The Art Of Doodling On Your Sewing Machine


You've heard about it, seen the photos of amazing quilted designs and want to give it a go. But how do you start Free Motion Quilting?

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The Art Of Doodling On Your Sewing Machine

There are two styles of Free Motion Quilting (FMQ). The all over quilting which creates a stippled effect or individual designs in the negative space. That's the name given to the blank sections of your quilt. It's a lot like the blank sections of paper between the paragraphs in this post.

Doodling Sewing Machine


And that's where you need to start practicing. On Paper.


So grab a pen or pencil and follow me for some handy tips on Free Motion doodling… I mean quilting.


1 Brain Training

Drawing on your sewing machine is a new skill. Your brain needs to get used to seeing the machine as an extension of your hands. The easiest design for beginners to start with is a simple wavy line with the occasional circle.



Try to draw this across your paper from the top to the bottom. Without going over any previous lines or having to go back on yourself. Keep drawing this doodle until you can get from start to finish in one clear run. Try changing the size of the circles and the spaces between. Experiment with changing direction. And don't worry about neatness. The point of this exercise is to introduce your brain to doodling. To get it to switch off from rigid thought processes and just meander randomly.


You'll find that your doodle gets neater as your brain relaxes into going with the flow.


This will work with any Free Motion Quilting design. Once you've taught your brain how to doodle, you can move on to more intricate designs.


When you are happy with paper doodling, grab some scrap fabric and we'll meander on to step 2.


2 Practice Practice Practice

Any scraps of cotton fabric can be used to practice Free Motion Quilting. Most quilters build up a stash of off-cuts, also known as cabbage, from previous projects. If your cabbage is a bit thin on the ground, thrift stores are a great source for remnants.


You'll also need a darning foot. Don't worry if you haven't got one. Sewing machines can work without a presser foot. Just be careful to keep your fingers well out of the way of that needle!


The first thing you'll need to do is drop your feed dogs. Those are the little bumpy things underneath your presser foot. The feed dog button on my machine is behind the accessories tray.


If you can't drop your feed dogs, cover them with a blank needle plate.

Feed Dog Button


The normal needle plate is the one on the right in the picture above. It's flat. The blank plate is the one under the pressure foot. The slightly raised section covers the feed dogs stopping them from touching the fabric.



Once your feed dogs are out of the way, load the fabric into your machine and lower the darning foot. Then lower the needle to bring the bobbin thread up through the fabric. This helps keep all your thread ends up top.


Begin to stitch. Recreate the doodle you practiced on paper. Remember, you will have to move the fabric. Otherwise, you will be stitching on the spot. You can go forwards, backwards and side to side.



The first attempts may not be pretty. Stick with it though and keep practicing! The more you practice, the better you will get. Scrap fabric really is the Free Motion Quilter's friend. Dive into that cabbage patch and let the doodling commence.


Once you get comfortable with the design, change things up a bit. Keep that brain working and learning!


Try altering the speed of your machine and how quickly you move the fabric. See what a difference this makes to the size of your stitches. Keep playing until you find a combination of machine and hand speed that works for you.



If you find that your fabric is bunching up and causing little ripples, use a quilting or embroidery hoop. This will help to keep your fabric taut. Anti-static silicon spray on your machine bed will also help reduce friction. The fabric will glide over the surface. Use with caution though as you don't want to spray it around the needle area.


3 Individual Designs for the Negative Space

For individual designs it's sometimes easier to draw your pattern straight onto the fabric. This can be done with any water soluble marker pen or tailor's chalk.


Again, practice on scrap fabric before attempting the design on your actual project. This not only trains your brain to follow the lines but, it will also test the marker to ensure it washes out. And don't worry about missing some of the lines. They are just there as a guide.


Free Motion Quilting can be a challenge in the beginning but once your brain gets the hang of it, you'll find it's a bit addictive. There is no end to the projects that can be enhanced by the simple addition of machine doodling.


To hone your skills, start small. Practice on pot holders or place mats. Then progress on to the bigger items like table runners, lap quilts and full size quilts. So what are you waiting for? Grab your sewing machine and your cabbage and go play! Enjoy!


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A spool or reel that holds thread or yarn for spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, or making lace.
The part of a quilt that hangs down the sides of your mattress.
Feed Dogs
The mechanical teeth under the area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine. For free motion quilting or embroidery or needle darning these feed dogs are lowered or covered.
Accessories that are available for sewing machines and are especially made for quilting.
Free Motion Quilting
Method of quilting where the feed dogs of a sewing machine are lowered or covered and the quilter controls the movement of the fabric under the needle.
A small circular or oval apparatus that is used to hold the layers of a quilt together during quilting.
An individual fabric shape joined with other patches to make a quilt block or sometimes a one patch style quilt. These may be cut from templates, rotary cut or free hand cut.

Same As: Piece

See Also: Double Nine Patch, Four Patch Block, Nine Patch, One Patch
Presser Foot
The removable sewing machine accessory surrounding the needle that holds the fabric in place.
A quilter's personal collection of fabrics. Buying more fabric is adding to your stash.
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