Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

It usually takes about 5 minutes to prepare my sewing machine for free motion quilting…I follow these seven steps:

1.  Clean and Oil-Take apart the bobbin case and use a soft paint brush to remove lint and threads.   Oil your machine regularly–it seems to need more oil for free motion quilting than for regular stitching…but always consult your owner’s manual (do you know where it is?)

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

2.  Insert a single-hole throat plate.  Improves stitch quality.  Not absolutely necessary, but I think it makes a difference.

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

3.  Tape down a Supreme SliderThe Supreme Slider–I always use a Supreme Slider.  It is a teflon sheet that helps the fabric slide while stitching.  It is essential!  It comes in two sizes now–I have the small one and would consider the larger one if I ever needed to replace mine.  The down side -it would require more tape.  The product description claims that the Supreme Slider is self sticking—mine does not stick anymore– so I tape it down with 3M painter’s tape.

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

The photo below:  My Supreme Slider with enlarged cut out opening– The self sticking didn’t work and I stitched the teflon sheet  onto the back of a quilt!  —Hence, the taping!

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

4.  Insert a new needle–(More about needles in an upcoming post.)

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

5.  Attach the darning foot–My favorite is Bernina’s off-set darning foot #24.  I believe other sewing machines have a similar foot.  Any darning foot will work.  (You can even free motion quilt without a foot–but it’s a bit more tricky.)

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

6.  Machine Adjustments:  Lower the Feed Dogs and Set Needle Down Position–In normal stitching (feed dogs up or engaged), the feed dogs advance the fabric.  For free motion quilting, the feed dogs are lowered (disengaged)  and the quilter controls the movement of the fabric.  Some quilters set the stitch length to zero and leave the feed dogs engaged–give that a try.  For my machine…my stitches are better with the feed dogs lowered.

Many sewing machines now have the option to set the position of the needle when stitching stops.  In older machines, whenever stitching ended, the needle returned to the “up” position–the needle was out of the fabric.  In free motion quilting, it is preferable for the needle to stop in the “down” position–with the needle in the fabric.  In that way, the quilt can be repositioned and when quilting resumes, the stitch line remains fluid  (at least that is the goal).

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

7.  Adjust the top tension–I usually need to lower my top tension.  Stitch a sample and adjust the tension every time you start a new project.  The tension is affected by thread, fabric, needle, and batting.  I think it may also be affected by humidity.  I usually leave a wide border on my projects so that I can do the test stitches right in the margin of the project.

Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

The Seven Steps:

  1. Clean and Oil
  2. Single Hole Throat Plate
  3. Tape down Supreme Slider
  4. Insert a new needle and thread machine
  5. Attach Darning Foot
  6. Lower Feed dogs, Needle Down
  7. Make tension adjustments

Voila!  You are ready to take your trusty sewing machine for a little twirl–or if you prefer, try a spiral or a curl, or a Greek Key or…..check out the “Quilt” Tab above for tons of free motion quilt patterns to try…

88 thoughts on “Seven Steps to Free Motion Quilting

  1. thanks so much for these hints….i have the supreme slider, but never thought to cut the opening larger 🙂

  2. Thank you for the reminder of the single hole throat plate. I do often forget that because my old machine didn’t have one but that was only a max 4mm wide machine. On my 9mm I should put it on every time.

  3. Lori, I love your posts! You obviously love FMQ, whereas I find it a chore. You inspire me.
    I have a “SewSlip II” a teflon sheet that I gather is much like the Supreme Slider. When mine lost its stickiness due to all the lint it picked up, I ran it under cold water and it became sticky again.

  4. This is amazing! I just got a Bernina and took my first of three classes. At the end of the class, the teacher showed me how to use my darning foot! I came straight home and got started. I will keep reading…this post has been really helpful!

  5. Thanks for organised set-up suggestions. I am a newbie but quite brave (I think) and already hooked! Love your ideas 🙂

  6. Hi – so useful, thank you. I am new to both the Supreme Slider and the single hole throat plate – I will go and investigate. Also do you have a favourite website for your Bernina spares? – I have a (fairly) old 801 that I would like to get more feet for.

  7. I use a Gammill longarm for my quilting but your motifs and designs are great for the longarm too. Thanks for your great directions and photos that make them so easy to learn.

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  10. I threw out my slider when I sewed it to the quilt! Ok, I’ll buy another one and tape it down. As to tension on my Bernina 830, I’ve had to adjust it even within a single bobbin of thread, and I’m not at all happy about this. I’ve read online that Europeans don’t really quilt the way Americans do, in other words, Bernina has designed their machines to sew best with non-cotton thread. Wish someone could resolve this tension issue for me.

    • Pamela, I stitched mine into a quilt,too and that is why I began taping it down. Good news–a reader recommended the new and improved Supreme Slider so I ordered one–and the new ones are sturdier and stickier. I haven’t had to tape it–yet?
      I did, however cut a larger hole in the middle–about the size of a dime. It wasn’t laying completely flat around my needle and it was “snagging” my quilt. I do recommend it!

