I’m working on a quilt for my niece. She just had a baby, and I’ve been collecting fabrics, stitching blocks, and piecing for a few months now. The only thing left is the quilting… and, I have to admit, it has been a while since I’ve worked on my free-motion quilting skills. Time to take a minute to plan, practice, and perfect those skills!
When deciding on how to proceed, I looked back at articles, videos, and Quilting Arts TV appearances from Timna Tarr, Susan Brubaker Knapp, and Catherine Redford to get me through this project. I’m always amazed at the depth and breadth of knowledge provided by our contributors! Here’s a roundup of some of their tips. I’ll be using all of them this weekend as I finish this baby quilt!
Free-motion Quilting Tips from the Pros
1. Sit up straight: Maintain good posture and proper ergonomics. You’ll get much better results – and avoid a trip to the chiropractor – if you set yourself up for success. Your hands and arms should be parallel to your lap and be able to rest comfortably on the bed of your sewing machine. Lower your shoulders and relax.
2. Work on a smooth surface: If possible, invest in a sewing machine table that allows your machine to lower into the cabinet, creating a large working surface to support the quilt. This will help with your posture and ergonomics as well as reducing drag on the quilt.
3. Shed a little light: Eye strain actually strains your whole body. Make sure your workspace and your quilt are well-lit. I move my light fixture behind me when I quilt so I can direct the light over my shoulder and directly under the needle.
4. Practice makes perfect: Before you tackle quilting your best work… practice, practice, practice! I keep 10″ square ‘quilt sandwiches’ in a drawer next to my sewing machine. Every session of quilting starts with at least 10 minutes of practicing the motifs I’ll be using that day. Get the kinks out before you have to “un-stitch.”
5. Draw the design first: This tip came from both Catherine Redford and Susan Brubaker Knapp. If you can draw a design using pen and paper without lifting the writing instrument, chances are you can also quilt it. Keep a notepad nearby and sketch a few designs every day. Each time you draw a design, you will get better. Just like practicing on your machine, drawing is a way to get your creative juices flowing.
6. Threads matter: Use high quality threads in both the top and bobbin positions. If your tension is of on your machine, having a matching bobbin thread may save you more of that “un-stitching” time. If your motif requires you to stitch over the same line several times, use a 50 wt or 60wt thread.
7. Mind your feet: Open-toed, hopping, clear, or closed? They all work; you just have to choose the right one for the job. I prefer a clear plastic foot for most of my free-motion quilting, but have several different options at my disposal. The key is find what works for you. Schedule a session at your machine dealer and ask about trying them all before you buy.
8. Use gloves: Not everyone agrees, but gloves make a difference for many a new quilter. They provide a bit more ‘grip’ on the quilt, while still allowing you to glide the fabric under the needle. You don’t have to invest in expensive quilting gloves – I’ve used dishwashing gloves in a pinch… just make sure they are clean and dry! I cut the fingers off below the first knuckle to keep my hands cool, and it also allows me to easily thread the needle.
9. Take a class: Every time you invest in your art, you benefit! Learning to quilt from a professional and picking up tips along the way is always a benefit. Each artist approaches free-motion quilting differently, and there is always more to learn. This goes for free-motion work on a longarm or home machine as well.
10. Keep good records: Write it down! Susan Brubaker Knapp created ink drawings of her favorite doodled designs on unlined index cards held together with a binder ring. “When I’m thinking about how to machine quilt a new piece and nothing immediately comes to mind, I can always consult my little book,” she says. Catherine Redford is also a record keeper, and she provides a great chart in her book Modern Machine Quilting (affiliate link). The great thing is that every issue of Quilting Arts Magazine is full of tips and tricks from the experts. As we approach the 100th issue, why not treat yourself to the entire collection of Quilting Arts Magazine, now available as a digital download? Whether you are interested in piecing, machine quilting, dyeing, or even the business of quilting, Quilting Arts has covered it. Download the complete collection or subscribe to Quilting Arts today!