Tips and Tricks for Free-Motion Quilting at Home

Can I confess something? Quilting the layers of a quilt together is still the part of this whole quilt-making process that intimidates me. And if I ever do quilt the layers myself, I pretty much just stick to straight lines. Anyone else feel intimidated free-motion quilting on their home machines?

Well, we’re all in luck today because guest poster Dara Tomasson is a wiz at it and has some great tips and ideas to share! Dara is a quilting guru on both a longarm and her home machine. I was so excited when she offered to write a guest post for my blog share tips and ideas for enhancing your quilting on your own machine.

Hi I am Dara from Stitched Quilting Co. I am a domestic and long arm free motion quilter where I teach others the joy and art of free motion quilting. I am thrilled to be showing up here at Amy’s blog to share with you some tips and tricks on conquering your fear of free motion quilting. I recently had 8 of my free motion quilting designs published in this book from Martingale Publishing, 180 More Doodle Quilting Designs coming out this week!


When I first started quilting I was SO afraid of free motion quilting my own projects. I knew that there were special industrial type machines that did the quilting called long arms. It was so intimidating to try to manage three layers of fabric and batting through the relatively narrow throat of my sewing machine. Making a mistake was petrifying.

Basting a quilt was ominous: did I have the correct type of pins?, did I pin them close enough?, what is the spray I am supposed to use?, did I use enough spray?, are all the layers smooth enough? To add more stress to the process I had to learn a whole new set of rules when taking a quilt to the long armer.  Although I never had a negative experience with a long armer, I always felt a little disappointed when I got my quilt back because I didn’t feel the quilt was not 100% completed by me. Does this resonate with any of you?

I desperately wanted all my quilts to be made 100% by me so I decided to educate myself and learn how to quilt my quilts myself. The best first step was to make a quilt sandwich. It doesn’t need to be large, between 10-20 inches square. I put on a darning foot and just started to stitch. I did not pass judgement on how the stitching looked, I just practiced. I focused on how the fabric felt as my hands passed through the needle from all different directions.

Learning a new skill quite often is overwhelming. So instead of me sharing all the details of thread and needle size I just want to challenge you to make a quilt sandwich, put on a darning foot and move the sandwich around under the machine.

I will keep to the kiss theory- keep it simple.  Here are 4 tips and 4 tricks for working with a quilt sandwich.


Tip Number One

Use old sheets or fabric that you no longer want. Cut them up into 10-20 inch squares. Cut the backing fabric 2 inches wider so that your hand has a place to go. The batting is about 1 inch wider than the top. For example, if the top is 20 inches square, then the batting is 21 inches square and the backing is 22 inches square.


Tip Number Two

Use a contrasting thread colour so you can see the thread path when you are stitching. This picture illustrates the difference in the quilting with the different colours.

Tip Number 3

Develop muscle memory of quilting designs on paper before going to a quilt sandwich. I like to doodle in a notebook so I can look back at my doodles.  I often use past doodles as sources of inspiration. Using a white board and marker can be another great way to develop that coordination and skill, its also eco-friendly!


Tip Number 4

Study books to learn new techniques. One of the perks about this book is that the sequence of quilting is laid out. I practiced several new-to-me designs from this book on my quilt sandwich and it was so useful to see the method (pathway marked by arrows) the designer used to create their quilting design.


Trick 1

Divide up the quilt sandwich into smaller sections so the area is more confined and easier to stitch into. Quilting these lines is a good warm up for quilting.

Trick 2

Keep a quilt sandwich by your machine at all times and practice a little on it before working on your sewing project. Not only does this help you find your quilting groove but it allows you the opportunity to check your tension on the front and back before moving on to your quilted project.

Trick 3

When the quilt sandwich is divided into sections, no pins are required and they do not interfere with the quilting.

Trick 4

Think about what kind of learner you are. Do you learn better if you can see someone creating the design? Or listening to someone explain how the design is created? By understanding how best you learn can help you with your free motion quilting success.

Tips for Free Motion Quilting on your Home MachineThese are just a few tips for reducing the fear to start doing more free motion quilting (FMQ). 

Also, investing in this book, 180 More Doodle Designs and others like it, is another way to build up your personal library so that you can have inspiration and references at your fingertips when practicing on those quilt sandwiches to gain confidence and skills.

I would love to hear from you about your favourite tips and tricks for free motion quilting.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Hop over to my blog (www.stitchedquiltingco.com) or my instagram and see how my desire to quilt my projects 100% by me has turned into a fulfilling creative endeavour that has changed my life for good.

Thanks Amy for the opportunity to share my passion for liberating quilters into believers that everyone can quilt their own projects no matter what machine, what age or stage they are at.

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm, Dara!

*this post contains affiliate links

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    June 26, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    Excellent post Thank you.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    Yvette helpful thanks. My issue is always how to get the tension right. The back of the quilt is often so horrible that I have no choice but to rip it all out!! Any advice on this issue. I have a good machine- babylovk crescendo, so there must be something I’m missing!

    • Reply
      Mrs. Plum
      June 27, 2018 at 12:45 am

      Often loosening the top thread tension on your machine will help when quilting. Also using the same good quality thread on the top and in the bobbin helps.

      • Reply
        June 27, 2018 at 5:27 pm

        Thanks for sharing your experience. A good rule of thumb is if there are tension problems on the top of the quilt there is a problem under the machine and is there is a problem with the bottom tension there is an issue with the top of the machine.

