Free-motion quilting is not the same as normal stitching. It is a type of sewing in which you can stitch designed patterns on the quilt by moving it along any desired direction.
A free-motion quilting machine demands specific requirements like a large workspace, dedicated quilting foot, thread tension setter, and support for quilting stitches.
This article introduces you to the 7 best sewing machines that make a good fit for free-motion quilting.
Besides, there is a section that answers the most frequently asked questions. Here you can find answers to all your queries like the ideal stitch length, how to do quilting, what factors to look at to ensure better finishing, and many others.
In a hurry? Here is a list of the best sewing machine for free-motion quilting. Feel free to browse along before you start your work:
- Singer 9960 Sewing Machine
- Brother CS6000i Sewing and Quilting Machine
- Brother XR3774 Sewing and Quilting Machine
- Brother PQ1500SL Sewing and Quilting Machine
- Brother XM2701 Lightweight Sewing Machine
- Janome Horizon 8200 QCP
- Janome 1600P
What’s the meaning of free motion quilting?
Free motion quilting indicates sewing along any desired direction freely. This gives you complete freedom in moving the fabric under the needle. May it be with or without feed gods, as long as you are moving in all directions, it is free-motion quilting.
This feature allows you to materialize the design patterns that arise in your mind in your artwork. Primely because, although you are moving unrestrictedly in all directions, you will have complete control of the design pattern, stitch length, thread tension, and other parameters.
To elevate your free-motion quilting experience, it would be best to learn about how to choose appropriate thread tension, the way to ensure the machine’s longevity, and the methods to improve free-motion skills.
How to free motion quilting on a basic sewing machine model?
To do free-motion quilting on a basic sewing machine, first, check whether you can lower your feed dogs or not. Else, cover them using a darning plate. Next, see whether your machine has a dedicated foot that supports free-motion quilting.
Following this, you need to install the special foot in its intended position. The procedure will be outlined stepwise in most of the manuals, and all the necessary accessories like screwdrivers will often be supplied.
So, carefully set the attachment to the desired position and perform a visual examination to confirm the same. Next, set the feed dogs to a lower position using an appropriate control and then switch on the machine.
Then choose a stitch type and move the fabric under the needle at a constant pace to obtain uniform stitches, approximately measuring in the range of 2 to 2.5 mm. Once the swing is done, raise the feed dogs to set the cloth to the new position and then repeat the process.
Can you do free motion quilting on a regular sewing machine?
Most regular sewing models are fitted with feed dogs to aid in the fabric’s smooth movement. This, in turn, imposes a certain level of restrictions on its movement affecting your ability of full-range motion.
However, this does not mean that basic sewing machines do not support free motion quilting. One potential solution is to drop, cover, or leave the feed dogs if the machine allows you to do so! Else, do look for a dedicated foot that aids in overcoming the effect of feed dogs.
Free-motion quilting in the presence of feed dogs is greatly easy if your machine comes with a specific free-motion quilting foot or a darning foot. Just because, with these attachments, you can move your fabric sideways too (left and right), besides just front and back.
Furthermore, free-motion quilting even demands a larger workspace than that required for mere sewing. So, regular sewing models can best fit the need for free-motion quilting if they have a large throat space or are supplied with a free arm and/or wide extension table.
Top 7 Best Sewing Machine for Free-Motion Quilting
This section presents an overview of the 7 best sewing machines that can be used for free-motion quilting. It outlines their prominent features, pros, and cons giving comprehensive but brief information. Read along to discover more on the equipment that fits well for free-motion quilting!
Singer 9960 sewing machine comes with 600 built-in stitch types, 5 alphanumeric fonts, and 13 fully automatic one-step buttonholes. These can be customized in terms of their length and width, mirror imaging, string tension, reversal, and locking.
The machine comes with a wide table that can be extended easily to facilitate large-sized projects. With this feature, you can fold and roll the material while moving it smoothly along any desired direction, supporting free-motion quilting.
