A couple of years ago I decided I was ready to learn Free Motion Quilting (FMQ). I didn’t understand it exactly, nor was I sure how to achieve it, but I was willing to give it a try. It really came from a desire to have the entire finished quilt come completely from me, rather than it being a combination of my piecing with someone else’s quilting.
So just what is Free Motion Quilting? Free Motion Quilting is the process of using your domestic machine to quilt the quilt sandwich without the use of feed dogs. Here are some excellent resources that I think you’ll need as you try it out.
- Leah Day’s Free Motion Quilting Project is site packed with videos of Leah free quilting hundreds of free motion design. These are quality. videos explaining tips and techniques to make your FMQ go well. Oh, and the designs are pretty wonderful too.
- Amy Johnson’s YouTube channel is another great resource for Free Motion Quilting videos. An added bonus here is that she also shows Ruler Work on a domestic machine using the Westalee Ruler foot and rulers.
- Free Motion Quilting Idea Book – Amanda Murphy
I love this book for its multiple quilt designs for some very common quilt blocks. The progressive instruction is extremely friendly for those who are new to free motion quilting.
BONUS: Besides the block designs, this book shows common background fills beyond meandering and stippling that make quilts so much more exciting to look at.
- Continuous Line Quilting Designs – Hari Walner
This is my go-to book for beautiful designs that are easy to stitch. Hari also includes instructions and comparisons of batting, fabric, and thread.
BONUS: She provides a simple chart with copier size percentages for expanding or shrinking the design to fit your quilt. It’s easy to make your own stencils from the scaled designs you can make on this copy machine.
- 1000 Great Quilting Designs – Reader’s Digest
Don’t let the size of this little book fool you; it’s chock full of simple designs organized by shape. Use them individually or combine them to create fun new quilt designs.
BONUS: This book also contains edge-to-edge designs you can use if you don’t want to quilt individual blocks.
- Over 150 Quilting Designs for Every Quilter – AQS Blog
Ok, so this is not actually a book, but this page has links to more than 150 wonderful designs. This has 25 different designs for each of these blocks: Flying Geese, Ohio star, Square in a Square, Churn Dash, Hourglass, and Nine-patch blocks.
BONUS: There are also some videos on this page from iQuilt instructors with some very useful tips.
Machinger’s Quilting Gloves – I use Machinger’s because they’re so lightweight and breathable. Fon’s and Porter also makes quilting gloves. Trust me, this is the best $6 investment you can make for FMQ quilting.
TIP: cut off the tip (about 1″) of the thumb and forefinger on each glove so you can wind bobbins, replace needles, and make cuts without having to remove the gloves each time.
Supreme Super Slider – This self-sticking teflon pad naturally adheres to your machine bed without residue and enables the quilt to move more smoothly under the needle. There are three sizes for this at different price points, so read carefully and choose the best size for your machine.
Topstitch 90/14 needles are sharp and have a large eye that makes it easier for the thread to move back and forth during free motion quilting. Any brand will do but I usually stick to Schmetz. Superior Threads has some great education on needles that’s an excellent free read. They also sell some titanium topstitch needles that I’ve been itching to try.
Aurifil Mako and Superior Threads Masterpiece cotton threads, 50wt or occasionally 40wt, are what I usually use. I’ve also just purchased some Wonderful Spaghetti 12wt thread to try some specialty quilting with. Look for it on my upcoming Peppermint Dash quilt. You’ll need to experiment a bit for this, since some machines can be finicky. After trying several, I’ve settle on these brands for use with my Pfaff.
Practice panels like the ones listed below from multiple vendors are a great way to start to get comfortable with Free Motion Quilting. The designs come pre-printed on the fabric, so it’s quick and easy to sandwich the panel with some inexpensive batting and backing so you can get right to the quilting.
What’s also nice about these panels is they teach you common free motion designs that are easy to translate onto your real quilts later when you’ve gain confidence. Here’s a panel designed by Jane Hauprich, an FMQ instructor and HandiQuilter National Educator – I took some of her classes! This panel is available at Connecting Threads or you can get it at Jane’s site, where her wonderful workbooks are also available for purchase.
You can also use any regular quilting panel that you might buy to include in a actual quilt. Whatever you can find that is already marked with lines is perfect because the real purpose of these is to get to know your machine, its rhythm, and how to you must move the fabric to get the designs you want. Pre-printed is really the way to get started quickly without a lot of fuss.
I also like this modern, colorful one from Bernina, designed by Amand Murphy, whose book I mentioned earlier in this post. It’s available exclusively at Bernina dealers. So if you’re in Charlotte, Hickory, or Shelby stop in at Lee’s Creative Sewing & Vacuums to pick up one of these two colorful, fun panels. I’ve got one right now in progress. When it’s done, I’ll machine bind it for a nice little throw quilt to either keep or give away.
Finally, there’s a set of three, inexpensive, Skill-buider panels that also have pre-printed designs. This is what I used when I began free motion quilting. Since I was just working out how to adjust my tension, it’s a good thing I began on one of these bare-bones panels because the back was a chaotic mess of too much thread! But that was okay – I learned without ruining a quilt top. Working through the various designs helped me gain confidence to continue on my Free Motion Quilting journey.
Get a panel, watch a video, and try it out yourself. You’ll find out how it can be both fun and occasionally frustrating. But in the end, it will make you a better quilter all-around. Promise.
Check back next week for some tips and photos about setting up the machine to prepare for Free Motion Quilting.