How do you FMQ?

Do you FMQ?  If so, I have a list of questions as long as my arm.  What needles do you use?  What size thread?  What tension settings?  Does thread break?  Do you prefer polyester or cotton thread for FMQ?  Do you change the settings from one thread to another?  Do you have the same thread top and bottom?  Do you get loops on the bottom?

I feel like I am beginning to master the mechanics of moving my hands and feet in some kind of unison and producing OK if somewhat amateurish scribbles but, since the quilts are modern, I figure scribbling all over them is OK.  Feathers, swirls and twirls I will leave to the professionals for now.

Where I struggle is if things go wrong, I don't know what to do to fix them.  I know this is a very open ended post really but I'd really love you to shower me with your tips for fixing FMQ issues - any little tip you have that makes your machine FMQ more smoothly.  Or any great sources of information.  Not sites with beautiful patterns to copy but sites or even books which give you the lowdown on fixing FMQ issues and setting your machine up to FMQ smoothly and happily.


  1. I haven't been able to convince myself to try FMQ yet.I'm still straightlining and in the ditch. Hopefully you'll get some great comments and I can drop my fear and try it. I've got a baby quilt top I've been holding back for when I get the nerve to try.

  2. What is FMQ? Your blocks are wonderful.

  3. Never mind. Just a little slow this morning.....

  4. Recently I posted a couple of helpful posts but that is not to say I am an expert. I think you might find a couple of answers on my blog though. The one thing I didn't cover was thread content. My theory on thread is that your upper and lower should always match and that you should match your thread content to your fabric content (ie: polyester, cotton, etc). The reason is that polyester is stronger than cotton and will rip through your fabric over time. Check out my blog and see if that helps (there are also some great links in those two posts)

  5. My best tip for FMQ (and I am only a novice myself!) is to support your quilt. I quilt with my machine on a horn sewing cabinet, with my dining table behind it, and my ironing board to the left of the cabinet, and I lower it to the same height as the cabinet. That way I can move my quilt around and it is always supported. If the quilt isn't supported, the weight of it drags and pulls and can really mess up the tension of the machine. Before you play with your tension, check that the quilt is really supported and not dragging.

    I use rasant thread, in the top and in the bobbin, which I love, and I rarely need to alter my machine tension. Another tip is to experiment with needle types until you find the best for the thread you like, I like to use Inspira quilting needles in my Husqvarna, I believe they were designed to use with Husqvarnas though so might not be so good with other machines. I have friends who use denim needles, and others use microtex needles. Also don't use needles that are too small for your thread.

    And do classes, do any classes you can. Different teachers give you different ideas and tips. And one more thing, practice. Nothing can make up for just putting in the practice. Sorry this is such a long comment - it's something I've struggled with and these things have helped me out heaps!

  6. I think that Rhonda has covered a lot of the usual tips. I think the thread people would debunk the view that poly thread will rip fabric - I say just pick thread you like. My best tip is that when it is not working, pull out all the thread, rethread, check your needle, tighten or change it and if that does not work, a glass of wine and a break on the sofa often do the trick.

  7. I'm still afraid of FMQ. I tried two times: first time was a disaster (something was wrong with the settings and the thread rip off on the other side), the second time I've got still the same problems with settings. So I gave up for now...

  8. The key to FMQ like anything, is practice, practice practice!

    Some smple rules:

    1. not every machine needs the feed dogs down. *GASP!* It's true though. I have seven machines. Some like 'em up, some like 'em down. If your thread is constantly breaking when you FMQ your machine may need the feed dogs up. Just cover them with some painter's tape, or if you wanna get all fancy, one of those slips sheets for the purpose.

    2. I noticed you said you've got things at an "even" speed. You actually want them at an uneven speed. Your foot should be pedal to the metal, but you should be moving your hands slowly. It's counter-intuitive, and again, takes practice, but it's the key to getting lovely even stitches (and "even" speed may be the source of your snaggles on the bottom.)

    3. I started with a 14/90 needle when I was first learning, and the moved down to a 12/80 and now I just FMQ with whatever's right for the fabric (I work with silk a lot, so it's usually a fine needle). But if you're just getting used to it, use a big needle. The key about the needle is that it's SHARP. Always put in a new needle whenever you start an FMQ project. If you're going to leave it mid-way to do something else, remove the needle you're using and put it in the folded up project so you'll be ready to go next time.

