With my new visitors from Sew, Mama, Sew! I have been getting the same question quite a bit:  How do you do that “all over squiggly” quilting?  I do it on my normal little sewing machine, and you can do it too!  It’s called free motion quilting – and that pattern is called stippling.  I’m certainly no expert, and there’s lots of other info out there about free motion quilting, but I thought I’d type up a post, with all my thoughts and tips, to direct people to.


First off, I want to mention that it’s not that hard. I feel like before I did any free motion quilting, everything I read about it scared me off. People made it sound like it was incredibly tough to master.  But it’s not.  It takes practice, but beyond that, it’s something that anyone can do.

The nuts and bolts: you use a darning foot on your machine, and you put your feed dogs down.  From there, practice lots on quilt sandwich scraps before diving into your first quilt top.

Other things that help:

– Always set your needle to stop in the down position so that you can stop and start as much as you need to.
-The key to even stitches is to find the balance between the speed you move the quilt and the speed of your needle.
– For me, going fast makes my stitches more even – but from what I’ve read that’s not the case for everyone.
– If you run out of thread in your bobbin in the middle of your quilt, just keep going from the same spot, making sure to sew a few locking stitches over where you left off.
– I check that the back of the quilt looks right A LOT. Tension problems often don’t show on the front.
– If you’re quilting a big quilt, having a table to your left to hold the weight of the quilt is incredibly helpful. You can see what I mean in this photo.


Beyond all that I’ve mentioned, there is an amazing flickr discussion here that gives you all the tips and tricks you could ever need. And Amanda Jean put up a GREAT video tutorial here. Both of those helped me a lot.

The other question that I’m often asked is how I organize my quilting… meaning, where on the quilt do I start and how do  I work my way through the quilt.  I have an incredibly tough time explaining it in words, so I did a drawing for you! Here it is:

How I Quilt

I hope that’s clear! I don’t start in the middle as is often suggested, but this seems to work for me. The first couple of quilts I stippled would get some yucky puckering in the back but now I pin LIKE CRAZY (I mean, I think I might OVER pin!) when I’m basting and that problem has stopped.

Quilting has come to be my favorite step of quilt making. I still get a thrill every time I sew over a seam and “unite” the quilt top a bit more. I love watching it all come together. It’s so much fun!

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  • Amber

    February 5, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Reply

    Oh my gosh – I can”t believe you are sewing that huge one! Can’t wait to see it finished!

  • Sarah

    February 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Reply

    Thanks so much for writing all of these quilting tips! I’m wary about trying out free motion quilting on my very very basic machine, but your tips have given me more confidence. We’ll see if I manage to work up the courage… =)

  • Emily

    February 5, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Reply

    Thanks for the info!

  • MichelleB

    February 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Reply

    Thanks for showing the “big” quilt in the sewing machine. I can hardly wait to see it finished.

  • katie

    February 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Reply

    thanks for the tips! I still haven’t mastered the free motion quilting. I think I need more practice 😉

  • Michelle

    February 5, 2009 at 7:48 pm | Reply

    Thanks for sharing pictures of your quilting space, it is nice to see that you are doing a big quilt without a fancy quilting machine. I was debating on attempting to quilt my girls twin sizes, (when I get them together) now I am motivated! I did a freemotion on a doll quilt and loved the results.

  • Katy

    February 5, 2009 at 8:54 pm | Reply

    Excellent – thanks for your tips on this previously, i didn’t even know what the darning foot was for! Going to give this a shot on the weekend, and also see if i can create pictures to using the same method.

  • Julia

    February 6, 2009 at 2:23 am | Reply

    Hi Alyssa,
    eventually I want to stipple a twin sized quilt with my bernina. I already tried to meander by machine with various little project.
    One question regarding to quilt a big quilt with free motion quilting is, how to “organzize” it {sorry, can’t find a better expression}: I was told it’s better to start in the middle (quilting generally) because of shifting fabrics and then to work to the sides. So when stitching in the ditch I first make a “scaffold” and then fill the smaller areas created…
    From what I can see in the picture, you started at the sides of the quilt and then work to the other side when the whole area in height of the quilt is done ????
    Sorry if these are stupid questions…I couldn’t answers on any site I looked for…
    Have a great weekend,

    • Alissa

      February 6, 2009 at 9:53 am | Reply

      Hi Julia – I just edited the post to include a drawing of how I work my way through the quilt when I stipple. Hope it helps!

  • Carrie

    February 6, 2009 at 5:26 am | Reply

    good tips! I agree, not hard to do, just takes some practice.

  • Krista

    February 6, 2009 at 5:28 am | Reply

    I haven’t tried stippling yet, but I want to. I’ve just been very timid about it because I don’t want to mess up. I think I’ll try it on a few pot holders that I want to make and see what happens…

  • Andy

    February 6, 2009 at 6:24 am | Reply

    The best tip anyone ever gave me was to use quilting gloves. I love them! they help to grip the fabric and move it around more smoothly. They don’t cost much and the benefit they provide is worth it (to me!)

  • Melissa

    February 6, 2009 at 8:25 am | Reply

    Thanks for posting this! I am wanting to start quilting my own quilts-I am really excited to do it now!

