If you are new to free motion quilting, you will most likely encounter some of these free motion quilting problems listed here. Hopefully, this guide will benefit you, allowing you to enjoy the most of the free motion quilting process.
If you are a free motion quilting beginner and would love more help,
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I am passionate about free motion quilting and I have been quilting all my quilts on my domestic machines. As I go from projects to projects, I have learned a lot from mistakes, trials, and errors.
Hence, I would love to share with you some of the things that I learned throughout my experience and ways to solve some of the common free-motion quilting problems that I have encountered.
I want you to enjoy most of your quilting time rather than worrying about these free motion quilting problems.
Quilt making is therapeutic – especially when it is all done, and you get to snuggle under the quilt knowing you got it done from start to finish 🙂
There are affiliate links in this post for your convenience. Please refer to my full disclosure here.
Before we go into the solutions, here are some of my favorite must-have tools for Free Motion Quilting:
1. I literally changed my mind about threads, when I started using THIS very thread. And they come in big cones. which means they last longer before I have to change the thread. I use an embroidery thread stand for it. You can get a cheap thread stand like this one here which has great reviews.
2. Superior Thread Top Stitch Needles. I use this for all my sewing and FMQ. Really. In fact, I kind of find it a bit off when I have to use a needle that is not coloured gold as these needles are. Plus they last long and sharp even after lots of quilting.
3. My trusty sticky Glove. Any brand works for me, Any brand works for me, but I personally love the ones made of breathable cottons; like this one.
4. Spray Baste. I am not a fan of taking off safety pins. This makes it so much quicker and allows me to cruise without fear of getting onto a pin. I personally love this spray baste.
5. My large throat sewing machine of course! Here is the one I own. Totally worth every penny! I love it so much.
However, you don’t actually need all of these tools to start. I myself started with a very basic sewing machine and just a regular free motion quilting foot. Yet, I still managed to quilt a queen-sized quilt. So just upgrade gradually as you feel more confident and based on your needs and wants accordingly.
If you are looking for a generic free motion quilting foot that suits a regular domestic machine, HERE is one with a great 5-Star review.
The 5 Common Free Motion Quilting Problems and How to Solve them
1. Uneven tensions throughout quilting motifs ( eyelashes on curved motifs)
The bottom thread keeps showing up on top. Why is the stitches tension uneven? They show up fine on those rather straight lines, but look at those curves! They start showing up like eyelashes.
Does that sound like your problem? Your stitches looking like this photo below?
What causes eyelashes when free-motion quilting?
- The smoothness of your thread moving through your needle and bobbin
- The speed of your sewing machine and hand moving the quilt
- The tension setting
Luckily, we have a solution for it!
I have gone through this same problem too! Fret not, I might have just the solution for you.
How to prevent eyelashes when free-motion quilting?
There are several ways to prevent thread eyelashes. This include using a bobbin washer, adjusting tension and balancing speed. I explain in detail how these solutions worked for me below. I have incorporated either of the solutions mentioned and these days, they don’t show up anymore or at least rarely do in my quilting.
i) Use a bobbin washer
Put a bobbin washer inside the bobbin case. They are basically a thin Teflon cut into the shape to fit in your bobbin case. They smoothen out the movement of the bobbin, thus allowing the bobbin to make transitions between fast and slow much easier. I use THIS ONE for my domestic machine.
If you are not sure how this help, just try it. They are cheap and just see the reviews on what people are saying – they work!
ii) Tension Setting
Set the correct tension setting by testing out on scrap quilt sandwich. I had some success with having the tension set to a slightly loose top thread tension than the exact right tension. Try and practice a different set of tension and see which ones work for you. Another option is to set tension to auto (if your machine has an auto setting). I have this auto tension setting on my machine and I rarely had any problem with tension ever since I got it.
iii) Balancing speed
Practice will make it better. Most likely the reason for the stitches to be uneven across the motif is an uneven balance between the speed of the stitches and the speed of your moving hand. There is a sweet balance where you’ll need to learn how to press your foot pedal (go faster) or releasing it (slow down) accordingly to your hand movement. Sometimes we are too focused on getting the shape we want, we tend to move the hand faster than the speed of the stitches.