    That's all I can think of for now. :)

  9. For books, I would highly recommend Sara Ann Smith's book, Threadwork Unraveled. This woman is a wealth of information and her book is fantastic. She's also one of the members in our yahoo group, JanomeHorizon7700.

    Tutorials, I think Patsy Thompson is amazing. She has a lot of free example videos on her website, and a collection of dvds that are more than worth the price.

    Hope that helps.

    Ottawa, ON Canada

  10. Oh, thread!

    I find different machines like different thread, but the one thread ALL my machines agree on is WonderFil embroidery thread. They all love it and it produces a really nice result with the FMQ. For the bobbin thread, I use a good quality colour that fits the project. Often, I end up using the WonderFil because I have a lot of it in my stash, but generally it doesn't matter, as long as it's good quality.


  11. I started with a practice quilt sandwich the size of a place mat. It's easy to move and doesn't cost much. Once I was comfortable with what it looked like, I dove in on a real quilt. The tension wasn't perfect on that first one, but we still think it is beautiful and use it all the time. It might take several small practice ones to get the hang of it, but keep trying!

  12. I wrote a post last year about my favorite tools for fmq.
    feel free to share with your readers.

    My biggest suggestion is to just do it! don't tell yourself that you can't do feathers because you'll psych yourself out. Feathers really aren't that hard. I love the hooked on feathers method from Sally Terry because you don't back track on the "fronds." That is how I quilted the circle quilt I made from your quilt along:

  13. I haven't tried FMQ yet, but this video clip by Retromummy made me feel like that with a fair bit of practice, I might be able to master it one day.

  14. A practice piece is necessary using the same weight fabric as you are using on your quilt on front and back and the same type of wadding.

    I always drop my feed dogs and set my stitch length to 0. I usually stick to my Aurifil 50 now as it has never caused me problems, top and in bobbin.

    In the past using other threads some I just couldn't get to work at all no matter what I did. I had some 30wt and it worked but it was more tempermental and I had to adjust the tension and try different settings.

    If the practice piece still doesn't work, I change the needle. (I know you are supposed to do it every time anyway, but I don't).

    The last thing if I still can't get it working is rewind a bobbin, sometimes that does it.

    If none of those work, I give up and straight line. With the aurifil, thats never happened.

    Of yes, the numpty mistake I make sometimes is forget to lower the presser foot (especially when I'm moved the quilt around), that always creates a nest on the back.

  15. I use cotton thread, 50 weight. I order giant spools of it. Same thread top and bottom. I use an 80/12 needle unless I'm doing freehand embroidery, which tends to break needles easier.

    As far as loops on the back, that can be very frustrating. I'm not sure what you are sewing on. It may be that you are moving the quilt too fast, or that you need to run the foot pedal faster.

  16. Badly is the answer so I won`t give you any tips but this is a good post for all of us as we`ll be able to learn from the commenters who can FMQ. Oh okay, I have one tip - loud music as it distracts you and so relaxes you and you FMQ much better.

  17. Check out the Free Motion Quilt Project:

    Leah has videos and everything on there. Cindy at Fluffy Sheep Quilting has a Friday Sew Along from Leah's site that you may want to get in on :o)

  18. Thanks for this post, Lynne. The comments will help all of us who are FMQ challenged. I have yet to try anything but a sample piece of fabric. FMQ is on my learn to do list for 2012!

  19. I FMQ and love it. It is easier for me than straight line quilting. I use a standard home machine and squish large quilts through. Keeping my machine happily serviced,using a Sew Slip on the table top, rubber tipped gloves, combine to make FMQing easier for me. I warm up on a 16 inch square to test tension and get everything right before beginning. I like King Tut thread and a top-stitch needle. My biggest tip is to let go and practise. Every quilt looks better than the last.

  20. I use a NEW "jeans" size needle and usually polyester thread. I also make sure all the lint is cleaned out. I just recently bought a pair of those quilting gloves and they are to die for. I have FMQ without them for years but would never go back.

    Whenever I get loopies on the bottom they will usually go away if I change the needle and re-thread the machine. Once one of the kids had moved the tension dial all the way to the top and it took me awhile to figure out why things weren't working. :)

    On my first large FMQ project I quilted 1/3 of a twin sized quilt before I realized that the stitching on the back was all loose and yucky. I meant to unpick it and redo it but it has been 10 years and I still haven't. It has been washed a million times and the girls still use it on their bed, so even if it is not pretty it still works. :) I have given up saying that I will fix it someday.

