Modern Sunbonnet Sue's Musings

Musings from the mind of a modern day Sue:
Tips on FMQ (Free Motion Quilting)

I have been quilting on a wallhanging that I plan to enter in the St. John's Mint Festival Quilt Show. Some of the quilting is just straight lines, but currently, I am doing FMQ. Everytime that I begin a new machine quilting project, I take several steps to improve upon my results. Though I consider myself only a "Tried & True Novice", I thought I would share 10 tips for getting started with FMQ that have been useful for me.

1. Begin by cleaning the lint from the sewing machine. I use the brush that came with the machine, as well as, some canned air. I know that some places tell you not to use the canned air on your computerized machine, but I met a Bernia dealer that says she does it all the time.

2. Oil the bobbin hook. Check with your manufacturers instructions before oiling anything on your machine, especially computerized machines. Many do not require oiling; mine does. I always run scrap fabric without thread through the machine after oiling to remove any residue that could get onto the quilt during the FMQ.

3. Put in a new needle. This is something I do whenever I start any new project, not just a FMQ project. Needles get bent or develop burrs. Changing the needle can resolve a lot of issues. Needles, like thread, are a preference. I've tried out different needles and am currently trying out a Schmetz 75/11 quilting needle.

4. Adjust the bobbon tension. Generally, a lower bobbon tension allows smoother movement of the quilt and doesn't cause those taunt threads around curves on the back side. Again, check the instruction booklet that came with your sewing machine to determine how to lower the tension. There may even be information on FMQ in your booklet.

5. Put on the FMQ foot. This is likely a foot that you will have to purchase.

6. Lower the feed dogs. I know this seems obvious, but, I quilted quite a bit of a small wallhanging once without lowering the feed dogs and couldn't figure out why I was having so much trouble maneuvering the quilt.

7. Clear everything around the sewing machine to allow for adequate space to maneauver the quilt. You may even need additional tables to help hold up larger quilts. Otherwise, the drag from the weight of the quilt will cause difficulties with quilting.

8. Put on FMQ gloves to provide additional grip while quilting. I actually prefer Sue Nickels suggestion of using the fingertips of Playtex gloves. They are easy to find at most any grocery store and inexpensive. As well, they don't make my hands sweat.

9. Practice the design on a fabric sandwich before actually applying it to the quilt. This allows me time to warm up and get comfortable.

10. Hold both the top & bottom thread taunt as you begin the stitching to be sure the thread doesn't bunch up on the back. Take a few very tiny stitches at the beginning and end to avoid a knot on the back. And, leave an extra length of thread at the beginning and end of the FMQ. The longer lengths of thread are easier to handle when knotting and burying the thread in the quilt sandwich.

I'm sure that there are many other tips for FMQ. The more you work at it the better you become.

Published Sat, Jul 30 2011 9:06 AM by Pamela


# re: Tips on FMQ (Free Motion Quilting)@ Monday, August 1, 2011 9:25 PM

Thanks for the tips.  I am a novice at FMQ and appreciate that you share what you have learned the hard way.  I never thought about changing needles.


# re: Tips on FMQ (Free Motion Quilting)@ Friday, August 5, 2011 1:31 PM


Great tips!  I would like to suggest that the needle size should be connected to the size of the thread. Please check out our website at to find a lot of education on thread types, needle sizes and both top and bottom tension.  

It looks like you're well on your way to being an experienced machine quilter.


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