Three Terrific Machine Quilting Techniques – Free-motion – Free form

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Welcome to my third and final installment of posts on the Three Terrific Machine Quilting Techniques.

If you joined me for the first two posts on machine quilting you

  • gained an understanding of straight line machine quilting using a regular sewing machine with a walking foot installed and the feed dogs up, plus the many situations you may want to set up the machine for that function
  • learned how to install a darning or free-motion foot and lower the feed- dogs for free-motion quilting using that technique to stitch marked lines creating formal quilting patterns.

With that foundation established it is time for you to learn about using your regular sewing machine for free-motion quilting to stitch patterns without marked lines. I refer to the pattern style as free form; using the free-motion quilting technique to stitch patterns guided free-hand, without the aid of a computer and without following a marked line.

In future posts you will learn about many varied background fill patterns and delve into the details of useful accessories and attachments for the machine, but for right now let’s focus on the technique. Remember our plan is to gain insight in one small, very important concept and then we build on that.


Here you see the now familiar Oak Leaf and Acorn example (shown in the 2 previous posts), but in this photo the tiny stippling background fill pattern is highlighted. I am showing you this style of free-motion quilting last because in the logical sequence for machine quilting all background fill patterns are added last, after the anchoring and after the motifs have been stitched.

 Joanie’s TIP: Remember, to evenly distribute the quilting throughout the entire quilt surface in each step of the process.

Free-form or free-hand Free-motion Quilting

When you learn Free-motion Quilting using a sewing machine (with the feed dogs lowered and a darning foot installed), stitching can occur in any direction and in straight or curved lines. You will be able to produce patterns with the lines of stitching, again just like a pen on paper. Spend time doodling on paper to learn the path that you would stitch for your own background fill patterns. If you do not lift the pencil, you create a pattern that could be stitched with continuous stitching, a very important goal of machine quilters.

When you practice a fill pattern by drawing it on paper until you have imprinted it in your brain, you will be able stitch on the quilt without marking at all or with limited marking.  Stitching without following a marked line is refereed to as free-form free-motion quilting, guided from a pattern imprinted in the brain.  The resulting patterns tend to be random, often with repeated forms that are not necessarily meant to be identical.

background fill pattern

This Leaf, loop and Daisy is one of 30 patterns in my Free-form Background Fill Pattern Packets you can purchase for download or have mailed to your door.

Let’s clear up some confusing terms

This is my understanding of some confusing terms. Free-motion is the technique; the set-up of the machine. Free-form is a style of the pattern, random and not marker. Free-hand means the stitching is hand guided from a pattern in your head. With all of these terms so similar, it is understandable that many people are confused; and the reason so many people look at me like I am not telling the truth when I say I used free-motion quilting to stitch the perfect grids and identical motifs for my  quilts. They think that term free-motion means that I guided the machine free-hand, when in reality I followed a marked line that has been washed away.

So if you are ready to set up your machine for free-motion quilting to free hand ten amazing free form patterns, head on over to the SHOP! page to learn about my 120 minute How-to DVD, Background Bonanza !

What can we do with free form patterns?

  • The patterns can be used edge to edge.
  • Sections of a quilt bundle can be filled with texture.
  • The background around previously stitched motif can be flattened with texture.

A quilter can stitch an identical pattern in a large scale to cover large spaces or tiny to flatten the background around a previously stitched motif to make it pop. Tiny patterns must be smaller than the motif they surround for contrast. 

tiny leaves free form background fill

 This leaf pattern (above) can be used as for all three purposes mentioned above depending on the size the pattern is stitched.


Leaf and Curl Background filler

Above you see an almost identical filler, Leaf and Curl, that could be used for all three functions again depending on the size it is stitched. I disregarded the patchwork when quilting this free-hand pattern.


Heirloom quilting by machine

This photo (above) shows how tiny stippling was added to the background of my Ivy Wreath Quilt How-to DVD after the ivy was stitched to flatten the background and let the pretty motifs stand out.


Great Outdoors Workshop

Free-form quilting is ideal for landscape quilts (above). Look at the patterns you will learn in my Great Outdoors Landscape Workshop or pattern. This hands-on workshop is among may classes I teach on background fillers.

Just for review

Remember these Free-motion facts: With the free-motion foot installed and the feed dogs lowered,

  • The operator controls the stitch length as well as the direction of the stitching line by moving the bundle with her hands.
  • Stitching can occur in any direction and in straight or curved lines.
  • The quilt bundle does not have to be rotated when changing the direction of the stitching. 

Whats Up for next week?

Most frequently asked questions about machine quilting and how I have discovered the answers may not be the important solutions you need.

Dashed-line-99CC99Read more About Joanie, her Career Highlights, or print Joanie’s Short Bio.
Can’t wait for a blog post of all of this advice? Explore helpful info already on the website: Glossary of Frequently used Machine Quilting Terms, How to Prepare for a Class, Quick Start Guide to Marking and Resizing Quilting Designs, Printable Charts for Quilting Facts, The Tips Page, and announcements of  Upcoming Events.

Dashed-line-99CC99Never miss an issue of this free e-zine, Joanie’s Life Changing Machine Quilting Lessons. Just watch for reminders from Joanie on her Facebook page or to receive a reminder sent to your inbox, use the sign-up form at the top of the sidebar on this page. 

If you feel you friends, family or quilt guild would benefit from this insight please invite them to join.  I’d really appreciate it!

Dashed-line-99CC99The information, illustrations and photographs on this blog copyright Joanie Zeier Poole unless otherwise noted. No reproduction in any form is permitted without permission. All rights reserved. Please ask permission for using any content and give credit when sharing what you have learned. Heirloom Quilting Designs was founded by Joanie Zeier Poole in 2000, a new millennium with a new dream for the future!

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