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FMQ Lesson #3 // 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.

Welcome to the Skill Builder BOM Free Motion Quilting Lesson #3. My original plan for this month's lesson was teaching the FMQ designs to use for the Woven Star and Woven Chevron blocks, just as I have in the previous lessons. But as I began to work on the lesson, it took a bit of a turn. Instead of pulling everything together and providing a lesson that was just OK, I decided to be honest and share my lesson "woes" so you could learn even more!

A few weeks ago I sent my Juki into the shop to be serviced due to skipped stitches. I missed my Juki dearly and didn’t get it back until just a few days ago. Because of this, I had put off quilting my blocks to the last minute.

When I sat down to work on these blocks let me tell you I think everything that could go wrong went wrong for the entire lesson!!! I started off on my Woven Chevron block and immediately had video trouble. When you are filming the quilting of a block that has only been made once, If the video doesn’t work you can’t reverse time and do the block again. Right now I just use my iPhone for recording and it works quite well except for the fact I can only take about 10 minutes of video at a time and for some reason the camera just did not like me at the moment.

You know the drill you begin recording thinking it is still recording and then after about 8 minutes you look at your phone only to realize that it only recorded 2 seconds and stopped because your storage is too full! AH! Then you do everything to make room delete all your apps (except of course the Robert Kaufman Quilt App), delete text messages, and pictures. I had everything deleted and was ready to go and then I got the message 10% battery life left. AH!

I think you all have heard me joke about how this BOM is not Craftsy. I don’t have all those nice camera men, nifty cameras and sweet transition songs. No I have a tripod, dark, yellow lighting with crying babies as my soundtrack, haha. Oh, to be a Craftsy BOM!

I continued on quilting the orange section of my Woven Chevron and the whole time I was having issues with the “pressure” of my presser foot. I just couldn’t seem to find the sweet spot and my quilting was turning out horrendous. I just pushed forward and switched to my purple thread and began quilting. I did an entire row while in”LaLa Land”  and looked closely and realized my stitches looked really loose. I flipped it over and sure enough my tension was completely off, and I had quilted through the backing of my block!!!

I will spare you the further details of my painful night of FMQ. But, I feel the lesson learned was this…anyone who Free Motion Quilts whether on a Long Arm or Domestic machine is going to one day experience the “FMQ Woes”!

I always say that machines have a mind of their own! Sometimes they are really just not in the mood! Now this can’t all be blamed on the machine, usually when my machine is in a bad mood, I am off my game as well.


We all experience them whether we are a beginner or if we have been quilting for years! The question is how do we deal with them!

Stop and Vent

If you have a night like I experienced, and you are in the thick of the FMQ Woes than the first step is to stop what you're doing and vent! Yes, I said it Vent! Usually when you are at this point you are most likely over correcting issues in the heat of the moment and you will not make any progress. In fact at this point you could potentially make things much worse. When my tension went haywire I begin frantically messing with every setting on my machine. Doing this was completely unnecessary and really just caused more problems.

The best thing to do is stop and collect your thoughts. I am so blessed to have my close friend Danny Heyen a blogging quilter who only lives about 4 minutes from my house. We often call each other when we are troubleshooting, in fact she had called me a few hours before my FMQ woes to vent and ask for help on her own. By talking to someone about the issues you are having usually you are able to calm down and see more clearly the issues at hand.

Now I realize not everyone has someone quilty to talk to. I know before I met Danny I would talk to my husband and he would look at me like I was a crazy person, haha. So feel free to email me ANYTIME!


Once you have calmed down a bit return back to your machine and begin troubleshooting.

What is the main problem?

First ask yourself, what is the main problem? In my case my top tension was too loose.

Did your tension work fine when you began? Or has it been off the whole time?

In my case It was working okay when I was quilting the orange, but as soon as I switched to purple it was off. RED FLAG!

If you are having issues with tension here are some steps to take to resolve the issue.

  • Replace your needle.
  • Unthread your top thread and take out your bobbin. Rethread the machine and replace the bobbin.
  • Switch your machine settings back to those for straight stitching and test. Adjust the tension little bits at a time until the tension is perfect on straight stitching.
  • Switch back to your FMQ foot and settings. Make sure your stitch length is zero.
  • Try sewing with the feed dogs up then with them down.
  • Wind a new bobbin.

Once I had rethreaded my machine and fixed my tension for straight sewing. I switched back to FMQ and things were back to normal. Of course that was much slower of a process after I had frantically messed with all my settings!

Walk Away

What if you have vented, troubleshooted, and you are still having problem after problem. Walk away. Sometimes that is exactly what you need to do. Come back to the project in a few hours, or better yet another day. You have worked very hard to piece the quilt, do not spoil it by pushing through the FMQ Woes despite yourself.

Usually when I come back to a project the next day, I am much more clear headed to move forward and quilt. Often times I will soon find out that the problem wasn’t really my machine it was me! But, don’t we just love to blame it on our machines!

Lesson Learned…

I know that I am not the only one out there who has had a dreadful FMQ night like I just did. I do hope this will give you a little encouragement and insight. Things do not always function perfect at Pile O’ Fabric in fact often times I run into issues! My point’s don’t always match up, and I see all these amazing blocks in the Flickr group and think man they should be teaching this BOM. haha.

Then I remind myself that this is the Skill Builder BOM, and whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced quilter our main goal is that we build our skills in quilting!  I want to grow as a quilter and fall even more in love with quilting than I already am.

So my friends do not fret if your blocks are not perfect, each and every point, stitch, and technique you try is one step in the process of your growth! The fact that you are even on this Skill Builder journey to grow is an accomplishment itself. Thank you so much for being here quilting along with me!

Lesson Plans

Since the lesson went haywire, I do not have any FMQ videos for you this month. My hope is that you will be able to look at the quilting diagrams in the PDF and look at my blocks and with the skills you have gained the last two months quilt these blocks. The only new design I have added to the blocks is a Swirl Design on the Woven Star block. Here is a video by Angela Walters I found on youtube that may help you prepare for swirls. Just remember to practice on paper, and practice on a test block before you try it out on your star block.

Good luck this month and don’t forget to post your progress in the Flickr group! Hopefully next month I will be able to resume my video lessons once I decide which apps I can part with :)

Lesson PDF Download

This lesson includes a recap of this blog post, Woven Chevron and Woven Star block outlines and quilting guides.
Alyssa Williams

Alyssa Williams

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.