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Free Motion Quilting: Sewing Machine Setup

by Fitzy

I have some questions about setting up my sewing machine for free motion quilting.

What about needle choice?

And if you are free motion quilting, isn't the stitch length controlled by you? Should I still set the stitch length as desired..or to 0?


Good questions!

We'll start with which needle to choose. The basic rule of thumb is to choose the needle type according to the fabric you use and the size according to the thread you use.

For standard quilting fabric from the quilt store all of the following types are acceptable: Universal, Microtex Sharp, Quilting, Embroidery, and Metallic. For cotton fabrics with higher thread counts like batiks, pima cottons and sateens use a Microtex Sharp.

The size you choose depends on the thickness and/or delicacy of the thread you use. For a 50 wt cotton thread like Aurifil or Masterpiece, a size 70 or 75 is good. For a 100 wt silk thread, use a size 60-70 Microtext Sharp. For a metallic thread use a Metallic needle.

My personal choices for quilting on cotton fabric are either the Microtex Sharp or the Metallic needles.

For more information on choosing sewing machine needles see:Yes, for free motion quilting, set your stitch length to '0'. That way your feed dogs won't be moving while you're quilting because you don't need them. Less wear and tear on those parts.

The stitch length in free motion quilting is created by the combination of your hand speed (how fast you move the quilt sandwich under the needle) and the needle speed.

For more information go to Sewing Machine Quilting: How to Setup Your Machine.

I hope this information has been helpful to you.

Readers, if you have other suggestions, please do join in with your comments!


Julie Baird

Comments for Free Motion Quilting: Sewing Machine Setup

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Thread gathering on bottom side
by: Anonymous

I have my feed dogs lowered, I use a Brother so it sets it's own tensions, but I can adjust it. The top is set at 2.0, the bottom is 0. The pressure is at 3. My bottom stitches gather or have huge loops and then my thread breaks from the bottom spool.

What can I do?

From the Editor: While I'm not sure what 'bottom is 0' means (it could be that I'm not fully caffeinated this morning), what I think happened is that your bobbin thread isn't properly seated in its tension disk. Without any tension on the bobbin thread, things get all kinds of nasty on the bottom of your quilt.

Check your sewing machine instructions manual for how to thread your bobbin thread. Pay particular attention to how the thread is put into the tension spring. that I think about it, 'bottom is 0' could mean that the machine is set so that there's no tension on the bobbin thread. That would definitely lead to the 'thread throw-up' that your experiencing.

Check the manual for proper threading and re-thread. I think that will take care of your problem.


Julie Baird

Stitch Length
by: Anonymous

I have a baby lock crafters choice and I don't have a zero stitch length.. the lowest is 0.2...will this still work?

From the Editor: Just go ahead and leave your stitch length at its regular setting. The feed dogs are lowered for free motion quilting so the stitch length won't effect your quilting. The reason for reducing the setting to 0 is to minimize any extra wear and tear on the mechanical parts. If your machine can't be set at 0, then there's no way to avoid it.

~ Julie Baird

Stitch length and FMQ
by: Miriam

Dear Julie,

I am sewist who has never quilted before. I'm really interested in learning free motion quilting. I have read everywhere that you need to set up your stitch length down to 0. However, none of my machines, they're Brother by the way, allow me to go any lower than 0.2 mm. Is this ok? Can this affect the work in any way?

Thank you!

Reply: Hi Miriam!

The reason to set the stitch length to 0 for free motion quilting is so that the feed dogs don't move...thus saving extra wear and tear on them. However, because the feed dogs are lowered to the 'down' position, their movement will not effect the quality of your free motion quilting. So really you're good to go!

Hope this helps!


Needles Sizes, Stitch Length
by: Elaine

Dear Julie,

Thank you ever so much for your instruction for Needle Sizes and Stitch Length for Free Motion Quilting. I had a couple of hours for one lesson about 12 years ago, and whilst I remember a lot, I tend to forget about the needle size and stitch length.

By the way, are the stitch length and width set the same?

Also what about the Pressure Adjusting Lever?

My Janome Memorycraft 3500 Instruction Book suggests it to be set at 3 for regular sewing; 2 for applique, cut work, drawn work, basting and embroidery; and 1 for sewing chiffon, lace, organdy and other fine fabrics. Velours and knits with a lot of stretch may also require a 1 setting.

Does this mean I should use 2?

If you are using 100% cotton in the needle and bobbin, is Gutterman Cotton OK?

When is it OK to use rayon thread in the top thread?

I am sorry about all the questions, I hope you have the time to help me.

Thank you very much,


From the Editor:

Glad to be able to help Elaine, just wish I wasn't so slow sometimes!

To answer your questions...

I set both the stitch length and width to '0' for free motion quilting. Because YOU are in control of the stitch length when you free motion quilt (depending on how fast you run the machine and how fast you move the quilt sandwich) This setting reduces wear on your feed dogs.

As for your pressure setting, I would start at '2' and reduce to '1' if I was regularly getting tucks on the front or the back. If the presser foot pressure is too much, your presser foot will be pushing the fabric in front of it. This will eventually cause tucks.

Yes, Gutterman is fine!

Rayon is one of those 'princess' threads...fabulous for the quilting that shows, but not strong enough to be the sole thread holding a quilt together. (Interesting tidbit...hold a length of rayon thread between your hands and wet a small portion with your mouth. Then pull on the breaks where it was wet.) I've got just about every color that Sulky has made...thanks to the sales at Joann's...and I love the shine for my stitches. So I say 'Yes!', use it...just not for the ditch quilting that stabilizes and holds your quilt together.

And please don't be sorry...remember the ONLY dumb question is the one that isn't asked!

I'm happy to help!


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