Monday, 31 August 2015

Five Free Motion Quilting Myths and How You Can Overcome Them!

File:We Can Do It!.jpgMy journey to free motion quilting was a long and winding one, peppered with a lot of obstacles, most of which were myths in my own head. I know I’m not alone in believing them. I thought it’s time we talk about them more openly and see if  we can't get rid of a few obstacles for some of you too.

Myth #1: You have to be a very experienced quilter (a.k.a. quilting for 20 years). 

Prior to discovering the online quilting community five years ago, the only quilters I knew who were great at free motion quilting were my senior by at least 10 years. Then I found Leah Day on YouTube when she was about 25. That woman’s got skillz! I said to myself, if she can do it, then surely I should be able to learn it before I retire.

Myth #2: You have to become good at piecing before you try free motion quilting. 

If you get really good at piecing, you may find that you become afraid of quilting your top because you don’t want to ruin it. Don’t wait! There’s no rule that you can’t build those skills at the same time.

If you are already a good piecer and find that you are now afraid to quilt your own quilts, make little projects like coasters, mug rugs, and placemats or quilt-as-you-go projects. It’s going to get coffee or food stains on it anyways so who cares if your pebbles aren’t perfectly round?

Myth #3: You need a fancy long arm machine or a stitch regulator. 

Nope, they are nice and helpful, but they don’t do the quilting for you. You do need a machine that works properly though. If you are trying to free motion quilt and are having a lot of problems with threads breaking or nesting and you’ve tried all the usual fixes (cleaning, rethreading, new needle, different thread) without success, there may be something wrong with the machine. The needle timing may be off or there may be burrs that don’t affect regular straight stitching, but interfere with free motion quilting. Try quilting on someone else’s machine (or demo a machine in a quilt shop – shh!). If you can do it without breaking threads on their machine, bring yours in for a servicing and tell the technician what problems you are having.

Myth #3: Free motion quilting is too complicated or advanced for you. 

If you can handwrite or drive, you can free motion quilt. Yes, really! Were you able to write cursive the first day you learned how to write the letter A? No! You practiced those damn As until you hated them and then you practiced those stupid Bs. You may not remember the frustration of trying to get those curves right because you were 5 or 6 at the time (I sure did because I had to do remedial handwriting classes – the joys of being a lefty), but you probably do remember how weird and jerky it was to have to drive at first? Eventually you stopped braking in the middle of the curve and did it before the turn, right? Free motion quilting just takes practice, practice and more practice. Did I mention it takes practice? Seriously. Do one coaster or mug rug a day with a different motif each day, every day for a few weeks. Wax on, wax off, Quilter-san!

Myth #4: You don’t want to waste fabric, batting and thread on something you won’t like. 

If your stash is too new and pretty to 'waste', go get some fuglies to practice on – either buy it in the clearance section or ask a long-time quilter if they have some to spare. As someone who is blessed with an abundance of “what was I thinking?” fabrics, I assure you that they would probably be happy to share some with you (if only to relieve themselves of the guilt of feeling they have to use it). I keep my batting leftovers for practice quilt sandwiches. As for the 'waste', I keep my better practice sandwiches on a ring as a reference for quilting ideas.

Myth #5: You are left-handed in a right-handed world. 

Okay, I’m totally making this one up (Five myths just seemed better than four). We lefties never let this one stop us!

Enough myths busted for you? What other myths about free motion quilting are holding you back? Going to give it a go?

Loop left, loop right, Quilter-san. You got this!

By the way, I'll be teaching my Modern Free Motion Quilting Sampler class on Saturday, October 3rd at Mad About Patchwork. Also, while you're there, check out the other great classes Pam has lined up for the Fall. There's even one based on Sherri Lynn Wood's book that I mentioned in my last post!


  1. This is Very timely. I haven't tried FMQ yet but have been working up the nerve to do it! Thanks for the shove. Err, push.

  2. I have been shattering those myths recently too. And I agree 100% with what you said, even the part about lefties. After several years of starting top after top and piling them up, I finally decided to just do it! My epiphany came after I looked at an older book on machine quilting, with quilts by many famous quilters, and realized their stitching looked quite a bit like some of my practice pieces. Off I went. I have finished two quilts so far this year. And they look pretty good if I do say so myself.

  3. I've done some free motion and I do wish I had jumped right in at the beginning because I don't like to do free motion on my piecing because I worry I'll ruin it. Fortunately I've got lot's of older tops lying around so I can practice on those.

  4. Great post M-R! Everything you say is so true. Quilting is really just learning a few shapes and then combining them to make patterns. You just need to dive in! And scraps are great for practicing with too if you don't want to use your stash.

    (BTW - I have been dreaming about your new cutting table with scrap storage - I am so jealous!)

  5. It definitely takes practice, practice, practice! I've been practicing more lately. I do want to be good at it. Still not confident, nor consistent enough to try it on an actual quilt though.

  6. I still feel like quilting is not my thing. You got some good points there though.

  7. You ar so right!!! we are our own worst critics!!!

  8. I thought I couldn't do fmq because my old Elna couldn't drop its feed dogs. Then I got my Juki and realized it wasn't about the feed dogs -- for my Elna it was because the bobbin lies horizontally instead of vertically. That machine is a workhorse in many ways, but it wasn't meant to free motion. So my mythbuster is that the machine does matter. Some are better than others and your machine might just be holding you back.

  9. All valid points. I think it's like anything......take it one stitch at a time and suddenly, you're done.

  10. how true - we can all FMQ !! thanks for the encouragement - just have to keep repeating wax on wax off Quilter-san !!! thanks

  11. Great tips! I have been quilting for awhile but FMQ has always eluded me. Maybe all of the above got to me! Anyway I am going to start giving it a go really soon. Scared and excited!


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