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Freestyle Quilting Instructions: Practice Makes Perfect

Freestyle quilting is a technique that takes practice to feel comfortable with. You may have heard it called freestyle quilting or free-motion quilting—both refer to a technique of quilting with the feed dogs lowered.

In freestyle or free-motion quilting, the fabric is allowed to move freely, back and forth or side to side. This freedom lends itself to a variety of machine quilting design and creative possibilities. Whether you consider yourself a traditional, contemporary, modern or art quilter, practicing freestyle quilting will help you to create unique designs that truly complement your quilt tops.

When practiced on a test swatch, these freestyle quilting instructions will help you discover your favorite designs as well as others that could use some more testing before you try them out on a quilt.

Prepare Your Machine

Before you being free-motion quilting, you’ll want to lower your feed dogs, set the stitch length to zero, and attach an embroidery or darning foot. You can read more about free-motion quilting supplies and settings here.

Make A Quilt Sandwich

Before I start a large quilting project, I grab a square of scrap batting and make a small quilt sandwich. This is a practice swatch that I use to test out different quilting designs and adjust the tension or other settings on my sewing machine before getting started on a quilt.

To make your own practice swatch for freestyle quilting, grab a long strip of scrap fabric, and fold it in half lengthwise. Insert the batting in the center of the fold, so there is fabric on each side. Secure the swatch with basting spray or safety pins, or just leave it as is if you feel comfortable holding the fabric in place. Alternately, you can use different scraps of fabric on each side of the batting.

Freestyle Quilting Practice

Now is your chance to go crazy with your quilting designs. There are no rules and you are free to cover this blank canvas with any type of freestyle quilting that you’d like! For my latest practice swatch, I stuck with a few familiar designs and also tried some new patterns that I made up as I quilted.

For this swatch, I stitched the designs in a contrasting thread, just to illustrate the designs. For your quilts, you’ll likely want to use a color of thread that matches your quilt blocks or sashing.

If you prefer, you may wish to sketch the designs first with a quilting marker or refer to photos of quilting designs you like.




Stitching zigzags is a great way to practice points in your freestyle quilting. Try stitching several points and then changing directions. The zigzags can also “grow out” of a central spoke, to make a flower shape, or they can be drawn wider to resemble a comic book speech bubble (“Pow!”).




Freestyle quilting is good practice for getting a consistent size in a repeated design. By quilting small loops in a straight line, I paid attention to the height of the row and also the width of each loop. Try quilting loops in a circle or changing the size of the loops for variety.


cactus arms

Cactus Arms

To make this pattern, I started stitching long wavy lines of different lengths. At each turnaround, I traveled back inward, to create sections of roughly the same width. I think these resemble the arms of a cactus.


stacked squares

Stacked Squares

Squares are one of my favorite freestyle quilting designs. In this sample, I started by stitching the central line and then created similar-size squares to the left and right sides of the line.


long lines

Long Wavy Lines

A freestyle quilting design I like to use in strips and borders is a wavy line. Try practicing until you can easily start and stop each row at the same point (see top), avoiding the difference in height seen here (see bottom).


connected rectangles

Connected Rectangles

For another take on squares and rectangles, try this freestyle quilting technique. Stitch a straight line and travel directly into a square or rectangle. Cross over the original line when connecting the fourth side, and continue going straight. Turn at another 90-degree angle one, two or three and continue into another square. I like to intersect the stitches at approximately halfway through the perpendicular lines.


meandering stitch

Meandering Stitch

It never hurts to practice your meandering stitch, otherwise known as stippling. There are no rules to this freestyle quilting design, although you’ll want to avoid any intersecting lines. It also helps to keep the size of each hump similar, including the space in between.

If you are ready for some freestyle quilting instruction from the pros, you’ll find great inspiration when you take an online class like Free-Motion Fillers, Vol. 1 with Leah Day or Machine Quilting Negative Space with Angela Walters. Both courses are filled with techinques for practicing your designs as well as demonstrations of quilting designs to make your quilts pop.

How do you practice your freestyle quilting designs before taking them to the quilt?


Joyce Tudoe

I wish a quilting class was offered using a quilting frame. You move your sewing machine on the quilt instead of moving the quilt. I have a Viking frame with Viking Mega Quilter. Need to learn how to use it.

Hazel Finlay

I do free motion quilting on all my quilts but I have never tried some of the above patterns, maybe I will try to be a bit more ambitious.

Hazel Finlay

i do quilt all my work using a random method of quilting, I will try to be a bit more adventurous, using some of the above methods, thank you

Caraline Howden

This is something I am really going to do, although I have the stippling down pat, its trying the feathers that is my real problem, must practice more. Instead of all those ‘lines’ I had to do at school with a pencil, for all sorts of things like talking in class, not finishing my homework. Now if we had been made to practice something like this…..what a good skill we all would have now….

sew surprising

I think my free motion quilting would look smicko if I had a stitch regulator on my machine hahahahahahah


I make place mats or coasters to give away. They are small and easy, and I try different stitches according to the piecing. But then, to make a set of 4 or 6 you need to repeat the design several times. This ensures practice.

Linda Stevens

It is with much trepidation that I will at some point before the year is over take a free motion quilting class and attempt this! I made 1/2 a dozen quilts last year, but they were all tied. I have already made three this year, also all tied. I’m scared to death to try it and so I have begun by making some placemats. The first one has been quilted with just straight stiches that criss cross. I will gt my “good” machine back from the repair shop tomorrow and will begin a practice swatch. Thanks for the great ideas.

Jackson M. Watkins

f by chance you are on Facebook, Angela Walters has a Facebook Group called “Free-Motion Challenge Quilting Along” and anyone can join. She has already done approximately four “Challenges”. Right now would be a great time to join because they are between Challenges. Another one will start soon no doubt. You actually can go back to the first Challenge. Some of the Challenges are for four weeks, with a new lesson each week. Each week she adds a YouTube video along with the lesson. If you don’t like a particular Challenge, you don’t have to do it. I have seen some true beginners learn so much they are now able to make beautiful quilts. Also, each lesson comes with FREE downloadable materials such as practice sheets. The Facebook Page now has over 16K members. Her website may also give you all the information on her Challenges. Check out “Quilting is My Therapy”.


Merci pour vos précieux conseils et pour les photos, celà va beaucoup m’aider car je voudrais essayer la technique du “piqué libre”. Merci beaucoup:)


How can I do free motion sewing with my slant front machine?


I think this sets unrealistic expectations for new free motion quilters when you use an expensive stitch regulator in your samples. Not cool.


I agree. I have been working on FMQ for over a year with a “basic” Brother machine (no bells & whistles), it is very difficult and was elated when I found this site….then I realized a stitch regulator was being used. Pretty disappointing for us newbies, but, the more experienced probably enloyed it. Will continue searching for help.

gloria gonzales

what cane of foot I need for motion quilting I have brother machine and I’m larning


What is a stitch regulator


Hi I bought a quilting frame from Kenneth Lund and all I need is practice. I have used my mindset where to start and your guidelines is perferct. The frame itself works wonderful now it is back to practice. thanx alot!


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