free motion frustration!

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Zoldesign wrote
on 13 Oct 2009 7:51 AM

I am using an Elna machine, feed dogs down, special "foot" attached, ready, set, go...oh man!  Even with the foot lowered it doesn't sit on the fabric.  Maybe an 1/8" away from it when the needle goes down and as much as 1/2" away when the needle comes up.  My fabric "pops" up and down with the needle.  It seems like it would be easier if the foot would rest on the material so the needle could move smoothly up and down.  Am I doing it right?  Does everyone's material go up and down with the needle?  It is hard to get any rhythm going with the stitching.

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Posts 32
on 13 Oct 2009 8:42 AM

Hi Zoldesign, you need to place your fabric in a hoop and make sure it is very taught. This will avoid the fabric coming up and down with the needle.  I assume you are using a single thickness of fabric?

The only time you need not place fabric in a hoop to free motion, is when you are stiching through fairly thick fabric, or craft vilene, or several layers of fabric together.

The embroidery foot is supposed to hover over the surface and moves up and down with the needle bar.

I am sure this will put things right for you so you can really enjoy free-motion embroidery...It's just a great and very creative machining technique.

Let us know how you get of luck.


Jill Amanda Kennedy

Jill Amanda Kennedy

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Posts 28
on 14 Oct 2009 12:28 AM

Hi, Zoldesign.  Are you free motion quilting or embroidering?  Not that it makes much difference.  Follow Jills advice, she is an expert!  But you may like to have a look at  for free motion quilting    for some added inspiration and tips to try If you are embroidering,  start with some practice fabric and use a layer of stabilizer or at least another layer of fabric under eath that you hoop up together and then have a play with movement, rythmn and timing.  Try close  rows of stratight stitch and loose scribbling and then try zig zag (make stitch length 0 and play with the width) and you will soon find you can put the needle exactly where you want it.  The fabric shouldn't bounce too much, the foot holds the fabric down for just the split second of time that the needle is comming up.  Also, make sure you have a good sharp new needle.  Blunt ones push the fabric down into the hole and slows every thing up and causes all sorts of other bad things you don't want to happen!   Good luck. Enjoy!   Barb



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Zoldesign wrote
on 14 Oct 2009 8:19 AM

Thanks Jill & Barb,  I'm going to try again.  I'm pretty sure it's free motion that I want to do, not embroidery.  All the videos I see show the "foot" being pretty stable in its position, hovering over the fabric while the needle moves.  Mine goes up and down wildly so I must have it attached wrong somewhere.  With a new day comes new hope!  I banished my machine to the closet but I'll get it out today and try, try again.  I just love all the patterns and the freedom of the designs.  I love to doodle and it seems like a natural transition.  I'm new to this site and I really appreciate your responses.  I'll post some work soon!

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watercolor2 wrote
on 17 Oct 2009 10:07 AM

Hi....I, too, am new to free motion quilting and I find if I leave the feed dogs UP, I get a little more control.   I also bought a Big Foot attachment for free motion and it helps.   I found it at our local quilting store.      I also have several little 8 x 8 inch "sandwiches" made up of muslin and batting and practice on those.   Good luck.....

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Posts 135
on 18 Oct 2009 3:47 AM

As with any task, its all about what works for you.  It may mean altering the height you work at or position of your body, as its a different process to regularly machining.   And the foot you "should use" isn't necessarily the one which is most help to you.  Normal machining the feed dogs/teeth are up because they grip the fabric from the underside, with no fabric you can see the foot sits right on top, to make the grip to pass the fabric through when stitching.

Free machining, both the teeth are down and the foot is slightly above the feed dogs, to allow total freedom for you to guide your fabric in whatever direction you choose.  If you keep the teeth up they are going to grip the fabric, but you might find that then becomes a problem because its holding it in one place as you try to push or guide it in another direction, you can get jerky movements, as it frees itself, or mangle the fabric up in the teeth. 

