Some quilts call for a simple, allover design or have areas that need fillers. Freehand machine quilting is perfect for these quilts or sections of quilts-you simply "quilt as you go," without marking. Proper preparation will go a long way toward making freehand machine quilting enjoyable.
Select the Design
Begin by deciding on a design. Echoing the shape of an appliqué or quilting motif is freehand quilting in its most traditional form. Space lines of echo quilting evenly or stitch at varying intervals for a random look. Seek out continuous-line designs that do not require stopping and starting. A curved or loopy quilting pattern creates nice contrast and interest atop geometric patchwork. Conversely, a linear design can be perfect for a quilt with curves.
Rehearse the Design
Once you've decided on a design, practice drawing it, either with a pencil and paper or with your finger touching a sketch of the pattern. Rehearse the design until it feels comfortable. Your brain will get used to the pattern, which will help you successfully stitch the design when you begin quilting.
Prepare Your Machine
Set up for freehand quilting by lowering or covering the feed dogs on your machine. Use a machine quilting needle the correct size for your thread, and put on a straight stitch throat plate if you have one. Wear quilting gloves to help you grip the quilt. Once you start quilting, remember to breathe. Take frequent breaks to stretch your arms and shoulders to reduce fatigue. Some quilters listen to music or a book on tape to "get in the zone."
For freehand quilting designs see the September/October and November/December 2005 issues of Love of Quilting magazine (please note—these issues are sold out and no longer available for sale).