Solving the 5 common free motion quilting problems

If you are new to free motion quilting, you will most likely to encounter some of these free motion quilting problems listed here. Hopefully this guide will benefit you allowing you to enjoy the most of free motion quilting.

I am passionate about free motion quilting and I have been quilting all my quilts on my domestic machines. As I go from projects to projects, I have learned a lot from mistakes, try and errors.

Hence, I would love to share with you some of the things I learned throughout my experience and ways to solve some of the common free motion quilting problems that I have encountered before too.

I want you to enjoy most of your quilting time rather than worrying about these free motion quilting problems.

Quilt making is therapeutic – especially when it is all done, and you get to snuggle under the quilt knowing you got it done from start to finish ūüôā

There are affiliate links in this post for your convenience. Please refer to my full disclosure here.


Before we go into the solutions, here are some of my favorite must-have tools for Free Motion Quilting:

  1. I literally changed my minds about threads, when I started using THIS very thread. And they come in big cones. which means they last longer before I have to change thread. I use an embroidery thread stand for it. You can get cheap thread stand like this one here which has great reviews.

2. Superior Thread Top Stitch Needles. I use this for all my sewing and FMQ. Really. In fact, I kind of find it a bit off when I have to use a needle that is not coloured gold as these needles are. Plus they last long and sharp even after lots of quilting.

3. My trusty sticky Glove. Any brand works for me, but I personally love the one that is breathable cotton like this one.

4. Spray Baste. I am not a fan of taking off safety pins. This makes it so much quicker and allows me to cruise without fear of getting onto a pin. I personally love this Spray baste.

5.  My large throat Janome Horizon machine of course!

However, you won’t need all of these tools to start. Just a reminder, I started with the very basic sewing machine and just a regular free motion quilting foot. And still managed to quilt a queen-size quilt. Just upgrade as you feel more confident and want to ease a couple of things that bothers you.

If you are looking for a generic free motion quilting foot that suits a regular domestic machine, HERE is one with a great 5-Star review.

Do you have tension issues, uneven stitch length, folded backing fabric while free motion quilting? Find out the solutions to these common free motion quilting problems right now so you can go ahead and enjoy the most of free motion quilting.

The 5 Common Free Motion Quilting Problems and How to Solve them


1. Uneven tensions throughout quilting motifs ( eyelashes on curved motifs)

The bottom thread keeps showing up on top. Why is the stitches tension uneven? They show up fine on those rather straight lines, but see at those curves! They start showing up like eyelashes.

Does that sound like your problem? Your stitches looking like this photo below?

Do you have tension issues, uneven stitch length, folded backing fabric while free motion quilting? Find out the solutions to these common free motion quilting problems right now so you can go ahead and enjoy the most of free motion quilting

I have gone through this same problem too! Fret not, I might have just the solution for you.

I have incorporated either of the following solutions and these days, they don’t show up anymore or at least rarely do in my quilting.

i) Use a bobbin washer

Put a bobbin washer inside the bobbin case. They are basically a thin teflon cut into the shape to fit in your bobbin case. They smoothen out the movement of the bobbin,  thus allowing the bobbin to make transitions between fast and slow much easier. I use THIS ONE for my domestic machine.

If you are not sure how this help, just try it. They are cheap and just see the reviews on what people are saying – they work!

ii) Tension Setting

Set the correct tension setting by testing out on scrap quilt sandwich. I had some success with having the tension set to a slightly loose top thread tension than the exact right tension. Try and practice a different set of tension and see which ones works for you. Another option is to set tension to auto (if your machine has an auto setting). I have this auto tension setting on my machine and I rarely had any problem with tension ever since I got the machine.

Setting tension for free motion quilting

iii) Balancing speed

Practice will make it better.¬†Most likely the reason for the stitches to be uneven across the motif is caused by uneven balance between the speed of the stitches and the speed of your moving hand. There is a sweet balance where you’ll need to learn how to press your foot pedal (go faster) or slow down (releasing foot pedal) accordingly to your hand movement. Sometimes we are too focused on getting the shape we want, we tend to move the hand faster than the speed of the stitches.

So, one option is to just quilt fast! In my early days of free motion quilting, I find that my stitches were much better when I go fast (pressing the foot pedal and moving my hand fast).

As long as it is balanced Рfast stitches, fast hand.  Slow stitching, slowly moving the quilt.