So, one option is to just quilt fast! In my early days of free motion quilting, I find that my stitches were much better when I go fast (pressing the foot pedal and moving my hand fast).
As long as it is balanced – fast stitches, fast hand. Slow stitching, slowly moving the quilt.
But let me tell you, it is harder to quilt slow and find stability and make a smooth hand movement than just simply controlling the pedal.
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2. Threads keep breaking
Does your thread keep breaking when free-motion quilting?
I had a time when my threads break every couple of minutes of free-motion quilting. I persevered through the whole quilt though. Every three to four times of rethreading, I stopped and had a break myself. I was keen and full of motivation at that time but little did I know that type of threads do matter.
Here is how you can solve it!
How to avoid thread breaking when free-motion quilting:
i) The right threads
After testing out several types of threads and brands (I used gutterman cotton in this quilt and monofilament in this quilt), I settled with ‘So Fine by Superior Threads’
I know they are pricey than the others, but they are a game-changer for me. Plus they have like a million colours to choose from! Not that I use all kind of colours though.
Choosing the right threads for quilting will do wonders.
‘Snow White’ is my go to colour from Superior thread. I have a couple of ‘Aurifil Boxes’ and use them when I need to use coloured threads.
As for Aurifil, I use this white to do all my piecing and sometimes I quilt using them too, but I’d rather use So Fine to do so. I buy So Fine threads in larger cones, and boy, threads do get used up pretty quick when you free motion quilt like a lot!
I go through a cone of So Fine threads for every 2-3 quilts depending on how heavy they are quilted. Generally out of 3 of my quilts, 1 of them is heavily quilted. I do love free motion quilting.
I use this thread holder to hold the large cones. You can even use a single thread stand like this one or this one.
Here is a beautiful thread stand that can just complement your gorgeous sewing room.
[related : my double wedding ring quilt and Sewcial Bee Sampler]
Well, if you do have issues with threads breaking, try and switch the thread. It might just be the solution!
Apart from threads, needles do play a role in easing the thread flow as you move fast and about while free motion quilting.
I found that the larger-eyed needles are much better for free motion quilting as it reduces the tension and friction of the threads.
I personally love and only use this needle for my piecing and quilting. While it is not necessary for piecing, it is the only needle I buy these days, and it does well for both applications, so why not?
3. Uneven stitch length
Now, this one my friend is a very common problem when you are not yet in the ripe stage of your practice. Yup, this problem will surely improve with a lot of practice. Again it is the balance of your foot pedal pressing and your hand movement. However, there are a couple of things that might just ease your free motion quilting movement skill and minimize the uneven stitches problem.
i) Free Motion Quilting glove
One: Use a sticky glove, my friend. While it is not a MUST, they do help. For me, they help a lot. When I am not using them, I can still free-motion quilt well (because I had a lot of my practice time already), but I use a lot more energy to hold on to the quilt and I get tired easily. Sometimes, I can still mess up when I am not using the glove. The quilt tends to move in a jerky movement due to the way I put pressure on my palm and the way the quilt is positioned on the table. Thus, I lose control of the quilt movement easily creating uneven stitches.
The glove will help you grip the quilt well, making transitions easier and movement a lot smoother. You will use less energy and can focus more on how to move the quilt rather than how much pressure you should put on the quilt to get it to move the way you need it to. I use a garden glove similar to this one. If you’d rather have a proper free motion quilting glove, use this one instead of this one, as the first one is breathable and the latter gets dirty too easily plus not so breathable.
ii) Teflon Slider
Another helpful notion for this matter is the Teflon Supreme Slider. You will need to reduce friction wherever you can! It makes it so much smoother to move your quilt hence, using less effort which means that you can focus more on the quilting.
You will surely feel the difference. With and without. They just really help in moving your quilt, making it so much easier.
Just make sure you get the right size for your machine.
See more of the review on this thing HERE.