Singer 9960 is fitted with a transparent, easy-to-insert, top-loading bobbin system that helps you keep-an-eye over the thread available. There is also a threading system that aids you in effortlessly pull the thread through the needle’s eye automatically within seconds.
The model is also fitted with many intuitive systems like a start/stop button, needle position setter, automatic bobbin winder, LCD panel, speed controller, and drop feed. Furthermore, it is supplied with numerous add-ons that facilitate its easy setup and use.
- Versatile stitch types
- User-friendly nature
- Supports free-motion quilting
- Availability of extra-high presser foot lifter
- Automatic systems are not of high quality
- Changing the needle is a bit tricky
Brother CS6000i is a sewing and quilting machine that comes with 60 types of built-in stitches. This includes utility, decorative and quilting stitches along with 7 styles of one-step auto-size buttonholes.
The machine operates at a maximum speed of 850 stitches per minute and can be controlled effortlessly. All the stitch patterns can be easily customized in terms of length and width to suit your specific needs.
The model imbibes an automatic, jam-resistant, quick-set, top, drop-in bobbin system. This aids in the easy and quick winding of the thread and simple threading through the needle’s eye without getting strained.
Furthermore, the model imbibes a start/stop button, an LCD panel, 9 types of presser feet, a built-in free arm, LEDs, a sewing speed controller, an automatic needle threader, a winder, a detachable wide table, a stitch pattern selector, and a needle positioner.
- It comes with an extra-wide table
- Supports both sewing and quilting
- Easy to be used by a beginner too
- Is very cost-effective
- The threading system is a bit flimsy
- Has no support for in-built monogramming
Brother XR3774 offers 37 built-in stitches yielding 74 stitch functions, including decorative, quilting, and blind hem types. There is even a single automatic one-hole buttonholer that sews precise, well-finished holes to insert your button in!
The model is fitted with an easy-to-use needle threading system and an automatic top drop-in bobbin that is jam-resistant. There is also an automatic bobbin thread winder that aids in easy and quick thread winding.
Brother XR3774 is supplied with 8 sewing feet: buttonhole, zigzag, walking, button sewing, zipper, narrow hemming, blind stitch, and quilting. The machine comes with a built-in free arm and an extra-wide table that aid in handling large-sized projects.
Besides, there are ample accessories that aid in its quick setup and easy deployment. These include a twin needle, screwdriver, darning plate, power cord, operational manual, extra spool pin, bobbins, soft machine cover, accessory pouch, and instructional DVD.
- It suits both beginners as well as experts
- Supports free-motion sewing
- Lightweight and easily portable
- Appreciable speed of 800 stitches per minute
- Not computerized
- Not suitable for heavy-duty applications
Brother PQ1500SL is a longarm sewing machine that offers you a maximum speed of 1500 stitches per minute. Although being a straight-stitch only (no decorative and buttonholing) machine, it caters to your creativity as it allows for free-motion sewing!
It is fitted with an adjustable pin feeding system that can be swapped with the feed dogs. This ensures even movement of the thread along all the layers leaving no imprints of pressure. Thus, you can sew fabrics of varying thickness without any trouble.
In this model, automatic units work with high precision, like the needle threader, thread trimmer, and drop-in bobbin system. There are even a thread tension setter and a needle positioning button that act as huge time-savers.
Beyond these, there is a color-coded thread pressure adjusting mechanism that aids you set the feed dogs to four different positions, a knee lifter that helps in free-hand presser foot tweaking, a bed extension table to increase comfort, and a full range foot pressure adjustment option.
- High speed and heavy-duty compatible
- Advanced cloth feeding systems
- It comes with ample accessories
- Imbibes an extra-large workspace
- It does not have any in-built stitches
- It has no LCD panel
Brother XM2701 is a beginner-friendly machine that comes with 27 built-in stitch patterns and 63 stitch functions. This includes utility, stretch stitches, blind hem, zigzag seams, decorative patterns, and one-step auto-size buttonholing.
It is featured with an automatic threader, thread cutter, quick-set top drop-in bobbin, and a dedicated bobbin winder. This saves a considerable amount of time when dealing with time-constrained, prolonged projects.