But let me tell you, it is harder to quilt slow and find stability and make a smooth hand movement than just simply controlling the pedal.


2. Threads keep breaking

I had a time when my threads break every couple of minutes of free motion quilting. I persevered through the whole quilt though. Every three to four times of rethreading, I stopped and have a break myself.  I was keen and full of motivation but at that time and little did I know that type of threads do matter.

i) The right threads

After testing out several types of threads and brands (I used gutterman cotton in this quilt and monofilament in this quilt),  I settled with So Fine by Superior Threads and 50Wt Aurifil.

I know they are pricey than the others, but they are a game changer for me. Plus they have like a million colours to choose from! Not that I use all kind of colours though.

Choosing the right threads for quilting will do wonders.

Snow White is my go to colour from Superior thread. I have a couple of Aurifil Boxes and use them when I need to use coloured threads.

As for Aurifil, I use this white to do all my piecing and sometimes I quilt using them too, but I rather use So fine to do so all. I buy So Fine threads in the larger cones, and boy, threads do get used up pretty quick when you free motion quilt like a lot!

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I go through a cone of 3280 yds of So Fine threads for every 2-3 quilts depending on how heavy they are quilted. Generally out of 3 of my quilts, 1 of them is heavily quilted. I do love free motion quilting.


stand for large cone threads


I use this thread holder to hold the large cones. You can even use single thread stand like this one.

Here is a beautiful thread stand that can just compliment your gorgeous sewing room.

[related : currently I am quilting my double wedding ring quilt and Sewcial Bee Sampler]

Well, if you do have issues with threads breaking, try and switch the thread. It might just be the solution!

ii) Needles

Apart from threads, needles do play a role in easing that thread flow as you move fast and about while free motion quilting.

I found that the larger-eyed needles are much better for free motion quilting reducing the tension and the friction of the threads.

I personally love and only use this needle or this one for my piecing and quilting. While it is not necessary for piecing, it is the only needle I buy these days, and it does well for both application, so why not.

3. Uneven stitch length

Now, this one my friend is a very common thing when you are not yet in the ripe stage of your practice. Yup, this problem will surely improve with a lot of practice. Again it is the balance of your foot pedal pressing and your hand movement. However, there are a couple of things that might just ease up your free motion quilting movement skill and minimize the uneven stitches problem.

i) Free Motion Quilting glove

One : Use that sticky glove my friend.  While it is not a MUST, they do help. For me, they helped a lot. When I am not using them, I can still free motion quilt well (because I had a lot of my practice time already), but I use a lot more energy to hold on to the quilt and I get tired easily. Sometimes,  I can still mess up when I am not using the glove. They quilt tend to move in jerky movement due to the way I put pressure of my palm and the way the quilt is positioned on the table. Thus, I lose control of the quilt movement easily creating uneven stitches.

The glove will help you grip the quilt well, making transitions easier and movement a lot smoother. You will use less energy and can focus more on how to move the quilt rather than how much pressure you should put on the quilt to get it to move the way you need it to. I use a garden glove similar to this glove. If you rather have a proper free motion quilting glove, use this one instead of this one as the first one is breathable and the latter gets dirty too easily plus not so breathable.

ii) Teflon Slider

Another helpful notion for this matter is the Teflon Supreme Slider. You will need to reduce friction wherever you can! It makes it so much smoother to move your quilt hence using less effort which means that you can focus more on the quilting.

You will surely feel the difference. With and without. They just really help in making moving your quilt so much easier.

See more of the review on this thing HERE.

You can buy a large one and cut it to size according to your machine. If you have an extension table for your machine, cut it to cover your extension table too.

iii) Stitch Length Regulator

Now, I do not have the option to have these stitch regulator on my Janome Horizon 8200 QC, but I know that this has been a favourite of some quilters who has a Bernina. Bernina has a stitch regulator which either comes in the package toegther with the machine or can be bought separately depending on which type of Bernina machine. They are pricey, but they can control your stitches whether you move fast or slow, those stitches will be controlled by the stitch regulator.

