How to Make Quilts Better in 10 Simple Steps

When starting a new machine quilting motif within your quilt, make sure you bury the threads. “Sunny Day Wall Hanging” by Catherine Redford.

Modern quilters are often criticized for making quilts that are long on style but short on precision. As we embrace improv quilting and modern designs we may be forgetting some of the steps needed to create a great quilt. I realize we aren’t all entering our quilts into shows, but we do want the quilts we spend hours upon hours creating to last.

As a self-taught quilter with only a few years of experience, I found Cheryl Arkison’s tips for making better quilts really helpful. Cheryl has seen hundreds of modern quilts up close and personal by teaching and as a judge for QuiltCon 2016. With all of her experience, she has noticed that there are a few simple quilting steps that are missing from many modern quilts. Here are her recommendations on how to make a quilt that is stunning and will stand up to the test of time.

10 Simple Things you can Do to Make Your Quilts Better
by Cheryl Arkison

1. Slow down. It’s hard, but slowing down makes for better quilts. To be clear, I’m not saying to start piecing and quilting everything by hand. No, I am talking about not necessarily setting our machines to the highest speed and whipping through chain piecing.

2. Pressing matters. As a teacher of mostly improv techniques I can attest that people think they don’t need to press much. Wrong! This isn’t about the debate on pressing direction, but actually taking the time to press correctly. A well-pressed block or quilt lies flat, quilts better, and wears well.

3. Clip points and grade seams. So you made a high contrast quilt. Have you looked closely to make sure the dark fabric isn’t visible in the seam allowances? Even if you pressed toward the dark throughout the quilt, the dark can show through at points, for example. It’s a little–but obvious–thing in a finished quilt.

With so much white space in this quilt, it’s important to make sure there are no bright strands of thread on the back of this quilt before you start basting and quilting.  “Migration Table Runner” by Shannon Schlosser.

4. Clip threads before basting. Take 15 minutes to look at your quilt top from the back before basting. Trim threads and make sure there are no errant red strands floating on top or behind a light fabric. Because once you baste and quilt it, those will stick out like a sore thumb and are pretty much impossible to remove.

5. Bury quilting threads. A lot of people don’t think you need to do this. You don’t have to if you are fine with the knots on the back of the quilt. But taking the time to pull the bobbin thread to the front before you start quilting (when you are starting in the middle of the quilt and not off the edge), then burying the knot after you finish makes for a smooth quilt top. It is also a technique that allows your quilting to last longer.

6. Make precise pivots. If a pivot point is part of your quilting plan, slow down as you approach the corner, stop with your needle down, and pivot carefully. It’s the difference between creating a crisp quilting line or ending up with added tension at the pivot point that is more likely to break.

7. Practice quilting on a sample. Machine quilting can be both infuriating and exhilarating. One way to stay happy is to make sure you aren’t having any tension troubles before you start. Make a sample quilt sandwich that uses the same batting and backing fabric. If you have a spare block from the top or something similar in terms of fabric, use that. Then warm up and practice your quilting. You can work out any thread or tension issues this way–before you get to the quilt.

Matchstick quilting and other dense designs can stretch a quilt out of alignment. Blocking or squaring up will remedy this problem. “Geometric Tote” by Amy Struckmeyer.

8. Block your quilts. Quilting, regardless of whether done by hand or by machine–either a domestic or longarm–can stretch your quilt out of alignment. The density and style of the quilting will affect it. For example, if you matchstick quilt your project and all your stitching started from one edge (in part or in whole) then the quilt itself can be pulled in that direction. Blocking is the process of making your quilt square and flat, after quilting. With water and manipulation you can make it hang beautifully, whether on a bed or wall or drape.

9. Reduce binding bulk. I like to trim my quilt after I attach the binding. This way I can cut a consistent seam allowance. You can certainly do it before. Either way, make sure you have a consistent seam allowance that allows your binding to wrap the edge of the quilt and be full, but not bulky.

10. Take small binding stitches. Hand stitching a binding is a wonderful act–although, I know not everyone likes doing it. Don’t ruin your last work on the quilt by making giant, loose stitches. Aim for ¼ ” apart or less. Any bigger than that and they will catch and come out as the quilt wears.

If we are going to spend the time and money to create a quilt, we owe it to ourselves make it to the best of our abilities, right? I, for one, am going to keep Cheryl’s technique tips in mind as I sit down to work on my next quilt.

To read the full article from Cheryl along with her instructions for blocking a quilt and her heartwarming interview with Melissa Averinos, check out the Summer 2016 issue of Modern Patchwork. Within the pages of this issue, you’ll also find artist profiles of Amy Barickman and Bill Volckening, tips for quilting on your domestic sewing machine, and 21 modern quilting projects. If you can’t wait to get started, download the digital issue.

Happy Quilting!

Brenna's Signature

P.S. What steps do you think are vital to making a wonderful quilt? Leave a comment on the below to share your quilting tips and techniques.

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