    Good Luck!!

  21. If you have access to this book it has a wealth of information...

    I took her class and by the end of class (8 hour day!) we were all doing feathers!! And you could tell they were feathers...she covers everything in the book...

  22. I only FMQ without putting things on the frame on little pieces. I haven't mastered the art of manhandling the bigger ones. I use the same thread on top and bottom. I played around with several threads until I found two types my machine and I like: Superior King Tut, which I love, and Aurifil, which I use when I don't realy want the thread to be part of the pattern. I am sticking with stippling and simple overall patterns at this stage. I use a titanium needle and it works just fine on my Bernina. One of the things I started at one time was following Leah Day's blog where she shows how to do a different FMQ most days. If I really wanted to become a good FMQer, I would go back to doing that. Other than that, it just takes practice and more practice. You are very talented, so I am sure you will do well.

  23. these comments are awesome! i have gotten so many tips! my only tip is... use gloves. i have "machingers" gloves and they are WONDERFUL! they fit snug and are really grippy.

  24. I have done minimal fmq, but have learned a couple of things: I totally benefit from the 'pedal to the metal' thought. I set my speed to whatever is comfortable with my foot all the way down. That way I only have to think about my hands, not my feet. Supporting your work is also crucial. I also always match top & bottom thread & sometimes move up a needle size for speciality thread. Practice is also key and be fearless!

  25. When I first started quilting 2 years ago, I jumped right in and did my own FMQ. Just stipple, but it was good practice. I drew out a stipple design about 12x12 and had it beside me so that I could follow along. My mind tended to "blank out" if I didn't do it!! I used this until I felt comfortable with the motion. I'm just now starting to practice doing feathers! I also use 80/12 needles for everything- it just needs to be sharp. Thread is cotton. Right now I put my feed dogs down, but I plan to get a Supreme Slider and then try leaving the dogs up(stitch length always at zero). Leah Day is amazing, as I'm sure you already know, and she says the tension is better this way! Keep plugging away and it gets better!

  26. Wow, what a lot of tips! I rarely FMQ but when I do I use two little rectangles of that non-slip rubber matting that you put on kitchen shelves and under microwaves, etc. to stop things slipping - you can get it in home ware stores (like Yorkshire Trading, etc.) for a couple of pounds a roll - if you can't find any let me know and I'll post you some! Good luck, the quilt is stunning!

  27. I sure can't give much help from my own experience since I'm so new to quilting and have only done a few quilts now. On those I pretty much did the stitch in the ditch so the FMQ is still on my list of things to learn and accomplish. Of course accomplishing FMQ could take years I'm positive.

    I can however, give you a link to what I think is the best place to go and learn and that's Leah Day's website(s).

    There you can watch tons of videos where she shows how to do many different FMQ stitches. Her videos are awesome too because of the way she's done all her videos. They are great because you hear her and not the sewing machine so you can really focus on listening to what she's explaining and watch at the same time.

    And then on her website which you can find here, she's got alot of great info to read.

    I HIGHLY recommend ordering her beginner combo kit. I bought this and it is an excellent tool to learn about FMQ with all sorts of great info for anyone wanting to learn FMQ. (FYI ~ I am not associated with her or her site in any way. She has no idea I'm even writing this although I felt I should add this since it is starting to look like a commercial for her. LOL)

  28. key is practice! Lots of it!
    I almost always use an 80/12 topstitch needle, I use the colour of thread that works for what I'm doing and don't worry about the type, I will match the bobbin thread to the colour of the the top thread, sometimes using the same thread, sometimes using a finer thread - I rarely use anything larger than a 50 weight thread in the bobbin, unless I'm doing bobbin work. I drop the feed dogs, don't worry about the stitch length, and check my tension at the beginning of each project. I also make sure I have my thread mounted correctly for how it is wound on the spool - horizontal for spiral wound versus vertical for stack wound)Extra care does need to be taken with some metallics - I'll use a thread net so it comes off the spool more consistently. And a big thing for me, which basically ended thread breakage and looping on the back side was to always make sure my bobbin is loaded so that the thread comes off it in a counter clockwise direction. Oh and clean your machine frequently - take out the bobbin case and remove any lint and buildup - I generally give a quick clean every three or so bobbins and a more thorough clean every new project.
    For me, I'm impatient - I rarely make a practice sandwich, preferring to do my practicing on a real sized piece because that is a big part of the learning - how to maneuver something real around. I made a lot of donation baby quilts for awhile as I was learning how to FMQ.
    Most of all have fun, keep the shoulders down and remember to breath!

