Monday, January 31, 2011

Pitfalls and Pearls of Machine Quilting Part 2

Last post covered tips for setting up the sewing area, layering the quilt and batting choices, and the dreaded tension issues. I have a few more tips for the actual decisions of what to quilt and how to proceed with as little marking as possible.

*Do your walking foot work first. This is all of the quilt in the ditch around borders and individual blocks if desired. It sections off the quilt and makes less shifting of the layers. When I quilt with the walking foot I set two stitches on my machine, the basic straight stitch with the desired stitch length and needle down position, and then I set my zigzag stitch (stitch 2 on the picture below) to 0 stitch width (which makes it a straight stitch) and the shortest stitch length my machine will allow.

This second stitch I have set to use as my beginning and ending locking stitches and allows me to quickly go between locking stitches and my regular straight stitch with just the push of a button and not having to change the stitch length on my straight stitch every time I begin and end an area of quilting. This locks the quilting stitches well and lets me travel short distances to other areas on the quilt without cutting the thread, just lifting the presser foot to release the tension, I generally do not travel further than 6 to 10 inches with out cutting the thread. If I do travel, I trim off the top thread as soon as I have a couple inches of the new area quilted, I do this especially if I am using invisible thread because it it easy to forget and miss if I do all the trimming at the end of the quilting.

*After the walking foot work do all of the quilting in the ditch next with the free motion foot and the feed dogs down. This is all the quilting around and in appliques, small block or sashing quilting. The last quilting I do on a quilt is the background fillers. I will give some tips of some of my favorite non-marking techniques in a bit. When quilting in the ditch feel the direction the seam allowance is ironed, you want to be quilting on the side the seam allowance is ironed away from-the side with less layers of fabric.

*As I am piecing the quilt I start thinking about how I will quilt it, I have sticky notes and a note book by my sewing machine that I jot down ideas. The piecing or fabric usually give me ideas of how to quilt the quilt. I draw fake blocks on my practice piece and see how they look. Sometimes the piecing or the fabric lends itself to the quilting, for example I love striped fabric in borders or background, very easy to quilt on the lines in the fabric and I generally either choose a striped fabric for an inner border or I quilt stripes in and inner border.

*A favorite small inner border quilting motif is one I do with my walking foot. This works really well for borders less than 1 ½ inches wide, it gives a good motion feel. My machine has a wavy line stitch,(in the above picture of my machine it is stitch 4) I set it for the widest stitch width possible on my machine and generally a middle of the scale stitch length, but the longest stitch length looks good also. This wavy design reminds me of water and is a good background for quilts with water designs.

***a little note about turning corners in a border with a quilt design, this is an area I have to mark the quilt. There is nothing wrong with doing an end to end design. On a very thin border like the wavy design mentioned above I do not even try to turn the corner, I simply do the sides and then the top and bottom ending at the seam allowances. This is a lot less noticeable then a whacked out uneven design turn on the corners. Another trick is to quilt a line making corner squares in the borders and quilting a little motif in the corners.

*Stippling is my favorite background filler, I know it has been around for years but I think it is fun. So because it is a much used quilting motif I try to add a little something to it to make it special. I frequently quilt names or sayings in the the stipple. I sometimes vary the size of the stipple, a smaller or larger scale for different areas of the quilt - but be careful to keep the same amount of quilting throughout the quilt. I also like to cut shapes out of freezer paper and iron them onto the quilt (hearts, bugs, flowers, some of the applique shapes in the quilt or shapes from the fabric - see the turtles)

quilt around the shape and then stipple around it- or in the example above I was quilting pebbles as the background filler. This breaks up large areas of background filler and it adds a little something special to the quilt. If there are large areas of background I will go to a stencil, a classic feathered wreath or other design.
I still try not to mark the quilt, I will trace the design on lightweight tracing paper and quilt thru it, this works better with a dark fabric. Beware of the pencil lead on the tracing paper going thru to the quilt on a white background.

*** Freezer paper is one of my favorite tools. Like the tips mentioned above, I also use freezer paper shapes for small corner stones or blocks, for example hearts. My daughter is a scrapbooker and owns a cricut cutter. I go thru some of her cutting patterns and cut freezer paper shapes and motif to iron on my quilts and then quilt around.

You can use these shapes several times and even if I accidentally quilt onto the freezer paper a little bit, it generally perforates fairly easy for removal. I will also fan fold a long piece of freezer paper the size of my borders and cut a design to quilt around for a long border - like paper dolls holding hands.

*** Masking tape (or better yet blue painters tape - less sticky residue) is great for straight or diagonal line background quilting. Several different widths are available from ¼ to 2 inch wide, just quilt along the edge of the tape.

***Hera markers. This great little tool is available from Clover. It creases the fabric and I use it in the same way I use masking tape, for straight or diagonal line quilting in backgrounds.

***Borders Made Easy. This is a product I will sometime use to give a quilt just that special something, especially a border that is really going to show the quilting, like the white inner border on YoYoville. I like this product because it does have corners drawn into it, it is an easy product to use and is not too hard to remove the paper once you have quilted thru it.

***Quilt from the back.

I have made two quilts by quilting an outline in the backing fabric. You must select a fabric with a nice overall design and then purchase extra fabric to piece it together to continue the design over the whole back of the quilt - like matching wallpaper. I quilted the outline of this vine in my quilt backing fabric with an invisible thread.

The fun thing with this type of quilting was that I used a heavier variegated thread in the bobbin which then was on the front of the quilt. The Moon Over the Mountain quilt was done in batiks and the blocks are actually machine appliquéd not pieced.

This log cabin quilt used the same technique, I choose a viney fabric for the back, put a variegated thread in the bottom and quilted it with invisible thread with the backing fabric up - outlining the vine.
These were a couple of long posts, but if you pick up a tip or two I am happy. Like all the great quilting teachers I will echo their best advise, practice, practice, practice.

Relax, have fun, and happy stitching.



  1. great quilting !!
    this is a wonderful idea for quilt beginners like me !! I've made a note. :)

    greetings from germany

  2. WOW Cheri, what a wonderful informative post!! Thank you for putting so much work into these tutorials!!


  3. I would like to add to Crispy's Wow. Thank you for so much information. You have made machine quilting more accessible. There are so many tips. It is a great tutorial for scaredy cats like me.