    • Pam, as far as your tension issue…I don’t think you should have to change tension within a single bobbin…perhaps a trip back to the dealer. Be persistent! On my Bernina 820, I do have to do frequent tension tweaks. I am taking a class from “The Bobbin Doctor” in Minneapolis. He teaches a two-hour tension class and I understand it’s his most popular class–so we are not alone. I will let you know how it goes…

    • I had the same (Bernina 820 )
      bobbin tension problem, there is a small cream plastic thing in the tool box to change bobbin tension, really need some in to show you but it fits over the very small silver dot in the bobbin case, “lefty loosy righty tighty” changed my life ! and removed all the frustration, good luck!

  11. I love the supreme slider. I use a “supposed to stick down” vinyl product for piecing. When I cut the hole for the needle plate it tore a bit too far, so I raised it up and put double-stick tape under it. Now it works great! Should also work around the hole under the supreme slider. I have always taped down the edges on the slider after I also sewed mine to a quilt.

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  13. Today is the 01/01/2014 I just love your tutorials and all the ideas you have to build our quilting skills,if I ever get a fraction as good as you I will be happy.
    Happy New Year to you and all your loved ones
    Dale
    New Zealand

  14. I’m so glad you linked back to this in Friday’s post — I had never seen it before. Leaving a wide border for “practice” on the quilt edges is a great idea. As for your Supreme Slider — have you tried rinsing it in water and letting it air dry? Mine stopped sticking when it got a film of lint fuzz on the back, but it rinses away pretty easily. I think that suggestion may have been on the original packaging, or maybe I got that tip from another quilter. But the tape is a good backup anyway.

    Also, for some reason I thought you quilted on a Bernina 820 or 830. Am I confusing you with someone else? I’m curious whether, if your machine has BSR capability, you like that feature or not. I hated it at first and had to learn FMQ without it, but then once I had done a whole quilt without the BSR I gave it another try and loved the way it bumped my stitch quality up a notch instantly.

    • Hi Rebecca, Another reader reminded my of the rinsing trick. It definitely helps! Thanks for the suggestion. I do stitch on a Bernina 820 that has a BSR, however I never use the BSR–mostly because I learned without one and when I tried it I found it through off my timing. I am certain that if BSRs had been available when I began FMQ I would have jumped at the chance to use one. Glad to hear you like yours.

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    • Hi Ruth,

      I am not an expert…but I have always oiled my Berninas (and I’ve had four). I oil the bobbin area. What does your manual say? I know they say you can do more damage by over oiling than under oiling, but adding a drop of oil once every couple of weeks seems low risk. I can hear and feel when my machine needs oil–it purrs once it’s been oiled. Please don’t take my advice…but get a third opinion. What model do you own?

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  18. OH what perfect timing for this tutorial!!! After the Venice Area Quilt Guild’s wonderful and exciting Quilt show this weekend in Venice Florida, I hope to begin to learn how to do “free motion quilting!” It’s a challenge and a bit scary as I am rather a new quilter anyway!!!!

  19. I just found the link to you blog and have to say I LOVE the march header stitching. Perfect for the St. Patrick’s month! Great check list for the free motion prep, too. I cannot keep a good rhythm without the slider on tue sewing machine bed.

  20. I have been quilting and want to pretty up the quilt with FMQ. I am at the point on how to incorporate the FAQ into the overall design. After coming across yr site just last night I wasn’t even aware about the loose tension. So it looks like the thread lays like on the top of the fabric. I even took a FAQ class here in orlando florida and that was never mentioned. No wonder I gave up on the FAQ because I didn’t like how mine looked. You explain so much more and I will be trying yr FAQ today. Thank you for explaining how it is done.

  21. Ive just started to practice fnq and something isnt right- i made the sandwich- startched both sides and Im using a darning foot with a new gold emb needle but since the thread matches the fabric I cant see where Im going – plus even though I have a slider under it – its still a fight to move it – what am I doing wrong – thanks Eileen

  22. I washed my Supreme Slider with warm water and it resticks like new. About oiling, good sewing machine oil is made to evaporate so oiling is necessary by owner or by tech.

  23. To all you oilers…my Bernina dealer told me to oil. the manual says to oil and the machine tells me to oil when it starts sounding loud and clickity. I do try to clean regularly and oil after about 8 hours of sewing. I I use the 730
    Love the help Lori provides for her followers. Thanks Lori

  24. Slider no longer sticky?
    I have not tried this as yet, but I have a Silhouette Cameo that uses a mat with a sticky side. I have read that you can rinse it off as suggested and then spray it with a temporary basting spray such as 505 to make it sticky again. Worth a try.

  25. I am thrilled I found your site! I am finishing two Boston Red Sox quilt’s for a lady and have spent restless nights attempting to decide on a border, Your baseball free motion tutorial is exactly what I have been looking to find. I am now one of your followers on FB.
    Thank you!!
    Ann

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  27. I recently found your posts and love them. I have been practicing FMQ on and off for the past year. With a new pfaff machine I decided to get serious until I really “get it”. Your careful, clear instructions and photos have really helped me and I decided to give it a try on a new quilt I was making.
    In all the instruction classes I have taken, I never before heard when making circles, make one clockwise and the next counter clockwise. Just knowing that one fact has helped me so much.
    Thank you for being willing to share your knowledge and talent with us.

