Last week I blogged about what inspired me to quilt and asked about your inspirations. This week, I thought I’d share what I think are the most important quilting tips for all quilters, beginners to experienced. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and many quilters will have their own thoughts on what are the most important things for successful quilting. Share with me your favorite tips and maybe we’ll all learn something!
Tip #1 – Machine Cleaning
Very important: Always be sure your sewing machine is ready to stitch. That collection of lint under the throat plate is actually not a part of the machine! I recommend a yearly tune-up at the shop where you purchased your machine. If that’s not possible, make sure you are cleaning the bobbin compartment, hook race and bobbin case as well as the area under the throat plate. Be sure to drop the feed dogs before lifting off the throat plate.
I use the small soft brush that came with the machine to clean out these areas. If you do not have that brush or one did not come with your machine, you can use a clean, small makeup brush easily found in the cosmetics department.
Finally, be sure to pull out your machine manual and lubricate it as advised. Most machines today have a sensor that will tell you when lubrication is needed, but if yours doesn’t you should lubricate the recommended areas when you notice your machine sounds different than normal as you stitch. I can tell when my machine sounds louder. Once I lubricate, it quietly hums as I’m sewing. If you use your machine several hours a day every day like me, you will have to lubricate more often. And …..
beware of the cat who wants to help…..
Tip #2 – Needles
Be sure you are using a fresh needle. Don’t wait until a needle breaks to change it. A good rule of thumb is to put in a new needle after every completed project, especially if you have just completed a large one. If you have just made a table runner, you can probably get away with keeping the needle for your next project. Another way to know when to change a needle would be after you’ve gone through 3 bobbins.
Damage to a needle is not visible to the naked eye but under a microscope, you will see burrs and cracks. Click here to see what a damaged needle looks like. It can also be bent. Here are some ways you can tell you need to change your needle:
- If you hear a “punching” sound as your needle enters the fabric.
- Your top thread keeps breaking.
- You see snags develop in the fabric where the needle enters when you are stitching.
- You can see the holes where the needle entered.
Needles are relatively cheap. Certainly cheaper than fabric and thread, so keep that needle new as often as possible so you’re not wasting thread or damaging your fabric.
Tip #3 – Thread & Bobbins
I recommend 100% cotton 50w thread for stitching your pieces. I like to use Aurifil 100% cotton 50wt. I have found that this thread creates the least amount of lint build up as opposed to other threads I have used.
I choose a light neutral color thread for all projects unless I am working with really dark fabrics. In that case I will use a dark brown or black thread for piecing.
I also recommend winding several bobbins before beginning a project, especially a large one. That way, you can quickly pop a new bobbin in instead of having to stop to wind it.
Tip #4 – Tools, Pins and other Things
Keep your tools close at hand. I like to have my scissors, a small ruler and a pressing stick right by my machine. The pressing stick is my favorite of these because I can press seams on small units of a block so I don’t have to keep getting up for pressing at the iron. Here’s how I store my tools:
That’s a soap dish I found at Target in the bathroom supplies aisle. It’s the type that affixes to your shower wall with suction cups. I just ditched the suction cups and use Command strips to affix it to the edge of my sewing table.
Here’s the pressing stick and how you use it:
My other favorite tool I keep by my machine is a small ruler that is handy to measure units as I go to make sure I am stitching them the correct size.
Did you notice my pins? To keep them corralled next to my machine, I turned a magnet upside down (the kind you buy as a souvenir), affixed it to my sewing table with a Command strip and I have an instant magnetic pin catcher!
Tip # 5 – Time to Stitch (Random Tips)
Speaking of pins, I recommend always pinning your pieces. This really does help with accuracy. If the pieces you are stitching together shift as you are stitching, your unit will be off. The feed dogs below and your guiding hand can move the pieces at different speeds. It only takes a tiny movement of one or the other and you’re ripping stitches! Pinning also assures the seams that you were careful to line up before stitching stay lined up.
Chain stitch where you can. To make chain piecing even more efficient, consider pairing up the pieces you are stitching and stacking them so you can just grab and feed!
Finally, I like to use what I call a leader/ender piece when I begin stitching.
This is a thread saver, since I am not pulling my finished piece away from the machine to snip it. I just run this leader/ender piece through at the end of my stitching and snip my sewn unit off after it’s out from under the foot. I like using this to lead off stitching pieces to avoid thread glitches or fabric pieces scrunching up. It’s also a good way to put some fabric scraps to good use!
That’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed my favorite quilting tips. Share yours in the comments below. Perhaps they will be helpful to others. I will draw a name from the commenters to win a pair of scissors to keep by your machine so you will always have them available!
The drawing will be on Monday, July 12th. Good luck!
***We have a winner! Congrats, EllenB!***