  29. You know me Lynne - I just gathered up the courage and jumped in:-
    1. I use a 12/80 quilting needle and usually put a new needle in when I start a new project so it's nice and sharp - large projects remember to change your needle
    2. I've used polyester, raylon, cotton and even a metallic thread - all successfully
    3. I used to get loops on the underside but that was me not the machine - I moved everything around too fast up top - slow down and pace yourself - play some rhythmic music or a talking book
    4. I agree 100% - you don't have to drop your dog feeds - it's not always necessary
    5. Take some scrap paper and draw, draw, draw out the pattern you intend to use for quilting - so that it's almost second nature when you sit down at the machine - but remember sometimes the pattern you practice isn't what your hands tell you to do when you start quilting, instinct takes over, so go with the flow
    6. Remember FMQ isn't always fancy shapes sometime a series of slightly wavy lines, still FMQ can create just the right quilting pattern as well as lots of zig zigging, crossing and overcrossing straight lines and this is a great way to start FMQ
    I know your follow Leah's blog and there are lots of tips, advice and patterns there -

  30. I am a relative beginner, but have been practising my FMQ quite a bit...and there are lots of good tips here.
    -I use cotton or poly thread..haven't really noticed a difference, so just pick the colour I want.
    -I use a "top stitching" needle..apparently the groove for the thread is larger, so less likely to shred the thread.
    -needle size..I have used 14 and 12, I have also tried "quilting needles. All seem ok.
    -Start with a new needle for each project, and change it if it is a big quilt.
    -I do not drop my feed dogs (as per Leah Day) and set my stitch length to zero.
    -I do wear gloves..big help...I use surgical and very thin, but good grip.
    - I have a small table beside by machine to support the quilt, be sure to check frequently that it is not pulling or catching on anything.
    -If something does go wrong, I rethread the machine, both top and bobbin, and try again.
    -I kind of like the glass of wine and relax on the couch idea too!!

    Most of all..relax and take your time, just because the machine is going fast, doesn't mean that you have to move the fabric quickly. And dont panic if you get yourself sewed into a corner ...just wander back out again! After a good washing all these mistakes are very hard to find!! :)

  31. I am a beginner, and have joined with a group on

    to practice. This is good because it drives you to try it out, which may make it better, in time...
    It is a dip in and out group, so feel free to join in!

  32. I'm pretty much a beginner myself, but that's been going for a couple of years now so I'm beginning to get the hang of the basics. The tips I'd suggest are:

    1 Always practice first before starting on your quilt, every time, as this helps to get your eye in and your hand/eye co-ordination working.

    2 Wear some machine sewing gloves - I like Machingers because they're light and easy to wear, but you could just cut the fingers of a pair of rubber gloves and try that.

    3 Use any thread that works. Poly, cotton, they're not greatly different these days, and some machines like one or the other better.

    4 I find meandering, or some people call it vermicelli, really difficult; I prefer to do gentle swirls and then add in a star or a flower or a heart or a leaf every now and then.

    5 Top stitch needles seem to work best

    6 Leah Day and Patsy Thompson are brilliant

  33. I've already read a lot of great tips; thanks everyone.
    You've already been introduced to Leah Day, she's really great. And she says the main thing is practise, practise and some more practise.
    I always use needles from Schmetz: they have special needles for quilting and/or topstiching. They also have special needles called quick threading needles: the eye of the needle is a slideway slit. It's kinda hard to explain but the thread just slides in, instead of having to put it through an always diminishing hole.
    That was a side line ...
    I wrote to the Schmetz company and asked them for information booklets about their needles and they sent me some (20, so I could give them to my pals at the FMQ Class I went to).
    I used to panic whenever something went wrong and I'd stop (I cannot do this). Now I know it's something ANYONE can learn.
    I surround my sewing table with chairs when FMQ-ing a big quilt: to make sure the quilting isn't dragged down (if you know what I mean).
    Tension and threads: that's something you'll have to figure out by practising: on your machine it can be different than on mine or your neighbour's.
    Good luck!

  34. I use Aurifil thread (the one on the orange spool) and a size 70 sharp needle. I use the same thread in the top and in the bobbin, in the same color always. Don't be afraid to adjust the tension so you get a perfect stitch. Try to move your quilt at an even speed. We all tend to speed up going around a loop and that can lead to tension problems especially on the back. Sewing at an even speed also helps to keep the stitches fairly even. My biggest tip - stop frequently, adjust your hands, plan where you're going next and breath! It gets easier and easier!!

