How-To Free Motion Quilting – A Recipe for Success

By Linda Pacini, Chris Tryon

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Did you know, that if you can drop the feed-dogs or cover the feed-dogs on your machine you can free motion quilt on it? That means that just about any machine can be used for free motion quilting which is fantastic. Of course, there are machines that are built to do that specifically and they are the absolute best machines to turn to if you want to take your passion to a professional level or if you are simply interested in making the experience more enjoyable.

In this article we are going to get down to the nuts and bolts that can impact your success. I call this the recipe. Let’s start with the ingredients.

• Thread – how it sits on your machine and what spool cap you are using

• Needles – what type and size

• Fabric and Batting – and how you have it all put together

Beyond the basics listed above there are also some additional supplies that make the job easier. Or you can certainly practice and maybe get successful with free motion quilting but these supplies or tools with jump start your success!

• Specialty Quilting Gloves – I like Machingers from Quilters Touch

• Quilting Surface – whether it’s an extension table custom made to fit your machine, an extension table that came with your machine or for a luxury experience, a Koala Studio or Tailormade cabinet with a machine insert that hugs your machine. Each of these add-ons will enhance your ability to manage your quilts size and minimize the amount of weight that can pull on your needle and possibly cause a needle to break.

• Silicone Sheet – assists in getting your fabric to glide on the quilting surface or the machines sewing bed/area – several to choose from – check with your local Baby Lock Retailer to see which one they carry.

Let’s start with the basics:

Thread – Use a good quality thread of a color and weight that works well for your project. This can be 40wt, 50wt or whatever you have on hand, but it has to be good quality! If it is on a wooden spool or breaks easily by tugging at it, consider it a poor choice for quilting. Most important in this is how much thread is on the spool and how you have it feeding on your machine, and super important is the type of spool cap that you are using. When your spool gets low on thread it can tug and cause a needle break. This happens when a large sized spool cap is used on a smaller profile thread spool. The thread has to go up and over the spool cap before it travels on its journey thru the threading path. Another thing that happens with thread spools that get low is they tend to jump or the thread gets stuck and doesn’t wind off the thread spool causing the needle tip to bend and the needle to break. Another reason for the proper spool cap and placing the thread vertical. If that happens, put your thread on a vertical (standing up) spool stand so you can use up all of your thread. Spool caps – they come in multiple sizes to match the caps top/profile on different sized spools. Inspect them often to make sure that there isn’t a little bur or catch on them that can get your thread hung up. If this happens you can file the bur down with a nail file. Many spools have catches to secure the thread, but these can get in the way when sewing. Make sure the spool of thread is position so that the direction the thread is winding off the spool allows the thread to move past the catch and not into it.

Needles – I prefer a needle that was meant for quilting and recommend the Klasse Quilting Needle for the job. Another great needle to try/use is a Topstitch needle. This needle has a large eye which allows the thread to move around and is ideal for heavier threads. Fabric – Prewash your fabric when you can to remove excess sizing which can impact stitch quality. Choose a batting of your choice based on your preference in loft or height of the quilt batting. I like a low loft batting and always choose natural fibers and I believe that it gives the best performance in my projects. Also consider the end/intended use of the quilt you are making.

Basting it all together – using a spray adhesive can impact your machine’s ability to stitch well which is why I prefer using safety pins or machine or even hand stitching my quilt layers together rather than using a spray. If you feel like you need to spray baste, check your stitching on a small scrap of fabric to ensure that your stitching looks good. Another great option to secure quilts and smaller projects is a tagging gun and tags. The tags can be ordered in longer sizes making this method ideal for higher loft battings. A tagging gun is what is used to affix price tags to garments.

Machine Tips:

• Stand your thread up on a vertical spool pin if your thread is not feeding well

• Unplug your foot control and use the Start/Stop button on your machine (if it has one) to stitch. Concentrating on just moving the fabric is easier than trying to regulate machine speed AND movement of the fabric. Start slowly and increase the speed as you get more comfortable and confident.

• Begin stitching with the bulk of your fabric behind the machine and work the quilting toward you. It makes it easier to see where you are, and you lessen the risk of stitching over previous stitching. Position yourself in front of the needle and a little higher so that you are looking down at the fabric and not into the needle.

• Here’s a great tip! Leave feed dogs up (if possible) when developing your skill set. The fabric should move freely under the free motion foot and the feed dogs act like training wheels. When you feel more comfortable drop the feed dogs.

Resources at your fingertips:

Check out this great video from Linda Pacini to learn more!

Lastly, expose yourself to resources that will help you get successful and be sure to check out the videos on SEWED, to get more in-depth information on how to do machine quilting and piecing with your machines. These are some of my favorites:

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