Let’s Talk Machine Quilting (and a Giveaway!)

I treated myself today, and spent a little while machine quilting on a small quilt. Many of my projects these days are small-ish, and I’m really enjoying the machine quilting breaks that come along every few days. (If you’ve been following along, you’ll probably be able to figure out why most of my projects these days are on the small side… 🙂 ) I’ve spent years making these huge, long and involved show quilts, where they take forever to piece, then forever to mark for quilting, and then when I finally get to the quilting part, it’s just so huge that it’s daunting. That’s not to say that it’s not enjoyable (mostly), but making smaller projects, where I can piece a little, mark a little, and then quilt the thing is just a really nice change.

And I do mean “treat myself” when I talk about machine quilting. It’s my favorite part of quilting, hands down. It’s just so cool to see a flat piece of fabric take on texture and dimension and life when it’s quilted. I love playing with all the cool threads I’ve collected over the years, like this variegated one:

Rainbows thread from Superior Threads

Which looks like this when quilted:

Quilted with Superior Threads Rainbows Thread

How fun is this? For the curious, the thread is Superior Threads Rainbows, which is a Trilobal Polyester, 40wt., color #801, with 50 wt. Mettler Silk Finish in a blue that matches the fabric in the bobbin; the fabric is an old Nancy Crow design that looks like crushed suede, with a scene from a Laurel Burch Fanciful Felines panel; batting is Quilter’s Dream Poly Request Loft; the quilting stencil is the continuous line 4″ Dancing Flowers by Judy Allen.

Quilted with Superior Threads Rainbows Thread

Another thing I like about small quilts is that I can quickly pin-baste on the cutting table with flower head pins and they don’t get caught up in the free motion foot since the heads are flat against the quilt. With large quilts, I spend hours crawling around on the floor basting with the basting gun, and then I’m just wiped out for the rest of the day when it’s done. You can pin-baste just about anything up to a certain size, as long as it’s not so big that you become a human pincushion while trying to push it through the machine. Heck, if you’ve been sewing all your life and a few pinpricks don’t even faze you anymore, you could pin-baste even larger quilts this way. 😉

I realize that not everyone feels this way about machine quilting, and some folks don’t find free motion quilting to be relaxing at all. So let’s have a chat about that, shall we? What don’t you like about machine quilting? What’s the part that you feel like you just can’t get right? If you do like machine quilting, and you have wisdom or a fabulous tip to share, let’s hear about that too!

I’m going to send a copy of the Machine Quilting—Master the Basics Workshop on CD to one lucky reader. To enter the drawing leave a comment on this post and share some of your machine quilting wisdom and great tips, or if you need help with machine quilting, leave a question that you’d like me to discuss in a future post. A winner will be chosen by random drawing this Saturday. Luck to all!

14 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Machine Quilting (and a Giveaway!)

  1. I am new to machine quilting on a frame but have done some on my regular machine. I hated fighting the quilt through the small space on my DSM so I got a short arm quilting frame. I guess it all comes down to practise. I have very little wisdom to share but am interested in hearing about different border treatments.

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  2. I haven’t been doing MQ on the frame for very long, and I certainly can’t do the lovely large, fluid swoops that you do. But I have a tip from my table-machine quilting experience. I take the section I am going to quilt in (say a border), draw it to size on large paper, then I develop the design to fit into that space. Once I get a design I like, I draw it over and over again until it is committed to memory. Usually a design is made up of one or two elements (say a leaf and a vine). Then I take a practice sandwich and move that around under the needle, until I get the “feel.” This practice is also good for testing the thread and tension. I never mark the quilt, I just go for it. I put on music that is fluid and lively, and I quilt to the music. It helps with the tempo of my stitches and the fluidity of the design. I do not use a stitch regulator, I put pedal to the metal and go. I have to keep up with the machine and the music so the stitches will be even.

    Another tip: Always use needle-down position so if you need to stop you can!

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  3. I love quilting my tops myself even if it means “fighting” with the quilt on my machine. I”ll be taking a class soon on a longarm and will be able to “rent” time in the shop to use it )after training). So now I’m really looking forward to make my quilts and finish them too!

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  4. I just can’t seem to get the right speed when I machine quilt. I wish I could afford a sewing machine with a stitch regulator but that won’t be for a long time.
    How do I ensure the length of the stitches stays consistent?
    Thanks

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  5. I love free motion quilting too. I find I get into a rhythm and can just let go and have fun. When I am quilting something larger than throw, I move to a Janome 1600P. I love that it is blazing fast on easy parts but can go slowly when I need to put in detail. My other machine is a Bernina 440 which I also love. Sometimes I sit down with practice pieces of top fabric, batting and backing and make non matching placemats (yes I bind them) just to try out free hand fill techniques. I tried out frame quilting with a mid arm but thought I enjoyed the push and shove method more.
    Leslie

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  6. I do OK machine quilting small pieces, but just like being a teensy bit off in piecing adds up by the time you’ve sewn together 100 blocks, the weight of a twin or larger quilt always makes my MQ more uneven than on my smaller practice pieces. No matter how hard I try to “pool” the quilt in the area I’m working on, I seem to always have places where it goes easier and places where it pulls and the stitches become smaller.

    I read that Ruth McDowell uses straight pins to baste her big quilts, and yes, she admits to being a human pincushion!

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  7. I want to know how you manage such smooth lines? I keep trying to FMQ, but when the bottom thread keeps catching and breaking, driving me nuts, I give up and resort to straight-line quilting. I do try to practice – but why is it the thread only catches once I start on the real thing?!

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  8. No tips or questions just wanted to tell you I love your quilting! That fabric looks luscious, as does the thread and that is a great pattern. Have you tried Superior’s Lava thread – similar to Rainbows and more great variegated colours. Hope you post a picture of the finished top.

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  9. I just started taking quilting lessons – have finished two of a five week course, and I’m hooked. I have so many projects in mind that I won’t know where to start once I know enough to start. I definitely want to machine quilt though (I think), because I want the instant gratification of finishing a project. I love looking at your pictures, they give me a new idea every time I visit. Many thanks.

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  10. I love quilting on my Janome 6600. Smooth as glass. I use quilting gloves and had my husband build my work surface larger in the back to hold the quilts securely to prevent any drag. My buddy sets her ironing board table height to hold the quilt thereby preventing drag. Music is a fundamental part of quilting allowing one to go into the right brain and move with the machine and quilt. It sets your rhythum. Free moting quilting is just drawing and in most cases drawing the same motif over and over. My best advise is just to relax and have fun. Remember no one dies. I worked as a graphic designer for many years and was often asked how can you be so calm with all this craziness…my answer was no one dies. I could say this becasue my first career was nursing in critical care where people did die when tention was tight and mistakes made…well no one dies in quilting and it is suppose to be fun, so have fun and remember a fee weeks from now you will be working on something else so move past the bumps singing all the way. That is the license of the creative spirit.

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    1. YES! Relax and have fun are the two best things you can do when machine quilting. I do love this:

      Remember no one dies. I worked as a graphic designer for many years and was often asked how can you be so calm with all this craziness…my answer was no one dies […] no one dies in quilting and it is suppose to be fun, so have fun and remember a fee weeks from now you will be working on something else so move past the bumps singing all the way. That is the license of the creative spirit.

      This just beautiful! What a lovely way to look at so many things in life, as well as quilting. Thanks for sharing it!

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