4. Backing fabrics are scrunched up and folded under stitches

Yes, this is among the common free motion quilting problems. You were rocking the top and enjoying the look of those free motion and then you stopped and check the back. OOOPS, there it is — the backing fabric has been caught by the stitches. In fact, sometimes, you find that there is now way to avoid it because you quilted around and left the centre part unquilted. ¬†The backing fabric is puffed up somehow like there air bubbles. So now, you either live with it or you’ll have to take your trusty seam ripper and start ripping those hours of quilting stitches.

Well, I can tell you that there is a way to avoid this problem though. Here are two things you should start with.

i) Baste well

I cannot say more. Taking time to baste really well really made a difference to my quilting. These days, I double baste, Once with the spray baste (can’t live without this!!) and again with some basting pins sparsely. ¬†I love these curvy basting pins – they make it so much easier to pin baste.

If you are looking for a tutorial on how to spray baste, here is a good one. Can’t baste on the floor? How about basting on a table or on the wall to save your aching back? try¬†it!

ii) Start from the middle radiating out

I have tried a couple of methods to quilt a large quilt, but the one that works best and turns out with less or no folded backing fabrics, is when I quilt it from the middle out in radiating section. I still do large quilts in quarters, but I make sure to quilt from the centre out.  The reason to that is that you will allow any extra backing fabrics to be eased to the sides. You can release any folds at the edges as you go to the edges often.

I am not against non-stop continuos movement. ¬†I am totally okay to stop at the edge, and begin again from the centre every now and then. Besides, you will need breaks, and the bobbin needs to be changed from time to time right? So don’t worry if you have to stop, and pick up that foot to move your quilt. Simply snip off the threads and make a secure stitch when you start again (normally this means overlapping or travelling along previous quilting)

Don’t get too discouraged if you do have some folded backing here and there, most likely if this quilt is to be used around the house or gifted, it is rarely even noticed! So, be free, and just quilt it. You’ll get better at it before you even know it.

I will do a blogpost dedicated just on this issue and will be sharing a couple more tips on how to quilt a large quilt on your domestic machine. So stay tune for that!


5. Motions are limited around thick seam

i) Think ahead, press seams correctly

I guess there is no better way to solve this than to make sure the seams does not bulk as much when you are piecing them. Think ahead. You know you will hate quilting those thick seams. Especially where few seams meet up. Fan out those seams! Check out this tutorial on how to do so. I still need to keep reminding myself to do this.

If you have already done the quilt top and finding it bulky to machine quilt – try the following method instead.

ii) Large Plastic See-through FMQ foot

If you do have an option to swap free motion quilting foot, swap to the larger see-through plastic foot. I recommend finding the one that suits your machine and brand. The large foot area presses the seam down allowing you to move freely around those seams or over them effortlessly.

Types of free motion quilting foot for various purposes.

I own a Janome Horizon 8200 QC which has extra free motion quilting accessories included Р4 types of free motion quilting foot. I love this feature and have used all of them for different types of free motion quilting. They are all  useful when you know when to use them! I shall do another blog post specifically on that.  In the meantime, see if yours has a set of free motion quilting foot. Otherwise, explore some of the quilting foot available that you can use with your machine.

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Best free motion quilting ti

You might also want to check out these post:

Free Motion Quilting Feathers

5 tips to ease free motion quilting







  1. Carole Regan

    I have never heard of a bobbin washer or telson to slide the material thru. Where do you get this tendon from. Loved your blog very informative.

    • Julie

      It’s Teflon, lol. Some days are like that – but it’s obvious what you mean, so no worries! Try the Supreme Slider- it’s a Teflon panel. I got the largest one thinking bigger is better. Keeps your quilt moving easily while you are stitching. The washers are called Bobbin Genies. I think she provided hot links for these in the blog. I haven’t tried those yet.

  2. I have a juki 2200 long arm machine and my top threads look ok but I am not happy with the back thread. I purchased a tension gauge to help with the bobbin tension. I hope this works for me. Any other ideas?

  3. Sue

    Are you using polyester thread and cotton thread? I was told to use only cotton. Are you mixing the thread types in the bobbin and needle? I enjoy your site. Thanks.


      Hi Sue.
      My favourite thread for quilting is the superior thread which is polyester. I don’t mix them. Both bobbin and top thread is the the Superior Thread. Which is polyester. I too was afraid at first to use this but has found that my quilt is okay with it and have never had issues even after lots of washes. In fact, I think using polyester one is stronger and do not snap as much as the cotton.
      Thanks for your visit. I hope I did answer the question.

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