Tips for Free Motion Quilting With Rulers

Free motion quilting with rulers

This isn't an indepth post of tips, but rather a couple of thoughts I had while doing some ruler work over the last few days.

Free motion quilting with rulers
A customer quilt!


My hands down favorites are the Fine Line Rulers from Accents in Design. These rulers have non-slip grip built into the bottom of the ruler and pegs on the top to help with grip.

While rulers can be spendy, having a wide assortment of sizes and shapes are important when it comes to doing anything with curves. Certain size piecing or blocks just need an appropriate sized ruler.


Apply consistent pressure, but not too hard downward or the quilt will be hard to move.

Make sure the tips of at least one or two fingers of the hand holding the ruler are off the ruler and on the fabric so the ruler and quilt move as one.

Wearing grippy gloves or finger cot things will help hold everything securely.


Watch out for dips and uneven spots around the bed of the machine that may cause the ruler to wobble. (Like the edge of the stitch plate.)

Make sure the ruler doesn't drift away from the foot, but don't push too hard against the ruler toe.

Watch out for bulky seam allowances that will interfere with the smooth motion of your ruler and quilt. They can act almost like a brake against the foot.

Make sure there's no fabric bunched up against the needle when you place the ruler against the toe, but don't apply tension pulling the fabric too much. Just keep it nice and flat, but not taut.


There's a bit of a distortion as you look through the acrylic of the ruler and the line etched on the bottom. Don't get to picky about this, but just try to stay consistant with where you line up the marks on the ruler on the previous line of stitching.

Don't be overly concerned with perfectly spaced lines! When you are quilting with your eyes a mere 6-12 inches away and the top is bunched up, it can look horrible. But make sure before you rip stitches that it's really necessary.


You need good fabulous lighting for best results. If you are using a matching thread on the quilt, it can be hard to see the stitches from the previous line of stitching to line up the markings.

If you use black thread on a black fabric you may go blind or cross-eyed before the project is done.

Sometimes it may be easier to see where the line of stitching isn't than where it is.

Sewing Machine Service

I consider myself a pretty loving caretaker of my sewing machine, a Janome 6600P. I clean under and around the bobbin case area in between projects. I mostly use polyester thread so there's less lint build-up. I put a drop of oil on the wick under the bobbin occasionally. I don't sew over pins.

free motion quilting set up
My machine ready for free motion quilting. I'm using painter's tape to patch a few tears from snagging Peltex on the edges of my Supreme Slider.
And yet, I haven't had my machine cleaned and serviced in the nearly 3 years I've had the machine. My dealer provides free servicing for 5 years after the purchase, so I have no excuse. And I have seriously worked this machine with all of my free motion quilting!

I finally took the machine in for a tune up and cleaning even though I wasn't having major issues. It seemd like it sounded a little louder than it used to and was having trouble with thicker threads.

Now I can tell it is quieter and the stitch quality is better. I haven't tried it again with the threads I was having trouble with, as I am working on a customer quilt. But I am definitely glad I took it in. In fact, I'm kicking myself for not doing it sooner, since it did improve things! I was careful to wipe a little excess oil off the needle bar before beginning to quilt.

Basting before free motion quilting
Pin basting. I swear my pins run off inbetween uses! Had to buy more.

So, when is the last time your machine was serviced? Get it done, you'll be glad you did!

Bloggers' Quilt Festival

I wanted to revisit my Poured Out 2 quilt for the Bloggers' Quilt Festival at Amy's Creative Side. (Have you noticed there's quite a few Amys in the online quilt community?) Below is Poured Out, the first version. It is not my entry...

Poured Out by Amy K. Johnson

It was given to my church as a thank you gift for all their help while my husband was going through treatment for a rare cancer. I really didn't have the skills then to be fully pleased with the result, but I sure learned as I went. It is loosely based on the church's logo. It was fun and challenging to quilt all these different designs.

Poured Out by Amy K. Johnson detail

I knew I wanted to remake it but make it more personal to my journey while my hubby was fighting cancer.

Poured Out 2 in process detail

You really can't see the positive words I quilted on the jug of the 2nd version. I did a watercolor of them for my friend Robin. I met her online during this time and I got to have a quilty getaway at her home while I was working on Poured Out 2.

Robin and I with the partially quilted version.

Poured Out 2 by Amy K Johnson

Here's the whole version. It's incredibly hard to get a good photo of this quilt! The color has been tweaked so you can see all of the words. Only the outline of the words, the figure, the thorn vines, and the spines of the feathers were marked, everything else was freehand.

Poured Out 2 by Amy K Johnson detail

Some close ups.

