5 Free-motion Stitching Tips that Might Surprise You

pokey boltonFree-motion machine stitching is a hallmark of contemporary quilting. But, my friends, it does not always come easily. Practice and experience are key, and if you're like me, you also get by with some help from your expert friends. 

kinard free motion stitchingAs you can imagine, I know many expert free-motion stitchers. When I have a question on machine quilting techniques, one of my favorite go-to gals is Lyric Kinard, because her approach to free-motion stitching is very thoughtful and design oriented.

Lyric walked us through her process on how to use stitch as a design element in a video on our new eMag, Quilting Arts In Stitches Vol. 2, and also shared her 12 tips for free-motion quilting success.  

I'm listing five here that might surprise you. I know the first one will elicit some gasps.

Lyric Kinard's Free-motion Tips 

1. Don't be afraid to adjust your bobbin tension. You can check to see if the tension is right by placing the loaded bobbin case in your hand and lifting the thread. The case should lift but if you give the thread a little jerk it should come back down to your hand. Use the tiny screw driver that came with your machine to turn the screw a quarter turn at a time until it is adjusted to whatever thread you are using. 

2. Practice on a charity quilt. Throw together a bunch of scraps or pull out that quilt you started ten years ago and can't stand the sight of any more. There is someone in a nursing home right now that will greatly appreciate a nice warm lap quilt.

free motion stitching samples3. Have a small fabric and batting sandwich by your machine at all times to use as a warm-up and testing cloth. Use it every time you begin to quilt to test your thread tension and to get into the flow of movements that you will be using for your quilt.  

4. Doodle on paper as often as you can. Set your pen down and don't pick it up until the page is filled with a single line of pseudo-stitching. It is a great way to get your mind in gear for machine quilting and to come up with new designs.

5. Pause the quilt's movement, but not the needle whenever you change direction. Corners and other directional changes are where tension problems often show up. Just slow down and pause for a heartbeat before you head off in the next direction. The close stitches will relieve some of your tension difficulties.

Lyric has seven more tips, plus a video of her stitch/design process that will entertain and inform you. You can get it all on Quilting Arts In Stitches Vol. 2, with zoom and pause capabilities that let you soak in all the details that make an expert free-motion stitcher.

Which of these tips gave you pause for thought? What tricks have helped your free-motion stitching skills? Share your tips and experience in the comments section below.

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6 thoughts on “5 Free-motion Stitching Tips that Might Surprise You

  1. I doodle on paper all the time. I figured that if I can draw it, I can stitch it. Also, it helps with muscle memory. Your hand and your brain already know what they are supposed to do once you move from the paper to the fabric. I teach my students the designs on paper first, so we can talk and analyze the strokes and the movement and then show them on the fabric, repeating the movement as carefully as possible. Then they go and try it on paper before moving to the fabric. Everyone agrees that it helps.

  2. I doodle on a whiteboard, saves paper .. and you can just wipe off and start again ’til you have the design you want, keep it while you are quilting, then start again! … and yes it is all about practice!

  3. The paragraph on testing thread tension confuses me–is the bobbin set up to quilt and then removed to my hand (with the thread pulled to the machine deck)–?? I guess I am being dense–

  4. Vickie, I believe she means to test the wound bobbin after you put it in the bobbin holder but before it’s put into the machine. Just put the bobbin in the holder, pull the thread around until it comes out the hole in the bobbin holder, and perform the test. If it tests correctly, put it into your machine and that’s it.

  5. I really appreciate the tip on pausing before changing directions. I’ve had a lot of problems with thread shredding, and pausing along with setting my top tension to 0 have helped a lot.