Finish with Free-motion Quilting
or Continuous Line Quilting

Once you master the skill of free-motion quilting or continuous line quilting you can take full ownership of your quilt.

Quilting is not just for the experienced...it is also for beginners.


If you have a sewing machine that you used to piece your quilt top then you can turn your quilt into a finished work of art!

Start with a quilt that has the three layers basted together; your pieced top, the right batting and a full piece of backing that has been basted together.

You can either pin baste, hand baste, or use a basting gun but... you must baste by using one of these choices.

Take a look at quilting frames used for basting that rest on the back of four straight-back chairs.

The frame is easy to make, light weight, minimizes the back pain, and not hard to handle for putting up and taking down.

Handling a Large Quilt when Learning
the Free-Motion Technique

When quilting a project that is larger than a regular size quilt you will need a large surface to the rear and to the left of your machine to support the weight of the quilt.

Stretch out your quilt on your cutting table and roll the two sides towards the center, leaving a 12-inch swath down the center of the quilt unrolled.

Secure the rolled edges with quilter’s circular clamps or safety pins.

You can use flexible metal rings that you use to hold the legs of your jeans against the body while cycling so that your pants don’t get caught in the bicycle chain too. Look for them at a sporting goods store.

If your cutting table is not large enough you may have to lay the quilt on the floor and roll the edges.

I prefer standing up to quilt so I place my machine either at the end of the cutting table or at the side of the table depending on how big the quilt is.

Practical Tips For Free Motion Quilting


Break up the boredom by listening to Talk radio, music or your favorite television show when you are practicing continuous and free-motion quilting for several hours at a time.

Locate and keep handy the owner’s manual, extra needles, lint brush, and extra filled bobbins for your sewing machine.

Use the walking foot with feed dogs in the up position for straight lines or slightly curved lines. A walking foot will prevent the quilt back from shifting.

Use a quilting foot when free-motion quilting. This foot is also called a darning foot without the feed dogs. It will allow the quilt to glide without coming in contact with the quilting foot.

Try tracing your block design on to freezer paper and pressing the paper into place. Then sew on the lines and tear away the paper.

This simple heart design was made using the June Taylor templates.

Do several blocks at a time to avoid having to take the quilt from the machine to the ironing board after each block has been stitched.

Clean your machine by wiping lint from the needle and presser foot area as well as the bobbin area.

If you are a beginner, practice by using a 100-percent cotton thread with a universal size needle.

Try a variety of needles to determine which works for your choice of threads. Balanced tension produces excellent quilting stitches when the choice of thread is being used with the right needle. Keep the thread chart handy for matching thread to needles.

In general, you’ll need a larger-size needle for machine quilting, since the needle needs to make a large enough hole in all three quilt layers for the thread to travel through. Quilting threads and quilting needles are interwoven. The point code chart takes the guess work away.

Keep this point code chart handy…choosing the right size needle to fit the thread can be challenging.

Cotton is your best choice for the bobbin…use the decorative threads on the quilt top.

Expand the sewing area by placing a couple of folding tables one at the immediate left and one in front of the sewing machine to support the quilt as you practice your free-motion quilting.

if you prefer to stand up and quilt you can use a counter top in your kitchen or your cutting table This piece of Sewing Room Furniture is perfect. If possible "set up" the area so as not be disturbed until you finish your free-motion quilting project.

Latex surgical gloves or rubber fingers from the office supply store will help you grip the quilt so you can move it around easily…the quilt is suppose to glide under the darning foot when  you do free motion quilting.

Spray an anti-friction wax such as Quilt Glide on the bed of the machine to make the quilt glide when free-motion quilting.

An Ott-Lite or another suitable portable light would be handy so that you can direct the lighting toward the sewing area.

Quilting Supplies: Test your thread on a sample quilt sandwich block before moving on to the real quilt. On the sample block record the name of the thread, size and type of needle that worked best, what bobbin thread you used, the tension setting of your machine, and the batting choice. Refer back the next time you use that thread. You won’t have to start from scratch when you start a new quilt.

The best sewing machine for machine quilting should have a larger throat opening to handle bulky quilts…the opening between the needle and the motor. A Janome 1600P has a 9-inch throat which makes it an excellent choice. The Husqvarna has a 7 1/2- inch throat but the Singer featherweight is only 5 1/4 inches which makes it nearly impossible for quilting but excellent for piecing on-the-go.

Try tracing your block design on to freezer paper and pressing the paper into place. Then sew on the lines and tear away the paper.

This simple heart design was made using the June Taylor templates.

