The Sewing Place

FMQ - A guide for the nervous and terrified .... from DOB ... thank you hon!


Free Motion Quilting for the Nervous and Terrified

The following notes are intended as a reference for anyone who wants to try free motion quilting (FMQ) .
They are not exhaustive, and any suggestions for additional explanations or guidance are welcome.

Free motion quilting, like many things in life, gets better with practice.
Do not be disheartened if your first attempts are not perfect.

Before you begin:

Make sure you can sit comfortably at a table that is the right height.
If it is too high you will quickly find your arms, neck, and shoulders will ache.
You should have a good light to work in, and sufficient space round the machine to support the weight of the quilt.

Setting up your machine:

Refer to the machine manual for set up particular to your machine.

•   Drop the feed dogs
•   Attach the darning or free motion foot
•   Thread top and bobbin with suitable thread, same weight and type in reel and bobbin
•   Make sure the eye of the needle is large enough to allow the thread to run easily through it
•   If you have one, fit a straight stitch throat plate
•   Attach the sewing table to the machine if it is not set into a flat-bed table or cabinet. It is very difficult to do FMQ
        without a large, stable, flat area around the needle.

Practice pieces:

Make up some practice ‘sandwiches’.
Use 2 pieces of calico or cotton quilting fabric with a layer of wadding between them.
Hold the layers with safety pins or tacking thread.
The sandwich should be about 18 inches square – big enough to be useful, small enough to be easy to move.

Slide the sandwich under the foot and lower the presser foot.
Some machines have a special setting for the darning foot.
Check the machine manual and make sure you have followed any relevant instructions.

Turn the wheel to lower the needle or set the machine to ‘needle down’ and take one stitch.
Lift the needle and bring the bobbin thread to the top and hold both ends out of the way, then drop the needle again.

Place both hands on the fabric (using gloves with gripping finger tips (eg machingers), will help keep the fabric under control).
Begin sewing, sliding the fabric as the machine runs. You are aiming to control the stitch length by moving the fabric and running the machine at a comfortable speed.
If you move the fabric faster than the machine is going, you will get long stitches.
If you move the fabric slower than the machine is going, you will get short stitches.

You may wish to adjust the speed setting on your machine, if there is one, especially if the foot control is stiff.

To begin with

Stitch loops and curves while you get the feel of things.
Sew in all directions; try simple shapes, or write your name.
Let the machine stop, with needle down, and take your foot off the pedal before you lift and re-position your hands and start again.

Take a few minutes to look at what you have done.
You may notice that the top or bottom thread tension needs adjusting.

Most adjustments can be made using the top thread tension setting.
Try tightening or loosening the tension and stitch a few more loops and see if that produces a balanced stitch.
When you get it right, make a note of the settings for future reference – but remember they may still need to be fine-tuned for fabrics with tighter or looser weaves.

You may also find that the bobbin thread has sewn small loops on curves. This is caused by the needle flexing. Try a stronger (not necessarily larger) needle and a straight stitch throat plate, and try not to sew too fast or drag the fabric on tight curves.

Draw a few designs on your practice piece and try following the lines.
You may find it useful to follow the lines a few times with you finger to plan the route.
Do you have to change direction by backtracking?
Will you have to stop and turn the work to see the lines?
Taking a few moments to think about these things makes the actual stitching easier.

Do not sew for too long at a time.
If you find your arms, neck and shoulders ache, take a break ( :toast:) and remember to relax and breathe as you sew.

Keep practising:

Your first attempts may not please you, but if you do a little practice every day, or as often as you can, you will find you will become more confident and it will become easier.
When you are ready to move on to your first machine-quilted quilt, make a small practice piece with off cuts of the top, backing and wadding and take a minute to check the tension settings and warm up before starting on the ‘real thing’.

Compiled by DOB, edited by Iminei
The Imperfect Perfectionist sews again


Thanks for that it's very useful.
Leah Day advocates not dropping the feed dogs but putting the stitch length to zero. She doesn't like altering the feed dogs for anything it seems. I've tried both ways and for some reason I find it easier by not dropping the feed dogs. I don't know why, it's a mystery.
  • bec likes this
At leisure on the leisure penninsula


By not dropping the feed dogs it possibly helps to keep the fabric in contact with the darning foot.