Brother XM2701 operates at a speed of 800 stitches per minute. There are LEDs to lit the workspace to aid in dark-environment sewing and 6 types of sewing feet to support blind stitching, buttonholing, narrow hemming, button sewing, zipping, and zigzag.
The machine is also supplied with many accessories like a darning plate, needle pack, free arm, bobbins, screwdriver, operation manual, extra spool pin, carton contents, power cord, twin needle, and accessory pack.
- Lightweight and easily portable
- Suits the use of novice sewers
- Quiet at working
- It offers 3 different needle positions
- Presser’s foot is not adjustable
- Not very suitable for thick fabrics
Janome Horizon 8200 QCP is a computerized sewing machine with 170 built-in stitches, including 3 fonts and 10 one-step buttonholes. It offers a maximum speed of 1000 stitches per minute to be set to a convenient value using the speed control slider.
Its stitches can be customized in terms of length and width and can even be mirrored and locked. 50 such personalized stitches can be saved in the memory and recalled using the last stitch recall function whenever necessary.
Janome Horizon 8200 QCP imbibes a detachable AcuFeed Flex system that feeds the multiple layers to the needle simultaneously, a large workspace facilitating sewing of bulky projects, adjustable foot pressure, and a 7-piece feed dog mechanism.
Besides, the model is fitted with multiple LEDs to ensure optimal shadow-free lighting, a super-fine needle position controller, a knee lifter that aids in easy and hand-free control, a sophisticated bobbin system, and an automatic needle threader and trimmer.
- Numerous built-in stitch patterns
- Computerizing ability
- Easy-to-use and intuitive controls
- Supports both sewing and quilting
- Quite expensive
- Not very ideal for beginners
Janome 1600P is a sewing cum quilting machine that works at a maximum speed of 1600 stitches per minute. It is a straight stitch only machine and does not suit you if you are looking for decorative or utility stitches.
The model is fitted with an automatic threader and trimmer unit that helps quick and hassle-free needle threading and thread cutting. A side-loading bobbin mechanism facilitates easy access to the bobbin compared to the top drop-in system.
Janome 1600P comes with a knee lifter that aids you to adjust the pressure without using your hands. Even a quilt frame is supplied to aid in the quilting process and an extra-wide table to accommodate bulky fabrics.
Other unique features of this model are built-in vertical pull spools that supply the sewing thread, a dial that adjusts the pressure of the presser foot, and the needle position setter that can be set to either up or down position.
- Can sew even the thick fabrics
- Works on par with industrial equipment
- Highly responsive controllers
- It comes with a free motion quilting foot
- It supports only straight stitches
- It does not allow to drop the feed dogs
What type of needle should you use for free-motion quilting?
Free-motion quilting can be successfully practiced with many types of needles like universal, denim, quilting, embroidery, and topstitch types. Nevertheless, the choice of the needle heavily depends on the type of fabric and thread in use.
Generally, heavier thread demands the use of large-sized needles and vice versa. For instance, you can use a size 75 needle for a thread of 40 wt, while a thread of 30 wt would force you to use the needle with a size greater than 75.
Next, if you are using a special kind of thread, then it would be better to go with topstitch or embroidery needles as they have large-sized eyes. On the other hand, if you are sewing with cotton or polyester thread, you can opt for any standard needle in the market.
Furthermore, when you wish to do free-motion quilting of stretchy fabrics, it would be good to use ballpoint needles or twin needles. This is necessary to ensure slight, or no damage to the cloth yarn resulting in a smooth surface finish devoid of puckering.
How to improve free motion quilting skills?
There are many videos online and well within the instructional DVDs that can help you understand the concept. These can inspire you to practice free-motion quilting and serve as the first steps of your journey.
You can gain a better grip over free-motion quilting when you set up an appropriate environment. This includes having a suitable machine in a large room to ensure bulky fabrics’ effortless movement while freely sewing large-sized materials.
Besides, while practicing free-motion quilting, it would be better to keep your feed dogs lowered to obtain better control. It would also be useful to switch off the automatic thread trimmer as it would cut the thread too early, leaving no space for your decision.
