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free motion quilting

quiltmaker | Posted in Quilting and Home Decor on

I am new to free motion quilting, using an Elna 1500, small machine. Have just purchased a Big Foot and some Schmetz quilting needles for the machine but am having difficulty with “skips”.

Can anyone out there tell me why this happens?

Have tried with a hoop, but since the bed of the machine is so small the hoop seems more trouble that it is worth, or is that my answer ?  Maybe the fabric has to be taut to not skip ?




  1. carolfresia | | #1

    I've never free-motion quilted, so I hope someone else will step in and answer, too. However, I saw a demo of it this weekend by a Bernina educator, and she didn't use a hoop--just held the fabric taut between her hands, and moved it around with the feed dogs dropped. I'm guessing the skips have to do with how you're feeding the fabric--anyone else have any tips?

    Meanwhile, have you taken a look at the Diane Gaudynski (sp??) Video Tips on the Threads homepage?  She shows you some exercises for perfecting your free-motion quilting.


    1. quiltmaker | | #4

      Thanks for the reply, I will take a look at the Threads home page for the Gaudynski (sp) tips on free motion sewing.  That idea of watching someone actually doing the work is also a good idea, I need to attend more classes !

    2. callie1 | | #5

      I do a lot of free motion quilting and took a seminar on it this last summer.  The main thing I learned was to go really fast!!!  Believe it or not the faster you sew the better your stitches will look and the smoother your lines will be.  The teacher kept standing over us and telling us we were going too slow.  Put together a few quilt sandwiches to play with.  It's great to have a "library" of different patterns that you can refer to.  I promise after about six practice sandwiches you'll be ready to go. 

      You shouldn't need a hoop, and I definitely suggest using cotton batting as it's much easier to work with and doesn't poke through the holes the needle makes like the synthetic stuff does.  The best way to guide the fabric is by using one hand to grip a handful of it and the other hand flat to guide the material.  You won't get as tired this way and you'll have better control. 

      Good luck, it's a lot of fun once you get going.

      1. Susannah | | #6

        I did a machine quilting course a few years ago, and agree with Callie - going fast is the best way to get the stipple quilting effect.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works.  I also didn't hoop the fabric, but one tip that I was given was to wear rubber gloves (household ones, the sort that those of us without dishwashers use when washing the dishes).  They seem to help with getting a grip on the fabric.  The only other suggestion  I would have is to practice.  I ended up  with a lot of smallish squares of fabric with random stipple quilting, that ended up being quite interesting, and I converted them into pincushions and a patchwork cushion cover.


      2. quiltmaker | | #7

        Great tips, Callie, thanks.  My speed is very erratic and when I read your note I realize that sometimes I have been going VERY slowly.  So I will give this a go, I know that the times when I was doing OK with the technique it was fun and looked really good too.  I guess it is like anything else, practice, practice, practice.

        Besides which, I just had my machine tuned up, ashamedly,it had never been in the five years I had owned it, but now it runs so smoothly and quietly, no more clunking noises !

        Thanks again.

  2. lin327 | | #2

    I've never done free motion quilting...but I have done free motion embroidery and have a suggestion.  I used to get skips, and large gaps between stitches because my timing was off a little.  What I mean by that is I had to learn when to move the fabric in relation to when the needle went up and down in the fabric. I had to learn how to time it so I wasn't moving the fabric until the needle was completely out of the fabric, then move it.  If the fabric is moving while the mechanical part is attempting to make a stitch, then the stitch might not get formed properly.  It takes time and practice to get the timing of the hands and the fabric and the machine all coordinated.

    The other suggestion...does the fabric sandwich jump up and down while quilting, that is--does the fabric pops up from the bed of the machine when the needle and foot are raised up to the top of the mechanical movement?  Just hold the fabric tighter against the bed of the machine and that should help.

    1. quiltmaker | | #3

      Dear LinDaKat,

      Thanks for replying to my query.  I have an idea that you are correct in that I need to practice coordinating my pedal and my hand movement, also the tip about holding the fabric tightly against the bed is a good suggestion.  THanks again.


  3. carrotbug | | #8

    Hi there.  I just got brave and free-motion quilted a wall hanging that took me a year to paper piece.  I practiced first and ended up with some great fabric to make eye glass cases with.  Here is my suggestion:  sew really fast!  With the machine on full speed I actually had better control (I don't use a hoop) and ended up with no skips.  Good luck and be brave!

    1. FitnessNut | | #9

      You ARE brave!!!! If I was new to free-motion quilting and had taken a year (!) to paper piece, I would have been scared s***less! (Can I say that? I hope I didn't offend anyone.)

      Good for you!


    2. quiltmaker | | #10

      Thanks for the advice, karenm, I have been practicing and faster does seem to be better  I also got the machine tuned up and I think that helped too.  I am using a combo of hand and machine quilting on this project and with more practice it is even getting to be fun.

      Not using a hoop, that just seems to be in the way, I am holding the fabric fairly taut and as flat against the machine bed as possible.  Thanks again.

  4. JulieP25 | | #11

    I have been working on a baby quilt. I have been reluctant to try out free motion quilting. But I guess from the great tips here jumping right in is the best. jules

    1. Desiderata | | #12

      So if I understand correctly, this is like free motion embroidery right? feeddogs lowered or covered (depending on the machine) quilting foot and stitch length at 0 and away you go?

      Yes, I too would be scared!!!!!!! How do you manage a full sized quilt at that speed?

      1. JulieP25 | | #13

        You roll up the quilt and work on it by sections.  It is manageable but takes practice.  If I get a chance during the summmer I plan to take some quilting classes to learn more. I think for free motionstuff, I need to see hands on. jules

        1. Desiderata | | #14

          And if you make a mistake do you have to unpick?!!! I am such a "picky" sewer.....guess I could start by practicing on potholders or use my practice pieces as potholders!


          sew cheers

          1. JulieP25 | | #15

            All I can say is yes. I unpick alot too. I find this free motion quilting is a practice and more practice thing. Time is something I do not always have a lot of. I often use a rolling type of foot on my machine with the feed dogs up and follow the outline of the blocks. I find this works great on the baby sized quilts but I have not tried on anything larger.  I look at this as a journey into the world of quilting. I just might not master all of the techniques. jules

            Happy Thanksgiving to All.

            Edited 11/27/2003 3:59:39 PM ET by jules

          2. callie1 | | #16

                 With free motion quilting I prefer to not be too exact in my designs.  If I want perfect 4" squares I'll use a walking foot.  The fun in free motion is the free part.  If all my daisies, cat heads, leaves, etc. don't look exactly the same, well that's how you know it was hand made. 

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