Free Motion Quilting Tutorial & VIDEO!

Ever since my Mother-in-law gifted Quinn a beautiful baby blanket featuring Free Motion Quilting, I have been obsessed with learning how to do it and then showing you Prudent Mamas. Imagine my delight when I found that Vanessa from Lella Boutique and Heidi from HoneyBear Lane had already done the work for us. Thanks ladies! Don’t forget, any comment you leave this week could win you some Sparkly Kreinik Thread.

Learn all about Free Motion Quilting after the jump.
Take it away! 
My name is Vanessa and I am thrilled to be sharing my machine-quilting tutorial with you today!  I’m from Utah but currently reside in Florida where my husband attends law school.  We have been married seven years and just had our first baby, Olive, six months ago. I am lucky to be home to take care of my sweet family and have spent the last six months trying to figure out how to best share my creativity now that time will allow it.

I have been quilting since I was sixteen but had little time to do it because of my former full-time banking career.  I created Lella Boutique and am slowly adding items to my Etsy shop where I accept custom orders for quilts, stitcheries, and other decorative items.  I’ve also started a blog to document my crafting adventures while sharing the tutorials with you.  I just found out that a couple of my stitcheries will be featured in McCall’s Quick Quilts in the upcoming May issue!

One of the first things people notice about my quilts is my swirly, freehand quilting.  This machine-quilting method is not only stunning–but surprisingly simple.  It is perfect for small projects like baby quilts and table runners.  For larger projects, I recommend taking your quilt to a professional who will be equipped with a long-arm quilting machine.

Let’s begin!

Careful basting of the quilt beforehand is absolutely essential so the quilt layers won’t shift during freehand movement.  Here are a couple of tips to help ensure successful basting…

  • Prior to basting the quilt and batting layers together, iron the quilt front and back pieces with a starch spray.
  • Make sure the back piece and batting are slightly larger than the quilt top.  (If any kind of shifting occurs, you’re covered!)
  • Use a good quality basting spray.  I love Sullivan’s Original Quilt Basting Spray.
  • As you baste each side to the batting, smooth away any wrinkles.  For particularly difficult wrinkles, lift that corner of the quilt and gently lay down again–smoothing it as it lands on the batting.
  • Once the quilt is basted together, insert safety pins throughout the quilt–another precaution used to prevent shifting.

The next step is to prepare your sewing machine.  Not just any presser foot will work–you need to change to a darning foot.  (If you don’t have one, check with the manufacturer of your machine to see if they make one.) Lower the feed-dog on your machine to allow free movement of the fabric.

Position a corner of the quilt under the machine. Lower the foot onto the fabric.  Activate the “needle stop down” feature on your machine so the needle will stay in the fabric when you need to take pauses.

Using both hands, move the fabric around in a random swirl pattern.  Make frequent pauses as needed to adjust the surrounding fabric, remove safety pins, etc.

Don’t let your quilt hang over the edge of the table–the weight of the quilt will pull on the needle and cause unnecessary tension, not to mention make it difficult to work.  Keeping the quilt on the table (or at least your lap) will make it easier to maneuver.  Here’s a video to help show you what this process should look like.  (Do NOT feel the need to go as quickly as I do–that’s how fingers get run over and quilts messed up.)

Practice, practice, practice!  Before you attempt this on the quilt you have been laboring over for weeks, do a test run on scraps until you feel comfortable. Also check the back side periodically to make sure no fabric has bunched up. (Your careful basting will help avoid this!) Should this occur, you will need to pick the stitches out, smooth the area, and resume.

Ta da! Congratulations!  Now you will want to quilt everything in sight.

Thanks Vanessa and Heidi! I can’t wait to try this out. Don’t miss out, visit HoneyBear Lane for great step-by-step tutorials and Etsy shop advice.




Oh fantastic – although I am not (yet) a quilter, I've been practicing free motion embroidery and so this technique also appeals to me…


This is one beautiful quilt! I am too intimidated to try free quilting but now that I have seen the tutorial, maybe I will have to give it a try.


Thanks for the great tips! I am just getting started and appreciate all the help I can get. Wish I had a needle-stop-down feature on my machine tho!

Vanessa Goertzen

Carmen: The basting spray is sticky. This is helpful so that when you are sandwiching the quilt layers together, they are less likely to shift while you are pushing it around under the needle. Hope that helps!