Nevertheless, it is to be noted that free-motion quilting is a non-trivial task for novices and experts until they gain sufficient control. So, the only way to master it is to practice regularly, maintaining a high level of confidence and a great deal of patience!
What attachments (accessories) are Important for a free motion quilting sewing machine?
Some of the prominent attachments (accessories) that make your free-motion quilting a splendid experience are
Effortless free-motion quilting demands an extra-wide workspace, the bigger, the better. Though you have bought a machine that has a large throat space, quilting bulkier projects may ask for more.
In such cases, a quilting table can serve you the best. In some models, this attachment is provided in the form of a detachable unit through which you can easily set it only when needed.
Quilting stitches help you achieve versatility in your work. The more quilting stitches offered, the lower the chance of redundant designs and the higher the ability to maintain uniqueness.
The market thrives with many machines that offer a wide variety of stitch patterns. It would be better to have a model that supports quilting stitches, preferably with a customization option.
The thread tension that is ideal for quilt sewing is not the same as that for stitching applications. This means, when you wish to sew quilts, especially in free-motion mode, you need to change the settings of thread tension.
This is possible only if the machine is fitted with a thread tension adjuster, which may be manual or automatic. Besides, the greater the range offered, the better and easy the work would be.
Added feet with fully controllable features elevate the level of quilting experience. It can manifest in any form like free-motion presser foot, open toe presser foot, darning foot, or glide foot.
It is good if your machine comes with one or more of these as default attachment. However, if not, you can always look for having them as an add-on purchase to facilitate free-motion quilting.
How to maintain a free motion quilting sewing machine?
A free-motion quilting machine can be maintained to last for long years appreciably by following few tips. These include
The oiling of the machine reduces the friction between its moving parts. This causes them to move smoothly while assuring trouble-free long run. The result will be expressed as a delay in wear-and-tear and reduction in noise.
Prevention from Damage
No matter what equipment you buy, it is your basic duty to safeguard it. Whether set in a permanent position or a temporary one, you need to prevent the machine from possible damages like sliding.
Using of a Cover
It is important to keep dust away from your machine. One feasible and easy solution would be to cover it when not-in-use. May it be hard or soft, maintain it intact while you choose to practice no-sew period!
Regular cleaning, an essential machine maintenance process, can be done using accessories, like the cleaning brush. This helps ensure that your equipment remains free from clutter like thread pieces, cloth yarns, and dust.
What type of stitch should you use for free-motion quilting?
Free-motion quilting does not restrict you from using a single stitch style. Even here, you can choose among a good number of choices and customize them to the required size: large, medium, or small. Some of the most preferred stitch types that work well for free-motion quilting are:
- Stippling stitch: being one of the simplest ones, it offers more freedom, greater flexibility, and better control.
- Pebbles/Bubbles: It is a versatile stitch type that suits most of the quilt types as it offers both texture and flexibility under one roof.
- Echo quilting: works the best for both newbies and the experts when the requirement is to outline a specific shape on the quilt.
- Quilting feathers: are greatly adaptable in terms of size as they can be easily shrunk or stretched to the desired dimension.
- Meandering stitch: is most preferable for landscapes and adds texture to the surface by crossing over themselves.
What is the optimal stitch length for free-motion quilting?
The optimal stitch length for the free-motion quilting varies depending on the fabric and the thread in use. Generally, thin and thick threads demand shorter and larger stitch lengths, respectively.
Besides, the length is also decided by the speed of the machine and your hands! Faster the speed, the lesser the length of the stitch. This means that the greater is the control and experience in sewing, the tinier the stitches can be.
However, in most cases, a stitch length of 2.5 mm would serve the best. Although applicable for both professionals and novices, it makes more of a standard fit for the sewers who are still learning the ropes.
Nonetheless, it would be good to customize the stitch length to suit the best for the project in-hand. This can be done by performing a trial run before performing the actual work. On the contrary, you can even set the stitch length to zero and rely on your hand’s needle and speed!