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5 Common Free-Motion Quilting Problems & How to Fix Them

When you’re free-motion quilting, don’t let frustration stop you in your tracks!

Here are 5 common free-motion quilting problems and how to fix them:

1. The tension isn’t balanced, causing loops or dots of thread to appear on the top or bottom of your quilt.

Before working on your quilt, practice on a scrap of fabric and batting on a regular stitch setting.

If the stitches look good, then your tension is OK.  If you’re still seeing loops or dots, you need to adjust your sewing speed, or the speed at which you move your quilt through the machine.

If you do need to adjust your tension, try to adjust the top tension only. If your top stitches are too tight (bobbin thread showing on the front), loosen it by lowering the top thread tension number. If your top stitches are too loose (top thread showing on the back), tighten it by increasing the top thread tension number.

Here’s another helpful hint: use the same color thread in the top and bobbin to hide less-than-perfect tension.

2. The thread breaks in the middle of your quilt or you run out of bobbin.

If your thread breaks while quilting, or you run out of bobbin in the middle of your quilt, pull out enough stitches so that you can hand-tie a knot with both ends and pop it into the batting. Then leave loose tail ends, and start quilting again where you left off.

To prevent running out of bobbin, stitch to the edge of the quilt whenever possible and check your bobbin levels. Replace it with a fresh bobbin when it gets low. Use the leftover bobbin in your next piecing project, or use it to practice quilting on scraps.

3. The amount of quilting isn’t even throughout the quilt.

If your quilt isn’t hanging well or the borders are wavy, it’s likely that there’s an uneven amount of quilting throughout the quilt.

Free motion quilting on gray and blue quilt

Add more quilting in the background areas using easy free-motion fillers such as stippling, pebbles or loops. If you don’t want the extra quilting stitches to show, use a very thin cotton thread in a neutral color, or use invisible monofilament thread.

4. You can’t decide which quilt designs to use on your quilt top.

Two mug rugs with different free motion quilting

Take a picture of your quilt top or pattern and print it off on an 8½” x 11″ sheet of paper. Use this paper to draw out possible quilting designs with a pen or pencil.

Make several copies so that you can audition different quilting designs. Once you’re happy with an idea, quilt it on a separate practice block before applying it to the actual quilt.

5. After giving it your best try, you have decided that free-motion quilting just isn’t for you.

Quilting with a walking foot

If you’ve tried free-motion quilting and have decided it’s just not your thing, try creative quilting with your walking foot. Many of today’s modern quilting designs can be stitched by using a series of straight or wavy lines that can mimic the look of free-motion quilting.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and was been updated in December 2017.


louise cruden

I always appreciate the tips!


Are you using a quilting sewing machine? I wonder if this stippling could work with a regular one.

Blue eyes

You can definitely use a regular sewing machine. I started quilting this way, stippling was my favorite fill for my art quilts.
You can stitch straight or wavy with feed dogs up or lowered to do freemotion.

dora vilarino

I love patchwork!!!

Judy Cotton

Any tips for using metallic thread besides metallic needle,less tension?


I try to get my metallic thread far away from the machine so it has a chance to relax before going through the tensions. I usually put the spool of thread in a jar and place the jar in an open drawer next to me at my sewing table, on a shelf above my sewing table, or even on the floor. Be sure to use the thread guide on your machine and/or a thread stand so the thread feeds into the machine correctly.

Karen W

Lots of people have better luck using metallic threads with a top-stitching needles.

Pam Wiggen

Thank you for sharing the tip about taking a picture of the quilt and printing out on paper first drawing quilting ideas.


I use a product from my kitchen, Glad Press&Seal wrap, for auditioning a quilting design. Tear some off the roll, press it onto an area of the quilt, and draw your design on the Press&Seal, being careful not to mark on the quilt fabric. It really helps give you an idea of how the design will look on a block or a specific area. It peels right off with no residue left behind and you can reposition it on other areas of your quilt. Cheap enough that you can try out lots of designs.


Bette, thank you for this tip!

Karen W

I do this same thing w/ clear plastic file folders. If you use a dry erase marker, once you decide, you can re-mark the ones you want to keep w/ a permanent pen/ marker, like a Sharpie. Then I put in my notes, scrap fabrics, stencils, etc & file the project away in between working on it.

Heidi Adelheid Gertrud Cocliff

Love crafty


I am sewing a quilt by hand not machine. My rows, even though they were all cut by the same patterns are getting shorter with each one I sew also the sections that are put together in the instructions are curved. What can I do to fix these problems. I would really appreciate your help. For sushi a simple quilt I am having a terrible time.

Karen W

Patricia, This is a common issue — the act of quilting actually does take up the fabric, sometimes in only one or both directions, depending on how much quilting is done, regardless pf whether it’s hand-quilted (my favorite) or machine (long-arm or free-motion). The best thing is to start out with excess fabric, to allow for this. For most blocks, 2-3″ added to each edge will be plenty — it’s better to have too much, rather than run out of space or end up with wonky blocks. For most quilts I make (full to king-size), I try to ensure I have 6″ of excess all around, to make sure I don’t come up short. I learned the hard way, but was able to turn it into a “happy accident” — the backing actually came up short & I wound up piecing a row of “miniature” blocks, running the full width of the quilt & replicating the blocks on the front. I loved the end result: when the quilt is turned back, there’s a unique design element matching the quilt front.


Am a beginner free motion quilter. Every once in a while my stitches don’t connect and I get what looks like a very long stitch. Seems to especially happen as I turn a corner in a loop. Any ideas.


Slow down especially around curves! Slow hands faster on the foot pedal works best.

Katherine ALLEN

How do you prevent laddering stitches on the back of your quilt,


I have the same problem!


I am new to free motion and top quilting. I was wondering how folks handle a monogram on a quilt. Do you not quilt over it? I have been adding a small name and birthdate to the back of baby quilts with my embroidery machine and now want to either free motion or line quilt to finish but realize maybe it will look weird… Any suggestions?

E Gehrz

I draw a shape around the monogram, like an oval, a circle, rectangle, whatever looks good with the quilt design. I stitch that shape and then stitch again about 3/8″ from the first stitching. Proceed to quilt to the outer line but never cross it (onto the monogram area.) The double rows of stitching make a mini- border around the monogram.

Karen W

Lisa, I usually leave the monogram or name alone & stitch around it – sometimes in the ditch around the individual letters or if close together, simulate a frame & quilt outside that line. There’s nothing like doing a “test swatch, trying different methods, to see what you like best. Those samples can be kept in a binder for future reference or worked into another project. Test swatches are never a waste of time & effort. You can learn a lot trying different methods.


MANY THANKS CHRISTA!!!! You are very generous!

Patricia D Smith

I have just started with the 1/4 inch ruler foot and the 1/4 in templates for fm quilting, I can’t seem to move my template and fabric together is there something I can use to keep the ruler and fabric together?


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