Sarah H

Wow! I've made quilts before, but only ever used safety pins to baste together – not starch…what a fantastic idea! Then I avoided free-motion quilting because of the shifting. I usually stuck to regular quilting for this reason…now I want to try it again! Thanks for a great tutorial!


That is beautiful!
I've never been a huge fan of handmade quilts because they seem so grandma-ish and often look "country" which does not suit my "modern" (or should I say Goodwill-modern) aesthetic. (Do you have an aesthetic if 95% of your decor and furnishings is from Goodwill?
I wouldn't mind a quilt if was as beautiful as that!


I was soooo pleased to see this tutorial. I just bought a new Brother so I could begin quilting and the free motion seems to be the most complicated to me. With your tutorial and encouraging words, I'm going to make my first attempt this weekend.

Sunni @Love Affair with my Brother

Oh Good! That's the way that I do it, too, but someone told me that you aren't supposed to make a completely loop and that none of your lines should cross. But I don't care. And since I'm not really sure why they said that, I have never listened!!


Sunni – I've heard that you are not supposed to cross over stitches as well but I think that is in reference to the traditional Stippling technique. Since we are calling this "Free Motion" instead, let's break the rules! But I'm totally speculating here, if anyone actually knows what they are talking about, please clue us in!


Now i know what to ask for for my birthday-a darning foot. I used to just stitch in the ditch, but I am looking forward to trying this!


Nice tutorial! I have done a few free-motion quilts and wondered if you could tell me why sometimes your machine decides to make crazy loops of thread on the bottom side? Sometimes my machine does a beautiful job, sometimes it wants to start looping about halfway through, and sometimes it does it from the start! I can't find rhyme or reason to it – everything is tuned and lubed and should be working right. Any tips?

The Queen

Wow. I was just trying to do this yesterday on some play felt food I was making! I couldn't figure out for the life of me why it wasn't working!!! I lowered my feed dog, but the answer lies in the foot! I need to get one of those for my machine. AMAZING! Thank you Prudent Baby for having all the answers! (once again!)


I'm with Tami – I know that the tension gets thrown off on my machine, but it happened SO randomly that I feel like tearing my hair out. Then I'll be on the exact same project and the tension will go back to normal after I've had to drastically alter the tension from what it usually is. What's up with that? Is there a forum for these types of issues?

Great tute, btw – sorry if this comment took things off on a tangent!


Oh, I've tried free motion quilting, and I just feel like I stink at it. I guess I need more practice??!!! Thanks for the video


On my Bernina 1260 I keep my feed dogs up but use a slider otherwise I have tension issues. I bought my slider from I purchased it as a set with quilting gloves and bobbin sliders which I also recommend.

Also, the picture showing the darning foot shows the thread on top of the foot but I have to thread mine through the loop and hold with the bobbin thread to avoid it getting caught and knotted underneath.

As far as not crossing stitches, I think it's ok. In my opinion it's an antiquated rule and there are plenty of designs out there that require you to cross stitches. Check out Leah Day's blog for 365 (250 at the moment) free motion quilting designs.

I am so glad that you wrote this post and hope that others try quilting now. I am the founder of my local modern quilt guild which is part of the broader network of modern guilds. Check out for more information on modern quilting 🙂


The quilt you're working on is absoultely *GORGEOUS*! I love that stitching technique too… but I should probably get a first quilt under my belt first! 😉 LOL!!!


this is AMAZING! I can not wait for my sewing machine to arrive.It was on loan to my brother. Now that I have my sweet boy, I am trying to make him all kinds of great things! I think I want to make a quited bag, with this idea!
thanks so much!

Sara Delia

Lord. I could have used this information before I made my hotpads. Basting spray, huh? To think a person doesn't always have to do things the hard way…


BASTING SPRAY.. so all these years ago, and there have been many, my mother taught me to baste (by sewing long stitches) quilts, now I don't HAVE TO!!! yea~ thank you

Savaria Bags

Thank you for the great tutorial! I was always afraid to try the free motion quliting but I learned a lot of helful tips and I am sure it will make it a lot easier to start. 🙂


I’ve never used iron on but I imagine it would be nice not to be spraying indoors. On the other hand the iron on is probably more expensive. I’m helpful. Ha.


This was very well done! I’ve never used free motion and am a beginner quilter. Thank you for the tips!

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