Free Motion Quilt (Stipple) Like a Pro

Photo Credit:  Olga Kuba

Every now and then I run across an article that I find useful and informative... I was in the Sewing Machine Shop looking for a free motion foot for my Janome sewing machine and the sales associate gave me an information sheet "From the Bench" by Dan Schoenberg (of The Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek, CA). I thought I'd post his information sheet here as I found it had some helpful information for improving my free motion quilting technique on my home sewing machine.








Free Motion Quilt (Stipple) Like A Pro

One of the most common complaints we receive from customers is that their machine is not performing adequately while doing free motion quilting. To understand the difficulty of free motion quilting we must first understand what we are asking the machine to do. During normal sewing, all sewing machines are designed to make a stitch with the fabric feeding a pre-determined stitch length while the needle is out of the fabric. This is referred to as "feed timing" and is an adjustment that we always check during a tune and service. In addition, sewing machines are engineered to feed fabric away from the sewer and will always have the best stitch quality while doing this. Try sewing in reverse (fabric moving towards you) and notice how drastically your tension changes causing the bobbin thread to show on the top.

When a sewer free motions, they move the fabric while the needle is in and out of the fabric so the machine has to form stitches while the fabric is moving; no easy task. In addition, the sewer is moving the fabric in multiple directions which, as noted above, changes  tension characteristics constantly. The bottom line is that we need to compromise. I will give you some great tips to get beautiful quilt stitches.

  1. The thinner the thread the better. The idea in all sewing is to hide the knot between top and bobbin thread. The thinner the thread the smaller the knot. I see a lot of quilters using fairly thick thread on both free motion and piecing. We really like Aurifil thread (Wooden Gate Quilts likes Presencia, also a 50wt long staple cotton thread but is 3-ply rather than 2 ply). It is thin yet strong and is very high quality. If you have to use thicker thread for effect, counter this with a very thin thread on the bottom (Wooden Gate Quilts sells a 60wt bobbin thread called Bottom Line by Superior Threads, we at WGQ love it!).
  2. To get uniform stitch length, you must keep the speed of the machine constant and move the fabric at a constant speed. It is impossible to move fabric at a constant speed, but it is possible to keep your machine constant by setting your maximum speed slider (most modern machines) at your desired speed and pressing your foot control all the way down (max).
  3. Keep your stitches between 2mm and 3mm as best as you can. This is the stitch length at which we balance tension and how most machines are pre-set at factory. Long stitch length leaves small loops on the underside and tiny stitches bring the bobbin thread to the top. It is especially important to keep your stitches from getting too long while doing curves as this really causes the eyelashes on the underside.
  4. Run a test prior to starting your quilt. First sew just away from you and towards you - back and forth. Then sew just from left to right back and forth several times. After observing your stitch, you can now make your final tension adjustment. Remember that tension stitch quality will not be the same as it will change as we change directions and as stitch lengths vary. We are making a grand compromise to put it in an acceptable range. If the top thread is too loopy on the underside, then we must increase top thread tension. If bottom thread is coming to the top, we must reduce top tension.

I hope this helps you understand the dynamics of free motion sewing. Like always, we are here to help. Don't hesitate to see us if your free moon sewing is not up to snuff.

Article: Dan Schoenberg
Sewing Machine Shop
1661 Botelho Drive, Suite 180
Walnut Creek 94596
(925) 937-7575  |



Life is a Happy Adventure...

Peace Doll_1500.jpg

...and you need some gal pals (and boy pals!) to share your adventures. You need a place to meet and play–to plan the shenanigans you'll conceive and create the masterpieces you'll imagine.

Wooden Gate Quilts quilt shop houses the pals and provides the space for planning and realizing your next great adventure. We don't just sell marvelous fabrics and sewing notions, we inspire you, we encourage you, we befriend you. When you enter our door you become one of us, a loved and cherished member of our community. Lives happen here–all the good stuff and all the bad stuff. We celebrate, we grieve, we mourn losses, we scheme, we support, we encourage, we create, we teach, we assist, we even "oooo and ahhhh!" That's what makes our quilt shop so special. 

My daughter wrote an essay for me, to describe the community I wanted to build here at Wooden Gate Quilts and she wrote it so eloquently. It was first published in our October 2014 email newsletter, I'm reposting that essay as my first blog post. I would like to invite you into our community of quilters and stitchers and friends, in our little corner of the big wide world.

If you are in the area of Danville, CA... please stop in and say Hi! We would love to chat with you and embrace you and welcome you into our community no matter the duration of your stay.

More than Just a Fabric Store
by Hannah Foster

A “bee”: a gathering in which neighbors unite their labor for the benefit of one of their number. 

Quilting Bees were most popular in the 19th century, particularly during the Civil War and the expansion to the west—the settling of the Great Plains. Without the advent of standardized patterns, sewing machines, etc., it took either far longer or far more hands to make a single quilt. Instead of trying to do all the work themselves, women would make individual squares at home in the long winter months and then gather in large groups—often traveling many miles with their families—in the spring and summer months to join squares and produce one quilt at a time. Since then however, sewing machines have become more widely available, and there is no longer a need for many pairs of hands to work on a single quilt.

In an era where the tedium of repetitive, time-consuming stitching is handled by technology, what is the need for a joined team of hands in a quilting-bee or any other gathering of quilters?

The answer: a joined team of hearts. I have observed what goes on in Wooden Gate Quilts; while the technical necessities are negated by modern sewing machines, the communal spirit of a quilting bee lives on in the women who gather, gossip, and give to one another.

But that “one” was never just in need of a quilt. It was a woman and a family in need of love, of recognition, of support, of help. The community that gathers in Wooden Gate Quilts provides those things. The women offer support and healing thoughts to the one of their number whose granddaughter was recently diagnosed with leukemia. They send quilting blocks to the woman in the hospital with a broken femur.  They wear outrageous wigs to lift the spirits of the woman who went through chemotherapy. I have no doubt that the women of Wooden Gate Quilts would join in any way needed to extend a hand, a heart. Quilters: the craft they make warms bodies, the work they share—in a bee, in a store, in a classroom, anywhere where they join together—warms souls.