Monday, June 27, 2011

Newbie's Free Motion Quilting Series: Practicing Motifs

After an email exchange with a reader (Hi Anne!), I decided to tackle a series of posts on what I have learned about free motion quilting.  I'm no expert, but I know there are a lot of people out there afraid to tackle their own quilting and I'm here to say: Don't be!  I started free motion quilting on a little mechanical brother I bought at wal-mart for $75 when I first got married.  The feed dogs wouldn't drop, so I had to tape a credit card (with a hole cut out for the needle) to hide my feed dogs.  But it worked!  I fell in love with free motion quilting and my husband upgraded my machine for my birthday to a Juki TL98Q.  I'm willing to bet with a little practice and fearlessness, anyone can FMQ on MOST machines.

Before I quilt, I always doodle.  I love using a magna doodle that belongs to my kids.  You can also use paper and pens, but then you have a mess to throw away- boo!  You kind of ingrain the steps in your mind so that when machine starts whirring, you can quilt without getting confused, flustered, or overwhelmed.  It's like practicing dance moves in the car when there is no way you can really dance.  Don't act like you don't! I begin with doodling with my entire hand just like I would write or draw. 

Beyond the "seaweed" look of a basic meander, other easy motifs I use are loops.  They are easier than meandering to me.  I like to think of making the cursive letter E, the cursive  C, the cursive G, cursive Ls, and telephone coils when I am doing loops.  This quilting is very good for hiding secret messages as it looks a lot like cursive handwriting.  LOVE and HOPE look very pretty quilted into quilts.

Once you master loops, you have a serious foundation for fun designs.  Above is a single loop.  What happens if...
you turn that into a figure 8 and

then keep vining out?

You have a budding vine.  Add a cloverleaf instead of a figure have a flowery vine.

Make your figure 8's pointy and you have a beautiful leafy vine.

Add a little vein to take it a step further.

Once you are confident in your motifs, switch to your thumb and forefinger and draw with only those 2 digits.  It's a little more challenging, but it prepares you a little better for the control you lose going to a machine from doodling on paper.

The next post will be getting your machine ready for free motion quilting success.

If you have any questions or things you'd like to be covered, let me know through email or the comments section. 


  1. The Magna Doodle is genius! This is going to be a great series!

    Jennifer :)

  2. Oh, I am excited about this series. I have only done free-motion a couple times - I think I must have had it set wrong the 2nd time, because the needle position kept jumping around.

  3. I took a class a few weeks ago and you can actually leave your feed dogs up. It does not get in the way and provides a bit more stability. Most of the women in the class who have tried both ways preferred leaving the feed dogs up. They don't engage with the free motion foot and I have to agree, seemed to help a little.

  4. Thank you for doing this series. I'm quilting my first quilt right now on a Brother from Walmart. I'm half finished and doing the free motion loops. All my stitches are very uneven (there are at least 3 good size toe catchers). I could use a lot of advice right now. I've been running on you tube tutorials and tidbits from the guild I joined. Can't wait to read all your posts. :)

  5. I need to know how to keep those "good sized toe catchers" (see above) from happening as well.,, is that a tension issue with the machine or is it a problem with my hands? hey I need one of those magna doodles... is you find one at a thrift shop,,, hook an old woman up... :)

  6. Hi! I'm glad you're writing a tutorial from our e-mail. You were so helpful this series is going to be great!

  7. I love the credit card over the feed dogs idea! I use a 70+ year old Kenmore with ONE stitch and no way to lower the feed dogs or even change needle position, lol, so this is a perfect solution!!! Thanks for the tips. :)

  8. You have some great ideas, like the credit card and the magna doodle!

  9. WOO HOO....I have been machine quilting for a long time, but still learned MUCH from your tutuorail. I can't wait to read more tips. Thank you for your generousity. How kind you are...and I am SEW appreciative.

  10. Thanks so much for this series! I'm a new quilter and know I'm going to learn a lot!


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