How to Do Free Motion Machine Quilting


Free motion machine quilting takes practice to perfect, but it's much less time-consuming than quilting by hand on a quilting frame. By lowering the feed dogs of your sewing machine, you can manually move the quilt in any direction under the sewing needle. Use the technique to follow continuous line quilt patterns or to create freehand designs known as "stippling."

Things You'll Need

  • Quilt
  • Sewing machine
  • Darning or free motion foot
  • Thread

Getting Ready

  • Lay the backing fabric of the quilt on a large surface, such as the floor, with the wrong side facing up. Spread taut and tape the edges to the floor. Layer the batting, then the quilt top.

  • Smooth the quilt out and pin through the layers every few inches, so that the layers will not shift when you begin sewing.

  • Put a free motion foot or darning foot on your sewing machine.

  • Lower your sewing machine's feed dogs. The feed dogs are the rough tracks underneath the needle; they usually help to feed the fabric under the needle, but with free motion quilting, you do not want this. Look for a button or lever on your sewing machine designed to lower the feed dogs.

  • Thread your sewing machine as you normally would.

Free Motion Patterns

  • Buy a stencil or paper pattern at a craft store or online for your quilting, if you desire.

  • Start in a corner and mark the quilting lines on your quilt. Chalk is commonly used with stencils, as it washes out easily. Move the pattern as necessary to mark the entire quilt top.

  • If you buy a tear-away pattern, tape the pattern on the quilt all over.

Free Motion Sewing

  • Roll up the quilt sides, to help control the bulk of the quilt, and leave the middle area open. You want to start your sewing in the middle of the quilt, and sew out toward the edges, to avoid puckering the fabric.

  • Take two or three stitches in one place, to secure the end of the thread.

  • Move your quilt under the needle, following your pattern. If you are having trouble gripping and moving the fabric, wear gardening gloves with rubber grips on the fingers. Another option is to put rubber fingertips, found at office supply stores, on your fingers.

  • Move the quilt freely under the needle in any direction if you are not following a pattern to produce a "stippling" effect.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your thread keeps breaking, change the needle.
  • A busy pattern on the back fabric will help hide any mistakes you might make.
  • If you do not want to hold your quilt together with pins or safety pins, you can use a spray adhesive. Only use this if you plan to wash your quilt once it is completed. Spray the wrong side of the back before placing the batting on, then spray the batting before placing the top of the quilt on.
  • If your feed dogs do not drop, you can put a smooth plate over them. This plate usually comes with the sewing machine. If you do not have one, tape an index card over the feed dogs to cover them up.

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