free motion quilting academy

How to Practice Free Motion Quilting

Over and over and over again, I’ve said that anyone can learn how to free motion quilt— all it takes is some willingness and some practice. Today, I’m showing you what I consider to be a great routine for practicing free motion quilting, so that you can experience as much growth as possible each time you sit down at the machine!

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Learn a system and routine for practicing your Free Motion Quilting so that you can become a Quilting Rockstar!

I comment often that quilting is a “full body workout,” and, I suspect that as you read this post, you’ll see some parallels around the routine of quilting that are similar to the routine of working out as well— from deciding you want it, to warming up, to quilting, to setting yourself up for success the next day. Like working out, you don’t necessarily have to practice your quilting every single day in order to see progress, but you will get out of it what you put in, and the more regular you can be with your quilting practice, especially when first learning new motifs and growing your confidence, the more of a difference you will see!


What’s that saying? Oh yes: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Many quilters WANT to learn FMQ, but without a plan in place, it feels like a pipe dream. Decide how badly you want to learn FMQ, and commit to practicing regularly. In fact, if you prefer some instruction, challenge, and accountability, then Free Motion Quilting Academy is probably just what you need!

Set-Up (5 minutes or less)

Once you’ve made a commitment to practice, begin each session by making sure you have:

  • some paper and a pen

  • your FMQ foot

  • a practice sandwich or quilt

  • a clean bobbin race

  • and your tension is balanced

Doodle (5-10 minutes)

Rockstar, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Before you touch your fabric (even just a practice sandwich), spend some time warming up on paper. This is like doing scales on the piano. It works any kinks out, warms up your brain and muscles, and allows you to troubleshoot with low stakes. Even familiar motifs can have “off” days that will go better if you deal with that on paper first. If you are practicing a single motif, fill at least one piece of printer paper with doodles. If you are working a quilting plan, draw at least 1-2 blocks worth of the plan (or the section of the quilt you plan to stitch if it’s not a block by block plan).

Quilt (10-20 minutes)

Reminder: if you didn’t double check your tension during set up, do that now!

Once you’ve warmed up with your doodles, take a deep breath and start stitching! Whether you are on a practice sandwich or a for realz quilt, do your best to enjoy the process. Remember, even on a quilt, PROGRESS and FUN are the goals, not perfection. DO NOT unpick your work on a practice sandwich for any reason, and be slow to unpick on a quilt, too. Tension or some sort of crazy goof up are about the only reasons I will stop and pick back. Every quilt will be more beautiful and more confident than your last, so focus on moving forward.

Tip: If you’re finding yourself tense and anxious, sip either a half a glass of wine or a cup of tea to help you relax. Soothing or happy music may also help (for my oily people: diffuse something citrus or minty— I find the cheerful aroma to be helpful). If you need help maintaining healthy posture to relieve tension in your back and neck, check out this post.

Tip: If you have the time and desire to quilt for longer than 20 minutes, go for it! Just remember to get up and walk around and stretch a bit every 40-60 minutes

Wrap Up (5-7 minutes)

While your practice is technically complete at this point, there are a couple of final things I suggest:

First, prepare your workspace for your next practice session. If, after doing some FMQ today, you changed your foot and did some piecing, etc, go ahead and change your machine back to your hopping/ FMQ foot now, check your bobbin, and lay out a fresh practice sandwich, paper, and your gloves. Doing this now will make your “set up” time tomorrow basically non-existent. By removing that friction, you’re more likely to keep up your practice. Michael Hyatt calls this an “activation trigger,” but I just call it setting yourself up for success.

Second, take a few minutes to take care of you. Drink a glass of water, stretch, put DeepBlue on your neck and shoulder muscles , etc. If you would like some suggestions for stretching out and taking care of yourself, check out this post. This will help you mentally and physically unwind from the challenge of learning a new task. Use your time as you stretch to celebrate what went well in your practice today and be thankful for the challenge of growth. If your practice time was hard, remind yourself why you wanted to learn FMQ— to be creative, to finish your own quilts, to be financially wise, etc. Find something positive to affirm!


There you have it— a simple system to effectively practice Free Motion Quilting in 25-40 minutes. Following this routine several times each week will help you make tremendous progress in your FMQ journey so that you can become a skilled and confident Quilting Rockstar!

PS Just getting started? Make sure you download my 3 Top Tips for Successful Free Motion Quilting!

Learn a system and routine for practicing your Free Motion Quilting so that you can become a Quilting Rockstar!

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