Free Motion and Variable Zigzag Features: What’s the Difference?


NOTE: These features are available on both the Janome MC9400 and the Janome MC9450 as well as on the Janome MC15000 and on our NEW Continental M7 Professional. 

There are two features on the Janome MC9450 that look very similar to one another but are significantly different. These are the Free Motion Zigzag feature and the Variable Zigzag feature. I recently did two videos showing how to set these up on the Janome MC9450 but wanted to explain the differences so you’ll understand how they work and can decide which feature will work best for you in your project.

Let’s first consider the Free Motion Zigzag feature. As its name indicates you will use this feature when you are free motion quilting. Your machine will be set up the same as you do for free motion quilting (with the exception that you will use the zigzag needle plate) but rather than quilting with a straight stitch, as you usually would, you’ll be able to zigzag quilt. Yes, that is a new term: “zigzag quilt”. 😉

Janome quilting screen

Both the Free Motion Zigzag and Variable Zigzag Features are found under this icon

With the Free Motion Zigzag feature on the Janome MC9450, you’ll be able to adjust the stitch settings for the width of the zigzag stitch, just as you would with a “normal” zigzag stitch. You can choose between 0 and 9mm. The difference is when you start to stitch. Remember, you are free motion quilting so you are in control of the length of the stitches. You can have an open zigzag stitch or a very dense, satin-stitch-like stitch. When using this stitch, you can vary the length of the stitches, but the width of the stitches will remain constant (you set that up before you started stitching, remember?).

Janome FM ZZ screen 1

In the Free Motion Zigzag feature area

As you are free motion quilting, you can stitch these zigzag stitches wherever you want on your project, creating different shapes, but the width of the stitches will always be whatever you initially set them up to be. For more information on setting up your Janome MC9450 for the Free Motion Zigzag feature, click here.

Janome free motion zigzag close up

Stitching using the Free Motion Zigzag feature

In contrast, using the Variable Zigzag feature on the Janome MC9450 is not constant at all!

Janome variable ZZ screen 2

In the Variable Zigzag feature area

As the name suggests, there is a lot of variability going on when using this feature. When using the Variable Zigzag feature, you are still free motion quilting, having your Janome MC9450 set up for this technique. The difference with this feature is that you control both the width and the length of your stitches. You are able to adjust the width of the zigzag stitches to a maximum width of 9mm but the width as you stitch is controlled by your knee lifter. For example, you could adjust the stitch width to 7.5 and this is the widest that the zigzag stitch could be as you stitch along.

Here’s how it works. As you stitch along, you can make the stitch width wider or narrower by pressing against the knee lifter. As with the Free Motion Zigzag feature, you control the length of the stitches by how fast you are moving your quilt sandwich under the needle but with the Variable Zigzag stitch, you also control the width of the stitch by using the knee lifter. To see how to set up your Janome MC9450 with the Variable Zigzag feature, click here.

Janome variable zigzag

Results from using the Variable Zigzag feature – I call it “heartbeat” stitching!

When would you use these features on the Janome MC9450 and which one would you use? The Free Motion Zigzag feature would work well for doing decorative work along garment edges or in quilt borders. You have the ability to lengthen the stitches to give some interest to your work.

Judy Leslie of BC won a ribbon for this quilt. Judy is a multiple ribbon winner and this one entitled “Spring on Castle Mountain” (near Osoyoos) was pretty striking with its 3D wool felted work and intricate and beautiful thread painting.

The Variable Zigzag feature on the Janome MC9450 would work well for thread painting. When doing this technique, you don’t want the different threads to butt against one another. You want them to bleed into each other so that the change in thread colour isn’t noticeable. The Variable Zigzag feature would work perfectly in this situation.

Quilt by Anne Marie Irving of SK: fabric has been hand painted, and then embellished with free motion quilting thread painting

I hope you’ll try these two features on your Janome MC9450 and share your results with me.

Happy creating from Kim Jamieson-Hirst, a Janome Canada Artisan in Calgary, Alberta.

About Kim Jamieson-Hirst

Quilting teacher, host at Chatterbox Quilts and The Quilter's Way, inspiring and encouraging quilters through education.
This entry was posted in Janome Horizon MC9450QCP, Variable Zig Zag and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Free Motion and Variable Zigzag Features: What’s the Difference?

  1. Katherine says:

    Thank you so much for this. Very timely for me. I am learning to use my 9400 to free quilt and am just now ready to start quilting a quilt. I have been wondering when and how the zigzag free quilting is used. I want to do some art quilting as well and can see how well this can work. Can’t wait to start say good morning to my machine this morning.
    Thanks again. Love your posts and tutorials.


Comments are closed.