Tips and Guides for Free Motion Quilting at Home

I’m excited to have machine-quilting-expert Dara Tomassen of Stitched Quilting Co. to share helpful beginning tips and tricks for Free Motion Quilting on our home machines. I’m glad Dara is  here to share her talents and help us get motivated and build our confidence in finishing a quilt by quilting it ourselves.

Here’s Dara:

With American Thanksgiving and then Christmas fast approaching, I find myself reflecting on all the aspects of my life that I am grateful for. I LOVE Christmas time. There just seems to be an increase of kindness towards others where we reach outside of ourselves and give to those in need. Back in May I decided that I would be proactive in beating the ‘Christmas time regret of wishing I had more time to make and give meaningful presents to those in need’ conundrum I fall into every year. So along came my genius plan of hosting a charity quilt drive. (And I’ve got a prize you can win! See the details at the end of the post.)

Where do you stall in the quilt making process? I find that many finished tops often sit on a shelf or in a bin because the basting and free motion quilting (FMQ) are overwhelming. Feedings of overwhelm lead to inaction. And there they sit, all those quilt tops that could be in the arms of our loved ones or of those in need. So I am here to liberate those quilts and liberate you with the skills to quilt them all.by.yourself!

I’ve also got a free pattern, 9-Patch Wonder,  for you I created for my learn to quilt charity quilt drive. It’s free here, with the option to be subscribed to my email list so you can get all kinds of FMQ goodies! FYI I have broken down the entire quilting process into 7 lessons that can be accessed through my blog and Youtube channel.

The purpose of this blog post is to offer you a very simple way to quilt this top. Are you ready? You are in good hands, I promise.

Materials Required for Free Motion Quilting (or FMQ)

1. darning foot 2. walking foot 3. quilt table for your sewing machine 4. some sort of quilting glove 5. basted quilt top 6. paper for doodling 7. quilt sandwich 8. open mind

I will now provide a brief description of all the materials requires. Following this description, I break down the quilting process step by step for FMQ this specific quilt. That’s the plan.

Darning foot

Sometimes referred to as an open toe foot. There is always a spring on the base to allow the foot to travel in all directions when quilting. There are a variety of feet and it may be worthwhile experimenting to see what works best for you. 





Walking foot -sewing machines have feed dogs which are metal grips that are located under the presser foot and their function is to move the fabric along when sewing. A walking foot is feed dogs on top of the fabric allowing the quilt even distribution by the metal teeth of the feed dogs on top and bottom.

Quilt Table -is an extension so that the left hand is at the same height as the right when guiding fabric through the sewing machine. 

Quilting Gloves -quilting gloves that have grips on the fingertips increases the maneuverability of the 3 layers of fabric under the machine. I recommend Machingers

Basted Quilt -if you are unfamiliar with how to baste a quilt I would recommend that you watch my tutorial here. You can also check out Amy’s basting tutorials and other methods here, here, and here. My personal favourite method is to use spray baste because this avoids having to stop and start when removing pins. I invite you to experiment and see what works best for you. 

Doodle Paper -developing muscle memory is so important. 

I layout the design for this quilt and when you practice drawing it out by hand, your mind and hand will become more comfortable with the design so when your quilt is under the needle it will know what to do.

I have lots more FMQ and doodle design inspiration for you here.

Make a Quilt Sandwich with backing, batting, and top fabric. 


-I like to select fabric that is fairly simple because I want to be able to see what I am quilting.

-Use a contrasting thread so that you can see what you are doing

-No larger that 20 inches square

-good opportunity to ‘warm-up’ and test out a variety of ideas in your mind

-if you are experiencing tension troubles, it is a good place to experiment with thread and needle size along with working out the tension on your machine.

*if you don’t like waste as much as I do, think about using your serger to finish off the edges and donate these to your local SPCA to use as pee pads for the animals. 


Open Mind -trying new things is challenging and uncomfortable. I hear you. (See my newly founded editing skills in my videos for proof!)

We need to start somewhere. When we allow ourselves permission to be a beginner and take smaller steps and not expect perfection, we will be more successful. Put in the work. 

Step By Step Instructions to FMQ the 9 Patch Wonder 

1. Stitch in the ditch all the main seams- this means to use the walking foot and stitch along the seams as shown in this picture.

2. Follow the plan- being strategic about the direction you go will help you find success.

Start at #1 and work your way through the sequence.