Poured Out 2 by Amy K Johnson detail

The background is a black sateen and the words are created by densely quilting around them with varigated thread in a blue, purple, green, and maroon red.

Poured Out 2 by Amy K Johnson detail

I entered it into the Sacred Threads Exhibit in Herendon DC. This was the first time I entered anything. Below, I am in front of the quilt at the exhibit.

That's also the first picture of me I was pleased to put on the internet of me. I was contacted by Magnet magazine from the UK and they wanted to use the quilt in their magazine to illustrate an article.

Showers of blessings!

It was so much fun to feather all of the water!

This quilt really started me off on a quilting adventure I had never really thought could happen. It gave me courage to "put myself out there" and enter Sacred Threads, get in a magazine, and make myself more known as a quilter in my local area. A friend asked to hang it in her church for a month which led to an article in our little weekly paper. It's somewhat easier to hide behind the computer screen sometimes, but this got me out of my comfort zone and made some incredible things happen, like quilting for others and teaching.

For more fabulous quilty inspiration, go visit the Blogger's Quilt Festival!

Foot Foul Up

It seems I may have gotten it wrong when referencing which adapter might be needed for Berninas if one wants to use the Janome low-shank convertible free motion quilting foot set with the ruler toe added.

I am so sorry. I am still waiting to hear back from my Bernina girls to verify, but it looks like the #77 adapter foot doesn't work. Two lovely readers are awaiting the #75 adapter now, so I hope we can figure it out.

I have updated the post, Free Motion Foot and Toe Follow Up.

Update: I have heard back from one of our dear readers and Bernina girl, KaKnitter and she reports, " Great News, the #75 adaptor works with some modifications. The Free motion convertible set has a slant on it and the adaptor does not slip in all the way unless you metal file down a little bit of the #75 adaptor. My dear husband fined tune it perfectly. I am thrilled. :)"

I am so happy that the foot worked out for her and that there are options for Bernina users and others to use this great technique for ruler work!

Free Motion Feathers in Triangles

I've got another customer quilt to work on this week. It has a center medallion with setting triangles around it and I suggested filling the triangles with a feather design. She said yes, so I decided I better practice to see how I wanted to do it.

Pretty, isn't it? Wool applique on cotton. The blog addy above is where the feathers will go. I had a leftover practice piece from the Expo that I didn't use, so I pulled it out and drew a few new lines to approximate the size of the setting triangles.

free motion feather inside a triangle

Not entirely pleased with these two above, very hard to get into those corners. Repeat after me, "It looks much better when done in black on black fabric". Self-doubts go away!

Have you had trouble getting the dreaded blue marker out? I always rinse my quilts completely to get it out instead of just using a spray of water. I also just got this eraser-pen by Nancy's Notions,Clover Brush Type Eraser and while it's made to go with a specific line of fabric marking pens, It took care of a wayward line of Mark-B-Gone with no problems. It's been 3 days since I erased with it and it hasn't reappeared.

I try to not actually mark customer quilts with anything as I'm so careful with them. But this practice piece was fine.

free motion feather inside a triangle

On the next two triangles, I used my Fine Line continuous curve ruler to mark the spine, but I didn't extend it all the way into the corners. I liked that much better, not so crowded. I still need to work on that final plume on the outside. See all my marks?

free motion feather inside a triangle

I need more practice, but I broke down and took my poor overworked Jan for a spa treatment. Also know as a "Clean, Oil, and Adjust" service at my Janome dealer. I'm good about cleaning the bobbin area and use a drop of oil in the wick under the bobbin now and then. But I've had her for 3 years and still hadn't taken her in for a free annual service. My sweet local dealer gives 5 years free service on all the Janomes he sells.

free motion feather inside a triangle

So I will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to practice some more. Then I need to get cracking on that quilt!

I'm linking this post up with Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday link party and Leah Day's Free Motion Friday link party too. Go and check out what some great folks have been up to!

How to Make a Sewing Machine Table: Great for Free Motion Quilting

DIY Sewing machine table

This is not so much a tutorial as much as a guide, since every table is different. But my hubby started with a fairly cheap, rickety, cast-off dining table.

DIY sewing machine table

First, the legs needed to be braced so the table was good and sturdy. There's no point going further if the table isn't going to support the machine well and take all the vibration of stitching. This table already had some leg damage, so these 1x6 boards were bolted around three sides. The bolts may have been overkill, but I'll take sturdy over pretty. Plus hubby is not a finish carpenter kind of fella, more of a "git-er-done" type. He says that some tables might need a 2x4 or bigger wood as the boards he used were a special hardwood known as Ipe or Ironwood, leftover from a dock he built as part of his job as project manager of a marine construction business.