Will have to try it next time I try FMQ.
Brenda.  My machines are: Corona, a 1953 Singer 201K-3, Caroline, a 1940 Singer 201K-3, Thirza, 1949 Singer 221K, Azilia, 1957 Singer 201K-MK2 and Vera, a Husqvarna 350 SewEasy about 20 years old. Also Bernina 1150 overlocker and Elna 444 Coverstitcher.


I also set the stitch length to zero. I only drop the dogs if I have to with a fabric that catches as my backing, but I try not to do that!


Oh and if you have a particularly complicated design for an area and you're not confident about the lines or remembering it, draw it on tracing paper/baking parchment and pin it to your fabric and quilt over the lines you've drawn. It tears away reasonably well and can help for those tricky bits that need to be super duper exact and if you're not 100% confident of getting it right.

I tend to use it for spelling out names if I am having them in the quilt, or if I have a crazy crazy design and I can't be certain to remember the exact way to go around the design to get it all right!


Does anyone have recommendations for quilting classes for beginners? :D


For FMQ give Leah Day a search on youtube. She's very easy to follow and really loves what she is doing which is handy!


Thank you for this. Keeping it for future reference - you never know!  ;)
Hopefully back more regularly! Ballroom sewing may be permanently paused but bag making is the current focus.


I had a go. I have stipples on previous baby quilts, but I'm still a tad useless.
As you see I got a bit carried away and drew a face. Oops.


Does anyone have recommendations for quilting classes for beginners? :D
While I am sure you can find videos and on-line courses, nothing beats a live person, right there with you. Do any of your local sewing shops offer classes? 

There is a chain-store here (Joann Fabric & Crafts) that does.  I have taken some classes there and found them helpful.
You can't scare me. I taught high school for 32 years.


I have read throgh this and then found Leah Day on Youtube. Putting the 2 lots of info together is very useful but getting smooth evn ststches I am finding very tricky. I am just making teaplate size circles  by the end of the quilt should be fine :[
Trying to find my way on the Dark side


A little tip here from someone who does a lot of free motion!  Make yourself some quilt sandwiches, use up old cotton fabric/stuff you don't like etc and either overcast or bind the edges.  Buy a large reel of 'washaway' thread and use this in the bobbin.  Use thread you don't like on the top/end of reels/wrong colour and FMQ away to your hearts' content!  When you have filled up your sandwich with practice stitches, either dissolve the bobbin thread with water on a paintbrush and pull the top thread off, or wait until you have filled several sandwiches (as it were!) and put them in the washing machine on a quick wash - it's really therapeutic pulling off loads of top thread with ease!

Works for me - I use this technique if I want to work out a new pattern, of if I do any ruler work.

Have fun!
I have learnt by my mistakes: Sewing machines now are Bernina 720, Bernina 1008, Bernina 801 from 1981, Brother overlocker, ancient but works well


Thanks @KayK.
I'm finding it a lot less stressful.
It is definitely not perfect but nothing seems do bad I need to unpick
Trying to find my way on the Dark side


That's a brilliant suggestion @KayK. Many years ago I did a FMQ course at one of the quilting shows at the NEC and have still got the sampler I made to this day as it felt so good and squishy (I'm a very tactile person!!) but it's absolutely no use for anything. I was rather proud of my signature in thread though  8).
On another course I was on I did a FM portrait of Freda Kahlo. I don't do enough to keep my skills up though.  :\
Practice makes perfect @Bjay  :P
So many beers, so little time.


I think what led me to it was the amazing amount of fabric I was wasting.   I did a two year course and the number of sample sandwiches we had to make was tremendous!  I was really niggled at the amount of fabric that was required for me to simply make a bodge of!  It was a good course, but eye wateringly expensive in its list of requirements.  I also did a  Westerlee ruler course which took a lot of fabric as well - had to be plain, good quality quilting cotton & some of the quilt sandwiches were 30" square, and when using a vibrant colour thread any mistakes really shout at you!  Several other of the course members complained about the cost too!
I have learnt by my mistakes: Sewing machines now are Bernina 720, Bernina 1008, Bernina 801 from 1981, Brother overlocker, ancient but works well