Learn to Quilt Series: Machine quilting

Ok, this is a big week!

You’ve pieced an ENTIRE quilt top! That’s a project all on it’s own! Now, you’ve either decided to send your top to the long-arm quilt fairies who will work their magical wonders over the next few weeks while you start a new project to feed your newfound quilty addiction, or you’ve decided to spend lots more quality time with your top and quilt it at home.

I’ll being doing both, because I’ve had my BeckyJo quilt basted since DECEMBER. That’s appalling, and I should be shamed for ignoring this beauty for so long. I decided to send my disappearing nine patch to a long-arm and use this opportunity to finish up this quilt!

WIPs. (work-in-progress) Stick with this and you’ll have them, too.


Getting started

Now quilting does not have to be an exact science. The only rule is to be sure and follow your batting’s requirements for the minimum amount of quilting recommended – what I use recommends stitching at least every 8″, and I typically prefer stitching every 2-3″. After that, you have free reign! I’ll be writing this post from my personal preferences, but don’t feel boxed in by what I’ll be doing.

Last housekeeping thing – I’ll be teaching simple quilting using a walking foot. Generally, variations of straight line designs work best with a walking foot. Free motion quilting, which allows you to do all sorts of squiggles, circles, feathers and so on, is a more advanced skill that requires you to be able to drop the feed dogs on your machine – a feature not all sewing machines have.

After basting, I will take a ruler and mark my lines. Depending on the design and my mood, sometimes I’ll mark the entire quilt and other times I’ll just mark a segment and alternate marking sessions with stitching sessions. Either way, you’ll start in the middle of the quilt when you stitch, so keep that in mind if you only mark a segment at a time. (Make sure you’re using a fabric safe marker – I like the iron-off Frixion pens – you can find them on Amazon or Fat Quarter Shop.)

I chose to quilt simple, modern straight lines 1″ apart – I like the texture it gives, and it’s quick to do with a minimum amount of maneuvering. Using the quilt blocks as a rough guide, I marked the entire quilt using my quilting ruler.

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Quilting prep:

  • Remove your 1/4″ piecing foot and attach your walking foot.
  • Replace your piecing needle with a quilting needle. (See the bottom of the previous post for a reminder on which needle to use if you need it!)
  • Make sure your bobbin is full, and wind a couple of backups as well.
  • Shove your machine to the far left side of your work space – you’ll appreciate having as much room as possible both behind and to the right-side!

Machine quilting with a walking foot

Even with a walking foot and impeccable basting, some shifting is inevitable on a large quilt. To minimize the visual effect of fabrics shifting in different directions, I try to start my lines on the same side of my quilt and never turn it the other direction. If I start left-to-right, I never flip it around and quilt right-to-left, if that makes sense. You’ll have to modify that rule of thumb for your own design, but if you can avoid stitching parallel lines in opposite directions it will help prevent your fabric from showing weird shifting patterns.

Get comfy, this next part takes some time!

Starting in the middle of one side, begin your stitch in the batting and stitch all the way to the opposite site, right off the edge of the top into the batting. Snip your thread, no backstiches needed. Lift the presser foot and gently ease your quilt back to the starting line, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

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And really – that’s it. That’s all there is to it…just stitch from edge to edge and keep going until you’re done!

In case it’s not quite that easy for you (sure wasn’t for my first quilt!) – here’s some tips and tricks that I’ve learned from my own quilting experiments…


Help!

Fabric is bunching, tucking, or pulling:

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Quilting takes a gentle hand and lots of arm muscle – you want the walking foot to do all the work of pulling the quilt layers through evenly, but you have to help it along. Use your hands to smooth down the fabric in front of the foot, but try not to stretch it. If you keep an eye on the 6 inches in front of the foot, you can gently work in any weirdness before it becomes a pinch or a tuck in the fabric.

Likewise, the walking foot can’t compete with the weight of a quilt. Be mindful of how your quilt is laying and pulling – you’ll be readjusting it’s position often to keep it feeding evenly without getting dragged down by it’s own weight. If you feel like you’re having to really push the quilt through the foot, set a TV tray next to you to help hold the weight of the quilt if needed.

It’s an arm workout, believe me!

Lastly, if you’re really struggling, a pair of quilting gloves can be a big help. I didn’t use them at first, but I’ve found they help me keep a good grip on the fabric and prevent arm fatigue. I have a pair of Machingers and really like them now!

