Free Motion Sewing and Monogramming for Beginners

Free motion sewing is when stitches are added by sewing in any direction. This is also often referred to as free motion quilting.

Monogramming is the addition of letters and words to your fabric to give a personal touch.

Many beginners would like to experiment with these forms of sewing. It’s perfectly possible using your standard sewing machine. If you have a machine capable of a straight stitch then you can easily try it out.

We will take a look here at both these branches of the craft which will help you to inject some variety and fun into your projects.

Free Motion Sewing

You will first of all need to think carefully about the things that you need in order to embark upon a free motion quilting project.

Let’s break down this simple list for you…


  • Free motion or darning foot: These come in either plastic or metal. They are often shaped differently. The function of this foot is to keep the material down against the plate. This enables consistent stitching while the machine is sewing away. When you are starting out look for the foot you feel most comfortable with. Choose one which offers maximum visibility.
  • Needles: Don’t cut corners with a new quilting project. Buy a new needle. Some sewers find universal needles are fine, others prefer a specialize needle. Quilting or topstitch needles are great. Look for size 90/14.
  • Thread: You have a wide choice of threads suitable for free motion sewing. Those made from long staple fibers are less prone to breaking. They have the added advantage of kicking off less lint. This can build up and damage your machine. Experiment with thread and don’t be afraid to switch to another variety if you do not feel happy with what you selected.
  • Masking tape: This is used to guide some designs when you are quilting.
  • Basting pins: Curved basting pins are ideal. You can opt for a spray or gun instead but old fashioned pins are a smart choice.
  • Journal: Often inspiration occurs when you least expect it. Keep a dedicated book so that you can jot down or sketch any ideas you have for future quilting and free motion sewing.
  • Lightweight gloves: These are not essential but grippy gloves can come in very handy. They will permit you to get more traction on the top of the quilt. You will need some help in gripping so whether you opt for latex or fabric, treat yourself to a pair of gloves. Make your life easier.
  • Marking pencils: You will need to make marks on the material from time to time. White pencils work brilliantly on darker fabrics. If the material is darker then try silver.
  • Scissors: Small and sharp scissors are crucial for snipping threads. Invest in some decent scissors and always keep them to hand.

You can always add to your free motion kit but the above will set you up perfectly to get started.

The next stage is preparation. Fail to plan and plan to fail.

Preparing Your Sewing Machine

The good news here is that there is not much you need to think about.

As mentioned, lint tends to accumulate as you sew. Check that you have no lint in the corner of the bobbin case.

Free motion quilting and lint are enemies. Tension will be an issue and the fabric might form in a bird’s nest.

After a good, thorough clean you need to turn your attention to the feed dogs.

3 Ways To Keep Feed Dogs off Your Quilt

  1. Lowering: On some machines you can simply lower the feed dogs. Hit the button, twist the knob – check for precise variations in your user manual – and the feed dogs will be lowered. They will sit out of the way under the throat plate
  2. Card: Use some card to cover the feed dogs. Simply punch a hole through some card to allow the needle to have access, tape it down and you’re good to go
  3. Raise throat plate: Raising this or using a throat plate cover is another alternative. This is a more limited approach as it limits space and makes performing some tasks a little awkward. It works but use this as a last resort

OK, your machine is now clean, primed and you can get started.

The Basics of Free Motion Sewing

One great visual way in which to pick up some of the basics is to watch videos. YouTube has many different tutorials available so if you like learning in this way then have a look and see some experts in action.

Here we will look at some of the things to bear in mind when quilting in this way on your sewing machine.

Bobbin thread: Put a practice pad under the needle. Lower the presser foot. Slide out the pad very slightly. Pull on the thread so that you can grasp the bobbin thread. Pull it out until the free end is through. Line the pad back up. The needle should be above the point at which you took the initial stitch. Note: If you hold the threads behind the foot when you start stitching, it will prevent them from snarling up.

Stitch locking: You want your stitches to remain in place and last the test of time. Stopping the loose ends from unraveling at the stop and start point is key. Making a few stitches in place is one solution. Another is to stitch away then back again in order to really lock down the stitches. This method is more noticeable but more secure too.

Stitching: Somewhere around 10 stitches per inch is a good target. This will be tough to achieve when you start out. You might make some mistakes and break a needle or two. Don’t worry. Sometimes speed is good. The faster you stitch the smoother and more consistent the lines and length tend to be.

Hands: Do what feels right. Some sewers hold the quilt, others flatten their hands. Operate in the way that feels most comfortable for you.

Practice Makes Perfect

Now you are set up and have a good grasp of the essentials, there’s no substitute for getting started and practicing.

  1. Get yourself a good practice pad. 12 x 18 inches is a decent size. Make 4 vertical lines on the right a couple of inches apart using a pencil.
  2. Wind some bobbins up.
  3. Clear everything from the sewing area. The vibration from free motion quilting means things might easily fall off so keep a clean and clear surface.
  4. If you have an extension table then attach this.
  5. Practice by stitching along the lines you made. Practice stopping and starting. Make a U shape with your hands. Push the quilt away as you stitch. Lock the stitches, cut the threads and start the next line. Don’t worry if your stitches are not straight at this stage. Just get the feel for it.
  6. Now try filling in some of the space between the lines. Between the first two lines, try stitching some fairly straight lines. Keep going up and down. Adjust the tension if necessary.
  7. Next try some zigzags between the lines. Move the quilt as you stitch taking it from side to side. Let your hands do the work.
  8. Try out some loops in the last column. Again, tinker with the tension if you need to.
  9. Experiment freeform over the remaining area and just build up your confidence.
  10. If you did need to adjust the tension then make a note of what worked in your journal. Learn as you go along.

So, there are some of the fundamentals if you want to start some free motion quilting.

Another common desire for people just beginning with their sewing machines is how to monogram. We will look now very briefly at just how easy this is to accomplish.


Many people do not want a dedicated embroidery machine and want to know how to monogram using a regular sewing machine.

It’s not hard!

  • PicMonkey is great for editing photos and also has a wide choice of fonts. Go here and find one that you like. If you don’t have access to the Internet then use Microsoft Word instead.
  • Type in what you want, initials or name, and print it off.
  • Pin this in place with some backing if necessary.
  • Sew along the letter as an outline the stitch inside.
  • For the outline you can use a regular foot or a quilting foot. You need the drop feed to allow you to move freely as you fill in the outline.
  • Remove the paper slowly and with great care and you have a lovely touch of personality added with minimum effort.

Whether it’s free motion quilting or monogramming, there is no need to buy a special piece of equipment when your regular sewing machine can easily do the job.

Learn as much as you can, make notes to help you, experiment, be creative and most of all have fun with your sewing machine.

You won’t be a beginner for long!

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