Try drawing a continuous line on paper without removing the pencil.  True that's the opposite as in you're moving the pencil not the paper  (unless you can get someone else to hold the pencil for you) - but it does give you an idea of how you would need to push and move the fabric and an understanding of the rythym.  Its a bit like driving a car, mastering looking where you're going, steering, using the pedals, flicking on signals or wipers... its all so much to grasp, but one day it clicks!!!   Good luck.

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Nanaquilter wrote
on 19 Oct 2009 8:59 AM

Hi Zoldesign, it sounds like you are trying to free motion quilt.  You are going about it correctly.  If the "free motion" or "darning foot" of your machine has the spring attachment on it with a metal bar at the top of the spring, then that's your problem.  That bar sits on top of the thumb screw for your needle clamp.  When your needle goes up and down--so does your foot.  I refer to this as a "hopping foot" because it hops all over the place and does not hold the fabric in place.  Ask your machine dealer for a free motion foot that floats over the fabric rather than hop.  Sometimes it is a setting on your machine that goes with a particular foot that makes it float.  I really like the "Big Foot" that was mentioned before and it comes to fit all machines.  You have to try out several machine feet before you will find the one that really suits you.  It makes a huge difference if you can see where you are going or if you have to view from an angle or around the needle bar.  It's an excuse to go play at the dealer for a little while and ask questions.  Don't give up because doodling on a quilt top is SO much fun!

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Posts 12
jo goranson wrote
on 19 Oct 2009 1:03 PM

I had an Elna at one time and I had a lot of trouble with free-motion quilting because the machine needed adjusting. Take it to a very good dealer (this is not necessarily the one you bought it from). I suggest an independent machine mechanic. He can run a shop too, but ask around and find out who your friends take their machines to. It took me a long time to find an honest dealer! I found one that has been in business for 68 years and the grandson of the original owner is the one who runs it now. He does not try to sell me anything I don't need, and he is the cheapest at just looking at and cleaning your machine of anyone in the area. He charges $30.00, whereas everyone else charges $79.00! When I brought my Elna into him he told me I had been sold a re-built machine, not a new one as I was told. I then took it to another Elna dealer and they told me the same thing! In other words---I had been scammed out of a lot of money because I was told it was a new machine. I could never get that machine to free-motion quilt ever! I talked to my new dealer about what I needed in a machine. I expected him to try and sell me the most expensive machine in the shop, but to my surprise he actually listened to what I needed---I am a contemporary quilter who uses lots of different threads and lots of different fabrics---and then told me he didn't have the machine I needed in yet because it wasn't coming out on the market for 2 months, but he would call me when it came in and I could bring all my threads and fabric and play all day with the store's machine to see if it was what I needed. Needless to say, I was skeptical, but he called and I went in and tried the machine out for about 3 hours and then bought it. It was exactly what I needed!. He took my old Elna machine in trade (it wasn't worth much) and another machine I had which was worth a lot more and I got a $1,200.00 machine for $800.00. That was 5 years ago and the machine is still going strong and boy do I use and abuse it. I have worn out two feet----my free-motion foot and my open toed applique foot--but the machine itself is still going strong. I am a quilting teacher and I take my machine with me when I teach. I do teach free-motion quilting in addition to other thread classes, and I always start my students off by using a hoop. (I took 4 free-motion classes and never got the hang of it until I took Libby Lehmans class "Threadplay" and we had to hoop the fabric to do her ribbon illusion.) The light dawned and I learned how to free-motion just from that. When I teach it I make them use a hoop for the first hour, so they can get their foot speed fast and their hand speed slower. It is so much easier with the hoop because they don't have to worry about gripping the fabric. They mumble and complain about having to stuff those 3 layers in the hoop, but they do it because I guarantee that if they take my class and don't learn to free-motion they don't have to pay me! (I have never had anyone not pay me.) After an hour they become very adept at making even stitches and I let them take off the hoop, put on Machingers gloves and lo and behold they can now free-motion just as easily as they did when they had the hoop on! Most of them learn they need to run the machine at about 3/4 speed, so if they have a speed control I have them set it there and then they can just floor it and not have to worry about the foot control. When they use the hoop they learn how to keep the way they move the fabric much slower than they thought they needed to do. Once the hoop is off the lesson has been learned and they know just how fast to move their hands with the gloves on. A lot of the students I have taught have taken other free-motion classes, but like me, they never figured it out. When I tell them I took it 4 times they are amazed that I can now do it and I think they feel a little bit of superiority because I have never taught anyone who took as many classes as me! They figure if I can do it they certainly can! I am not saying that your machine is a junker like mine was ( I bought it because a very good friend of mine had one and loved it and still uses it) but you should get it checked out. It could be as one of the respondents said that you just need a different foot. Remember, when you are quilting through 3 layers you should be using a quilting neeedle! A sharp or an embroidery needle does not do the trick. You could use a topstich needle, but I prefer to use a quilting needle that is matched with the thread I am using. Don't forget that threads now come in many thicknesses and if you are using the wrong size needle, you won't have much luck. I know this is a long answer, but I want you to know that you can free-motion---remember how many times I tried it! And remember, I have worn out my free-motion foot on my new machine! My mechanic says I am the only person he has ever known who has worn out that foot, but I use it so much that one day it started to squeak and make all kinds of funny noises. I took it in to Dave, he looked at it and shook his head and gave me a new one for free because he said he couldn't believe anyone could wear a foot out like that! So, you see, there is hope for you. If I can do it, you can do it---just keep trying. I wish you lived in the Twin Cities in Minnesota so I could help you!