Skipped stitches:

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Oh hello! I struggled with skipped stitches for the LONGEST time before I figured out what worked for me. It was so frustrating! Like everything else, it’s a bit of trial and error, but give these a try:

  • Re-thread your machine – you’d be surprised how many problems are caused by a machine that’s not feeding thread properly! Always thread your machine with the presser foot UP, allowing the thread to slip between tension discs.
  • Re-insert your bobbin, or insert a new one
  • Clean your machine – lint build-up can cause a machine to get finicky real fast!
  • Replace your needle – if the needle is dull (or a rarely, a dud) it won’t punch through the fabric and grab the bobbin thread.
  • Try a different needle type – this is what finally worked for me! My quilting needle recommendations are based on what my machine likes for the fabric and batting I use, but you may need to try different needles. If nothing else is working, try different sizes and styles – I’ve used needles ranging from 60-90 in size with almost good results. Microtex needles are super skinny and sharp, and almost worked for me. (Remember, don’t use knit or ballpoint needles – they won’t work for cotton!)

Tension issues:

Tension is a tricky problem – always re-thread your machine, re-insert or even re-thread your bobbin, and clean your machine before touching your tension dial. If that doesn’t fix it, follow the instructions in your manual for adjusting tension, starting with the tension dial for top thread. I’ve ultimately had to tighten the bobbin tension on all my machines, despite the popular idea you should “never” touch your bobbin tension. Just make small adjustments one at a time, and don’t be afraid to take it into a repair shop if you’re at your wit’s end! I spent hours re-threading my machine and fiddling with the tension before finally taking it into a shop where I watched a woman simply thread it again and magically fix it, free of charge. I can’t explain it. But I was grateful.
Oh You Crafty Gal! has an amazingly detailed troubleshooting guide on tension – check it out if you’re having trouble!

My thread broke/bobbin ran out halfway mid-line:

Ah. It happens. I’ll give the “correct” seamless way to fix this, and the “good-enough-for-me” easy way to fix it. Do whachuwant.

Seamless way:

If you find yourself needing to start over in an area of the quilt where you don’t want to have any back-stitching show, you can pull the threads out, knot them, bury the knot, and start over. Here’s how:

First, take your seam ripper and gently pull stitches loose until you have 1.5-2″ of thread loose. You’ll have a tail on the front and the back of the quilt. Now you’ll need to pull the bobbin thread to the top – gently tug on the top thread until you see a small loop form.

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Take the seam ripper and gently pull this loop up until you have two tails on top.

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Knot the tails such that the knot lays as close as possible to where the bobbin thread is coming up trough the fabric.

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Find a hand-stitch needle (That cheap repair kit you probably have sitting in a drawer somewhere? You’re mom’s old cookie tin full of old thread?) and thread both tails through the eye. Insert the needle as close to the bobbin thread hole as possible and bring it back up 0.5-1″ away.

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Tug the thread tails until the knot pops beneath the fabric surface – now it’s buried! Your stitches will look seamless.

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To start a new line right where you left off, pull a good 2″ of thread tails out from your machine. Use your hand crank or button, drop your needle down and pull it back – you just want one stitch! Just like you did earlier, tug on the top thread until a loop forms.

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Pull the bobbin thread tail up, and now you can keep stitching! You’ll go back and knot/bury the thread tails after you finish stitching to the edge.

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Once it’s buried, you’ll have a near seamless line of stitches, depending on how well you got your needle lined up.

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Easy way:

Now, most of the time, I don’t care if I have some back-stitches showing. If you’re thread breaks or bobbin thread runs out and you’re feeling lazy, simply start an inch back or so over your existing stitches, back-stitch a few times to secure it all, and keep on trucking. Easy peasy. Here’s a highly contrasted side-by-side comparison:

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I’ve learned something new with each quilt I’ve stitched at home – don’t be too hard on yourself if you have some goof ups! You’ll never notice 99% of the “mistakes” you think you made after the quilt gets washed and some TV time.

So take the next two weeks to cozy up with your project and a good playlist! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions and I’ll do my best to help you out. This is a big step, but after this….folks after this you’re almost done!

– Rebecca

PS – Someday I will go back and take nicer pictures for all these tutorials…thank you for tolerating the un-edited versions for now.  🙂

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Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care
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10 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series: Machine quilting

  1. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial – RebaLeigh Handmade

  2. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Borders and backing (and block catch up!) – RebaLeigh Handmade

  3. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long: Sewing blocks into a quilt top! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  4. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Making your blocks – RebaLeigh Handmade

  5. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Getting started! Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing. – RebaLeigh Handmade

  6. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Fabric! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  7. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  8. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Notions Part 1 – Sewing machines and basic supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  9. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Introduction! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  10. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Binding and finishing your quilt – RebaLeigh Handmade

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