  35. Hi Lynne!

    Everyone's comments have been so good! My main hints are:

    Always practice for 5 to 10 minutes on a scrap sandwich before you start your quilting session. My machine seems to need a slightly different tension every day!

    If you haven't yet, try aurifil 50 weight for your fmq. It's so forgiving.

    I love Diane Gaudinsky's books, they really helped me break through.

    Make sure your quilt is supported. Nothing messes up your quilting like a quilt pulling on the needle.

    Microtex sharp needles. Love.

    Don't try to quilt in a cold room. Your back, neck, and shoulders will cramp up.

    Keep practicing!


  36. I don't do much FMQ--too hard on me (neck injuries), but the most helpful thing I learned was that some machines work better with the feed dogs up. Mine is one of them!

  37. Don't think I have too much to offer - wouldn't use polyester thread for piecing but think anything goes for quilting.I use "Machingers" gloves, they are brilliant and good for normal quilting too. I use Jeans 80/12 needles.
    This book is useful - Machine Quilting Made Easy (Joy of Quilting) [Paperback]
    Maurine Noble
    Practice, breathe, take breaks and remember to put your presser foot down.
    I have played at fmq, taught it!! but have never done a whole quilt, am in awe of the bloggers I come across who dive in and fmq a quilt in next to no time. Good luck with that beauty of a quilt.

  38. I FMQ on my Janome Horizon, and have had great luck with Connecting Threads own brand of cotton thread, but also Aurifil 50 cotton. I always use gloves, cover the bed (and the feed dogs) of the machine with a Supreme Slider, and do NOT lower the feed dogs (picked this tip up from Leah Day).

    Most of all, I'd say try to stay loose and focused, don't turn corners too quickly, and make friends with your seam ripper.

  39. I was trying to figure stuff out with FMQ night before last. Each time I set up and try to practice, my bottom thread looks like crap. Lots of the eye lashing, etc, but even when I do what the experts say (increase my tension for my needle), it still happens. I went all the way to the max (9) on my needle tension, and still it looked like crap. I know it's not the way I'm moving -- too fast or too slow -- because it always happens! :( I'm very glad you posted about this so I can trawl the comments and see what the others say.

  40. If you haven't already you should go check out Leah Day's blog and website. Here blog is She has some fabulous information and is great to work with too. She did a guest post on my blog for how to get started if you have never done it before and she has techniques on how to get better at it too. I'm not expert, but she definitely is!

  41. I have only done a bit- including today- my thoughts match Ethne's- new needle, I keep feed dogs up, mid to low speed. When I first did it a couple of years ago I must've filled 20 sheets of A4 front and back drawing the patterns- it helped me a lot mentally and visually. I used YLI 50wt top and bottom and my tension dial just under 7. I find quilts to much of a strain- I just do small things! The new extension table thing helps a lot- i guess you have one

  42. Wow there are a lot of tips here already, but for what it's worth here are mine.
    1. Wear gloves. Really.
    2. I use a jeans needle.
    3. I have the top tension down quite low - 2 or even 1. I always have a practice run first and adjust the tension as necessary.
    4. Dont touch the bobbin tension. Ever! Leave it to your service person.
    5. Make sure the quilt is well supported and not pulling.
    6. Relax your shoulders! (easier said than done).
    7. Don't watch the needle going up and down but look at where you're heading towards (like driving a car). Aim for your next turning point, pause, then go on.
    8. Oh yes and I use a fairly fine machine embroidery thread (I think!) same thread top and bottom.
    Have fun! As you know, I'm addicted to a bit of swirly quilting!

  43. I haven't done much FMQ but I always use the same thread top & bottom. I don't tend to get big loops on the back now (famous last words!!) but when I do I tend to just rethread my bobbin and it fixes it. Top thread breaks sometimes, but I think thats just because my hands and feet don't always work happily together! I have read a lot of info on Leah Days blog and use the supreme slider and bobbin washers. Oh and I couldn't do anything without gloves! I think most of all its just practice! Hope your enjoying doodling on that beautiful quilt! :)

  44. Something I just figured out this week: If your thread holder is vertical and the machine has to spin the spool to get the thread off, that may affect the tension. I had a rather large spool of thread and had to wind some off onto a bobbin and then use the bobbin as my top spool for my FMQ to work. My other machine has a side-ways thread holder that holds the spool still and just unwinds thread over the top . . . never have tension problems on that one. Hope that makes sense.