You can buy a large one and cut it to size according to your machine. If you have an extension table for your machine, cut it to cover your extension table too.
GET THE RIGHT SIZE HERE.
Small SIZE 11.5 x 8″- for the standard domestic machine, and any machine. I find this is enough for most machines.
Queen SIZE 11.5 x 17″- great for larger throat machine, but still overflows – best used with extension table
King SIZE 16.5 x 22″ – covers larger are of the extension table as well
iii) Stitch Length Regulator
Now, I do not have the option to have these stitch regulator on my Janome Horizon 8200 QC, but I know that this has been a favourite of some quilters who has a Bernina. Bernina has a stitch regulator which either comes in the package together with the machine or can be bought separately depending on which type of Bernina machine bought. They are pricey, but they can control your stitches whether you move fast or slow, those stitches will be controlled by the stitch regulator.
Do the stitches have to be even when free motion quilting?
Well, not exactly. As long as the stitches are not too far apart, you should be good to go. Especially if you are making quilt to be used. If you are making a quilt for a competition, then you may want to spend some time to get better at this.
Otherwise, embrace the imperfection. I bet you, you won’t even notice the changes in the stitches length when you cuddle up with the quilt.
4. Backing fabrics puckers and folded under stitches
Yes, this is among the common free motion quilting problems.
You were rocking the top and enjoying the look of those free motion and then you stopped and checked the back. OOOPS, there it is — the backing fabric has been caught by the stitches. In fact, sometimes, you find that there is no way to avoid it because you quilted around and left the center part unquilted. The backing fabric is puffed up somehow like air bubbles. So now, you either live with it or you’ll have to take your trusty seam ripper and start ripping those hours of quilting stitches.
Well, I can tell you that there is a way to avoid this problem though. Here are two things you should start with.
How to avoid folding and pleats on the backing fabric when free-motion quilting on a domestic machine
i) Baste well
I cannot say more. Taking time to baste really well has actually made a difference to my quilting. These days, I double baste, Once with the spray baste (can’t live without it) and again with some basting pins sparsely. I love these ‘curvy basting pins‘ – they make it so much easier to pin baste.
If you are looking for a tutorial on how to spray baste, here is a good one. Can’t baste on the floor? How about basting on a table or on the wall to save your aching back? try it!
ii) Start from the middle radiating out
I have tried a couple of methods to quilt a large quilt, but the one that works best and turns out with less or no folded backing fabrics is when I quilt it from the middle out in radiating section. I still do large quilts in quarters, but I make sure to quilt from the centre out. The reason is that you will allow any extra backing fabrics to be eased to the sides. You can release any folds at the edges as you go to the edges often.
I am not against non-stop continuous movement. It is totally okay to stop at the edge, and begin again from the centre every now and then. Besides, you will need breaks, and the bobbin needs to be changed from time to time right? So don’t worry if you have to stop, and pick up that foot to move your quilt. Simply snip off the threads and make a secure stitch when you start again (normally this means overlapping or travelling along previous quilting)
Don’t get too discouraged if you do have some folded backing here and there, most likely if this quilt is to be used around the house or gifted, it is rarely even noticed! So, be free, and just quilt it. You’ll get better at it before you even know it.
I will do a blogpost dedicated just on this issue and will be sharing a couple more tips on how to quilt a large quilt on your domestic machine. So stay tuned for that!
RELATED: CHECK THIS POST TO LEARN HOW TO FREE MOTION QUILT A LARGE QUILT ON YOUR DOMESTIC MACHINE
5. Motions are limited around the thick seams
i) Think ahead, press seams correctly
I guess there is no better way to solve this than to make sure the seams do not bulk as much when you are piecing them. Think ahead. You know you will hate quilting those thick seams. Especially where few seams meet up. Fan out those seams! Check out this tutorial on how to do so. I still need to keep reminding myself to do this.
If you have already done the quilt top and finding it bulky to machine quilt – try the following method instead.
ii) Large Plastic See-through FMQ foot
If you do have an option to swap the free motion quilting foot, swap to the larger see-through plastic foot. I recommend finding the one that suits your machine and brand. The large foot area presses the seam down allowing you to move freely around those seams or over them effortlessly.
