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FMQ Lesson #1 // Skill Builder BOM

This post is part of a series of posts for the Skill Builder BOM (Block of the Month). To learn more about the block of the month or to see a list of all posts click here.

FMQ Lesson #1

Welcome to the Skill Builder BOM Free Motion Quilting Lesson #1. This lesson consists of 7 video tutorials and a short summary of the videos. I had such a hard time narrowing the over 20 videos I took down to only seven, and I know seven is still quite a few. You will notice in the videos at some point I fast forward so you can see what i'm doing, but don’t have to sit there for hours watching me. I promise that the future FMQ Lesson’s will be much shorter. But, since we are introducing FMQ it will require more. Be sure to watch the videos! I am not repeating everything I covered in the videos in this PDF lesson and post, and I don’t want you to miss anything. If you are having trouble viewing the videos please try viewing them directly on my YouTube channel or email me.

Video 1 - Intro and FMQ Tools

Summary of Video Lessons

Skill Level

We have a wide range of skill levels participating in this BOM. My goal is to help each of you improve and build upon your FMQ skills. I may not be able to fill every gap, so please refer to the Extra Resources below to find additional information.

Please, please please do not be scared of Free Motion Quilting. The goal of this BOM is to learn, practice, and even make mistakes. If you go into this with a fearless attitude, you will have much more success!

Extra FMQ Resources


FMQ Books


Beginner Help

Tools & Supplies

Practice, Practice, Practice

To be successful with free motion quilting, you will need to train your hands and mind. You will need to learn how to think ahead, and the best way to practice this without using up a ton of practice quilt sandwiches is to get out a pencil and paper.

I encourage you to get a sketch book just for your quilting designs. Start with one design and draw it over and over and over, trying to draw in a continuous line. The basic stipple I have taught in the video lessons is a good place to start.


I think the best way I can sum up the video tutorials is to provide you with a free motion quilting FAQ!

My machine did not come with a FMQ foot. What do I do?

You will need to purchase a FMQ foot that is compatible with your machine. If there isn’t a foot compatible with your machine, you can purchase a generic FMQ foot. You will need to look online and research what fits on your machine. If you end up with a cheaper “bouncy” spring action foot, I suggest following Leah Day’s tutorial for modifying the foot to stay in place. You will get much better results.

What type of needles should I use?

I suggest using a ballpoint needle, also known as an embroidery needle. You will also need to choose needles that are the proper size for the weight thread you are using. Check with the thread manufacturer to know which size needle to buy.

How often should I change my needle?

I like to put a fresh needle in my machine with every new project, I also like to clean my machine at that time. For example, I cleaned my machine and installed a new needle before I started quilting this month's blocks.

What brand and size thread should I use?

This is an often debated preference. I personally use Aurifil 40wt for my machine quilting, 40wt will show more than a 50wt which is the look I desire. I also prefer 100% cotton.

What color thread should I use?

Here is another preference issue. I personally like to use matching thread. I feel like it gives a quilt a beautiful texture, without screaming LOOK AT ME. But what if I used 50 different colors in a quilt? In that case, I would choose a few colors that match the main colors of the quilt, or I would use a neutral color like beige or medium gray.

It is often suggested to use the same color thread in the top as the bobbin, but I break that rule sometimes. Here is when I WOULD NOT use two different colors. If you have a dark backing and a light quilt top, DO NOT use a dark thread in the bobbin and a light thread in the top. No matter how good your tension is, you will see little pops of the dark bobbin thread ALL over the quilt top. Trust me, I learned the hard way. I would use the lighter thread to match the quilt top for the top and bottom!

Do I have to get the Quilt Halo or Gloves?

I feel like you really should have one or the other. They will really help give you more control when quilting, which will help you achieve better overall quilting.

Do I need the Supreme Slider?

No, but it is amazing! If you don’t have one you could try a silicone spray. You spray this on a rag then wipe down your quilting area and it can make the quilt move more smoothly.

Why do you use a thread tree?

