Free Motion on a Domestic Machine

Like many people, I quilted on a domestic machine for a long time and the amount space under the harp is pretty typical for a home sewing machine at 7.5 inches (foot to riser) by 4 inches (bed to arm). Without all the electronics, the head of the machine is slimmer and I can see the sewing bed better than some modern machines. This helps when you are taller than average.

So, I thought I’d share how I make my workspace and machine work even when I’m the one moving the fabric, not my feed-dogs.

This works for me. It may not work for anyone else. But, I’d just like to encourage people to try and experiment until you find a better setup for you. Add and subtract stuff until it feels good. If your body is comfortable and you fight the quilt less, you will be more successful. Try, try, try.

Things to Play Around With.

  1. Height of your Sewing Surface – The height of my industrial table has been lowered (and I’m 6 feet tall!). I make sure that when I sew “normally” that I’m in a good ergonomic position with my arms at close to 90 degrees. For me, that places the top of my industrial table at 29″. That required us to add an additional set of holes in the table vertical supports to allow it to lower enough. The result of this is when I use my Sew Adjustable 18 table, I need to make my chair higher to keep in a good position since my machine adds another 2.5 inches. Don’t just live with a setup that is uncomfortable. Play, adjust, add and subtract height to your setup until you are comfortable.  I find that I like to FMQ lower than you might otherwise think.
  2.  Increasing Your Flat Working Surface –  The Sew Adjustable Table is key for me. It has adjustable feet to allow me to fit different machine outlines. I can adjust the extension table pieces until I like how they work. This table also comes in 12″ and 24″, but you’ll see why that won’t work for me. These are not inexpensive and are as much as some sewing machines. But, for me using the setup I like, the cost was worth it to make my FMQ flow better.  {}
  3. Slippery Surfaces are Good  – Super Slider. These help the quilt slide over your surface. I’ve read that for machines in wood tables, furniture polish can help slick up the surface. Some even use a silicone spray. I worry about residue on my quilts, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Keep in mind what else you may be sewing (e.g, silk) that you might not like to contact residue due to difficulty washing.
  4. Quilting Gloves (I like Grab-A-Roos). But, I tried at least 3 brands until I found what I liked. I started with simple cotton gloves. Try and try and try to get what works for you.
  5. Machine Position. While my machine is designed to sit in a table, it does not in my house. I like to switch between this and my Viking 21A. That turned out to be a good thing. I tried free motion in the traditional position with the machine parallel to my table. That was tough since the fabric pileup blocked my view and kept hitting the wall behind my machine. In my sewing setup, I have width not depth to work with. Turning it end on, made it impossible to see beyond my preferred FM foot (hovering darning foot). So, after some trial and error, I found that pushing the machine in a roughly 45 degree angle position worked well for me on this machine.  So, I thought I’d show that to help other envision this.

Here you can see that I’ve moved the rear of the machine away from me toward the back. But, its not perpendicular to the table.


In this setup, I could use more table, but the 24″ table would be too big and would hang off my table. If I had a typical extension table, I would not get enough table on the right and left.

Below, the photo on the left is what I’d see if looking perpendicular to the machine. The back of the foot blocks my view and the hand-wheel is nearly 2 feet away. I’m tall, but not that tall and this machine is all about that hand-wheel with no electronics to help with the foot and needle position. On the right, you can see what I see in the 45 degree position. I can see to area around the needle more clearly with the pesky back support piece out of the direct front-back view, I can reach the hand-wheel and the bulk of the quilt is heading over to all that space on my left.



It took a few hours of using this to get my brain to stop using the machine body as my reference. Once I got over that, I found the quilt just moved so much better.

If your machine is in a table and set parallel to the table, pop it out and play around. Before I got this Greer table, I used wood scraps and plywood to get the height I wanted to try out AND wrapped that in a flannel-backed table cloth. I like to experiment and experiment before I go invest in “the thing” (or ask my husband to make it for me).  Don’t just suffer if your setup does not work.

p.s. And BREATHE and relax. If you are tense, your stitching will be jagged and tight.







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