Freemotion Quilting

Update: Here is a new video I filmed with Fat Quarter Shop on quilting at home:

Careful basting of the quilt beforehand is absolutely essential so the quilt layers won’t shift during freehand movement.  Click here for a few basting tips before you get started. 

First, you must prepare your machine.  Not just any presser foot will work–you will need to install a darning foot.  If you don’t have one, check with the manufacturer of your machine to see if they make one.  Lower the feed-dogs on your machine.  This will allow free movement of the fabric as you push it around with your hands.

I recommend using the regular straight stitch with regular thread tension, as well as activating the “needle stop down” feature on your machine.  (This will keep the needle down in the fabric when you need to pause.)

Position a corner of the quilt onto your machine. Lower the presser foot down onto the fabric.  (If you step on the pedal, the needle will land in the quilt and stay because of the “needle stop down” feature.)

Using both hands, move the quilt around in a random swirl pattern. I make frequent pauses to adjust the surrounding fabric, remove safety pins, etc.

 I recommend starting with the top of the quilt and moving down one row at a time (or whatever makes the most sense for the project–the idea is to do it in sections).  Also, don’t let your quilt hang over the edge of your table–the weight will pull on your machine’s needle and cause unnecessary tension and make it a lot more difficult to move around.  Keep it propped up on the table (or at least on your lap).

Here is a short video to help show you what the process should look like. (Do not feel the need to go as quickly as I do–that is how fingers get run over and quilts messed up.)

Practice, practice, practice!  Before you attempt this on the quilt you have been laboring over for weeks, practice on scraps until you feel comfortable.  Also, check the back-side periodically to make sure it hasn’t bunched up.  (Your careful basting should prevent this.)  Should bunching occur, you will need to pick the stitches out, smooth out the area, and resume.

When you are finished, you will have a fabulous-looking piece of work! 


  1. Karen

    March 8, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Hi there… I just ran across your video and love it! So far, my quilts are quilted with straight line stitching in a crosshatch fashion and they are looking good, however, my dream is to free motion. I tried SO hard to do stippling, but was unsuccessful. Your method with the swirls is gorgeous and I'll give it a try tomorrow!

    Thank you SO much!


  2. Margaret Steinacker

    May 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks for the video! I'm off to practice.

  3. Victoria Paige @ Boutique Uniquely

    May 17, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I found your blog over at Ucreate!! I love what I see and I'm looking forward to reading your blog.

  4. Lindsay Haynie

    May 17, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Thank you SO much for this post. I have found it very helpful! I have been wanting to learn how to do this for a while but have been too scared to try. I feel more confident now!

  5. LeAnne Ballard

    May 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I love seeing the process in 'motion' so I can see how you move your quilt. Question. What stitch length do you use? Do you just set it to zero then try to move the quilt at a consistent pace to have the stitches be somewhat even? (That is my biggest struggle with machine quilting.)

  6. Vanessa Goertzen

    May 24, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    LeAnne: I don't usually change the stitch length a whole lot from my normal settings. However, I would recommend playing with the stitch length on a big scrap to find what look you like best! The key is really to be consistent with speed or you will get a variation of stitch lengths no matter what setting you do.
    There is a lovely "quilter's edition" Bernina machine that has a stitch regulator. It is GENIUS!! No matter how fast/slow you go, it adjusts automatically for nice, even stitch length.

  7. Elisa

    December 1, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Very cute! Thanks for the great tutorial (and giving me a little courage!).

  8. Sydney B.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks so much for your wonderful video! I have a baby quilt that was given to my little girl, Piper, when she was born. She is a year old now, and I have been wanting so badly to make a quilt with the similar "swirling". I am familiar with quilting in general, but have always just done the traditional tying, never the stitching. I even have the darning foot! I am so going to start making a quilt tomorrow, thanks to your awesome post and video, you've given me the confidence boost I needed! Thank you! <3

  9. OffOnAWhim

    May 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    thanks for making this, so helpful, I'm just starting free motion quilting!

  10. Anonymous

    August 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I was wondering if you lowered your feed dogs…

  11. Anonymous

    August 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Oops! Never mind…just went back and re-read your post. Sorry.

  12. Laura

    October 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    What do you set your tension at for best results? I've been practicing on some scraps and the stitching on the bottom is very loose, even when I adjust it both ways…

  13. Vanessa Goertzen

    October 19, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I keep my tension at the regular setting and seem to have no problems.

    We all use a variety of machines, so there are a number of reasons you could be experiencing this problem (especially where you have already tried tinkering with various thread tensions). Have you cleaned your machine/changed the needle recently. When was your machine last serviced? The best advice I can offer is to contact a repair center for your specific brand and see what advice they can offer.

    Unfortunately, it can also have something to do with the brand of machine you have. I've generally noticed that the more expensive the sewing machine, the fewer problems like this. Hope that helps!

  14. Jan

    February 10, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    You have the best machine in the world, it's just like mine. lol Thanks so much for the tutorial.

  15. sofiaspace

    April 10, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Thanks for the great video , will definitely try this….!!

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