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Free Motion Quilting Tips for Beginners

Free motion quilting is one of those things that looks easy but can be quite tricky. If you are a beginner quilter, here are some really great tips that should make your free motion quilting projects easier to manage. 

1. Be Sure To Baste Your Sandwich 

Every good quilt sandwich needs proper basting. If you're going to free motion quilt, then you need to be sure that your quilt sandwich is not only in place correctly, but also secure. This does take some time, and if you're working on a large project, it can feel physically demanding too. 

Follow this process:

  • Make sure the backing and batting are 2-inches larger than the top
  • Iron everything!! 
  • Layer your fabric as backing > batting > quilt top 
  • Your quilt should look exactly like your imagined finished product. 
  • Baste

The basting can be done a few ways, but let's be honest, basting spray is the way to go. Basting spray is like a good hairspray. It keeps everything in place. However, you can also choose safety pins. Just be sure that you're using quilter's safety pins because they're a little bent. 

You can also choose to hand-baste. Hand stitching your basting requires a steady hand. Make sure you have a long basting needle and the correct thread. Then, work across the quilt in a way that is easiest for your handedness, and backstitch from one end to another. Stitch this way back and forth across the quilt, allowing for about 6-inches between basting lines. When the entire quilt is done, you'll want to turn the quilt 45-degrees and baste on the diagonal as well. 

2. The Right Quilting Machine 

There is such a thing as a right and wrong quilting machine. There's no shame in starting with a cheap machine to learn the trade and understand the fundamentals, but when you're looking to churn out high-quality work, you need a good sewing machine

Now, there are a few myths to bust. First, you do not need to empty your bank account on a good sewing machine. Second, new machines are not inherently better. Third, old machines don't always come with quirks. The things you should look for in a machine are comfort and features. 

3. The Right Tools 

You need a few essential tools to create amazing quilts successfully. Necessary tools include machine feet, an extension table, quilting gloves, and a slider. 

Machine Feet - Your feet will be a massive part of any quilting machine. Not only will you need a walking foot, but also a free motion foot. A walking foot helps feed through bulky fabrics, such as when you’re finishing your quilt. However, they also help to stop bunching and bulking, even when you're working on individual segments of your quilt. 

A free-motion foot is necessary for free motion quilting. Usually, you'll use this foot with the feed dogs down as it makes it a little easier to manage. 

Extension Table - Your sewing machine extension table is a must for quilting. These projects are so massive, and the weight of it can pull on your machine. It also provides a ton of beautiful extra surface space. 

Quilting Gloves - If you haven't heard of quilting gloves before then, you're missing out! Quilting gloves help keep your quilt clean and to reduce your hand fatigue. Best of all, you don't have to take them off to do small tasks such as rotating out your bobbin because they're lightweight enough to manage these without removing them. 

Slider - For those new to free motion quilting, they may not realize how irritating it is that the quilt doesn't merely glide over your machine. A free-motion slider will give you a slick surface over the machine bed to make moving the quilt easy. 

4. Use the Correct Needle 

Many beginner quilters make the mistake of not changing their needle. When you're quilting, you're working with so many different fabrics and materials that it's ridiculous if you don't change your needle at least once. If you're using a machine to baste, you need a basting needle, and if you're using anything other than cotton, you'll need to swap between those needles too. 

Be sure to use the right material for the right fabric, and to change your needles as they become dull. A dull needle will break apart the fibers of the fabric with every stitch and can make an otherwise great project not so pleasant. 

5. Thread 

Free motion quilting gives this new element to choosing thread. You can find something fun, colorful, sturdy, and heavy weighted. Thread quality is the most crucial consideration when choosing the right thread for your quilt. Fun colors are great, but if the thread is worthless, then it doesn't serve any purpose, even if it is pretty. 

There's also the concern that thread gets old. Just the same as needles get dull. Thread hits a point where it causes more frustration than anything else. You can use old thread in bobbins, however, which is a great hack for finishing up half-used spools. 

6. Check Your Tension

Your quilting machine has an essential feature: tension control. Different weights of thread, different stitches, and other elements can all call for changes in your tension. Tension can ensure not only a strong stitch but an excellent looking stitch.  If the string is too taunt, it can cause a needle to snap, and fabric to bunch. 

Make sure that your bobbin and top thread tensions are set correctly. Try keeping track of the threads on your bobbins so you can repeatedly adjust the tension correctly. 

7. Get Creative with Design Transfer 

There are a few different ways to transfer your designs. You could always use a fabric-safe pen and draw your design straight onto your fabric. These markers or pencils let you draw on fabric and then wash off the markings with water or heat. 

Chalk is another option but can be difficult as it brushes away rather quickly. Chalk is great for working with stencils to give you a rough outline. 

8. Make It Easy to Keep a Good Posture 

Not only should you consider what chair you use, but your table heights as well. We forget when we're quilting that we spend a lot of time standing, leaning, and reaching. After years of quilting, you'll notice pain in your wrist, elbows, shoulders, and neck. Sitting at a sewing machine can cause plenty of problems, so be sure that you can allow your machine to sit flush with your table. Drop-in options are the best option for this problem. 

Set an egg timer for 20-minutes, and then whenever it goes off, take a minute to stand up and stretch. Do your wrist stretches too! It’ll keep you sewing longer, and ultimately, you’ll produce better work when you’re not stitching through the pain. 

9. Always Warm-up 

Rock Stars play their instruments and sing for a substantial amount of time when they're off stage. You can be sure that they warm-up backstage and you should too. When you're starting to quilt, always work with a piece of scrap fabric to get going when you sit down. Give yourself a little warm-up practice before you pull out your project. 

10. Practice Regularly 

You need to practice regularly to ensure that you're regularly improving. Many beginner quilters get discouraged because they don't see a drastic improvement over a short time. However, keep practicing and you’ll begin to see the difference. 

The more time you spend behind your machine, the more comfortable you'll feel when you're ready to work on a big project. Once you are ready, be sure you have all the tools you need. These can be purchased through GoldStar Tool, and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, be sure to contact us so we can help you get what you need for your next project.