Would you like to free-motion quilt? Even if you’re working on a home machine, you can confidently FMQ — as long as you have the right machine presser foot. A free motion quilting foot, a specialized presser foot that provides excellent visibility for this type of quilting, is essential.
What is a free-motion quilting foot?
The free-motion quilting foot, sometimes called a darning foot or hopping foot, is designed so that the sewing machine needle passes through a small ring on the foot. It looks a little like a flat doughnut, and the needle on your machine passed through the hole of the doughnut.
While other presser feet remain flat against the fabric as you sew, the free-motion quilting foot hops with each stitch, thanks to a spring that’s built into the shank of this presser foot. In other words, the flat, circular foot makes contact with the fabric only while the stitch is being formed. After the stitch is complete, it retracts with a spring away from the fabric.
A few FMQ feet do not have springs. Instead of hopping, these feet float over the quilt top without providing pressure. Some quilters find the hopping motion distracting and prefer a floating foot.
Why you need a free-motion quilting foot
If you want to do free-motion quilting, your regular presser foot won’t get the job done because it puts the machine in control.
A regular sewing machine foot provides downward pressure on the fabric, holding it against the feed dogs as you sew. As a result, the feed dogs pull the fabric along with each stitch. That means that the machine has complete control over how the fabric moves.
When free-motion quilting, you want to be in control. By using a free-motion quilting foot and disengaging the feed dogs, your quilting will be completely self-guided.
The hopping movement of the FMQ foot is also essential for giving you free movement of the quilt. The foot makes just enough contact with the fabric to form a nice stitch, while still enabling you to move the fabric freely in all directions.
How a free-motion quilting foot improves your quilting
But, a free motion quilting foot doesn’t just get out of the way. It also helps your quilting!
The flat doughnut provides a visual guide while you’re sewing, so you can track the needle position. Free-motion quilting is essentially drawing on fabric. The small, circular foot provides a constant visual cue, unlike the tiny needle that moves too fast for the eye to track.
A free-motion quilting foot also provides plenty of visibility. It’s important that you can see the quilting design right around the needle so that you can shape your stitches well. Most presser feet are bulky, but a free motion quilting foot covers hardly any of the quilt.
Some free-motion feet are also clear or have an open toe, which provides even more visibility. The “toe” of the foot is the element that comes in contact with the fabric. A a closed-toe foot is a complete doughnut shape, while an open-toe foot like a doughnut with a bite taken out of the front.
Choosing your first free-motion foot
Your free-motion quilting foot does not need to be specially made for your machine. Generic feet are widely available. When in doubt, though, try buying one at the same shop where you bought your machine and mention your machine model so that the salesperson can confirm it will fit.
And which features should you start with? There’s no definitive answer. I’ve quilted with hopping feet and non-hopping feet, open and closed toe, and they all work well. Only time and experience will reveal what you prefer. With that said, start with whatever is easily available! The best way to make progress is to start somewhere today.
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