  45. I find the leap from small practice pieces to large quilts is really difficult. I find the practice, practice, practice the hardest part! Being patient enough and not expecting it to look fantastic when I'm inexperienced!

    My tip for us learners is to think about the busy-ness of the quilt top and backing. I had great success with a colourful, scrappy top and backing that had an overall pattern. Really though - the FMQ isn't any better on that quilt - it just doesn't stand out as much as when I try a large quilt with a lot of white space where the FMQ really does stand out.

    So for me the issues aren't really technical thread or tension ones - it's that I'm trying to run before I can walk :)

    Have loved reading all the tips here!

  46. How do I FMQ? Mmm I start with 10 helpings of Patience and a side of Humility. Hahahahaa...okay no really Lynn my best FMQ advice, and bear in mind I am a beginner, is to hum a little song. Now, I know that is going to get a good old LOL out of you but seriously! Whenever I hum my daughters' favorite lullaby while FMQing my stitches come out so much more even and happier. Silly right? But, it works!!!

    Practically though I use a quilting needle, 30ct cotton thread (I like it thicker if I'm going to use all that effort I want to SEE my results), an FMQ foot, the stitch length at 0, feed dogs down...the basics. ;)

  47. Thank you for posting this topic, & for ALL the fabulous answers! Happpy Quilting!

  48. Never let it be said that I don't look for an easy way to do things :D
    I use what ever needle is right of the fabric I'm working with.
    Match top and bobbin threads even if (like mine) they are cheep threads.
    If your getting loops as you turn a corner or making a curve but not when your sewing straight, just slow down on the corners and it will magically stop happening.
    I use an OLD Janome so YMMV I leave feed dogs well alone they just click away happily and don't bother me. I set my stitch length to 1 not 0 - that was trail and error and I have been known to swear at it to make it work.

    Oh and get a glass of wine stick some tunes on and have a laugh with it :D

  49. Three things work for me 1. Quilting gloves...I use Ansell all purpose glove...they are kind of like a gardening glove..but not as heavy..plastic on the palm side and a knit on the top .2. I spray starch the sewing machine bed to make it all slippery so the quilt glides more...3. I always use same colour thread (cotton) front and save alot of heart ache in the long run! Enjoy!

  50. I have had much luck lately with FMQ and without over-thinking...I tend to over think. It can be tricky to get to doing FMQ some days it seems, my machine and I need to be in the same groove. Just have fun! Oh, thread is the same both top and bottom.

  51. I agree with Archie the wonder dog, that's what I do too, I hate gloves, constantly taking them in and off drives me crazy but that stuff works a treat. Also take your shoe off, gives you more control on the foot pedal and I use a microtex needle. My machine has issues with FMQ though so I need to play around to try to get over them!

  52. I just don't do it :) but i might have another go now I've read through all these tips.

  53. Lynne, Christina over at A Few Scraps did a great series of tutorials on FMQ, everything from setting up your machine to threads to different styles of stitching. You can check out the whole series here:

    It's a great resource if you're trying to learn!

  54. Hi lynne, you will hate this answer but the machine is a huge huge influence. One will tangle and break, another will not. A fresh needle - try a top stitch one - is my best tip. Cindy at fluffy sheep quilting is having a weekly practicde along and i am running a fmq qal next year - would love you to join!

  55. Hi Lynne
    A couple of years ago I really got in to FMQ & although it does take practice it really is very enjoyable ... a couple of tips (what a laugh me giving tips, but aside from that) would be:
    1) make sure your bobbin & top thread match. I always use cotton quilting thread, but that's just a personal preference.
    2) its all about control, so going slow & steady are vital to keeping your stitches even
    3) invest in quilting gloves (or put them on your gifts for quilters list!)& a hoop - these both will help keep things sooth
    4) VERY IMPORTANT when you start, take a few stitches & pull your threads up to the top of your work - that way you won't get them caught up in your beautiful stitching!
    Hope this helps

  56. Hi Lynne! Lots of great advice, i agree with Laura, depends on your machine. Some you can put on a darning foot and go for it and have perfect stitching others you need to play around for a bit to get your tension right so your thread doesnt break and loopy threads on the bottom! Ive done a little bit of FMQ on quite a few different machines and theyve all got their own quirks. I always use a new needle, same thread top and bottom , i drop feed dogs (if they drop), stitch length at 0, lessen the foot pressure. The machine i use now i always have to adjust the tension ( in the bobbin also) so it may help to have a spare bobbin case thats adjusted specifically for FMQing. I dont know what sort of machine you use so that may be irrelevant! Anyway, Perservere!

