Jessica Skultety is President of the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild (for the second time!). She teaches and lectures about improvisation and modern quilts in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Jessica always has something new in the works; this June on Quilty Habit she’s leading a Selvage-Along with Renee of Quilts of a Feather.

You can find Jessica at Quilty Habit and daily on Instagram. Jessica is an accomplished quilter and has lots of important Home Machine Quilting Tips for Free Motion + Straight Lines. She covers everything from making a practice quilt sandwich to sharing specific designs with corresponding resources you can try right away. Read her advice and practice, practice, practice! You’ll be a free motion pro in no time.

Here’s more about Jessica in her introduction, and you also might want to check out the My Favorite Quilt series she curated for us last year.


Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to be back on Sew Mama Sew to talk about home machine quilting. I always quilt my own quilts on my home machine because it’s my favorite part of the process! I love deciding what kind of design to add to the piecing, and I totally revel in the control I have over the quilt top I laboriously pieced. My aim today is to give some tips to both beginning and experienced quilters alike on combining free motion quilting with straight line quilting (because you, YES– YOU, can do this on your home machine!). I’ll also provide you with some resources for free motion quilting in general. Read on!

All-over designs, motifs that you quilt on the whole quilt top, are very popular with machine quilters. It’s easy to see why… You assume that by the time you have quilted 300 spirals on a baby quilt, you’ll know that design like the back of your hand. Plus, all-over motifs are beautiful and let the piecing show in all its glory.

You can also mix up free motion quilting designs depending on the quilt. One option is to combine straight line quilting with a little bit of free motion to make the latter pop. This can be especially effective in negative space, or space intentionally left blank.

In my recent Pebble Cascade quilt I quilted the pebble curves first to mimic the bias curves in the piecing. Then I used my free motion quilting foot, or darning foot, to quilt straight lines around them in different directions to create interest. The straight lines actually turn out “organic” or wavy; I don’t use a guide to make them. Changing up the line directions helped me create a secondary pattern on my quilt. This is why I love quilting!

Combining free motion and straight line quilting (whether completely straight or a little organic) is a fabulous technique for beginners. Maybe you just want to try a little bit of free motion and a lot of straight line quilting (the latter might be something you are more comfortable with). To practice, why not make a practice quilt sandwich and jump right in?

Making a Practice Quilt Sandwich:

1. Layer fabric on top (at least 11” square), scrap batting in the middle, with another identical square of fabric on the bottom. I use quilt shop quality practice fabric and the same thread I use to quilt regularly (Aurifil 50 weight thread) because I want to mimic the conditions of quilting my actual quilt.

Tip: For scrap batting, try using the pieces you cut off from a roll of batting when you’re basting a quilt.

Tip: You can even add another piece of fabric or two on top and bottom once you’ve filled this practice sandwich with quilting. Your original practice quilt sandwich can act as the batting, or middle, of the new quilt sandwich. This tip comes from my guild friend Neva Asinari.

2. Baste with safety pins (one in each corner) or with spray baste (faster and will likely hold everything together better; this is my preferred method).

3. Start practicing. Try a free motion design first, then add some lines. A little bit of free motion quilting can go a long way. I challenge you to only use your free motion foot here, even for the lines. It’s faster!

Free Motion Designs with Straight Lines To Try:

Swirls: Start by making swirls in the middle of the quilt sandwich, then add lines around it. You can “follow” or glide along the edges of the swirls as you make each line so that the thread blends in. This takes some practice but the effect is worth the effort.

Here’s a great video tutorial from Angela Walters on how to create swirls (even though she’s using a longarm machine, you still learn the process).

Pebbles: For this one, I tried changing up the direction of the lines. Imagine the lines radiating out to all directions of a quilt! So unique!

Lori Kennedy teaches you how to pebble here.

Boxes: Drawing boxes inside of boxes; this is inspired by Angela Walters’ design, “Geometric Allover” in her book, Free Motion Quilting with Angela Walters.

Here’s how I added the lines to this one. I started on the bottom, stopped, and continued on the next side.

*Remember, your quilted lines can be as close or as far apart as you wish. They could be the same distance or they could be spaced at random. The choice is yours!

Tips for Free Motion Quilting:

1. If you can draw it, you can quilt it. I’m a firm believer in this. If you aren’t “good” at drawing, it’s a good idea to practice that before you start drawing with the needle. (No blood hopefully, just thread. Haha.)

2. Start with a full bobbin. Free motion quilting uses thread like you wouldn’t believe!

3. Use a new needle every time you start a large quilting project. Find out which needles work best for free motion quilting with your machine. I use Schmetz Topstitch 90/14 needles for my Janome Memory Craft 6300.

4. Use contrasting thread when you are practicing. I also like to use a little bit of contrast in my thread on real projects to make the quilting show (instead of white thread on white fabric, I’ll use light gray thread). You can also blend thread with fabric. To each his or her own!

5. Use an extension table on your machine and find a good pair of quilting gloves to help you grip the fabric (and lessen the tension on your hands). My Machingers gloves are always at my side.

6. Make sure you set your stitch length to zero and put your feed dogs down. Every machine is different though, so figure out what’s best for you. See this article by Amy Johnson for more information on setting up your machine.

7. Practice makes perfect. NO ONE is good at free motion quilting on Day 1! You have to practice consistently to find your rhythm. I have been free motion quilting for about three years and it’s still a learning process! Be patient with yourself and…

8. …Find a buddy and practice together! You could challenge each other to bring a new practice sandwich to every quilt guild meeting. Or, you could go digital and trade posts on Instagram. Practice is always more fun with a friend!

Here’s another example where I combined free motion swirls with organic lines (my Oakshott Lakes “Star Within” table runner on Sew Mama Sew).

So, whether you’re a free motion guru or just wetting your feet, I hope you’ll go forth and add a little free motion to your straight line quilting (or the other way around). It’s a fun and easy way to combine quilting designs for maximum interest!

More Free Motion Resources on the Internet: