Essential Machine Set Up
To begin free motion quilting, you only need to do three steps:
- Thread the machine
- Attach a quilting foot
- Lower the feed dogs
However, to fine tune the machine for the best quilting, we add a few more steps:
Twelve Step Machine Set-up for Better Quilting
Practice setting up your machine for free motion quilting so you can do it quickly. Write down or make a copy of this list and keep it in your Supply Basket along with tweezers and snips.
Most of the steps help your machine make a pretty stitch.
Twelve Step Set Up:
- Clean and oil your machine-
- Thread the bobbin
- Attach a single-hole throat plate (Engage “Minder” on machine if available)
- Attach an extension table
- Position a Supreme Slider
- Insert a Topstitch Needle
- Attach a Free Motion Quilting Foot
- Disengage the Feed Dogs
- Activate the Needle Down Function
- Thread the machine
- Stitch a Test Sample
- Begin Stitching
Clean and Oil
Your sewing machine sews better when it is well-oiled and clean. Machine quilting generates more lint than normal sewing, so it is important to clean and oil more frequently when you are quilting. I usually clean and oil my machine every 2-3 hours of quilting or when I hear “that sound”. I can’t be more specific, but when you start listening to your machine, it will speak to you!
Thread the Bobbin
Thread the bobbin just as you do for normal sewing.
If your bobbin case has a finger like projection with an eye in it–this device increases the bobbin tension, and is sometimes helpful for FMQ. Do an experiment. Try stitching with the bobbin eye threaded and with it unthreaded to see if you notice a difference.
Attach a Single-Hole Throat Plate
Most sewing machines come with a wide throat plate to accommodate zig zag and decorative stitches, but offer a single-hole throat plate as an option accessory. The single-hole throat plate supports the quilt from below and helps the needle pierce the quilt without “flagging”. Flagging is when the fabric, distorts while the needle penetrates. The stitch quality is generally better when a single-hole throat plate is used. (The single-hole throat plate is great for machine piecing too!) If your machine has the option-activate the single hole throat plate minder. It will prevent you from stitching a zig zag and breaking a needle!)
Attach an Extension Table
Quilting is easiest when the quilt is supported on a large even surface. The ideal is to have the machine in a set-in cabinet. (For most of my machine quilting years, I did not have that luxury.) If your machine is not in a set-in cabinet, attach an extension table like the Sew-Steady table. Or, use books and boxes to extend the flat working surface.
Position a Supreme Slider
A Supreme Slider is a teflon sheet that adheres to the surface of the sewing area. It helps the quilt glide along as you stitch. It is one of the few quilting accessories I highly recommend. (If possible–try a friend’s first to be sure it works for you!) The back adheres to the surface–when it is kept clean. I usually tape the Supreme Slider to my sewing table so it doesn’t slide while quilting. (I tend to forget to clean it!)
Insert a New Topstitch Needle
There are many needle types which can be used for free motion quilting. Universal needles are fine, but my favorite is the Topstitch Needle. It has a large eye and a deep groove in the shaft that protects the thread. We will discuss quilting needles in detail in a future lesson.
Attach a Free Motion Quilting Foot
Most sewing machines come with several options for machine quilting. Look for the foot that allow the greatest visibility. I love the open-toe Free Motion Embroiderty Foot (BERNINA #24). It is not a full ring and the shaft is offset which allows the best visibility. Try the feet that came with your machine, then look for an open toe foot.
(We will discuss stitch regulators in an upcoming post.)
Disengage the Feed Dogs
The feed dogs are the metal teeth-like projections that extend just above the throat plate. In normal sewing, the teeth advance the fabric a short distance with every stitch. (The distance is determined by setting the stitch length.) In machine quilting, we want to control the movement of the quilt with our hands. In order to do that, we must disengage the feed dogs. On most sewing machines, lowering the feed dogs is a push button.
In some older machines, you may have to disengage the feed dogs by covering them with a plate or with tape.
Activate Needle Down Function
With the Needle Down Function engaged, every time you stop sewing, the needle will stop in the quilt. This is a very helpful placeholder for maintaining a smooth quilted line. If your machine does not have the Needle Down function, practice using the handwheel to place the needle in the quilt every time you stop. With practice it will become second nature.
Thread the Machine
Thread the machine as you do for normal sewing.
Stitch a Test Sample
Stitch a sample and look at your stitches.
Stitch a few small stitches in place to create a knot, then stitch a doodle!
YOU are on YOUR way!
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