Free-motion quilters see light of Day

One of Leah Day’s favorite designs is Spinning Daisy. Day, who lives in rural Shelby, N.C., decided in 2009 to develop 365 free-motion designs because she was bored with stippling her quilt tops.



1. Get started with a good setup. How your sewing machine is positioned makes a huge difference in how your quilting will look. Having your machine on a flush surface is essential to reducing the drag on your quilt.

2. Pedal to the metal only works in drag races. Chill out and take it easy. Some designs will require a continual change in speed. Don’t stomp on your foot pedal and then wonder why your thread keeps breaking.

3. Work to match your hands with your foot. If large stitches appear, increase your speed slightly to reduce stitch length. If thread builds up where you change sewing direction (even two seconds too long can make a difference), reduce speed as you stitch into a point, then immediately speed up to get out of the area.

4. Pull up your threads. When starting, pull up the bobbin thread so it doesn’t tangle on the bottom of the quilt. This reduces thread breakage and nasty messes on the bottom of your quilt.

(Go to Day’s blog for advice on how to bury thread tails with self-threading “cheater” needles from Clover.)

5. Increase your grip. Use either a sticky lotion or quilting gloves to increase your grip on the quilt surface. The more you touch the quilt, the more your skin will soften and want to slip over the surface. You want to stick to it like a spider, and the best way to do that is by wearing gloves.

Free-motion quilters, listen up. Some of you may have perfected your techniques, but the majority of us still want to improve our skills in this area and others hesitate to venture into such daunting thread play.

Coming to our rescue is blogger Leah Day of Shelby, N.C.

Her mission is to develop 365 free-motion quilting designs — from paisleys to peppermint candy to pine needles — and post them free online; she’s at 242 with Heart Flow and expects to hit her goal sometime this year.

Full of practical advice for beginners, Day’s blog also contains some jarring ideas, almost as radical as running with scissors.

First of all, Day does not drop her machine’s feed dogs for free-motion work.

Say what?

On the surface, that seems counterintuitive. But she swears this method solved her previous problems with uneven thread tension.

She turns her stitch length to 0. The feed dogs continue to move up and down, but they will not feed the fabric forward. Day also covers them with a Supreme Slider, a Teflon-coated sheet that fits on the bed of a machine and allows the quilt top to flow more freely under the needle.

This also helps to reduce friction and alleviate muscle strain, Day says.

The Supreme Slider is one of three items that Day credits with taking her machine quilting from mediocre to outstanding.

The second product she swears by are Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers, also Teflon-coated and designed by author, teacher and master quilter Sharon Schamber of Payson, Ariz. Drop one of the washers into your bobbin case, replace your bobbin and insert it into your machine.

The package says the washers eliminate backlash and bird’s nests on the underside of your quilting when changing directions at high speed.

Day says the washers have improved her stitch quality dramatically.

No. 3 on what she refers to as her “ultimate quilting kit” is a pair of Machingers quilting gloves. The rubberized fingertips allow Day to “grip and control movement much more precisely,” she says.

You can view all of her designs, along with free video demonstrations of them, online at freemotionquilting.blogspot. com. Day also has published a book of some of them along with a DVD, with more in the works.

Her website is, on which she offers all kinds of other helpful quilting advice.

When quilting, Day says she prefers Isacord polyester thread because “it’s thin, strong and lint-free,” and she always uses the same thread in both the top of the machine and the bobbin.

She first challenged herself to come up with 365 new designs in August 2009, because stippling began to bore her. Thus was born the Free Motion Quilting Project.

Since then, Day says it has turned into an artistic study of how texture can affect the overall design and dimension of a quilt.

For free-motion novices, she compares the process to standing on your head for the first time. Work through the awkwardness with practice, Day advises.

“It will take some time for you to get used to using your machine in this way and literally drawing with your needle,” she says.

Stitches that are too big often vex beginners, and Day has a remedy for them: “Try slowing the movement of your hands, bringing them closer to the needle, and increasing the speed of your machine.”

Sounds like rubbing your stomach and patting the top of your head at the same time, doesn‘t it?

Day suggests you practice “feathering” your foot pedal by increasing and decreasing the speed while stitching in a straight line. Play with those motions rapidly “until the movement becomes an even flow.”

For further practice, she suggests basting five baby quilts or three full-size quilts, choosing one or two quilting designs you like and stitching those over an entire quilt. (She rarely marks any design on her fabric.)

By the time you’ve finished, Day guarantees you’ll have much better control over your machine’s speed and the movement of the quilt.

She has some of her designs so well-memorized they could be stitched in her sleep.

I can only aspire to such a goal, but I do plan to take much of her advice.

# # #

E-mail Sherida.Warner


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Search More Jobs

734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
eTear Sheets/ePayments

© 2017 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy