You will need a machine for free-motion quilting that has the capability of dropping the feed dogs (the little teeth that pull the fabric through the machine). Some machines come with a small plate that clips on the needle plate to cover the feed dogs. If your machine doesn't drop the feed dogs or have a cover plate, you can improvise with a business card. Punch a small hole in the center of the business card and tape it over the feed dogs to cover them. Be sure to line up the hole in the card with the small hole in the needle plate.
It is essential that you have a darning foot or free-motion quilting foot that fits your specific brand of machine. Some free-motion feet are square made of clear material with a small grid printed on it, some are shaped like an oval, and some are open like the letter "C". The foot allows the fabric to move freely between stitches yet is down as the needle enters into the fabric. Usually the free-motion foot has a bar that is placed above the needle screw and is attached to the machine with the thumb screw like any other foot. Check with your sewing machine dealer for the correct foot for your specific machine.
Install the free-motion foot or darning foot according to your sewing machine instruction booklet. Most free-motion or darning feet either screw on at the side like any other foot or snap on to an ankle provided with your machine. Each machine is different so you will need to look at the instruction booklet.
Lower the feed dogs or cover them with the plate provided or a business card. It us usually recommended to free-motion with the feed dogs down or covered. Some sewing machine instruction booklets suggest you set your stitch length to "0" (zero) so the feed dogs are not working as you free motion quilt. This may save wear and tear on your machine. Some quilters prefer have the feed dogs in the up position because believe they have better control -- so try both ways and see which you prefer.
I wear gloves to free-motion quilt. I tried several products on the market especially for gripping the quilt as you are moving it under the needle. Quilting gloves were too warm and caused my hands to perspire. I tried spongy disks, a plastic tool like a steering wheel, and office supply fingers. I now use small stretchy acrylic winter gloves that have plastic grippers on the palms and fingers. They are not too hot and they grip the quilt. I do have to remove them if I have to re-thread the needle. If you live in a warmer climate and these are not available to you maybe a friend or relative in a colder climate would send you a pair. I usually buy them at chain discount stores or dollar stores.
How To Quilt To Keep The Layers From Puckering
Place your basted quilt "sandwich" under the pressure foot. When using the darning or free-motion foot, be sure to have the presser foot in the down position. If it is up, the tension is loose and you will have knots and loops under your quilt. Bring bobbin thread to the top. Hold both top and bobbin threads, begin by stitching very small stitches for 1/8" to lock the threads. Place your gloved hands on either side of the needle. Your fingers are forming a hoop area of about a six inch circle. Don't stretch the quilt but keep the area you are working flat and taut as you are quilting. I find my fingers and thumb resting on the quilt more than the palms of my hands. Relax your shoulders. Once you have stitched a few inches you can clip your threads. After stitching a few minutes check your tension and make any adjustments necessary. When free-motion quilting, you must stop the machine before lifting and replacing your hands. If you replace your hands while the machine is running your stitches won't be smooth. To end stitching, stitch very small stitches for 1/8" to secure and clip threads. Remove basting pins as necessary.
Now start stitching on your marked line, moving your quilt sandwich at a medium speed and running your machine at a medium speed. I find that if I sew fast I cannot move my hands fast enough and the stitches are very small. If I sew too slowly my stitches are very large. You will need to practice so you can learn to synchronize the speed of your hands with the speed of your machine. Usually running the machine at a medium speed is a good place to start. You will soon see how fast you need to move your hands in order to have your stitches the size you like.
Move your quilt from side to side and from front to back following your marked lines. You don't want to turn your quilt. You won't NEED to turn your quilt. As you practice you will see how easy it is to move the quilt in all directions.
If you are quilting a marked design, stop at the end of a curve or loop. If you stop in the middle of a curve or loop, it will be harder to start keeping the stitches even in size and you don't want to make an accidental zigzag in your smooth line.
How To Straight Stitch Using A Walking Or Even Feet Foot
A walking or even-feed foot is available from your sewing machine dealer. Be sure to get one that is compatible with your particular machine. The walking foot should exactly match up with the feed dogs on your machine because you will be quilting straight lines with the feed dogs up.
The even-feed or walking foot will pull all the layers through the machine evenly and keeping all three layers feeding through the machine at the same speed so you don't have the top layer of the fabric stretching and becoming larger than the batting and backing.
When quilting with the even-feed or walking foot be sure to allow the machine and the foot to do the work. You don't need to pull or stretch the fabric. Simply guide it through the machine and allow the walking foot to feed the layers evenly like it is designed to do.
The walking foot or even-feed foot would be used when stitching straight lines "in the ditch" (very close to the seam line) or outline quilting (1/4" from seam line). It would also be used to quilt any diagonal lines or straight lines through out the quilt.
You will have to turn your quilt when needed when you are quilting straight lines with walking or even-feed foot. You can only stitch forward, not in all directions as with the free-motion foot.
The walking or even-feed foot can also be used for gentle curves. But anything that has tight curves or loops would be better quilted with the free-motion method.
Remember Some Simple Guidelines For Machine Quilting
For machine quilting remember use a new needle or at least change your needle often. An 80/12 or 90/14 universal needle would be a good choice to start. If your needle is too small your thread will shred or break. Do not use ball point needles for machine quilting. Universal needles pierce the fabric and ball point go between the weave causing stitches to look uneven. Machine quilting needles are available and would also be a good choice.
Good quality thread is very important. You don't want thread that will break and shred. It will only add to your frustration. For a beginner I suggest using regular 100% cotton thread. Many quilters recommend clear monofilament thread because it is hard to see after quilting and your mistakes are less visible. It is also hard to see to thread the needle and take out misplaced stitches. If I am using monofilament thread I prefer Sulky Polyester Invisible Thread. I know a lot of quilters use nylon monofilament thread but I find the polyester is softer. The little knots and ends are less "pokey". Nylon thread would not be recommended for a baby quilt or an elderly person. For the bobbin use 100% cotton thread even if you are using monofilament in the needle.
For batting 100% cotton or a cotton blend batting is recommend for beginners. I do like the loft or puffiness of a low-loft polyester batting and do use it regularly. High loft polyester batting is not a good choice for machine quilting. Because of polyester batting is puffier, I find it is slightly more difficult to quilt the polyester batting as evenly as cotton batting. An advantage to cotton batting is it clings to the fabric and you may have less puckering.