3. Turn the quilt around and continue with the numerical sequence. 

Now that you have stitched in the ditch all the main squares you could be finished your quilt top… Did you know that different batting has different capacities to be left un-quilted before it begins to disintegrate? Here is a handy chart that lays out different batting with their respective capacities. So, if you selected ‘Heirloom With Scrim’, then this quilt is ready for trimming, binding and a label!

HOWEVER, if you would like to learn how to use that darning foot and if your batting needs more quilting, here is a new way for you.

Here is the quilt with the FMQ design sketched out on paper. What does your version look like?

Here is what it looks like when I am practicing on my quilt sandwich. Remember that the quilt sandwich is a warm-up for the quilt so why not draw the quilt blocks or re-create the quilt right on the quilt sandwich?

Tips on Using a Darning Foot

1. This is not a race, however sometimes stitching faster helps with the flow.

2. If your sewing machine doesn’t have a stitch regulator, your job is to learn how fast your hands need to be with the speed of your foot. The goal is to have even size stitches so practice, practice, practice. Your ear will start to hear the happy speed the more you practice.

3. If you are having trouble with tension that is totally normal, but I am very good at helping you resolve them. Please go here for help with tension issues. I also have a free total beginner Free Motion Quilting class offered at www.imaginewithrileyblake.com that can go into more details also.

First Step with the Darning Foot Now that you are all warmed up, here we go…

1. Start in the top right corner of the 9-patch. Make your way down the top right block of the nine-patch and continue through to the middle square and keep going all the way to the very last 9 patch square on the bottom left.

2. Go to the top left and move your way diagonally to the bottom right.

3. Now work your way across to the second top 9-patch right square and move diagonally to the left. This is a shorter stretch to go.

4. You get the picture. We are working our way diagonally through the quilt.

Practice with the quilt sandwich with lots of loops. If you would like more visual help,  I have a video here showing exactly how I quilted using this FMQ technique.

The key to FMQuilting success really is starting with a plan. If you fail to plan, plan to fail. When you have a plan in place, you will be more successful, guaranteed. 

Final tips:

Starting and stopping with your thread- always pull up the bottom thread before starting to stitch.

When starting and stopping your stitching always make 5-6 back and forth stitches to secure your stitching.

Now that you have been guided through the process, I totally want to see how you are doing. It thrills me to see quilters open their eyes to the possibilities of how they can enhance and create a whole new dimension to their quilting experience with FMQ. I refer to myself as a FMQ liberator, so let me liberate you and help you to build these skills if you want to.

Thank-you Amy for the opportunity to share my love of free motion quilting!

Thanks for sharing your skills, Dara, and helping us believe that we can do this! 

If you’re looking for another way to help a good cause, I want to share a generous offer by California quilter, Beth Bryant. She created a pixelated patchwork pattern of the state of California, called My California Home, and has generously offered to share it as a fundraiser for wildfire relief in California.

From designer, Beth: “I’m a California girl, it is my home. And California is hurting right now. I hope that my fellow California quilters—those who live here or those who just love the Golden State—can join together to make a difference in the lives of those affected by the wildfires in California. I’m a little nervous sending this pattern out into the big wide world of experienced quilters—any mistakes are mine, and I apologize in advance. I am so thankful for Amy’s willingness to help use her blog, brand and time to facilitate this fundraising effort. Whether you make it with the blues of the Pacific, the green of it’s verdant fields, the yellows and oranges of the desert, or any other combination that makes you think of your California home, I am so excited for you to make it your own. Thank you. #californiahomequilt

You can find the free PDF download of this pattern here. In exchange, please consider donating $10 to the California Wildfire Relief Fund.

I have sweet neighbors who raised their family and lived for decades in Paradise, California. Many of their friends and loved ones have lost everything. My own sister lives on the edge of the evacuation zone for the Woolsey Fire. Crazy, scary, tragic times for so many people. If you’ve been looking for a way to help, here’s an easy one.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Janice Fryer
    November 22, 2018 at 6:26 am

    I’m a native Californian, but now a longtime New Yorker— I’ve been watching with incredible sadness the devastation of my home state. Thank you for the opportunity to purchase this reminder of home and do a little something to help. You can take the girl out of California…

  • Reply
    November 22, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Hi Amy! Love, love, LOVE everything about this post. Thank you for sharing all these great links for helping out folks in California. I wanted to move to LA right out of college and managed to stay for six month. Then my dad got sick, I moved back, he died and I never went back. Anyway, my heart has always been in California (no regrets though!) so these fires just sicken me to the quick. Happy Happy Thanksgiving to you. ~smile~ Roseanne

  • Reply
    August 11, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Adequate safety needs to b exercised when quilting at home.

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.