7 Quilting Tips for Better Machine Stitching

pokey bolton

free-motion quilt
'Dancing Trees' (detail)
by Frieda Anderson.

We choose to make art quilts (rather than traditional quilts) because we want to express our point of view with fabric and thread. With so many methods, tools, and techniques at our disposal, sometimes it's difficult to choose the best approach, let alone get started.

Personally, I like to take the cookbook approach. It goes like this: if I want to make, say, chili, I round up all my cookbooks, review their chili recipes, and then take the elements of the ones I like the best to create my own concoction.

Of course, there are some basic principles of cooking that all the recipes will have in common, based on chemistry and the experience of the many cooks who have gone before me.

So when it came to learning how to quilt with a technique like free-motion machine quilting, I reviewed the handiwork of some of the best stitchers out there. Then, after practicing (and practicing), I was able to take what worked for me and make it my own.

feather quilt stitch
baptiste fan quilt stitch
Frieda used versions of the feather (top) and baptiste fan stitches to free-motion machine quilt 'Dancing Trees.'

Still, there are some basic principles of how to make a quilt that pretty much apply across the board. One of the most talented art quilters I know, Frieda Anderson, compiled a list of tips and tricks that I think every free-motion quilter should be familiar with.

7 Quilting Tips for Better Machine Stitching

  • To help the quilt sandwich slide smoothly over the surface of your sewing area, use spray sizing when you iron the backing of your quilt.
  • Use Clover Non-slip Finger on your hands instead of gloves. This keeps your fingers tacky so you hold the fabric better.
  • Try different battings, making samples and quilting them to see how you like them. At big quilt shows you can often buy small samples from batting vendors.
  • Change your needle often. Most needles only last for about eight hours of sewing time.
  • Keep your sewing machine clean and oiled. Get in the habit of cleaning your machine after each project. Remove the needle plate from your machine and clean out any lint. Follow the directions in your manual.
  • Have your machine serviced at least once a year by a reliable dealer.
  • Keep your machine covered when you are not using it. Dust and animal hair are a sewing machine's worst enemies.

A detail of Frieda's art quilt "Dancing Trees" is on the cover of my new book The Best of Quilting Arts: Your Ultimate Resource for Art Quilt Techniques and Inspiration, along with a detail of Melody Johnson's "Leaf Light."

Inside The Best of Quilting Arts you'll find these tips and more from Frieda, Melody, and more of some of the top art quilters in the world. It's like a cookbook for art quilting lessons.

P.S. Do you have a favorite free-motion machine quilting tip? Share it in the comments section below.

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Machine Stitching, Quilting Daily Blog