Machine Quilting: Know the Design

Machine Quilting: Know the Design @DreamWeaver's Quilts

Let’s talk quilting designs, and get prepared to quilt even the most complex designs without getting lost! There are a huge number of continuous line quilting designs available these days, and of course you can also design your own or just dive in and quilt freely without marking. For some continuous line machine quilting designs, it’s pretty easy to figure out the stitching order and direction, but for more complex designs it’s not always obvious.

One of the best–and easiest!–things you can do to improve the quality of your machine quilting is to practice drawing the design just as if you are quilting it, taking the turns, stopping at the pivots, and backtracking where necessary, to commit the design to your muscle memory. Knowing your chosen quilting design inside and out–where to turn, where to stop and start again, where to backtrack over lines previously quilted–can prevent those “Um, CRAP, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to be going!” moments that will make your stitches get really small, crooked, or just plain wonky and out of place. And then you’ll want to rip them all out which is no fun at all! 😛

Machine Quilting: Know the Design @DreamWeaver's Quilts
Machine Quilting: Know the Design @DreamWeaver’s Quilts

If you don’t plan to mark designs on the quilt top, do some practice “quilting” with a paper and pencil. Try out the designs you plan to quilt, and draw them over and over until you know exactly where to go and how the design goes together to fill up the spaces on the quilt. Now of course, you’ll be moving the pencil over the paper, which is a bit backward from the way machine quilting works when you move the quilt under the needle, but this practice will still help to get that design into your memory.

If you’re tracing the quilting designs on the quilt top using a light box, you can almost get this practice in without even thinking of it. By the time you trace the design on the quilt top a few times, you’ll know where the trouble spots are. Decide where to begin and end the machine quilting, pay close attention to places where lines come together or cross, and follow the same route each time you trace the design. Quick tracing tip: Don’t look at the pencil tip when you trace! Follow the line with your eyes just in front of the pencil for smoother lines without wobbles. Try it!

When you are using a stencil to mark the quilt top, you can still decide on a logical place to begin and end the machine quilting (I like starting and stopping in an area that’s fairly straight, and not at a corner), and follow the same route each time you mark the design to help yourself memorize it. You can also mark the design on paper using the stencil, and trace it a few times. One other note about using a stencil to mark the quilt top: do remember to go back over the design and fill in the gaps in the lines. Your quilting will be smoother if the line really is continuous, rather than leaving those gaps there!

No matter how you choose to mark (or not mark!) your design, have a look at the quilt top itself as you go. Are there seam allowances in awkward spots in the quilting design where the sewing machine foot might get caught and cause a quilting hiccup? Make some mental notes to be prepared for those potential hiccups so that you can slow down, or even stop altogether and quilt one stitch at a time to get over those trouble spots without wonky stitches. Some of the awkward spots might not be apparent until you actually quilt the design the first time, so be ready to make more of those mental notes–and if your mental note-taking abilities aren’t what they used to be (mine aren’t :wink:), make marks and notes on that paper you practiced on!

The More You Know @ DreamWeaver's Quilts

What’s your best tip for keeping your machine quilting lines from being wonky?

**This is Part 2 of The More You Know @ DreamWeaver’s Quilts, Machine Quilting Edition. Because the more you know, the easier it is! 😀 Further parts will be linked here as they are published!

Part 1: Machine Quilting: Know Your Tools
Part 2: Machine Quilting: Know the Design
Part 3: Machine Quilting: Know Your Weaknesses