I own a Janome Horizon 8200 QC which has extra free motion quilting accessories included – 4 types of free motion quilting foot. I love this feature and have used all of them for different types of free motion quilting. They are all useful when you know when to use them! I shall do another blog post specifically on that. In the meantime, see if yours has a set of free motion quilting foot. Otherwise, explore some of the quilting foot available that you can use with your machine.
Join my FREE E-course on FREE MOTION QUILTING FOR BEGINNER HERE >>
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You might also want to check out these post:
Free Motion Quilting Feathers
5 tips to ease free motion quilting
Really nice tips for FMQ! I have never used spray basting – I will have to try that!
I have the problem of my needles breaking, which is the reason I do not like fmq so much . I am sure it is not due the the brand of needles as I buy good quality. I have a Pfaff 7500. Thanks
I have never heard of a bobbin washer or telson to slide the material thru. Where do you get this tendon from. Loved your blog very informative.
Guess I can’t spell telfon
It’s Teflon, lol. Some days are like that – but it’s obvious what you mean, so no worries! Try the Supreme Slider- it’s a Teflon panel. I got the largest one thinking bigger is better. Keeps your quilt moving easily while you are stitching. The washers are called Bobbin Genies. I think she provided hot links for these in the blog. I haven’t tried those yet.
This blog is amazing! You have s many interesting works and designs. Thanks for sharing.
I have a juki 2200 long arm machine and my top threads look ok but I am not happy with the back thread. I purchased a tension gauge to help with the bobbin tension. I hope this works for me. Any other ideas?
Great tips, thank you. Haven’t tried free motion yet ,but this helps take the fear out of trying.
I also brought a bobbin tension thingy, for my long arm machine still not very good at using it, but have discovered that I I use the thread mentioned in this blog ,and once the machine is threaded, if I can pull the cotton through the needle with out too much resistance the stitches are really lovely and perfect, that cotton is amazing
I have a long arm machine too, don’t be afraid to adjust that top tension, It’s not as sensitive as a domestic sewing machine. Here’s the way I like to think about my tension, One is being a bully, you have to take the power away from the bully. If you top thread is being pulled to the back, loosen up your bobbin tension, if the bobbin is being pulled to the top, loosen the top tension or tighten the bobbin.
Really great tips!! Thanks!
Are you using polyester thread and cotton thread? I was told to use only cotton. Are you mixing the thread types in the bobbin and needle? I enjoy your site. Thanks.
My favourite thread for quilting is the superior thread which is polyester. I don’t mix them. Both bobbin and top thread is the the Superior Thread. Which is polyester. I too was afraid at first to use this but has found that my quilt is okay with it and have never had issues even after lots of washes. In fact, I think using polyester one is stronger and do not snap as much as the cotton.
Thanks for your visit. I hope I did answer the question.
Thanks for all of the marvelous advice. I’ve been quilting for only a little over a year and I’m really hooked. I’ve had great teachers who’ve taught me some of your tips but I’d never heard of using topstitching needles with larger holes. I’m going to get some or those right away!!! I got a wonderful new machine last year – a Brother VQ3000 that my husband bought for me. It’s probably similar to yours in some ways; a very large harp space, lots of auto functions (including tension) and it’s been great fun to use. I’m also going to get a Teflon slider – what a terrific idea! Even though I’m a quilting newbie, I’ve been sewing since I was a little girl and that was A LOT of years ago. Not surprisingly, my eyes aren’t what they used to be and I was really struggling with hand-eye coordination when trying to FMQ. I have appropriate glasses but that didn’t seem to matter, I just couldn’t seem to get “into the flow” of FMQ. I kept trying different presser feet and nothing helped until I put one on my machine that DIDN’T hop up and down. Suddenly, I could FMQ! Apparently the motion of the foot was driving my eyes crazy and I had trouble “tracking” as I worked. What a difference and what a relief! Add that to your encouragement and now I feel as though I can speed up and have a better FMQ result. I’m sharing this story because there might be some other seniors like me who are reading your blog and have the same problem I did. Now my FMQ is really improving. Your tips and advice are priceless and I’m going to use them. Thank you for being so generous with your expertise.
p.s. I LOVE the colors in your wedding ring quilt!
