Free Motion Quilting Tips

Whether you are free motion quilting at your home machine or at your longarm, the same tips apply.

Overwhelmed by Free Motion Quilting?

quilt by Merilee MacWilliam

Made and quilted by Merilee MacWilliam

Looking at the whole quilt can be intimidating and overwhelming.  It is large, there are many spaces and blocks, and may even have sashing and borders.  Avoid becoming overwhelmed and intimidated by dissecting the whole into small chunks.  Develop a plan looking at the smaller chunks, perhaps just the blocks, then expand outward into the sashing.  Patterns may be stand alone in each space, or you might think out of the box and integrate the block patterns out into the sashing for a different look and secondary pattern.  Think about breaking up the parts within a block with different patterns and fills.  For example, one pattern in star points, another fill type in the corners of the block.

In the quilt above, Merilee placed a larger design within the ray of this star point.  Smaller designs were across the flying geese and in other areas.  A mixture of large scale and smaller scale designs adds interest to the overall appeal of this quilt.

Adding Interest

Looking at a quilts at shows, quilts that stand out have elements that set them apart.  Texture adds dimension and depth to the quilting.  Build a “catalog” of a few texture type patterns to use in spaces, such as borders, sashings and blocks.  Don’t be afraid to mix and match designs for added interest.  For example, use patterns that are flowing and organic along with patterns that are more defined and geometric in shape.  The contrast between these types of patterns adds interest.

In the quilt below, notice how Vickie has taken the “white” space and divided it into block areas which she repeated between each of the star points.  These spaces have the appearance of a “block” with a pattern with both free flowing, organic designs and other more curved defined elements.  It is the mix of defined shapes and background fills that give this very large quilt the pop it needs and why it won Viewer’s Choice. (Genesee Valley QuiltFest, 2015)

free motion quilting

Made and quilted by Vickie Coykendall

Tips for Getting Good at Free Motion Quilting

Getting good at free motion quilting boils down to practice, practice, practice.  Developing muscle memory can only happen when you practice.  But, who wants to practice on the “special” quilt?  The solution is to do small projects, such as table runners, baby quilts, or to volunteer to quilt charity quilts.  These are not large projects, won’t take a lot of time, and offer the opportunity to try many different techniques on a smaller scale (fewer repeats).  Try a variety of patterns, add texture for interest, get creative.  Try different thread colors and see how that affects the overall look and appeal of the quilting.  Experiment without worrying about the outcome.  You will learn a lot about color, contrast, and quilting density, along with getting plenty of practice.  Best of all, these projects won’t take a long time to quilt.

Keys for successful free motion quilting are to relax, stop worrying, and to let your brain take over.  Create a sample of different designs.  Load a practice quilt on the longarm, or baste a quilt sandwich to use at the home machine.  Divide the space up into 6″ x 6″ spaces and fill each space with a different design.  Leah Day has many, many design ideas for this.  Another great resource for quilting ideas is Pintress.  Find what works for you and what you like to quilt.  Save this sample to refer to.  Don’t ever feel that your quilting needs to look like another quilter’s.  Like hand writing, every quilter has their personal style.  Develop your own style.

Finally, you will be the most critical observer.  Others will look at your quilting and love what you have done.

LONGARM TIP

Load several table runners horizontally next to each other on one backing and batting.  It is a time saver and offers many free motion quilting opportunities.

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