Do several blocks at a time to avoid having to take the quilt from the machine to the ironing board after each block has been stitched.

Clean your machine by wiping lint from the needle and presser foot area as well as the bobbin area.

If you are a beginner, practice by using a 100-percent cotton thread with a universal size needle.

Try a variety of needles to determine which works for your choice of threads. Balanced tension produces excellent quilting stitches when the choice of thread is being used with the right needle. Keep the thread chart handy for matching thread to needles.

In general, you’ll need a larger-size needle for machine quilting, since the needle needs to make a large enough hole in all three quilt layers for the thread to travel through. Quilting threads and quilting needles are interwoven. The point code chart takes the guess work away.

Keep this point code chart handy…choosing the right size needle to fit the thread can be challenging.

Cotton is your best choice for the bobbin…use the decorative threads on the quilt top.

Expand the sewing area by placing a couple of folding tables one at the immediate left and one in front of the sewing machine to support the quilt as you practice your free-motion quilting.

If you prefer to stand up and quilt you can use a counter top in your kitchen or your cutting table This piece of Sewing Room Furniture is perfect. If possible "set up" the area so as not be disturbed until you finish your free-motion quilting project.

Latex surgical gloves or rubber fingers from the office supply store will help you grip the quilt so you can move it around easily…the quilt is suppose to glide under the darning foot when you do free motion quilting.

Spray an anti-friction wax such as Quilt Glide on the bed of the machine to make the quilt glide when free-motion quilting.

An Ott-Lite or another suitable portable light would be handy so that you can direct the lighting toward the sewing area.

Quilting Supplies: Test your thread on a sample quilt sandwich block before moving on to the real quilt. On the sample block record the name of the thread, size and type of needle that worked best, what bobbin thread you used, the tension setting of your machine, and the batting choice. Refer back the next time you use that thread. You won’t have to start from scratch when you start a new quilt.

The best sewing machine for machine quilting should have a larger throat opening to handle bulky quilts…the opening between the needle and the motor. A Janome 1600P has a 9-inch throat which makes it an excellent choice. The Husqvarna has a 7 1/2- inch throat but the Singer featherweight is only 5 1/4 inches which makes it nearly impossible for quilting but excellent for piecing on-the-go.

Two Ways to Quilt Using a Sewing Machine

For hand-guided machines, the patterns are usually paper. The designs are frequently made up of one continuous line, which when repeated across the quilt, span the area from edge-to-edge.

free-motion quilting is done using a sewing machine. Because it is fast you can quickly crank out all those quilt tops that are just waiting to be quilted.

When comparing machine quilting to hand quilting there is a difference in stitch quality as seen on nearly all Amish quilts. Ten hand stitches per inch is the norm rather than the exception for a hand quilted Amish quilt.

In fact, we were so conditioned to the Amish standard of quilting that machine free-motion quilting wasn't well received when it was first introduced because of the reputation that hand quilting had earned.

Machine quilting soon caught on for two reasons…it is fast and allows for embellishment threads that would otherwise be impossible when hand quilting.

Continuous quilting and free-motion quilting unleashed mountains of creativity in machine quilters and allowed them to introduce talents that had went undetected prior to this point in the quilting world.

This demand, once again, revolutionized the thread industry and the push was on for more and fancier quilting threads. Much like the rotary cutter revolutionized the cutting of fabrics.

The goal of all continuous-line quilting patterns and the free-motion patterns is to stitch the design without ever stopping or crossing over another line. I know, you’re thinking, impossible!

There are two ways to machine quilt; 1.) Machine guided with the feed dogs up; 2.) Free-motion with the feed dogs down or covered.

Let’s talk about machine guided quilting with the feed dogs up first. It is usually straight stitching or slightly curved lines. Very easy to learn and will provide confidence to tackle the free motion style a little later.

Machine Guided Continuous Quilting

Machine guided continuous quilting is the easiest of the two machine quilting instructions and is best used for small wall hangings, baby quilts or small projects until you are able to handle the bulk of a large quilt.

You will be using your walking foot. You will have the feed dogs in the raised position and the foot will keep the upper fabric layer in tandem with the machine’s feed dogs. In other words, all three layers will move in unison.

The walking foot keeps the quilting smoother and pucker-free because it feeds all three layers of the quilt through the machine evenly.

Without the walking foot the feed dogs (the teeth under the needle) will only feed the bottom layer of fabric through the machine, leaving the batting and top layers open to puckering because they are not being feed at the same rate.

Using one of your learning sandwiched blocks let’s do a little practicing.