    • Reply
      June 27, 2018 at 5:25 pm

      When troubleshooting I like to use this method: first thread-simply retread your machine, second needle-change the needle (see my guide about the needle size to thread size) and third is the tension dial. Put the tension at O and then trial and error. Do one change at a time. This is the beauty of a quilt sandwich!! Thanks for sharing your concerns. These are totally normal.

  • Reply
    June 27, 2018 at 5:09 am

    Thank you for the tips.I will refer back when I get the nerve to try

    • Reply
      June 27, 2018 at 5:29 pm

      Just do it!! Grab some fabric scraps and batting and just sew. Even in a line, just get that sandwich in your machine. It isn’t as scary as I thought !! Promise ?

  • Reply
    Rebecca Buchanan
    June 27, 2018 at 5:17 am

    Great post! Thank you!

  • Reply
    June 27, 2018 at 7:17 am

    Great post and very helpful. My question is also about tension. How can I avoid the “eyelash” thing that happens when I make tighter turns when FMQ? It seems that it’s worst if I go too fast… is it related to top tension being too tight or too loose? If I start adjusting tension willy-nilly, my machine just says “Whaaaaa,….?” 🙁

    • Reply
      June 27, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      I’m going to ask Dara to weigh in on that!

    • Reply
      June 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      Hi there! Yes ‘eyelashing’ is a common problem when making a turn and going too fast. It can also be caused by a dull needle. It can also be caused by the needle size and thread weight aren’t compatible.
      If you go to my free class I do cover these pesky issues. Thanks for asking. Remember when troubleshooting make one change at a time.

  • Reply
    June 27, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks so much for all the helpful ideas. And I love your hearts on a string 🙂 Heading out to check out your class!

    • Reply
      July 11, 2018 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks Karen. These hearts are taught in my second class that should be coming out soon through Riley Blake. This is a great book as it shows you step by step of how the design is created.

  • Reply
    Sandra B
    June 28, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Great post! And the timing could not be more perfect! As a long time hand piecer and hand quilter, I am thinking that I need to start doing more on my machine…it is a Babylock Presto II that I bought earlier this year. I will most likely continue to do a lot of hand piecing, but I have quite a stack of finished tops, and if I don’t start machine quilting them, I fear they will never be finished…and, yes, I am also in that group of quilters who prefer to have my projects 100% done by me!
    I will definitely check out the FMQ class, and I will look for the doodling book as well!
    Thanks again!

    • Reply
      June 28, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      I’m so glad the post was helpful, Sandra!

    • Reply
      June 29, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      I am so glad that I was able to help you. That is a wonderful machine, it wants to be used!! Just go for it. Practice on a quilt sandwich and work your way up in size and complexity. Quilts are meant to be used!! There is so much love in the world when a quilt is given and loved?

  • Reply
    Judi S.
    July 1, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Great tips. I just quilted a charity quilt but as usual, did straight lines. I “ventured out” this time with some of the decorative stitches on my machine. This post has inspired me to venture out into FMQ. And if I like it, I’ll get the book! Thanks, Dana & Amy.

  • Reply
    Chris C
    July 1, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Dara, Thanks so much for your lessons & information. I usually struggle with quilting designs so will be getting your book for sure! Can you tell me more about the foot you use on the Juki? I have the same machine but want to get that foot to help me with spacing as you mentioned in your video. Is the foot a universal foot? What is the make/model #? Thank you in advance for your help on this

    • Reply
      July 11, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      I am so happy to hear that I have inspired you. There is so much joy in quilting your very own quilts! Learning a new skill is always intimidating, but if you can be consistent with practicing that will pay off in the long run.

  • Reply
    July 28, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Enjoyed your post. What is a good home machine for quilting can’t afford long arm . I have a Jenome but the throat isn’t wide enough for large quilt.

  • Reply
    October 30, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    Hi Amy and Dara! How exciting to have found this post today. I will check out the free FMQ video, as well as the book. I am new to the FMQ arena, and am always on the lookout for easy patterns that I can. For me, the hardest part is finding the correct path to complete a design and move to the next section seamlessly. The book sounds like the perfect thing for me. I think it was serendipitous to have read this today. ~smile~ Roseanne

  • Reply
    Schelee Burkett
    November 13, 2018 at 7:10 am

    Where do you start…..middle…corner… I’m TERRIFIED to try this! hahaha

  • Reply
    August 16, 2019 at 9:12 am

    Hi Amy and Dara,
    Thank you for the great tips and tricks.
    I just finished my 4th quilt. The quilt is for my son who just retired from the ARMY. I’m teaching myself using posts like this. I know the quilt is not perfect. My husband tells me nothing homemade is perfect but I’m OCD. I keep telling myself that it’s ok and he will love it. I wish I could figure out how to post a pic so you could see it. I am proud of it.
    Thanks again for the great information


  • Reply
    November 14, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Thank you so much for this information! I am new to quilting and have only ever used the stitch in the ditch. I am excited and scared to try free motion quilting and hopefully you can help answer two questions that prevent me from trying. I have always spray basted in addition to using safety pins to ensure the layers don’t shift. What is the best way to baste the quilt if you are going to free motion? Also I am not the best free motion artist. It seems like such a daunting task to stencil out the entire quilt and then go back and actually stitch. Do you have any suggestions for saving time for those people who don’t have artistic skills?

    • Reply
      November 16, 2020 at 1:56 pm

      Hi Nicole! Just in case Dara doesn’t see your question, you should totally email her. I know she’ll be happy to help! dara@daratomasson.com

  • Reply
    December 27, 2020 at 7:34 am

    Very good tip! Better than the article itself!

  • Leave a Reply

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