Ten Tips to Quilt Like a Rockstar

HollyAnne Knight (String & Story) is a quilty force to be reckoned with! Her endless curiosity, enthusiasm, and passion for the craft has set her apart from the crowd and it’s been so incredible to witness her creative journey. From a simple t-shirt quilt to her Free Motion Quilting Academy to collaborations with companies like Aurifil and Paintbrush Studio Fabrics… HollyAnne is on fire;). We’ve been lucky to work with her as an Aurifil Artisan and an Aurifilosopher and couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with her as an Aurifil Designer.


We introduced her debut collection, Quilting Rockstar!, back in April (read that post HERE). A perfectly curated range of 6 Large Spools of her beloved Aurifil 50wt, the collection features all of HollyAnne’s go-to FMQ colors. Today, we’re thrilled to welcome her back to share her Ten Tips to Quilt Like a Rockstar with Aurifil Thread.

HUGE thanks to HollyAnne!

Well hello again, amazing Rockstars! I have one, obsessive, exciting goal for you: I want you to quilt your own quilts. Whether you’re stitching on a tiny domestic machine, or a big ol’ longarm, I want to show you how to FMQ with confidence. In fact, that’s exactly what was at the heart of designing the Quilting Rockstar thread collection (and the Quilting Rockstar coordinating panels that release next month! Make sure you’re on my email list to be the first to get the scoop!)

Hopefully by now you have your hands on this fun and versatile collection (click HERE to shop if you still need your box!), so let’s talk about 10 tips to make the most of this fabulous 50wt thread. 

Tip 1: Clean out your machine!

Your machine is a faithful partner in crime in this whole FMQ thing, so treat it with some serious love. FMQ creates more lint than piecing because you’ve got the batting, and you’re stitching more quickly. Every bobbin or so, take the time to brush all the lint out (never blow it in!).

Tip 2: Use what you have

Speaking of machines, don’t obsess over whether or not you have the “right” machine for FMQ. Whichever one you have is exactly the machine you should use to start your FMQ journey. As you learn and grow, if you decide you want a bigger/ more complicated/ fancier machine– awesome! But take the time to fall in love with FMQ first before you make another investment!

Tip 3: Understand how tension works

Many modern machines have automatic tension or come from the box with the tension adjusted well enough for basic piecing. But the speed and angles of FMQ are pretty much guaranteed to require some tension finessing. Tension is basically a tug of war between the top and bobbin threads where you want the twist of the two threads meeting to fall perfectly in the batting of your quilting sandwich. On domestic machines, you only adjust the top thread– tighter thread tension pulls the twist higher toward the top of the quilt, and looser thread tension releases is lower. If it’s too tight, you’ll get thread breaks or eyelashes on top. Too loose, and you’ll get eyelashes on the back. (If you’re still a bit terrified of tension, check out a video HERE.

via @stringandstory

Tip 4: Raise your presser foot

While we’re talking about tension, remember to raise your presser foot to release the tension discs while you’re making adjustments, then lower the presser foot again to quilt! 

Tip 5: Unwind your thread to choose your color

As I mentioned above, I also designed the coordinating Quilting Rockstar panels [link] to make the whole “matching thread” thing a no brainer, but I want you to use the Quilting Rockstar thread box on all kinds of projects, so let’s talk about how I select a color:

First, decide on a couple options (I usually will pick a neutral, something that I think will match pretty well, and something that would be high contrast– 3 potential threads). Unwind the thread from the spool– I usually unwind 12-24 inches or so and lay it across the quilt top. Notice where the thread blends and where it stands out. Choose the thread that either a) blends best with the largest portion of the quilt top or b) stands out in the places you like best. The key here is to see the thread unwound because 50wt thread is very fine and can appear much more subtle off the spool

Tip 6: All hail the busy back!

If you’re new to FMQ and still learning how to get your tension just right or unsure how your stitching will look on the back where stitch in the ditch traveling may show up, choose a printed back that matches your thread pretty well and exhale some of the pressure you’re feeling!

via @stringandstory

Tip 7: Doodling is your best friend

Doodling quilting motifs is an incredible way to learn how the motif shapes are made and build that fine motor skill without the anxieties of “wasting fabric” or a moving needle. Doodle a LOT.

Tip 8: But don’t doodle too much!

Action cures fear, so once you get a feel for how a motif works, grab some fabric from your stash, make a practice sandwich, and get going! Sure, those first stitches may look super ratchet, but the only want to get better is to get going! It is okay to be a beginner to create work that looks like a beginner. Keep practicing, and you won’t be a beginner for very long!

Tip 9: Pay attention to your posture

It’s far too easy to end up slumped over our machines with our shoulders by our ears because we are trying to see our stitches– and then wonder why our backs, arms, and neck hurt so much. Keep your head over your shoulders, shoulders over your hips, adjust your seat so your machine bed aligns with the natural 90 degree angle of your arms, and invest in a good light to make it easier to see your work. 

via @stringandstory

Tip 10: Tell your IMG to shut up so you can have fun!

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, this mean voice shows up in our head. You may have heard it called the “inner critic,” but at String & Story we call that the IMG– Inner Mean Grump. That’s the voice that might even now be saying, “That was a nice blog post, but you still can’t free motion quilt.” You must remember that 1) Your Inner Mean Grump is wrong 2) Your IMG knows it is wrong and is lying to you anyway. The best way to shut up your IMG is to ignore it and get practicing. 

Final Thoughts

I named this collection on purpose because I know that free motion quilting– even just these ten tips– can feel overwhelming, and I never want you to forget that you are a Quilting Rockstar. You have learned so many skills already to be a quilter, and I’m excited for you to FMQ with confidence as well! 50 wt is my favorite FMQ thread, especially if you’re just learning, because it holds tension well, it is not bulky even with dense FMQ, yet it’s strong enough to put up with the speed and motion of the stitching. I’m so excited for you to use and enjoy this collection!

Additional Resources

*Images by Klara Cu unless otherwise noted.

Quilting Rockstar!
6 Large Spools 50wt, 1422yds each
Colors: 2783, 2132, 1154, 2847, 2021, 2600

To view this on our website, click here. To purchase a collection, head to HollyAnne’s site HERE or check in with your local quilt shop.


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