  28. I’m not a machine quilter for this step I use my long arm machine, but with your great set up steps I’m going to try. Thanks very very helpfu.l

  29. Just given your site. Very excited I have 750 and am not using it because I just don’t know where to start. But you are helping me to get going. Thanks

  30. If you know someone with two left hands in machine quilting, you know me pretty well. Your tutorials are wonderful, looks so inviting. Although I’m usually don’t making any New Year’s resolution I’ll start 2015 with your tutorials. Thank you for that exciting feeling, and have a wonderful New Year with lots of new ideas!

  31. Lori, I’m so happy to have found your FMQ site. I was fortunate enough to have been given a sit-down mid arm quilter, the Pfaff Powerquilter 16.0. The most Ive ever done previously was stippling, in-the-ditch, grid designs to very small projects, always sending my big quilts out to the long arm lady. No more, I am practicing and reading and hoping to get better (by osmosis, no not really). I’ve taken a few classes on Craftsy and learned a lot, but I really like your style, even tho am not sure how to use your stuff on big quilts. So on I struggle, reading and practicing!

  32. I am fmq on a Pfaff 1469 and cannot seem to get the machine to not skip stitches. I can adjust the tension for straight seam sewing perfectly but as soon as I go to fmq I have skipped stitches on any tension.

    • Make sure your machine is well oiled and cleaned. Try a Topstitch 90 needle. Then off to the dealer if neither of those things work.

      • I switched to a topstitch 80 as this what I had on hand. I had been using a ballpoint since the back of the quilt is fleece. This seems to work better, less skipped stitches. I don’t see any snags up to now. How much chance am I taking not using a ballpoint?

  33. Doreen Dahl, I’ve sewed a lot of Minkee and NEVER used a ballpoint needle, on either my Pfaff or Bernina…! Go figure…

  34. Best tip I ever got for my supreme slider: clean the back with a baby wipe! Works great. Now I keep a canister in my sewing room and after every couple of sessions of fmq, I just flip it over and wipe clean with a baby wipe. A lot easier than running under water. Does a great job and smells good too!

  35. Interesting, the comments about the single hole plate. I have found it to be one of the most important tasks in not only FMQ, but also just about every kind of piecing, ESPECIALLY when you are sewing triangles or anything starting from a point! The points no longer get sucked down into the machine! But recently I made a big mistake…my machine just wouldn’t sew, and I did everything from cleaning and oiling, rethreading (several times) from both top and bottom…after a long time of thinking about it, I realized my single hole plate was still on and I was trying to sew zigzag, DUH!!! It was a very small zigzag, so harder to figure out. I took it in, had it cleaned, oiled, realigned, and tuned up. It is fine now, but I learned to ALWAYS stick a very small piece of paper on the machine near the stitch place, saying SINGLE HOLE PLATE. That mistake is easy to make, and can really screw up alignment on your machine, not to mention break needles.

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  37. Love this info. However I used to get you emails all the time on your blog and they have stopped. I tried to sign up again and get an error. Can you add me to your list?

  38. Recently found your tutorials,etc and absolutely love it! I have a Bernina 820 and so glad to find out that it is “normal” for the tension to have to be re-set for each project. I always “practice” quilt before starting in with quilting just to make sue the tension is correct for the day. I LOVE the idea of using the extra batting/material on the quilt to test tension so that you are using the exact materials and don’t have to make batting/material samples. How brilliant to enlarge the hole on the supreme slider! It took me quite a while to get used to the Bernina 820 (quite a bit of frustration and a few phone calls to the Bernina dealer, etc). I use a baby wipe to clean the bottom of the supreme slider. I note when the sounds of the machine aren’t quite right and use a drop of oil and it makes the purring sound. Thank you for all your lovely ideas. Working on a candy corn quilt (way ahead for next year! HA) and love your spiders and webs. Thank you for all the wondeful sharing, tutorials and help. A devoted new fan. Just now learning to do ruler quilting. PS I open your daily inbox the first thing during the early morning first cup of coffee. It is so nice of you to respond to all the comments!

  39. I don’t have a new electronic machine that has the ability to lower the feed dogs or set for needle down. My machine is 35+ y/o and I do have a cover for the feed dogs but I can’t seem to obtain even stitching. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who don’t own an electronic machine to obtain even stitching? I have the quilters gloves to help me move the quilt sandwich and a darning foot, but the stitching is irregular. I have adjusted the tension for both top thread and bobbin thread, but nothing seems to help.

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  41. I have a Bernina 350 (the Tula Pink one) that I purchased last year. Did very little sewing on it last year due to sickness. I’m great now, all issues resolved, I’m ready to sew. I’m piecing several different quilt tops and will want to try free motion quilting soon. I think your site is my new best friend! I never heard of the Supreme Slider, not even in my BOM class. I will read your information about needles next. Thanks!!!!!

    • How exciting to be embarking on a new project like learning FMQ! (So jealous of your Tula Pink BERNINA!) Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help along the way!

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