Sunshine Quilts

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Quilting on the Sewing Machine

Deputy's Wife mentioned the other day that she was going to do some quilting on her sewing machine and asked me if I had any quilting tips to share. When I share pictures here, it's usually of quilts that turned out nice, quilts that I'm really pleased with. What I don't show here are the quilts that start and the blocks just don't work because of poor color or design choices. I don't show the quilting that is just about to get ripped out because the tension was off or because the design I chose didn't work. My best advice is the same advice I give for most every situation: never give up! Have you ever seen Diane Gaudynski's work? I'm not sure what kind of machine she's using now but most of her earlier works were done on a regular Bernina . . 930, 1230, something like that. Every time I look at her work, for a brief moment, I think I want to go back to quilting on the sewing machine. Her quilting is just phenomenal! And I am just crazy enough to know that if she can do it, I can too. And, so can you! She has an excellent book, Guide to Machine Quilting. If you need a book on machine quilting, that one is an excellent choice. I pulled out some of the first pieces that I machine quilted. These two were done on the sewing machine. While they're not going to win any awards, they don't look too terrible from the front, if you don't look too closely. The first one is one that I drew out in Quilt Pro and I haven't used that software in probably 8 or 9 years so this is a fairly old quilt. It has a label but .. no date! Another reason to put all the necessary info you might ever need on the label. I was very unsure about my machine quilting ability (for good reason!) and I drew out even the meandering with a pencil. The quilt hasn't been washed yet so you can see my lines still there. While it surely isn't necessary for most of you to draw out meandering lines, it did give me some good practice with following lines. My next best advice is to use a print backing! I used muslin on both of the quilts I will share here and every stop/start showed, the stitches are not uniform and it is very obvious. I was so brave (or maybe dumb) but I used ecru thread in the bobbin and purple thread on top and didn't bother to work with the tension so there are purple pokies showing everywhere on the back. Those may be less noticeable after the quilt is washed but they would not have shown at all if I had chosen a printed background. I love using muslin on a backing because all the quilting shows but there are so many drawbacks to using a solid.

  1. All the stops/starts show.
  2. Stains will show and I think it's so ugly to see stains on the back of a quilt.
  3. If you ever need to make a repair, it's much easier to camouflage a patch when there's a printed backing.
Next quilt is a baby quilt that I'm saving for my own grandchild (not even a twinkle in anyone's eye yet!). As is usual for those of us with pets, Speck seems to like it. This is another one that the front looks ok from a distance. I must have been feeling pretty uncreative when I was coming up with quilting ideas because there are some ugly half circles quilted in the border. Every boo-boo shows on the solid backing. Keeping these quilts and looking at them from time to time reminds me how far I've come. I still have a long ways to go but as long as I continue to see improvement with my quilting, I'm happy. And, if anything I say here helps another quilter along the way, I'm doubly happy. So, I guess my machine quilting tips are:
  • Never give up. No matter how bad it looks, the next one will look better.
  • Use a printed backing to keep stops/starts and uneven stitches from showing.
  • If you do something that is so awful that you can't stand it, take it out and start over. But, if it's just something you wish looked a little better, you might consider leaving it, counting it as practice and moving forward. Ripping takes forever and for me, it's easy to give up and feel like a failure when I spend more time ripping than sewing.
  • Use a thinner rather than thicker thread. This will make it easier to adjust the tension and I've found it is easier to get a good stitch (without having either the top or bottom thread appear to be laying on top of the fabric). My favorite right now is Superior Masterpiece. Bob has some good tips on the website about tension too.
  • Using a matching thread in the top and bottom with reduce the chance of the pokies showing through. Also, if you use a thread that matches your top fabric, you'll be more pleased with the results. Using a highly contrasting thread will result in every little imperfection (uneven stitches or curves that aren't quite smooth) showing.
  • A thinner, cotton batting is great! Not too thick, not slippery. Quilters Dream Cotton is my favorite. I like the Select but the Request is great too. It's a bit thinner and works better for sewing machine or hand quilting than it does on the longarm.
  • When you have been away from the machine for a day or so, always practice with a swatch before starting on the actual quilt. You'll be surprised how much difference it makes if you just practice on a scrap and get the movements down again.
  • And, don't forget - never give up!

Judy L.


  • Hey there!
    Your Quilts are quite lovely and your comments are RIGHT ON!
    I finally broke down and took a class on machine quilting, and had a lot of frustrations with my machine, but now that I have it down, I don't know how often I will hand quilt! Please keep posting pictures, I love to see other ladies works of art!

    By Blogger Mrs. Mandy, at 5/30/2006 12:40:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the reminder... Machine quilting is an art, and like other arts it takes practise. Hopefully one day I'll enjoy the end product I create almost as much as the process :)

    By Blogger quiltpixie, at 5/30/2006 02:53:00 PM  

  • I could have written that list myself Judy! Although I never have frogged any free-motioning - who's going to inspect every last single stitch?!

    I totally agree about having a practice piece. Slap two FQs together with some batting - it'll be available for a lot of useage. Great way to check the tension too.

    And if somebody's really scared, they could always start off with placemats and table runners. Nice and small.

    Ohh, and clean thread. I nearly gave up on FM because I happened to have bad thread in the bobbin that caused a million snarls. I ended up stitching-in-the-ditch instead of the loopies I planned and shyed away from FM for a while. So clean thread, make sure your thread isn't exposed to dust and grime.

    By Blogger Leah S, at 5/30/2006 04:56:00 PM  

  • Great advice, Judy, and timely. I was thinking this weekend that I need to continue learning how to machine quilt. I was doing good for a while and then hit a snafu on one quilt and tossed in the towel. You've motivated me to give it another whirl!


    By Blogger Vicky, at 5/30/2006 07:10:00 PM  

  • I think you wrote all this for me too ! thanks Judy for all the helpful tips.

    By Blogger Patty, at 5/30/2006 07:16:00 PM  

  • great advice! We were just talking about that in class tonight--about what to do with our earlier quilts that we now consider hideous! I say keep them, they always remind you of where you have been and NO-ONE starts out perfect. Thanks for sharing your tips--your work is so beautiful, it's nice of you to share your earlier works, because it gives the rest of us hope!

    By Blogger Passionate Quilter, at 5/30/2006 07:21:00 PM  

  • Thanks for sharing your experience - I'm about to embark on my biggest bit of machine quilting yet so this is timely for me - plain red backing tho' - we'll have to see how it goes!

    By Blogger Fiona, at 5/31/2006 05:33:00 AM  

  • Your post couldn't have been more timely for me. I'm a novice quilter & the first few pieces I machine quilted turned out great...they were small. I'm currently picking out a larger piece that puckered on me. Your tips are great and I plan on ordering the book your suggested. Thanks, Cathi

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/31/2006 05:59:00 AM  

  • I am learning all these tips first hand! I don't know why I can't listen to others and learn from their mistakes... seems I always have to learn from my own experience.

    By Blogger Deb Geyer, at 5/31/2006 07:02:00 AM  

  • Judy a big muahhh smooch to you! Thank you so much for devoting an entire post to this. I am going to check and see about getting the book you recommended. AND check out that site about tension. One more question for you though. Do I need a quilting foot or can I do this with my regular foot?

    Once again, thanks a million!!!

    By Blogger deputyswife, at 5/31/2006 01:15:00 PM  

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