  • Jane Weston

    February 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Reply

    Brilliant post! I love the diagram about how you maneuver your quilt and the tip about pinning loads…I’m going to try that!

  • amandajean

    February 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Reply

    alissa, you are sooooooo good at stippling. you amaze me!!! thanks so much for the link. i do the same type of maneuvering around the quilt, except i start at the middle of one of the long sides and work my way around. i had to chuckle at our similar approach. 🙂

  • Maria

    February 6, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Reply

    Thank you, Thank you. Have several times been looking at how you do this. I am going to do this to my quilt when its done. The only problem I don’t understand is how do you put your feed dogs down? I don’t think my machine does that…its a bit older one.

    • Alissa

      February 6, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Reply

      So glad that this will be helpful to you Maria! Do you have the manual for your machine? It will tell you how to put your feed dogs down. Also, I know that on some machines you actually put a plate over them, rather than lowering them… Hope that helps!

  • Katie

    February 6, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Reply

    Thanks so much for the sew along on sewmamasew! I’m starting the sew along tonight (yes I’m a bit behind). This will be my very first quilt, I’m really looking forward to it. I love that I can use fabric that I already have for the entire project because of the scale. So great! Thanks again.

  • Mary

    February 7, 2009 at 3:46 am | Reply

    Thank you for the info! Quilting is the least favorite part for me, I usually just quilt in the ditch or outline quilt, I’m going to study up with the links you provided and see if I can improve that!


  • erica

    February 7, 2009 at 8:37 am | Reply

    Thanks for the advice. Stippling is something that I have always wanted to do. I just need to figure out the corect speed and tension because mine always seems loose. I’ll try again!

  • Melissa W

    February 7, 2009 at 9:08 am | Reply

    Hi Alissa!

    I found your blog checking out quilting pictures on flikr! I am just getting into quilting and taking my first class next month. I have to buy a new machine and can’t invest a lot right now, but was wondering if you have any tips? I would like to find one I can buy a free motion foot for as well and that has plenty of room so I can eventually make larger quilts. What make and model is yours? Would you recommend?

    Thanks for your time! I love your quilts!

  • Adele

    February 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    Thanks Alissa, the drawing made a lot of sense…. I am practising like a mad woman! Love your blog!

  • Leigh

    February 25, 2009 at 6:08 am | Reply

    Thank you so much for this clear explanation! I just got a darning foot last week and practiced a bit, and it is much easier than I thought it would be. I LOVE your diagram…. that will be a huge help!

  • Thanita

    February 25, 2009 at 7:50 am | Reply

    You don’t know how happy I am to stumble on your site and seeing your quilting habits! I’m a new to free motion quilting (I’ve made 4 quilts free motion). So this is a HUGE help!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • edeenut

    February 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Reply

    I know it’s possible to quilt a large quilt like the one you have here, but I get so nervous and don’t think I have enough practice on the smaller sizes yet. You’re little drawing with the directions you go in is very helpful for me to get an idea at attempting it (some day:). I just discovered your blog and I am hooked. It is definitely one I will be referring back to for my beginning quilting q’s. Thanks for sharing through your blog!!

  • Nova

    March 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Reply

    Thank you so much for all these really helpful tips, I’m stippling for the first time and this is just what I needed! Thank you thank you thank you! If you don’t mind I have posted a link to here from my blog. Hope you’re having a great day, I am so inspired by your beautiful work! love nova x

  • Lori

    February 14, 2010 at 7:50 am | Reply

    Thanks for the diagram, I was working on a quilt yesterday and wondering how people handled it.

  • Pattie N.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Reply

    Hi I love your tutorial, so far all i have done on my sewing machine are kids qults, single size, and wall hangings. But after seeing that huge qult being done on your machine i am inspired to tackle the huge ones that i have made as well, on my machine. However on my smaller projects i use 505 basting spray works like a champion and no pins to fuss with and it washes off with water. Thank you for you wonderful tutorial. Maybe we wont be paying the long armers the money we could be spending on fabric. I agree with practice practice practice. If you remember back you practiced your writing skills as a child, over and over again, same thing with this, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT, Well almost mine will never be perfect, i dont seek perfection just pretty!!!

  • Melanie K.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply

    Hi Alissa, I just ran across your website for the first time b/c of your demo on pebble quilting, which I plan to try. Your quilts are incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I am wondering … when you quilt in strait lines, do you use a free motion approach, keep your machine on straight stitch, or something different? I’m in a quilting storm for the arrival of my first baby! Thanks a lot. -Melanie

    • Alissa

      October 24, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Reply

      Hi Melanie! I don’t free motion my straight lines – I use a straight stitch with my walking foot.

      Thanks for your kind words about my quilts!

  • Michelle Sneathen

    November 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply

    Just came across your blog. I am loving it. I am on my second quilt and have been searching for information about the actual quilting portion of making quilts. My first one I mostly stitched in the ditch. I really don’t want to on this next one. It is a basic yellow brick road pattern, but I would like something more on it. I need to find out if I can get the darning foot for my machine? I can’t wait to read more! Thanks for being here!

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