  57. I didn't read all the comment but im a dive in head first newish quilter but this is what has worked for my basic Janome. First and foremost, if you have that nagging feeling to do a "no-no" to fix a problem DO IT. I read in so many places that the bobbin tension is only for the advanced and it normally isn't the problem.I was determined to do anything but change that bottom tension but after putting my tension on zero to eliminate eyelashing and talking to my LQS owner I gave in and did it. Amazingly, I am not scared of that little screw any more and I intuitively can adjust both the top and bottom tension.

    Second, Having the table at the right high is huge for me. I a bit wee and using my machine on top of a table has me sitting in a high chair while reaching for the foot petal.

    The third, is just relaxing and not stressing too much. Quilting is supposed to be fun and the more you over think it the more you will have problems. If you feel like you should raise the feed dogs, do it! If you bottom tension is driving you batty play with it. I am very much sold on having basic machines. There is less to mess up be scared of. Maybe thread is important but I haven't found a thread my machine won't warm up to with proper cleaning of lint regularly and tension adjustment.

  58. Wow,lots of great tips...

    I do think some machines work better than others for free motion.

    That said...I'm not all that good at it, if the pieces are to large, so Quilt As You Go is my answer.

    I also hum when I Free key I might add, it helps me get into a rythmn. My favorite..Why Why Delilah. I'm not sure if that's the title or not. That's the word of a lie, my quilting buddies will vouch for me.

  59. There are wonderful comments here!
    I really love the blocks in your post! They are awesome! I haven't read all 5o-something comments ahead of me, so if I duplicate something, please forgive me. Keep a notebook with all the machine, thread, needle etc. settings that work for you written down. Mine even has photos of the machine settings.

  60. I obviously didn't read all bazillion comments you've received already. So bear with me if I'm repeating anything they already said.

    Do you FMQ? Yes
    What needles do you use? Normal ones/whatever's in my machine. I'll buy the thicker/heavy duty ones if I think of it... but I usually don't think of it.
    What size thread? normal quilting weight. Coats & Clark?
    What tension settings? slightly tighter tension on the top thread (about a 2 compared to the 0/auto that I usually use)
    Does thread break? No - unless my needle gets a nick in it/is too dull.
    Do you prefer polyester or cotton thread for FMQ? I use cotton... and always have. not sure about poly.
    Do you change the settings from one thread to another? No.
    Do you have the same thread top and bottom? Yes
    Do you get loops on the bottom? No... unless the tension is off, or if I move too quickly in my loops. Typically it's a tension issue when it happens to me.

    My recommendations? Read through this blog post by Elizabeth Hartman also doodle a lot. doodle all sorts of things and don't pick up your pen. Get a feel for what you want it to look like and practice on paper (since it's cheaper than fabric)
    Also here's a pinterest board of different than stipple free motion ideas I've started. I like adding words and such... but I'm not very good at words just yet. I hope to see more of your FMQing soon! :) Have fun!

  61. I have a Bernina that I used to FMQ on and a Juki before I got my longarm. I never had to mess with the tension. I used a good cotton thread like Mettler, and loved using Aurifil in the bobbin because it goes farther. Now I would buy a cone of Superior, Glide, Signature and run it on one of the stand alone thread stands for cone shaped thread. They are so much cheaper to use (the cones), and you don't have to worry about running out of those little spools. It takes a long time to really get the groove of pedal to moving your hands. I had a lot of jerky stitches at first, but you know what, who cares? I was actually doing something besides straight lines. When I tried to stipple I just couldn't get it .. my trick was copying a stipple practice page out of a machine quilting book, and tracing the pattern with my finger, over and over to get the design done. Then I took the thread out of the sewing machine and sewed on that piece of paper over and over to get the design down some more. When I finally started on fabric I would think "intersecting puzzle pieces" when I quilted. For needles, I love the titanium needles by Superior ... I think the size 16 ... they are super and last forever! Make sure you give yourself breaks when you're machine quilting. It is so easy to keep going and then get kinks in your neck and back. Take a short break, stretch, move around, get a drink of water ... relax and have fun!

