How NOT To Do Free Motion Quilting

As I’ve previously admitted, I have issues with free motion quilting.  I really haven’t progressed much beyond my first attempts in the late 1990s, and expectations of free motion skills have increased exponentially since then.  On the other hand, I’ve become adept at the use of my walking foot and machine decorative stitches.

However, sometimes a quilt simply has to be free motion quilted.  Case in point is my “Canyon” which measures 30 inches wide and 62 inches long.  I wrote about it some months ago, but have finally screwed my courage to the sticking point and started quilting it.  First, I stitched in the ditch with invisible thread and my walking foot along major horizontal and vertical seam lines.  Next, I stitched some curvy lines in variegated thread, again with my walking foot.


With the day of reckoning at hand I took off the training wheels and began the free motion work after studying pictures of Brice Canyon and the Black Canyon. I decided to forgo marking as the top’s design has several tiers of blocks set a various angles that I thought I could use to inspire my quilting.  The lines I wanted to quilt were craggy with occasional outcroppings of low, dusty green bushes.  I wanted to use thread color to emphasize sunlight on the canyon walls.  I’m talking major abstract walls here.


I’ve been at it now for a week and am so glad I chose a backing fabric that conceals everything.  No quilt judge or competent free motion quilter will be allowed anywhere near this stunning example of bad free motion quilting.

  • Uneven thread tension? Check
  • Uneven stitch length? Check
  • Too much drag on the top because part of the quilt fell off the table? Check.
  • Strange squiggles to represent vegetation? Check.
  • Too much quilting on one part?  Check.
  • Unwillingness to rip out bad stitching?  Check.

My rationalization is to call what I’ve done thread sketching.  God knows I followed no regular pattern, and have used at least 8 different threads so far.  I plan to quilt it more, figuring it’s already messed up so I might as well go for broke.  I may even blend some of the fabrics with my paintstiks.

My major victories?  I haven’t broken a needle or the thread.  Yay me.


Filed under Techniques

10 responses to “How NOT To Do Free Motion Quilting

  1. Take your victories where you get them. 🙂
    But it looks great to me!!

  2. Amy

    You have a real knack for spinning a great tale. My beef is a sister (good natured sibling rivalry) who is a machine quilter extraordinairre while I remain a neanderthal. Of course she has to have a Gammill AND an A1, as if spectacular is not enough. : )

  3. More is always a good thing. Keep going!!

  4. Miz Karen

    Glad to know I’m not alone

    • Oh honey, we could definitely form a large group. I’m nonplussed to struggle with free motion so, and see members of my modern quilt guild turn out very nicely free motion quilted pieces after a few month’s practice. Yes, I’m jealous.

  5. Lol….this sort of thing is why I always send my quilts needing any free motion quilting (or anything bigger than 20″) out to my favorite long armer (aka my mom). :0)

    • Talk about having great connections! While I use a good longarm quilter for standard pieces, when I do “art quilts” I don’t even know specifically how I want to quilt them until I start quilting. It’s hard to tell someone else to just quilt – whatever. Also, it’s not fair to them as I may hate what they do.

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