I personally do NOT like the horizontal thread holders built into sewing machines. I find that they can cause all kinds of tension issues, so I use a separate thread tree for my thread. I explain this in more detail in the video.

What settings do I need to set my machine to?

First sew normally with some test fabric to be sure your tension is okay. Then change your foot to a FMQ foot. Set your machine to stitch length 0. This will disengage your feed dogs from pulling your fabric. The feed dogs will still move up and down, which is fine. Most machine quilters “drop” their feed dogs, but I find I have prettier stitches when I leave my feed dogs up. If you do this, you MUST set your stitch length at 0.

My machine does not have automatic needle down. What do I do?

When you stop quilting you ALWAYS want your needle down into the quilt. Some machines have a setting to stop in the downward position, and some don’t. If you machine does not have this setting, carefully pick up one hand from your quilt and use your hand wheel to put your needle down. Then you can remove both hands.

How do I start and stop?

When you start, you need to put your needle down into the quilt once, then bring the needle up. Tug on your top thread just a little and your bobbin thread should pop up to the top. Pull your two threads back out of the way so they are fairly long and begin stitching.

When you stop, put your needle up, lift your presser foot, pull your quilt out and cut your threads long.

When you are finished with your blocks you will bury your thread tails in the quilt layers. See this video tutorial on how to bury your thread tails.

How fast should I go?

Start off at a slow or medium speed. What speed you go is a preference, but whatever the case you need to make sure you move your hands at the right tempo for the speed you are going on your machine. If your hands are moving faster than your machine, you'll have super-long stitches. If your hands are moving more slowly than your machine, you'll have itty bitty stitches. Try to find a balance that gives you medium, evenly-spaced stitches.

This takes time, and lots of practice, so don’t fret. And don’t rip your stitches out unless the stitches greatly affect the quality of the quilt, as in they may fall out when washed. Keep in mind no one will ever be looking at the stitches as closely as you are!

What if I do end up needing to rip some stitches out?

As I said in the question above, ONLY rip out your stitches if you made a HUGE mistake or the quality of the quilt is at stake. If you do end up having to rip stitches out here is a Un-Tutorial on how to seam rip a quilt by Angela Walters.

What's the best way to practice FMQ?

First practice by drawing quilting designs continuously with paper and pencil. Do this over and over and over to lock in the muscle and mind memory.

Second, practice on test quilt sandwiches approximately 10” x 10”.

Third, practice quilting blocks, or placemats, or a table runner. Smaller items are always easiest to start with. Don’t be scared, just go for it!

You can also try taking the thread out of your machine and stitching through computer paper.

How dense should my quilting be?

Once again, this depends on your personal preference! The more dense your stitching, the more time involved. I personally love a very dense completely quilted quilt. Do keep in mind that when quilting more densely it uses a lot of thread and can stiffen the quilt slightly. If you space your quilting out, it will be a bit more snuggly.

The top tension looks beautiful, but the back is a nightmare, what's wrong?

Well I’d have to see the stitches to know better, but if you start to see “eyelash” looking stitches on the back in the curves, this usually means you are moving your hands too quickly through the curves. You will need to practice moving into and out of the curves at the same speed.

Also if you machine’s tension works just fine while piecing regularly, but is terrible when FMQ, most likely you are experiencing user error. Here is a FANTASTIC tutorial on FMQ tension by Leah Day.


Did I leave any questions unanswered? Leave me a comment or head on over to the FMQ Quilting discussion at the BOM Flickr Group.

Lesson PDF Download

Alyssa Lichner

Alyssa Lichner

Creator of Pile O' Fabric

Alyssa Lichner is a graphic designer turned avid sewist. She writes modern quilting tutorials and shares techniques and inspiration on her blog, Pile O’ Fabric. Alyssa has a passion for exploring different techniques and applying them to modern designs. She is thankful to have the opportunity to share these techniques, through her tutorials, patterns, and classes with quilters around the world. She always encourages her readers and students to challenge themselves to try new things and to approach quilting with a fearless attitude.


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