Welcome back to part 2 of my machine quilting tutorial. I guess I didn’t scare you away. If you followed my tips from last week’s post, you should have a quilt sandwich ready to get under the needle.
This week I will share tips on preparing to quilt which includes prepping your sewing area and choosing a quilt design. At the end will be one of my mini video tutorials showing the machine quilting technique for the visual learners like me. I also recommend searching for machine quilting tips from other designers. It never hurts to gather more information than you think you need. They may have tips I haven’t covered that will be helpful in your education on machine quilting.
Prepare To Quilt
Step 1: Before you begin it is a good idea to ready your machine and sewing area for machine quilting. If you can, try to have large area to your left and behind your machine (photo below) especially if your project is a larger quilt.
This will help to 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 create 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.
Step 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 allowing it to penetrate through the 3 layers of the quilt sandwich.
Step 3: Choose the quilting foot for 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 the quilt sandwich while you are moving it. Machine foot choice is where you can look for advice from other machine quilters. They may recommend other feet to use for free motion quilting.
Another foot I just recently started to use is a walking foot. This is a great one to use if you want to do straight line quilting, like a grid or stitch in the ditch and it’s definitely recommended by most machine quilters. Here’s my 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 backing that you could get with just a standard foot on top.
If you do not have one for your machine, I recommend purchasing one. It will be worth it as you can use it for quilting and also for attaching binding evenly.
**Since I just recently begun to work with the walking foot, I am not in a position yet to give more detailed instruction on this type of machine quilting. If you want some instruction on using the walking foot for quilting, there are many expert machine quilters you can find by a simple google search or a search on YouTube. **
Now here’s a few extra tips:
Tip #1: 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 #2: 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 – My Tips
Tip #1: Prepare your design ahead of time. To decide what quilt design I want to use, I have a trick. 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 pattern that I can follow on each block! Here’s an example of one of my drawings below:
Once I have the design I like on paper, I use an erasable marking pencil to mark the blocks. The arrows on my drawing (I do not mark those on the quilt) show which direction to stitch to make this design in one continuous pass. You can also just do an overall meandering pattern like this:
The overall pattern above is often referred to 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 quilting 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 the movement of the quilt sandwich with your hands. To make sure there are no skipped stitches, uneven stitches or “eye-lashing” of stitches on curves you need to match your stitching speed (speed of your machine) with your hand movement of the quilt sandwich.
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. It will also help you not to make mistakes.
I will now describe the quilting steps. At the end of this post will be my quilting mini video 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 (be careful!). Now you are ready to move on to the next area!
Here are some of my recent quilt motifs:
Mini Tutorial Video
So here it is. My quilting mini tutorial on the steps I described above.
Well, that is all I have on machine quilting a small project on your home machine. I hope this motivates you to try your hand at this yourself. Be sure to start out on a small project like a small wall hanging or table runner. If you start out on something too big, you might get frustrated and quit.
Let me know if you have any quilting tips by sharing them below in the comments. Also ask any question you might have.