 28 weight (on the grey core) is heavier and is best for bold quilting, when you want to show off “the stitch.”
  2. The 50 weight on the orange core is the #1 winner for the piecing of your quilt. It is so fine and strong and adds no bulk to the seam. This allows you to press your seams as flat as they can possibly be, adding to the accuracy of your piecing.


Happy Quilting!


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