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Free Motion Quilting Basics

The Quilt Sandwich

Preparing the Quilt "Sandwich"

A quilt generally consists of two layers of fabric - a topping which may be pieced, and a backing fabric - with a layer of batting "sandwiched" between.

The backing and batting of the sandwich should extend at least 1" beyond the top fabric (the area to be quilted) on all sides in order to machine quilt. This is because you need something to hold onto as you sew. It is difficult to quilt right up to the edge of your sandwich.

Basting Lines

Machine Basting Before Quilting

Always baste before quilting to avoid shifting and puckering. Machine basting is one of the fastest and easiest ways to baste a small sandwich. Time saved in not basting is usually lost in problems with the quilting.

  • Always use a walking foot when machine basting! The walking foot adds an extra set of feed dogs on the top of the sandwich to help insure that all the layers are fed at the same rate to avoid shifting.
  • Use a straight stitch at its longest length, and reduce the top tension. Some machines have a preset basting stitch - use it if you have it.
  • Start by stitching a line down the center from top to bottom, then another line across the center from side to side.
  • Now stitch a line from corner to corner and repeat for the other two corners.
  • Define your quilting area by stitching around the area to be quilted.
  • Sew basting lines every 2-6 inches, creating a grid.
Free Motion Sewing Feet

Setting up Your Machine for Free Motion

  • Change to a free motion or darning foot.
  • Lower or cover your feed dogs.
  • Choose a straight stitch (stitch lenght does not matter). Reduce top tension slightly.
  • Put in a new 80/12 sharp or 75/11 embroidery needle for most quilting. An 80/12 metafil /metallica or 90/14 topstitch needle will work well when using metallic threads.
  • Bring your bottom thread to the top. Try tapping the foot pedal so that the needle takes one stitch, down and up, then pull on the top thread until it pops the bobbin thread to the top.
  • Holding both threads securely, take 3-4 stitches in place to tie off the threads.
Positioning Hands for Free Motion Quilting

Free Motion Stitching

To do free motion quilting, you want to move your hands slowly while the needle moves relatively fast. Stitch length is dependent upon the speed of the needle and the speed with which you move the fabric.

  • Fast hands, slow needle = long, jumpy stitches,
  • Too Slow hands, too fast needle = tinsy, tiny stitches
  • Slow hands, relatively fast needle = stitches that are just right!

Use your hands in a L-shaped position to hold the fabric taut. Both hands should move as one unit. You can move your hands from side to side or forward & back, but do not rotate the cloth.

If you need to rotate the cloth, stop with your needle down in the fabric and pivot, then start sewing again. Don't pivot the fabric while sewing because this is a great recipie for puckers.

Free Motion Quilting Patterns

Practise drawing quilting patterns on paper with a pen or pencil until you can easily draw them freehand. How is the design really shaped? Tracing the pattern teaches your hand the movements. If you cannot draw the design with a pencil, which we've all used since childhood, it will be even more difficult to draw the design with your machine.

All contents © Karen Williams unless otherwise noted
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Last Updated: January 18, 2012