Free Motion Monday: The Beginner Edition

I am so excited to start this month's Free Motion Monday Quilting Adventure! We're going back to basics and giving some great info to the quilter who is just beginning with free motion quilting.

If you are brand new to FMQ, check out my posts How to Free Motion Quilt: The Set Up, How to Free Motion Quilt: Basic Motion and Tension, and How to Free Motion Quilt: The Designs. You can find all three posts and other handy posts on the tab above called, Tips for Free Motion Quilting.

Learn to free motion quilt
This pic was set up to go with the 3 part series above and is my most pinned pic on Pinterest.

Be kind to yourself and don't compare your beginning with someone else's middle (A quote attributed to Jon Acuff, I believe). Relax and don't practice on your quilt tops right away, use practice pieces instead. Quilting with a light colored batik on the top of a practice sandwich without thread is a great, waste-free way to practice when you are very new.

I won't be teaching the stipple here, at least not that puzzle-like design that is so prevalent. I wrote Two Reasons to Ditch the Stipple, to discuss why I don't teach the stipple to beginners. (Don't confuse the stipple (noun) or the larger meander (noun) with stippling (verb), confusing I know, but sometimes folks refer to the manner of randomly stitching a background type design as stippling (when smaller) or meandering (v.) when in a larger, random design.)

I'm starting off with loops. These loops are great for beginners as we are all fairly good at doodling circles around and around----meandering (the verb, not the noun, meaning the puzzle like design, got it?) around the open areas.

A word about hand positioning. I've been teaching classes in person for nearly two years now. There's something about FMQ that makes people feel like they've got to go crazy fast and avoid stopping. This leads to getting your hands out of position as you quilt or trying to shift your hands while still stitching. Both are a bad idea. Stop and reposition your hands so that they are on either side of the needle. Too far away and you run the risk of the above picture. Below is the misshapen loop that was stitched when the fabric wrinkled as my hands were too far in front of the needle.

Don't get your fingers too close to the needle either! Besides risking injury, if your hand runs into the foot, you'll have irregularities in your design.

 Don't forget to check your thread tension too! Sporadic tension issues can tell you that you are either almost at the tension sweet spot, or that your hand motion is uneven at those spots and throwing the tension off. A slight jerk of the hands can cause a slight jerking in the thread and throw the tension off.

I deliberately used a loose tension above, you're seeing the bottom side here. Below, the top tension is too tight, pulling the bobbin thread to the top. Using two different colors of thread is a great way to figure out tension, but keep in mind that under perfect tension, you may still see slight spots of color showing in the hole where the stitch is formed. Switch to matching thread colors and it will not be an issue. Contracting threads show every mistake so be kind to yourself (and to me, this was done in a hurry).

When quilting on a sewing machine, it is pretty easy to stitch small. It can be more of a challenge to stitch larger. Loops can be sized appropriately for different projects and variety can be thrown in with multiple loops in one area, varying the loop sizes, lengthening or shortening the distance between loops.

Above is about as large as I would do loops since I don't want to reposition my hands mid-loop. You can also take advantage of areas where the threads cross reposition your hands and to hide stops and starts

Below, I took advantage of the crossing threads to change my direction. It would have been nearly unnoticeable except I paused too long when changing direction and formed a knot of stitches that pulled up the brown bobbin thread.

Below I switched to double loops which is kind of fun. I then alternated between single and double loops.

I've recently seen this multiple loop style, like the below pic, on modern quilts but used more uniformly positioned than I have it here.

Don't forget pebbles! They're essentially loops all next to each other. Below, the blue line goes between an area of pebbles where I changed the thread tension a bit.

Finally, I switched back to simple loops with nearly perfect tension. You can still see the dark brown bobbin thread peeking out of the needle holes and contrasting sharply against the orange top thread.

 I encourage you to give loops a try if you are new to FMQ and to play with loops if you aren't so new to it. Next week, I'll show you some other simple variations of loops like leaves, hearts and more.

Ask questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer you. Link up a blog post showing your work below and we'll a-go a-visitin'!

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  1. If you would like to use the same practice piece over and over again, simply use water soluble thread on top. When you're done, spritz with water to make the top thread disappear and your bobbin thread will pull off in one long thread.

  2. I'm having trouble with breaking thread--quilting along going well and then thread starts breaking?? Any ideas-thanks. LOIS

    1. Lois- Top thread or bottom thread?

      1) Quality thread? Not too old? Not rayon.

      2)Check your needle for snags, sized appropriately, etc. Some threads do better with a top stitch or metallic needle. Sometimes you can get a bum needle. But sometimes the bigger eye of a topstitch needle can cause sloppy stitch formation.

      3) Check your stitchplate where the thread goes into the machine to form a stitch. Any snags or rough spots? Since you're going in all directions, the thread can contact a rough spot that hadn't been an issue with regular stitching.

      4)Is it directional? Only happen as you stitch backwards? Happens to me sometimes. The needle can actually pierce the working thread (thread takes many passes through the machine before it is finally made into a single stitch, piercing it will break the thread pretty quickly.

      5) thicker, rougher threads, even some quality cottons can be 'grabby' and shred if there's a lot of stitching on top of stitching (backtracking or really dense designs).

      6) Sometimes it can be a timing issue- if the top thread seems to be getting split and parts are worked into a few different stitches while a ply isn't getting stitched. The hook is splitting the thread as it's being formed. Tends to happen on thicker threads or lower ply thread (2 ply vs. 3 ply).

      7) Check the upper thread path. Sometimes a slippery thread can flip itself around something as you stitch, work itself out of the take up lever, etc.

      Hope this helps! (Hmm...think I just wrote a new blog post! LOL!)

    2. Thanks so much for your help-its the top thread and good quality thread- what thread do you normally use? I just had the timing worked on but that might be the issue

    3. Check and double check your needle is big enough for your thread. You might try a top stitch or embroidery needle.

      I prefer polyester embroidery thread as it's lint free, has a nice sheen to it (but not too shiny), and is pretty economical. For a cotton thread, I liked the Aurifil I tried the other day.

  3. Thanks Amy. . . So much good info and pics! Looking forward to your next "tutorial" !

  4. Okay Amy, Thanks for this wonderful tutorial. I will do my very best to practice and keep up with your instructions on this month's Free Motion Monday Quilting Adventures, going back to basics. I am finally ready to jump in. I know that this is too good of an opportunity to pass up. What I like about your instructions and postings the most is they are not only explicit with your pictures and explanations, but also, you try to "Keep it Simple." Thank you for going back to basics. I am so looking forward to this. Guess that means I better begin today! P.S. I still don't have my Bernina foot set up. I noticed someone notified you they were successful. I need to go back and reread the posting. I also have a Juki to work with as an option. I guess now's the time to get my "foot issue" solved (once and for all). Anyhow, looking forward to the next few weeks!!!!! Thanks.

  5. Great information - you highlighted one of my problems...hand position. I'm going to work on that this week. blessings, marlene

  6. Thank you soo much for doing this! I finally have a machine that is capable of fmq and though I am reading all your old posts, I felt like I missed the bus till now! I only have one book on fmq and cant get any more right now or instructional videos so I am so grateful for your generosity. Thank you so much! I always look at a quilt stumped as to how to quilt it, especially when it comes to applique. Is there a size quilt you would not fmq on a regular machine?

    1. I'm glad to be of help! Size of quilt for a regular machine: It depends how determined you are , really. My machine has a 9 inch throat (distance from the right of the needle to the machine housing.) and when I quilt for others, I tell them I don't want to do anything bigger than 72x72 inches. I can do larger, but not for somebody else.