DIY sewing table unfinished

I placed my machine on freezer paper and carefully traced around it, making allowances for any areas above the bottom that might need a larger opening. (Picture above taken further along in the process)

Edited 2/9/2015 for important update: This post was written about the table made for a Janome 6600, a flat bed machine with no free arm. This makes it very easy to cut a hole to fit the machine. I have since gotten a larger machine with a free arm and we adapted this table to fit it. We used a method that simplifies the hole that is needed to fit the machine and still results in a great fit! Read here: DIY Sewing Table: Updated and Improved. You still need to provide your machine with adequate support as outlined in the rest of this post. There are also a fabulous bunch of tips and variations given by readers in the comments here.

Then a 2x4 support was added underneath the table top alongside the hole. This placement will vary for each table and quilter. It is important to figure out how much of the table is real wood or 'wood product' (press board, chipboard, etc.)

DIY sewing machine table supports

Ideally, he would have ran two boards along two sides of the hole to support the machine, but this table had multiple braces in the way for the cheap press board top. So the bulk of the support comes off that newly installed 2x4.

He just used some scrap wood for this. But a lot of drywall screws! And the machine rests on the piece he cut out from the top of the table.

It's tricky to get it all level and perfectly at the right height for the top of the machine to set level. See the the little wood shim/wedge on the left?

Don't forget a hole for the power and pedal cords! And access to the lever or what-have-you to lower the feed dogs for free motion quilting fun!

free motion quilting table DIY

Hubby says the hardest part was marking where to drill the hole for the knee lift! After the hubby finished the structure, I began sanding. I should have sanded more than I did, we had some residual varnish crinkle under the first coat of paint. But since the table was mostly press board, we were afraid to remove too much.

Then I applied 3 coats of Davis brand, heavy duty enamel, fortified with urethane. I lightly sanded after each coat wherever it was rough and where we had that varnish issue. The finish isn't completely perfect, but it is surprisingly smooth.

I had thought to cover the ugliness of the legs with a skirt, but I am not sure I will do that. I like the hardwood floors showing more than I want to hide the bolts and such. Makes this room look bigger.

Love this table! It is solid and sturdy. Doesn't shake at any speed of my machine. And so totally affordable. Take a look for a table at Goodwill or thrift stores. My previous work surface was done in a similar manner but was a laminate countertop installed in a closet type nook.

Free Motion Quilting as Decorative Design on Purse

I am working on some custom ordered purses for a friend. She wants the purses to showcase my quilting as the main part of the design, similar to the purse I did on the post: Free Motion Quilting as Surface Design. I drew around my purse pattern piece on the quiilt sandwich and then began quilting. I used my purple air-eraseable pen for guidelines for the design and stitched a black outline.

Then I began adding some blue into the design. I'll continue on with some cream colored thread in the design and then finish with some quilting in the background.

A detail of the blue below:

Then I'll cut out the pattern pieces and begin assembling the purse. I created this purse pattern myself and when I made the first one for myself, I decided that after these, I wouldn't make purses for others. They're just fiddly and take a while. But now, I think that as I just make this purse, without the added trouble of designing the pattern, it might not be too bad. There's something about being familiar with a pattern that makes it much more enjoyable.

Do you make purses? Is there a trick to making the process more enjoyable?

I'm linking this post with Connie's Free Motion by the River, where she surprised me by featuring my linked post from last week's link party! Go and visit the other blogs and have a party!

Quilting Studio Reveal

My studio, aka the living room takeover, is complete!

This is the view from just inside the front door. I think it needs a little something, don't you? I'm thinking a long narrow quilted "welcome" wall hanging, hung from the ceiling, perpendicular to the wall so that it shields the design wall from the initial view.

Free Motion Quilting Adventures Studio Tour

 The sunlight shining in from the window is pretty intense! I knew I wanted new window treatments, but I now know I will need at least a sheer over this window for quilting during quiet time. There's a roller shade, but that blocks nearly all that lovely light. My sewing machine table turned out fabulously! Hubby set up a camera mount tonight so I will have to do a little free motion quilting video soon.

Free Motion Quilting Adventures Studio Tour

Shelving unit full of supplies, thread, batting and other supplies. Way too much stuff! I need to make something, many somethings.Curtains! Patchwork curtains. That's what this room needs. Two for one, stash reduction and pretty window coverings!

Free Motion Quilting Adventures Studio Tour

A cozy spot for hand work. I haven't sat in this chair much since I stopped nursing my babies and now it beckons me to take a rest. That's our wonderful front porch just outside the window. My house is small but it has a lot of  bits we love.