  62. Hey
    I have a Brother PQ1500s, I drop my feed dogs, use Aurifil 40 or 50 weight, sometimes Mettler. I ALWAYS use Machingers gloves, I bought a supreme slider but am not raving about it, it made a bit of difference, but not Major, may cause its a new machine and everything is slidey plastic anyway. I use extra lights, desk lamp etc, raise my swivel chair up a bit, and practice on a scrap quilt that is made up from the same components as your quilt until the tension settings are right. only change your bobbin tension if you absolutely have to,, 9 times out of 10 you can get it right by adjusting you top tension only. practice your design on paper with a felt tip pen. its all about training your brain to know what to do next, repeat it over and over even when watching telly or like me in meeting at work! then when it gets to the sewing machine you know the pattern inside out. Quilt as you go quilts are great for practicing FMQ as you can make samples and put them together as a quilt and not waste them. good luck :)

  63. I'm a novice in this area but I'm getting better just with practice. I find that up until now I am rather limited in my FMQ so I just mainly stipple or meander but with more practice pieces (meant for just practice) I'm able to relax and let go and the FMQing is improving. I'll be back to read more of the comments.

  64. You've gotten many great tips. I thought I would share a teaching blog for free motion quilting. The blog is Doodle Quilts by Sabrina Diehl. I just took a class from her and she is a wonderful teacher. Her blog posts take you from start to finish. She even has a practice project to put all of her lessons to use. Start with her posts from July 2010.

    Doodle Quilts

  65. When I free motion on my Horizon, I set the tension at 6-- it always works out best that way for me. Feed dogs down. I put a Supreme Slider down, and that makes a big difference with moving things around. I also use a topstitch 90/14 needle. Oh, and set the speed on your machine between about 1/2 and 3/4 at first so that you can put the peddle down all the way. It's easier than trying to adjust the speed with your foot.

  66. one last shout out.. check out Wendy does some fantastic FMQ on a sit down machine not a frame, she is really approachable, lovely and shares load of great tips on her blog too.. breathe! seriously, sometimes you forget, sit up straight, drop your shoulders.. have fun!

  67. I'm still a beginner, but I feel like it really helped when I followed Leah's post about how to break your fmq foot so it fits your machine nicely. :)

  68. Hi Lynne,

    I've been doing some reading over on Superior Threads' website trying to decide what thread to use in my longarm business. I came across a great tension tip that might help with your shredding. They say that the last thread guide, the one right above the needle, is often the one that causes problems. Skip it and your shredding issues may go away. It's worth a try!


  69. I haven't read through all the comments, so if this has already been mentioned, forgive me. Christina over at A Few Scraps has a wonderful series of posts all about FMQ, from how to set up your machine to trouble shooting when problems come up to practice patterns and tips. It's pretty comprehensive. Full disclosure: she's a friend and an AMAZING free motion quilter.

  70. I've scrolled through the responses quickly and am shocked that I haven't seen Leah Day mentioned. she is your ULTIMATE FMQ resource. You must find her!

  71. Just stumbled on your How do you FMQ. Well yes i do and i want to pass on three sites that have changed my FMQ life. Maybe you have been on them already. Leah Day is amazing. Read her archives. Patsy Thompson's web site and Wendy Shepard at Ivory Spring Patsy's archives are full of info and Wendy's Thread talk.....the same. Practise practise practise. I think the big thing for me has been to keep going. Your begining results will not be perfect but dont rip out and keep going. I have been quilting my many tops slowly but surely. By the time you finish a top much improve has happened. Also small pieces to practise help too. Make sure you are having fun.
    Awesome work you are doing!

  72. Looks like it has all been said:
    - Practice. Practice.Practice.
    - Sharp needle, not Universal helped me not skip stitches. Size 80/12 or 75/11
    - cotton batt, or Hobbs 80/20, not polyester
    - a freshly oiled, clean machine
    - good thread. Superior is nice.
    - good cotton backing, avoid using sheets
    - good lighting
    - quilting gloves are a must to make it easier to grip the fabric
    - support the work
    - do not be afraid of the tension dial
    - basting to avoid puckering:
    - tape the quilt back taunt, not too stretched
    - breathe
    - relax
    - Leah Day, Diane Gaudinsky, and Patsy Thompson rock.
    - my bobbin thread can break if there is lint stuck in the bobbin race so I try to keep that in mind


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