Thank you for leaving such a lovely comment. I am grateful that the post is beneficial for you, I totally get you when you say that the hopping foot is disturbing. I love my non-hopping foot too! I really love it when I hear people are getting better with their FMQ, such an inspiration to me to keep posting the things I’ve learned. Thank you for sharing the tips in the comment.. more tips is always good and surely they’ll be people to benefit from them. How generous of you too for thinking about others 🙂 Have fun Quilting ! Quilty Hugs, Amira
Just an update – As you suggested, I bought some topstitching needles, what a difference they make! They work so well that I don’t think I’ll ever use any others for FMQ. I’m so glad that I found your site – you are an inspiration.
Thank you Amira.
Thanks for great tips !! Can you suggest what I need to do if the backing has the “thread eyelashes” and the top looks great??
Hi Angela~ I would do the same thing. Adjust the top thread tension first – yours could be that it is loose -so tighten it just ever so slightly. Again, I find that the bobbin washer helps in getting it uniform across all shapes of stitches that we are making while free motion quilting. Good luck!
Thank you for such a lovely description of the finer points to make quilting fun. I am limited by hand arthritis, and can no longer hand quilt so easily, or to keep up with my designs. Your blog helped me make good use of my Amazon birthday money, so I can get better results! I appreciate the way you have made it easy to find exactly what I need to get, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to follow-through. Thank you for teaching!
Thank you for the tips. I have trouble with crows feet on the back of my quilting. This helped somewhat.
Thanks so much for the tips. The only thing wrong is it’s going to cost me, for now I want one of everything you mentioned! Kidding aside, I will be trying a glove, the free motion foot with spring and looking forgold needles with a big eye. Thanks again!
Great tips! I also had not heard of the Teflon bobbin washers and and can’t wait to try them out! Thank you!
I love these tips! I am a beginner quilter, not sewer. And all these tips and equipment are great to know. I have done a few small simple baby quilts and small quilting projects and wish I had seen this first. I have the basting pins and discovered these by mistake. I started pinning my quilt with long stick pins and kept sticking myself. I had a box of basting pins (can’t remember why) and started using them instead. Everything went so much faster and I could move them easily. I am going to try your tips on my next quilt, thanks for all the information!
I am a beginner at FMQ and I love it. Thanks for all your suggestions, especially about the sewing needles and poly thread. I thoroughly enjoyed your tips.
I want to ask about the adhesive. I have used 505 to baste a larger throw and it worked beautifully and I needed to purchase more, but when i bought the spray the sales clerk ‘reminded’ me to use it on the quilt fabric only and not the batting as it would ‘suck’ it up. I was sort of stumped by that comment. I use 3 dowels that I load each layer on to then I spray a portion of the backing and then apply the batting, then spray the batting and apply the top layer. I didn’t notice any ‘sucking’ up of the adhesive. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Your blog is very informative, as also all others – I’m a relative newbie with more material in my stash than number of years left (can’t resist beautiful fabric when visiting craft & fabric shops) – I have a Pfaff 4.2 Expression, which is a joy to sew on but will be more amazing once I learn how to utilise all the features……
I just need to practice, practice & practice and not get discouraged (would like to know some tips)…..
Have made a few small project quilts, including an amazing quilt for my son & new daughter-in- law, which was professionally quilted as it was a wedding gift…..
Now retired I’m looking forward to learning FMQ to save the money on professional quilting
Wow! You Are Amazing..Love the Tips you gave! I love to learn!
Wish I could take classes from you. I am a newbie as well..
I never thought of those tips, till I read these!
Keep sharing all your Tips, and know hows. Every bit of it helps, and helps us be better quilters.
I learned to use spray baste and love it since I usually make lap or twin throws. I have found that wrapping each layer on a different pool noodle works perfect for applying the spray, pins or safety pins.