Welcome back! Last week in the first part of this series, I covered preparing your small quilt top for quilting on your home machine. If you did not read it, click here for that post. So, this week it’s time to cover the machine quilting itself. I will share tips on choosing a design, practicing stitching, etc. At the end will be one of my mini video tutorials showing the technique. There are many online resources for learning to machine quilt, so don’t just rely on mine alone. Do a google search and you will find some very experienced quilters sharing their tips and advice also. So let’s go!
Prepare To Quilt
Tip #1: First tip is to ready your machine and sewing area for machine quilting. It’s a good idea to have a large area to your left and behind your machine, especially if your project is a larger quilt. This will support the weight of the quilt to the side or behind your machine and cause less stress to your arm and shoulder muscles. Also, if you don’t support it, the weight of the portion of your quilt not being stitched can pull on the area you are stitching and created problems with your stitching and design.
If you don’t have a large table where you can set your machine, you can create this extra space by placing another table behind your sewing table or placing an ironing board there, lowered to the same level as your sewing table.
Tip #2: Change your needle. Odds are, you haven’t changed it as often as you should. It’s best to start with a fresh needle when beginning a quilting project so you are assured there will be no fabric snags, larger holes punched in your fabric or snapping thread. All of these things can happen with a needle that has been used too much. I recommend switching your universal needle out with one that is specifically for quilting.
These needles are sharper than the universal needle to penetrate through the 3 layers of the quilt sandwich.
Tip #3: Use the right foot on your machine. I mostly do free-motion, meandering, machine quilting. For that, I recommend an open toe darning foot.
With this foot, you drop your feed dogs and move all the layers of your quilt sandwich with your hands. Dropping the feed dogs insures there is no drag on the bottom layer of your quilt sandwich while moving it.
There is another type of foot for quilting. If you are doing straight-line stitching or stitching in the ditch, it’s best to use a walking foot or “even feed” foot in conjunction with your feed dogs in place. Here’s a walking foot:
Special “teeth” on the bottom of this foot mimic the feed dogs under your quilt to evenly feeds all three layers of your quilt sandwich as you quilt. This helps also to eliminate puckers or rumples on the back that you could get with just a standard foot on top.
(**I have just recently began to work with this kind of foot so I am not in a position to instruct you on this type of machine quilting, yet. If you want some instruction for this type of quilting, there are many expert machine quilters you can find by a simple google search or a search on YouTube.)
Tip #4: For the type of quilting I do – free motion with a darning foot – I recommend these quilting gloves:
These gloves help me grip and hold taunt the three layers of the quilt sandwich so I can move it as one under the needle.
Tip #5: This is a time-saver tip. Wind several bobbins with the thread you are using on the project so you can quickly change out a bobbing that has run out.
Time to Quilt!
Tip #1: Prepare your design ahead of time. Ever wonder what to quilt on a top? I have a trick I use. I either print a copy of one of the quilt blocks in the quilt top or draw one out on a piece of paper. Once I do that, I will draw out a quilt design that I can follow on each block! Here’s an example below:
Once I have the design I like on paper, I use an erasable marking pencil to mark the blocks. The arrows on the drawing (I do not mark those on the quilt) are showing which direction to stitch in to make this design in one continuous pass. You can also just do an overall meandering pattern like this:
This overall pattern is often referred as “loops and stars”. So whether you choose a custom design within each block or an overall motif, it’s good to decide before you have the quilt under the needle to save frustration. I have picked out machine quilted stitches before… and it’s not fun!
Tip #2: Practice quilting on a scrap sandwich. I still do this when it’s been awhile since I have machine quilted. Take two scrap pieces of fabric and sandwich them with a scrap piece of batting and use it to practice designs and the flow of your hand movement.
Above is one of my recent practice pieces where I was trying out a “paisley” design.
Tip #3: Start quilting your project from the center, working your way out. That way any fabric that shifts will shift towards the edges of the quilt top and can be adjusted as needed instead of bunching up in the center.
Tip#4: Take breaks when quilting. About every 15 minutes of quilting, I stand up, stretch my shoulders and hands. You’d be surprised how tensed up your muscles get when you are quilting. If you take breaks to stretch, you will not fatigue quite so much.
I will now describe the quilting steps. At the end of this post will be my mini quilting tutorial showing these steps.
- The feed dogs on your machine need to be dropped. See your owner’s manual on how to do that if you have not done it before.
- Next, pull your bobbin thread to the top of the quilt. To do this, put your threaded needle down in the spot where you want to begin and drop your presser foot. Tap your foot peddle so the needle comes back up, pull on the end of the top thread and this will draw the bobbin thread to the top of the quilt. This is so the bobbin thread does not get caught in the stitching on the back and create a mess!
- Start with a few small “locking stitches”. Since your feed dogs are dropped, they are not moving the quilt sandwich …. you have to. So to make these small stitches, just move the quilt top slightly while stitching. Since you are only moving it slightly, the stitches will be very small.
- Once you do these beginning stitches, you can now move on to the motif you have chosen. Be sure to move the quilt top at an even pace matching the speed of your machine. That is how you keep the stitches even (unless you are one of those lucky quilters who have a stitch regulator on your machine!).
- Once you reach the end of your design or are at a place where you need to stop, end with a few small locking stitches again. Snip the threads as close to the quilt top as you can. Now you are ready to move on to the next area!
Mini Tutorial Video
So here it is. My mini tutorial on the steps I described above.
Here are some of my quilt motifs:
That’s it! That is my free-motion quilting tutorial for quilting small quilt projects on your home machine. Leave a comment below to be entered into the ongoing drawing for a pair of Machingers quilting gloves!
The drawing will be on Monday, February 22nd. **We have a winner! Congrats, Sharon Aurora!**
Until next week… Happy Quilting!
Thank you! This was very helpful. I am still learning so will be saving your tips for future reference.
Peggy Bourassa says
Donna S says
I’m still trying to get my stitches even. Haven’t mastered the speed & movement together yet. Thanks for the help.
That definitely takes practice!
Mildred Plaskett says
Thanks for the tips and video. Every year (many) my goal is to learn free motion quilting, but not there yet. Your tips will certainly help.
Toni Horvath says
Learning FMQ and you have some excellent tips. I love your paisley design. This sure is a learning curve but so worth the time. Thank you for all your blog tips. I have learned something from every one.
Mary Chevalier says
Thank you for the tips .I am in need of all the help i can get.
Sharon Aurora says
I need a whole lot of practice. Thank you for all your information.
Gail E says
Many thanks! This was extremely helpful!!
Thank you so much, I enjoyed that x