Getting Started with Free Motion Quilting

I learned how to free motion quilt (fmq) on my domestic sewing machine around 2009. I loved the look of machine quilting, but wanted to be able to do the quilting myself instead of having to send my tops to a long arm quilter.


I first set out to learn how to fmq by reading about it online. I would gather tips and tricks from different sites and then practice for hours on my machine. For several years, I would only stipple/meander. Sometimes I’d throw some loops in there, but mostly, I’d just stipple. I liked the look and I was really comfortable with quilting the simple design.


I eventually decided I needed to take the time to learn to be comfortable with some other designs, too. That basically meant I needed to practice. A lot.

At first, my new designs were not so pretty. Sometimes they are still not so pretty. But like with anything, the more you practice the better you become. I now feel pretty comfortable trying out new patterns, but it might surprise you to know that I still practice a lot.


I probably get asked about free motion quilting more than any other quilting topic. I know that it’s something a lot of you would like to try out, but are maybe a little nervous about (that’s at least how I felt at first). Since free motion quilting is an aspect of the quilting process that I absolutely LOVE and I thought I’d share some basics today.

Machine Basics for Free Motion Quilting

I have done fmq on multiple machines. I started out on my Grandma’s vintage 1950s Singer and since then have also used an inexpensive Brother, a Bernina, and now I primarily use a Juki for fmq.

No matter what type of machine you have, there are only a couple things your machine needs to do to be able to fmq on it.

  1. You need to be able to lower or turn off your feed dogs. This is so you can be in complete control of how the quilt moves under the needle. You don’t want competition from the feed dogs as they try to get the fabric to move in a straight line. Most machines have a button or lever to lower them really easily.
  2. Attach an embroidery foot. They can be made from plastic or metal and are generally round on the bottom to allow the fabric to easily move in any direction. If your machine didn’t come with one, you can almost certainly find one to buy online. The Brother machine I used for awhile didn’t come with an embroidery foot and it cost me around $10 to order one from ebay.


That’s it! That’s all you need to get started with fmq on your machine!

You can make a quilt sandwich to practice on (backing, batting, and top basted with safety pins so it doesn’t shift) and go for it! I keep large scraps of fabric that I know I won’t be using in a quilt and turn those into practice pieces. I use those practice pieces to try out new designs, but also to warm up and check the tension of my machine before I start quilting on my “real” project. (Getting the tension just right can be a real struggle and deserves a post all by itself!). Watching some videos on youtube is also a great way to feel more comfortable trying out a design.

Please don’t get discouraged if your fmq designs aren’t project-worthy right away! It will take some time to get those quilted lines just how you like them. And if you decide that fmq is not your thing—that’s OK! We all have different quilting strengths and there’s no sense in agonizing over an area of quilting that you don’t really enjoy! Spend your sewing time doing the things that you love.

Thanks for reading and if you’d like to see more posts with free motion quilting tips, let me know in the comments!


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