Using a contrasting shade of all-purpose thread such as 100-percent cotton, thread the sewing machine. Monofilament thread makes the stitching invisible and has it place when quilting some projects. But it is not a thread for which to learn with as you need to see what you are doing.

The bobbin should also have an all-purpose thread in a contrasting color with your backing fabric. You are learning and need to see the end results.

Set the stitch length on the machine between 6 and 10 stitches per inch. Experiment with this setting.

Place the center area of the quilt in the machine.

To Start: Take one stitch and with the needle in the up position raise the walking foot. Pull the top thread tail so that the bobbin thread tail comes up through the hole in the stitch you just made. You now have both tails on the top of the quilt. This keeps the bobbin thread from “balling up” on the backing.

To Secure Thread to Start: Lower the walking foot and begin stitching by taking two stitches and then stop. Put your machine in reverse and take two stitches backward to secure the thread. Note: clip these thread tails as soon as you have the necessary clearance. This is a time saver later when the top has been all quilted.

To Stitch: You are now ready to stitch your quilt.

To Stop: when you need to stop stitching, take two stitches backward to secure the thread.

To Advance: Continue stitching moving forward and without reversing along your natural marked lines such as in-the-ditch quilting. Hand Quilting is priceless – this no marking method of quilting is a natural for continuous quilting too.

To Turn Direction: When you need to turn the quilt in order to continue to sew, lower the needle into the fabric, raise the walking foot, pivot the quilt in the direction you want to go, lower the walking foot again and continue stitching. No need to tie off at this point as you have not broke the threads.

To Secure Thread to End: When you need to stop stitching, take two stitches backward to secure the thread.

Remember to secure the thread at the beginning and at the end or you risk the stitches coming undone at these points. Not good!

After you finish quilting the immediate area, remove the project from under the walking foot and expose an area that has not been quilted. Repeat the above steps until you have quilted the entire project.

Free-motion Quilting With the Feed Dogs Down

Let’s tackle the second way to machine quilt. Free-motion quilting requires practice in order to master this technique.

It uses fancier patterns limited only to your imagination and talents.

For free-motion quilting you will need a darning foot. This type of foot has a rounded toe that travels just above the surface of the fabric…no feed dog help here!

For free-motion quilting you will either be turning a knob to lower the teeth or you will cover the feed dogs by covering with a special plastic cover or just place a piece of cardboard over the area and secure with a piece of masking tape. Refer to your machine’s manual to see exactly how your machine works for free-motion quilting.

Set the length of the straight-stitch to zero as you will be controlling the length of each stitch by the speed in which you are moving the quilt and the speed in which you are pushing on the gas (machine peddle)! Reflect back to when you learned to drive an automobile and you will have the free-motion quilting technique.

After inserting the darning foot and disengaging the feed dogs, thread your machine and bobbin as you did using our first example: machine guided with the feed dogs up.

Practice on one of your quilting sandwiched blocks. With free-motion it’s all about rhythm and the positioning of your hands. Too much pressure in your hands will yield erratic movements and consequently irregular stitches.

Practice will bring back good results…but you have to master the rhythm for free-motion quilting. Keep in mind that doing free-motion quilting is never perfect at first and takes a lot of practice to produce the desired stitches. Pick up a package of the June Taylor Mix ‘n Match Templates for quilt top stitching designs to help create your practice blocks

Relax, apply the right pressure, and focus on the part under the needle and the immediate area surrounding that area. Make sure the working space is adequate size to provide you with adequate room.

Have a comfortable chair to support your back. Support in the bridge of your back is very important. That is why some like to stand and quilt.

If you are one of them, make sure the table is at the elbow height…the same height as your kitchen counter or your cutting table.

Your body will let you know when it is time to rest…if your back begins to show signs of aches and pain, your eyes seem to blur from concentrating on one spot too long, or your mind begins to wonder take a break.

Remember, fatigue can be transferred to your quilting stitches. Your sewing machine may need a rest too. A small motor is not designed to run continuously for a long period of time. It needs to cool off.

Secure the beginning stitches by taking two or three stitches in the same spot and then begin slowly. Glide the quilt with your two hands so that the needle follows the marked design on the quilt top. The object is to have uniform stitches. This happens when you are moving your quilt top at the same speed that you are pushing on the sewing peddle. Slow and easy is the key!

Free-motion machine quilting takes practice but you can master the technique. After you graduate from the quilting sandwiched blocks, start on small projects, such as pillows, placemats or wall hangings before moving on to larger projects.




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