I started out with a monstrously sized rotary cutter, i think 60mm. i currently use a 28mm cutter and it's a lot easier for me to handle. it feels more precise. i also have small hands, so take that into account.
if you don't have grippy rulers, get those sandpaper or plastic dots and put them on the back of your rulers. seriously. i didn't do this for years and my large 6x24 ruler slipped constantly when i tried to cut across a width of fabric or square up a quilt. lots of swearing ensued. i temporarily glued sandpaper pieces to the backs of my rulers but the glue eventually came off, so i just bought the dots on my last joann trip and life is good again.
i have 3 rulers--6x12, 6x24, and 12.5 square (it also has a 6.5" mark on the inside so it's a 2 in 1). i probably don't really need the last one but it is nice to have for squaring up blocks and 12" is a really common block size. it's also great for framing wonky squares to see how you want to square them up. maybe in another 5 years or so i will tell you that such and such a ruler is an amazing timesaver and you should get one but i've been happy so far with just these 3.
i just learned this one: the line marking on your ruler counts as part of the measurement. if you cut on the inside/outside the line, your blocks will be a just a teensy bit off.
i don't cut out the backing before i do the top. i know that you're supposed to but A) i'm usually sick of cutting once i get through the top and B) there's still a decent chance that i'll either change my mind about exactly what i'm doing or screw it up in some way and this way i haven't pre-cut a back to fit a certain dimension that potentially no longer works. by the time i've finished piecing the top, i'm usually ready for a break anyway and going back to cutting accomplishes this. i do try to purchase fabric for the backing before i start however.
I almost always iron my seams open. (exception being paper pieced string quilts) i find it more difficult to quilt over bulky seams.
i pin. not just rows or blocks but everything. i used to not pin, but i was never happy with the results. yes it is slower but the increased precision is worth it to me.
i'm still working on my scant 1/4" seam. it's a work in progress but i think i'll be happier in the long run if i can really get it consistent. 1/4" foot helps if you have one.
use a small stitch length to piece. i use whatever the quilting stitch is on my horizon--i think it's 1.8. my first 3 quilts, i used 2.4 or 2.5--whatever i use to sew clothes. yeah, bad idea. my first 3 quilts are falling apart in places.
if you are stitching blocks together, like patchwork squares, remember to match up the whole piece not just the side that you're seaming. i did that a lot in the beginning and ended up with many unintentional wonky seams (helped along by shoddy cutting skills). unless you're perfect, some of your cuts won't be exactly on target but making sure the blocks are centered on each other helps.
i use 100% cotton thread to piece and to quilt. i know that people have different preferences regarding this and i think mine is influenced by my yarn snobbiness. i'd rather have a 100% natural fiber quilt whenever possible. plus cotton is ooh, shiny and the stitches really show in the quilt. ok that can be good or bad but hopefully it'll be a good thing with more practice.
if you screw up, rip out the seam. even if it's a really long row. even with the tiny teensy stitches that make you go blind. in a fit of laziness i tried stitching over a mistake and the seam was all puckery and crappy looking on the right side. rip it out. it's worth it.
On the other hand, unless it's a major snafu i don't rip out quilting stitches. most of the time a small pucker is not going to show up in the finished quilt especially after washing and drying. life is too short to unpick a maze of FMQ stitches. anyone who judges you for imperfect quilting needs to get a grip. even if it's you. i suppose this is where my lazy lack of anal-retentiveness really comes in handy.
when you want to try free motion quilting for the first time, start with small fabric sandwiches, like potholder sized and just accept that your first attempts are probably going to look like crap. i also experimented with a table runner sized sandwich with large blocks so i could practice quilting over seams. if your first attempt at FMQ looks gorgeous, well aren't you special, you lucky bastard!
here's another no-brainer: put on the darning foot and make sure that the presser foot is down when you start quilting. i inadvertently left the presser foot up on my old singer once and the results were not so good. i think the horizon beeps at me if the presser foot is up so you may not have this problem.
this is counter-intuitive and YMMV, but when FMQ, faster is often easier. i don't like using the foot speed control when quilting, so i unplug it and use the start/stop buttons. i usually up the speed to just above the midway point to begin but i keep bumping up the speed as i feel more comfortable. it always takes a little bit for me to get into the groove but once there, it is easier to move the sandwich and get even stitches when the machine is going faster.
don't forget that you can move your fabric sandwich in different directions when you FMQ. i do sometimes forget and i can paint myself into a corner if i don't rotate the quilt at times.
wind a bazillion bobbins before you start. wind as many as you think you need and then wind one more. my 36" baby quilt took 3 bobbins of thread to quilt. it is a big ol' PITA to have to stop quilting and fill up extra bobbins.
if you thread starts to shred while quilting, throw out a few swears and then try rethreading the needle. if that doesn't work, change your needle. if that doesn't work see if you can adjust your darning foot to sit lower on the fabric sandwich. if that doesn't work open up your bobbin case and clean out the lint and stray threads that may have clogged up your machine. if that doesn't work, call your technician. i'm out of ideas by then.
i had intended this to be a 2-parter, but i got so wordy that i'll be posting Part III tomorrow. have a great weekend!