Machine Quilting Success: How to Mark and Stitch

judy coates perez machine quilting
'Moon Garden' by Judy Coates Perez

pokey boltonMachine quilting that enhances the design of the quilt is a thing of beauty. But very few people can just put their quilt under the needle and produce perfect stitching.

Even award-winning pros like Judy Coates Perez, whose machine quilting designs complement her quilts' composition and theme, have tricks of the trade they've developed with years of practice, experiment, and sharing with other artists.

But Judy says art fiber artists shouldn't shy away from machine quilting their own works or be overwhelmed by the process. She describes her process for machine quilting success in the October/November 2011 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, from tips on preparation with batting, basting, and thread, to planning the machine quilting designs and marking and stitching.

Today, I'm sharing some of Judy's advice on marking and stitching, using a leaf motif as an example.

Marking and Stitching
By Judy Coates Perez

lines drawn for machine quilting
Judy marks her stitch lines with a chalk mechanical pencil.

If you would like to add representational images to your quilting, draw a few key elements of the quilting design on the fabric first with a chalk-based marking tool.

1. Begin drawing the main veins and a basic outline of the leaf shape with chalk.

2. Use these lines as a starting place for the machine stitching and then improvise the free-motion quilting details as you stitch, adding extra branches to the veins and echoing the shape with another row of stitching to fill the inside of the leaf.

lines drawn for machine quilting
Red lines are marked with chalk, then stitched. Purple lines are free-motion quilted improvisationally.

3. Next, stitch the outside of the leaf following the drawn outline. Add more elaborate scalloped edges to build up the design.

4. After completing the leaf design, continue free-motion quilting to the next motif, filling the open space with smaller leaf designs or ornamental stippling quilting.

5. Continue in this manner until the whole area is filled with machine quilting designs that create a surface filled with texture and imagery to keep the eye moving around the quilt.

Judy goes into more detail about how to achieve machine quilting success in the latest issue of Quilting Arts. You can also get advice from more expertsincluding tips, video, and resourceson our Machine Quilting Topics Page.

P.S. Do you mark before you stitch? What are some of your tricks for machine quilting success? I'm sure everyone would like to know, so share below.

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5 thoughts on “Machine Quilting Success: How to Mark and Stitch

  1. i love doing free motion quilting. preferably with no marking at all. i often use freehand leaves, ferns, hearts and what i call nested horseshoes.

    but sometimes i want to quilt horses or other detailed shapes into the quilt.
    but i hate marking on a quilt top. so i don’t anymore.

    instead, i draw the design on water soluble film and pin it in place. if i am gonna stitch from the top, i just stitch right thru the wash away stabilizer.

    however, if i am gonna do bobbin drawing, i first stitch the design with water soluble thread in both the bobbin and thru the needle. now i can see the design form either the top or the underside of the quilt. and so i can stitch from either side.
    when done, i wash away the stabilizer and wash away thread. no stray pen or pencil marks to try to remove. and no popped stitches from a tear or cut away stabilizer. ckquilter

  2. I generally do not mark my quilt top, but I do practice the design I want to make on a piece of paper first, and kind of get it in my head. For more complex shapes in confined areas, I do mark the quilt top–if the fabric is mostly dark, I use a chalk pencil, if the quilt is mostly light colored fabrics, I use one of those blue wash away pens.

  3. I’ve done in-the-ditch and straight-line quilting along with meandering for y-e-a-r-s and am just recently branching off into free-motion. I appreciated seeing the suggested quilting for the leaf and it has given me a base-line from which to look differently at my quilting options, using the shapes already in my designs. Thanks.

  4. When machine quilting if I don’t stitch-in-the-ditch, I mark the motif I am going to quilt. When I hand-quilt I mark the motifs to be used and use 1/4″ tape if out-lining the piecing of the block.

    Quilters need to be encouraged to think about how the quilting could enhances or complement the piecing because stippling is over-used and many times distracts from the piecing of the quilt. Just like borders and binding it is important to the overall look and satisfaction of the finished piece.