10 Tips for Stepping Up Your FMQ Game

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1. Make a Pinterest board of quilting that inspires you.
Having something to aspire to motivates us to improve. Collect images of quilting that makes you say "WOW!" Don't worry if it looks too hard. I browse my quilting board frequently to get ideas and psych myself up.

2. Commit to investing more time on each project.
Good quilting takes time. I used to be dead set on getting quilting done in a day because I'm impatient. Now I take at least three or four days for FMQ. A few have taken nearly a week.

3. Experiment on a coloring sheet.
I like making a few photocopies of my quilt as a simple line drawing and start doodling on it with pencil. When I'm not being distracted by the colors and fabrics, it's easier to see the shapes I want to create with my quilting.

4. Test designs with template plastic and a dry erase marker.
I place a piece of clear template plastic over my quilt and draw on it with a fine point dry erase marker to get a rough idea of what a design will look like at 100% scale. Sometimes things look good on a small printout, but become impractical at actual size. Additionally, I practice drawing quilting motifs on a dry erase board. Practice makes perfect. If you draw a design over and over, the movements become instinctive.

5. Break it down.
Custom quilting isn't as hard as it looks. Everything can be broken down into easy, manageable steps. For my Orbital quilt, I approached the negative space with this process: Stitch the curved cross shape about 3/8" from the seams. Mark the second curve using a plastic template and chalk (see tip 8) and stitch it. Next, stitch 1/4" inside of that shape. Fill in the wide section with ribbon candy, curve by curve. Stitch the "ribs" in each quadrant of the center. Probably the hardest part of it all was keeping my ribbon candy even.

6. Don't baste until you have a plan.
I try to form at least a general idea of my quilting plan before I pin baste my quilt. Nothing is more annoying than pins sitting right in the middle of your path. If I have a plan, I can pin in places that I know will pose fewer interruptions.

7. For straight lines, look at your destination, not the needle.
Magic trick time. Get a piece of paper and try to draw a 6"-ish straight line without picking up your pen. It's probably not too straight. Now mark two dots about 6" apart. Starting with your pen on the first dot, look only at the second dot. Don't look anywhere but that dot. Now draw a line connecting the dots, never looking away from the destination dot. It's a lot straighter right?! Our brains are cool that way. If you look at the destination, your body is really good at getting you there. The same works for quilting.

8. Using marking helpers.
When starting out on a quilt, I usually need to mark some things until I get the hang of the quilting. I use a ruler and a hera to mark straight lines and tailor's chalk for curved lines. For dots, I use a Frixion pen. If there is a particular curve I'm going to have to quilt over and over, I'll make a template from cardstock or template plastic as a guide when marking with chalk. If I get comfortable after a while, I can set the training wheels aside, but there's nothing wrong with using them for the whole project.

9. Find your favorites.
Finding your favorite notions makes starting a project less intimidating. For me, I love Aurifil Monofilament, so I rarely have to worry about thread choices. I recently feel in love with Superior Threads topstitch needles (size 12) for FMQ at a friend's recommendation. My go-to batting is Quilter's Dream 80/20 blend or Dream Wool. I've also changed my mind on the Supreme Slider and come to appreciate the extra help it provides on large quilts.

10. Know when it's time for a break.
Classic "me" advice. When I get tired/bored/impatient, I make dumb choices. My work gets sloppy. Being able to tell myself, "just walk away NOW" has made the single biggest improvement in my FMQ work. Maybe the break will be an hour, or a few days. Either way, being impatient and frustrated will do nothing positive for your quilting.


  1. Such good advice. Thank you for sharing. Can you please tell me more about the quilt in tip 6. The pretty pink, gold & blue one.

    1. That's my Tula Nova quilt. I blogged about it in the entry prior to this one. :)