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Posts 19
robbieklow wrote
on 22 Oct 2009 8:32 AM

Your free motion foot should not be moving up and down that much. The foot should be sitting on the quilt when the needle is down, and up just enough to move the quilt freely when the needle is up.

One fast check: do you have the tension lever in the right place? Also, if there is a dial to adjust the presser foot PRESSURE, look at that, you may have it set too loose. (ok, that was two things...)

If it's a really old machine, with a really old foot, it's possible that is was made back in the olden days when quilts were thicker.  It's also possible, as you said, that you have it installed wrong.  If you have a dealer nearby, it would be a good idea to take it in and ask them to show you what foot to use and how to install it.

Another idea is to see if there is a yahoo group for your machine, either by brand, or sometimes more specifically by machine. Then you can find not only what is causing the problem, but a good source to buy the proper foot if one is not available from your dealer.

Some people like to free motion quilt with the feed dogs down, some of them with the feed dogs up. It's really a personal preference. I prefer mine down.


I hope this helps.

If you can take a picture of the foot on the machine and send it to me at, I might be able to give you more specific information.


Robbi Eklow

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wendyc31 wrote
on 22 Oct 2009 4:19 PM

Whenever I teach anyone to do free motion embroidery, I always tell them to slow down.  The speed you run the machine at needs to be matched to the speed you move the hoop, so that you stay in control.  It is up to you to chose what is comfortable for you.  Go slowly until you get the hang of it.  Use a new needle and good quality thread.  Any darning or free motion foot should work well, but the ones which are open at the front give you a better view of what you are doing.  

hth Wendy  

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Posts 277
Dale Kathryn wrote
on 22 Oct 2009 6:14 PM

Also remember to clean the bobbin case area frequently and oil your machine!


"To create one's own world in any of the arts takes courage." - Georgia O'Keeffe

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Posts 23
Zoldesign wrote
on 29 Oct 2009 8:17 PM

Thanks everyone for your input.  I started fresh today and re-did everything from threading the machine to attaching the feet.  It went just fine!!!  I had so much fun with the stippling.  I'm ready to start trying a whole bunch of new designs now.  I'm not sure what was wrong but it must have been some operator error somewhere along the way.


Thanks again!

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Posts 11
1onerach wrote
on 13 Nov 2009 1:31 AM

Hi. I haven't been free motioning for that long. But I have figured out that if you are going slow that the fabric will hop up and down. Try just starting out with a medium speed. Oh, and get a firm hold on the fabric. Not just lay your hands on top.

Hope this helps


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