Free Motion Quilting: Tips for Beginners

I mentioned earlier that we now have a sit-down style long arm from Janome, the Artistic SD-16 in the shop and I've been using it a bit. Our plan is to rent the machine out for folks to quilt their own quilts on while it also functions as a demo model if someone wants to buy one.

free motion quilting on an Artistic SD-16

Free Motion Quilting Tip: Posture is Important

So I'm getting familiar with it and seriously, I feel like a beginner again. So I'm talking to myself and reminding myself to sit up straight, shoulders down, don't dip your head to see better.

Hmmm.... that makes me check my forearms in relation to the table. Oops! I need to lower my chair so my forearms are parallel to the table surface and at a 90 degree angle to my upper arms. Lowering the chair height also sets my head to see better.

My first project is a quilt for my daughter's bed and to keep it nice an cuddly, I'm stitching much larger than I usually do. Because the harp space is so big, I foolishly decided to stitch a single feathered flower into each 9.5 inch block.

feathered flower a free motion quilting design

Free Motion Quilting Tip: Hand placement is important

Why is that a foolish choice? Because as quilt pushers, there's a certain range of motion that keeps the top under control and flat at the needle. Choose too large a design and you have to put your hands farther apart which can make it harder to keep things flat. Quilts with multiple layers of fusible applique can handle it, but a soft quilt and batting? Not so much.

Larger, single shapes are harder to stitch and control when you free motion quilt as a quilt pusher.

After a few blocks my hands start to hurt and I realize I was back to another rookie mistake. Stretching my fingers out to keep things flat while stitching this large design. I also found when I was using the stitch regulator (I did half with the regulator and half without) that placing my hands too far apart led to moving the stitch regulator in a way that didn't give good stitch control, with the device tipping.

Stretched hand on the left, relaxed on the right. 

Free Motion Quilting Tip: Listen

One of the biggest tips I have for beginning quilters is to listen to your machine. You will find your groove with hand speed and machine speed better when you listen to your machine. And I can tell you, this machine has a whole different sound.

Not to mention, if you know how your machine sounds when everything is going well, a change in sound is an indicator that something is off. Sometimes it's the needle going through a thick seam allowance, but it could mean you are stitching through a fold in the backing, a scrap of fabric, or you can hear the bobbin rattling and catch a problem before it's too horrible!

Technically, I'm only stitching half of this quilt. I'm doing every other block and my daughter is going to do the alternate blocks! I'll show you some of that next week.

My daughter is rocking the leaf shape!
Some of you might think she's a lucky girl to learn how to free motion quilt from me, but I can tell you that she's not so impressed. So I let her do her own thing. She asks for help when she really wants it, otherwise she wants to do her own thing! I did tell her that I didn't recommend her trying to do a single large design like I did.


  1. Thank you for noting the trials and tribulations of working with a new machine, although the quilting looks great - from both of you! I think it may be time for a new chair - mine keeps shrinking! LOL!

    Merry Christmas to you all.

  2. Thanks for writing up those. Yes I agree with you totally but they are very difficult to pass on to complete beginners. Without experiencing it, it's so hard to realise, I think. You are very good mama to give your daughter all the control!

    1. Suggest you get the round MARTELLI guides for quilting. They are GREAT and make a big difference when working at sit down LA machine. NO GLOVES necessary.

    2. Dottie, I don't dobt that many love that product, but I love my gloves and I can't use that product when working with my beloved rulers!

    3. Tomomi, if I didn't give her some control, she'd wrestle it away from me! Stubborn girlie but I love her.

  3. So glad to hear from you, Amy. I've been missing you! I have no doubt that you'll master that sit-down longarm in no time! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    1. Hi Judy! It's nice to be missed. I'm hoping to get some help in the shop soon so I can do a better job of juggling!

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