This is part 2 of a 3 part series on free motion quilting by Sarah Eliza from Edward and The White Bear. Part 1 – setting up your machine for free motion quilting – can be found here and part 3 how to make a free motion quilted binder cover is here. Sarah is a quilter and textile artist who runs patchwork & quilting classes in Leeds & Manchester.
Free motion quilting frees you up to stitch interesting, creative patterns without having to continually turn your quilt through your sewing machine. This article has advice and exercises to start you stitching. If you need information on how to set up your sewing machine for free motion quilting see here.
Remember – with free motion quilting, you are completely in control of the direction and size of your stitches. This can feel a little strange at first and means that a lot of us tense up when we first start– to try and combat this:
– Think about where you are going to stitch before you set off
– Maintain good posture – sit up straight and don’t hunch over your work
– Take regular breaks – little and often is best to begin with
– Don’t forget to breathe!
Start your free motion practice on a quilt sandwich (two fabrics with wadding in between) about a fat quarter in size. Plain fabric is best so you can see your stitching. Place your fabric under the foot and hold on to the top thread. Bring the bobbin thread up to the top by turning your balance wheel until the needle goes into the fabric and back out again and then tug the bottom thread up.
If you have an automatic needle down position, set this now so that every time you stop, your needle will stop in the fabric.
The first few exercises are designed to help you ‘get into your groove’. Do these for as long as you need to get used to the free motion action. When sewing, keep your hands close to the needle for good control.
Exercise 1 – Straight lines
Begin by stitching some straight lines to get used to the feel of your machine. Try sewing and moving your hands at different speeds to see how the stitch length changes. If you sew really fast and move your hands slowly, you will end up with tiny little stitches. If you stitch really slowly and move your hands quickly, you will make huge stitches. Try different foot / hand speeds until you find something which feels comfortable – you are aiming for a regular, even sized stitch, similar in size to quilting with a walking foot.
Sew forwards, backwards, left and right – some directions will feel easier than others but eventually you want to be able to sew comfortably in any direction, without turning your fabric.
– See how straight can you make your lines
– Try some points
– Try stopping and starting mid-line and at a point – see which is easier
– Sew some parallel lines.
Exercise 2 – Curves
As with the straight lines, try different speeds and different directions, then:
– Sew shallow and deep curves
– Try a grid of curves
– Sew random and regular curves.
Exercise 3 – Loopy lines
Sew straight lines with loops
– Now try curvy lines and loops
– Put all the loops on one side of a line
– Try alternating sides
– Stitch small and large loops
– Can you loop in both clockwise and anticlockwise directions?
Exercise 4 – Name
Write your name on a piece of paper without lifting the pen. Then write your name onto the fabric – can you follow the lines to stitch your name? Now have a go at stitching your name freehand.
Continuing your practice
Once you have completed the starter exercises it is time to try some free motion patterns. It is a good idea to try drawing these on paper before stitching them. This will help you to understand how the pattern works.
Double loop the loop
This is like the practice done in starter exercise 3 – stitch a curved loopy line, then every two to three curves go around the loop twice.
Start with a gently curved line. When you want to create a heart, drop down on the line to give yourself some space. Sew half of the heart, from top curve to bottom point, then come back up the other side and set off on your curved line again. Try to stitch your hearts in different directions.
Begin by sewing a circle about 2” across – as you come around the circle spiral in towards the middle. Continue until you get to the centre of the circle, turn back in the other direction and start to spiral out, stitching in-between the lines created on the way in.
These are just a taster of the many, many different patterns which can be created through free motion quilting. To get more ideas to practice and then use in your quilts you can:
– Look at quilts in quilt shows and take note of the quilting patterns. In many shows you can take photographs if they are for your own use. Alternatively draw the patterns.
– Search for free motion quilting patterns on the internet – many quilters have shared patterns along with photograph or video tutorials to go with them.
– Doodle with a pen and paper to make up your own patterns. If you can draw it without lifting your pen, this means you’ll be able to stitch it in a continuous line without starting and stopping.
The best way to improve your free motion quilting is to practice! Little and often is best. See if you can stitch for ten minutes a day. Don’t forget that eventually you have to try your stitching on a quilt – be brave!
Free Motion Quilting Trouble shooting
Sometimes your quilting won’t go right. When this happens, have a look at your stitching to see if you can you see where the problem is? If not, try the following:
– Re-thread your machine
– Change the needle
– Change the thread
– Change the tension
– Take a break!
Fancy a project to make using your newfound free motion quilting skills? Try my folder cover project.