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What Machine Do You Need for Free Motion Quilting?

Surprisingly, one of the most common objections I hear from quilters who are hesitant to begin free motion quilting, is about their machines. This surprised me a lot as, in my experience, most sewing machines are capable of at least basic FMQ. So, let’s put this objection to rest, and take a look at what you DO need in a sewing machine in order to have success free motion quilting:

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What Sewing Machine Do You Need for Free Motion Quilting? with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

There’s this old Brian Regan joke about refrigerator shopping (check it out here if I already lost you: https://youtu.be/dUh1eGf57DY I can wait)…

So I’ve been thinking about this bit a lot recently as folks have been asking me what machine is suitable for free motion quilting (spoiler: probably yours). Now, there are a lot of good reasons why you might buy a more expensive sewing machine over a less expensive one, but getting started on your free motion quilting journey isn’t one of them. In fact, if you’re considering upgrading your machine with finishing your quilts in mind, why not make sure you really enjoy quilting your own quilts first?

Just for kicks, let’s make a list of what you don’t need to worry about when deciding if your machine can free motion quilt:

  • Brand

  • Throat space

  • Age

  • Overall size

  • That it’s not a longarm

In fact, assuming you need a fancy machine (fun as they can be) to FMQ is like thinking you need an Audi to drive across the country. Much more likely, that the ol’ Corolla just needs some air in the tires, an oil change, and a tank of gas.

What Machine Do You Need for Free Motion Quilting? with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

To that end, here are the things I DO want you to consider about your machine before you start free motion quilting:

  • Is my machine in good working order, or do I need to take it in for a quick tune up?

  • Have I brushed out the bobbin race recently so there’s no lint fooling around in there?

  • Does it need to be oiled?

  • Have I changed the needle recently?

Let’s take a second and chat about these so that your lovely little machine is all ready for a new adventure!


First, your machine needs to be serviced about once a year (more often if you sew a LOT or if you sew a lot of flannel). When your machine is serviced, ye local brilliant tech (If you’re in the Atlanta area, I highly recommend Andi Barney at The Sewing Doc) will take all the covers off and clean all the machine guts super well. Then, while everything is nice and clean they can effectively check all the moving bits for signs of wear and tear, tweak anything that isn’t up to snuff, and appropriately oil/grease the moving parts. This procedure isn’t generally super expensive, but it can take some time (1-3 weeks on average). Having your machine serviced regularly can significantly extend the life of the machine, not to mention improve your sewing experience (good-bye thread nests, hellooooo free motion quilting!)

Home Care

In between servicing, it is vital that you do some basic care at home (you wash your hair between haircuts, right? Put gas in the car between oil changes? I thought so  ). Every time or two that you change your bobbin, take that extra minute to pop your cover plate off and brush everything OUT (lint that stays in can mean, at best, your bobbin race freezes up and throws off the timing or, at worst, a fire on your motherboard. We want to avoid those). If your machine needs to be oiled, do that when you clean the bobbin race. And don’t forget to change your needle! When I’m sewing daily, I change it about once a week. Needles are affordable enough that I’d rather change it “too often” than not enough. Dull needles can damage fabric, be a pain to work with, and can be more likely to break (YIKES!).

What Machine Do You Need for Free Motion Quilting? with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

“But HOLLYANNE,” you might be thinking– my quilt is so big and my machine is so small! I know babe– it seems daunting. If you don’t have a machine that sits flush to the table, I do recommend a quilting table (those extensions that fit around your machine, and of course you need a hopping foot. But these are small needs, really! Take things slowly, tackle just a small area at a time, and push and shove that puppy through. Your machine is up to the task, and with a little elbow grease, y’all can have the free motion quilting adventure of a lifetime!

(Ready to get started with FMQ? Get my top three tips here!)

PS Don’t forget to pin this post so you can find it later!

What Machine Do You Need for Free Motion Quilting? with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story