Free Motion Quilting Adventures Studio Tour

 A shot taken from near the shelving unit towards my cutting and ironing table. Isn't the light in this room fabulous?

I got a little carried away and made a video tour of my studio too. My little guy who was very grubby and in a dirty shirt and his undies adorable tried to steal the show.

Now I will have to not only create beautiful things, but also keep the mess under control since it is the first room you see when coming in the front door! I think it will be quite challenging and uncomfortable, but I'm pushing myself outside my comfort zones lately and seeing a lot of growth from it.

Best part about this room? Other than traffic coming to and from the stairs, it is all mine for quilting!

I will link this with Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday and Leah Day's Free Motion Friday.

Quilt Studio Sneek Peek

We started my much needed relocation of my quilting area this week. Since the room now houses only my quilting stuff, I can now call it a quilting studio!

Hubby brought home a second hand, freebie dining room table and began fitting it to my sewing machine. This was the most important part of the new studio since my current space had a custom (by the handy hubby) built in countertop installed and it wasn't going to be moved. I think a smooth surface level with the bed of the machine is such an important part of good free motion quilting.

DIY sewing machine table

Then he had to reinforce the wobbly legs. I don't want a table that starts hopping with my machine!

DIY Table for free motion quilting

Then I applied 3 coats of a high gloss enamel paint in "Arcadia White". Poor hubby was sent to the store to buy "white paint that wasn't pure white, but not a creamy white". I took a risk asking him to pick out the color, but he choose well.

The weather in Virginia today is quite cloudy, so I'll do another post of the whole room when the sun returns.

Meanwhile it's pumpkin patch time! Look at my fine boys.

And my super helpful and crafty daughter. She was a jewel yesterday, helping her little brother on the awesome hay castle.

I had my first customer to my quilting studio today, and while she was very nice, I was glad to have a studio in which she didn't have to go through the rest of the house and into my bedroom! She dropped off a wool applique top for me to quilt.

I can't wait to get back to quilting, but first I have to reorganize nearly everything. Not to mention setting up the loveseat and TV in the back room of our house for the kids since I took over the living room.

Paint and Stitch

I shared my small fall wall hanging on Friday (Can you tell I read a lot of kids' books?) and while I had a lot of fun with the free motion quilting, I
thought it needed a little something extra. I was thinking paint or hyperquilting.

I did both!

freemotionquilting fall feather

The quilt before:

While the green color in particular isn't quite like I wanted, I think the painting turned out quite well. (Mostly)

painting outside the lines

And then I did some hyperquilting in the feathers with a varigated Rainbows thread from Superior Threads. My hyperquilting is  based on several books by Patsy Thompson and her Hyperquilting! book in particular. I just added a little inner loopy thing to each feather plume.

free motion quilting fall feather

Now I just have to get this thing bound and figure out what I'm going to do with it. And in the meantime, my brain is working on a plan for a McTavishing Monday, or maybe the Monday McTavish-along. And more ruler work tutorials and ideas. And I'm moving my sewing space into the living room!

free motion fall feather

Yes, into the living room. As in, the first thing you see from the front door! I've been getting a little quilting business from others and it's just really awkward having strangers (even quilty strangers) come into my bedroom to lay out a quilt and discuss quilting designs and what-have-you. Not to mention having to tidy up (or keep tidy, since some friends consider me a bit of a neat freak) 4 rooms between the front door and my sewing space in my bedroom. I do have three kids here all day, every day and it's normal that things get messy.

The big deal is getting my beloved Janome 6600 fit into a new table for the living room as its current spot is a built in counter top. Hubby is working on cutting a hole into a second hand table as I write.

I'm linking this with Connie's  Linky Tuesday at Freemotion by the River.

Video: A Free Motion Feather

I was tidying up my sewing area today and came across a partially used practice quilt sandwich. It was the one I used in my How to Free Motion Quilt: The basic Motion and Tension video on tension.

free motion quilting a feather

Since my machine was set up for quilting, I decided to sit and practice my stitching. I went ahead and shot a quick video while I was at it.

free motion quilting a feather detail

You can see in the photo above, that I didn't follow my marked spine too closely. Following lines too much takes a lot of the fun out of the quilting for me.

I had my ruler toe on my Janome covertible free motion foot set and also started to do some cross hatching around the feather, so I might get a video of that too. Though I got distracted by one of the little people and messed up the spacing of the cross-hatching.

I'm glad I got in a little free motion fun, and now it's back to cleaning my stitching space.