In conventional sewing, the feed dogs move the fabric through the machine. In ‘free motion’ stitching the feed dogs aren’t in use, and you the stitcher control the movement of the fabric under the needle.
Since writing on walking foot and ruler work quilting (aids to quilting stitching), I’ve been coming across sources which help with free motion stitching (freely stitching without any artificial aids for getting the stitching in the ‘right’ place), so here are some of them !

Free videos about free-motion quilting to try :
Angela Walters
Leah Day

Much written advice from Bernina WeAllSew.
Bernina also have a free e-book on Free Motion quilting (download button on right of that page).

Tools and set-up

These are essential.

The presser feet mentioned in the e-book are all for Bernina. Use similar for your machine. The foot needed for free motion stitching is a ‘hopper’ foot with a spring (photo is Bernina 24). An ‘open toe’ makes it easier to see what you’re doing. Here are the names of some of these feet for other machines :
Baby Lock free-motion quilting foot set,
Brother open toe quilting foot,
Husqvarna Viking open toe free motion foot,
Janome convertible free motion foot set,
Juki quilt presser foot 20, 21, 22,
Pfaff open toe free motion spring foot,
Singer open toe free motion presser foot.

Also lower the feed dogs, or cover them with a plate.

Here’s a written tutorial from Bernina about setting up your machine for free motion quilting.

First practice movements

Free motion stitching is definitely a ‘skill’, few people can do it well first time – much practice needed !
Practice moving the fabric at a constant speed, and find the best combination of foot pressure and hand movement speed for a good stitch length. Helpful saying : ‘fast foot, slow hand’.

Using thread that matches the fabric makes any differences from ideal less obvious. I use contrast thread while learning, so what I’ve done is very obvious and gives clues to what needs to be changed.

Here’s the Bernina e-book suggestion for some first exercises.

(The Bernina Stitch Regulator is an expensive device which automatically makes all your stitches the same length. It doesn’t help you position the stitches well ! So similar exercises will help you learn to use it.)

If you haven’t drawn shapes like those stars and leaves before, then the first step is to work out how to draw those shapes on paper ! Then the next step is to work out how to do the opposite of drawing – we’re not moving the needle over the fabric, we’re moving the fabric under the needle. We’re all different : some of us can do that naturally and some of us have to think it out. I found I had to try out moving paper under a pencil as a first step, before trying on my machine to move the fabric at the same time as controlling the machine speed. I had most difficulty with the stars, and got on best with them when I stopped at each point and didn’t feel under pressure to rush on.

Try writing your name, or how you’d like to sign your projects !
Then go on to try if, instead of working freely, you prefer the results you get by following a marked line – perhaps a line printed on the fabric, or a line you have drawn on the fabric.

Ideas for practice quilting projects

Here are a couple of practice projects from Bernina. Although all the following instructions come from Bernina, you can do most of these techniques on any machine by using similar feet for that make of machine.

This project for free motion quilted placemats is a new written tutorial from Bernina which includes videos and .pdf handouts. It includes somewhat more difficult shapes than on the e-book starter page shown above. (In Step 3 between sub-steps 1 and 2 – set up your machine for free motion stitching. In Step 4 don’t rotate the piece, move the fabric sideways.)

The Bernina free motion e-book mentioned above has a project for practising different free motion techniques by making an ‘art journal’ (‘journal’ in the sense of a record of what you’ve done). As well as the hopper foot, the examples use an open-toe embroidery foot (the Bernina one is foot 10) (have the feed dogs up when using this), and a button sew-on foot (optional, you could sew by hand).

Do you feel that wonky technique adds to the charm and interest 😀
or are you happier with neat smooth regularity 😀

Here’s an on-line course from Lori Kennedy on improving your free motion quilting.

Add more pages to your ‘journal’ using techniques from the Bernina mixed media booklet.
Or add more Machine appliqué.

Free motion embroidery

Those projects use fleece/felt/batting/wadding for support, so are good practice for free motion quilting.
When you’re comfortable with the movements, you may want to try free motion embroidery without the added thick layer. You’ll need to sample various tension/ stabiliser/ hand embroidery hoop combinations to support thinner materials without puckering, and practice varying stitch length and width for different effects. I haven’t yet checked out the many tutorials on that. Here’s an example written tutorial from Bernina.

Other techniques

These are more embellishment techniques, but ones that are less likely to be combined with free motion stitching :
Decorative stitches,
Heirloom sewing.

When you’re learning a new technique, it’s good to focus on the positives, not on what has gone wrong.  What can you learn from a less than ideal result ?   There’s a saying “there are no mistakes, only learning opportunities”.  Opportunities to find out what gives a result you are happy with !  Here’s a post on recovering from mistakes.  If you feel what you’ve done is ugly, you’ve learned what you don’t like, and need to try a different way of doing it ♥️ 👍 ♥️

Good Luck with your efforts.
😀 Have Fun 😀 Play 😀 Enjoy 😀

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