Top 10 Tips for Domestic Machine Quilting

In this machine quilting example, Christa Watson uses the same thread on top and in the bobbin.
In this machine quilting example, Christa Watson uses the same thread on top and in the bobbin.

Like many of us, I machine quilt on my domestic sewing machine. As much as I’d love to own a longarm machine, I don’t have one yet. Of course, sending quilts to professional longarm quilters is a fantastic option that yields magnificent results. Unfortunately, I’ve never left myself enough time to make that happen before it’s time to gift the quilts I make.

Since I’m a perpetual procrastinator, I try to keep my eyes peeled for helpful hints and tutorials from quilters I admire. If I can’t have a pro quilt my project, I have the opportunity to improve my machine quilting skills by doing it myself.

Christa Watson, an esteemed quilter and teacher, shares ten tips for domestic machine quilting in the Summer 2016 issue of Modern Patchwork. I’ve found her suggestions incredibly helpful for my own machine quilting practice, and I think you will too, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned quilter.

Here are Christa’s tips for domestic machine quilting:

1. Maximize your workspace. Having enough room to work is one of the keys to successfully quilting on your home machine. Many manufacturers offer drop-in tables that allow your machine to sit flush with the work surface.

2. Match thread weight to the proper needle size. With so many choices for threads and needles, here’s a general rule: use a size 80 needle with size 40-50wt thread, and a size 90 needle with a 28-30wt thread. Choose needles labeled as sharps, topstitch, or quilting over universal. These needles have sharp tips and will more easily pierce through all three layers of a quilt.

When machine quilting, Christa Watson suggests using the same thread in the top and bobbin.
Christa usually pieces and quilts with Aurifil 50wt cotton thread.

3. Use the same color on top and in the bobbin. With perfect tension, you should be able to use any combination if colors for the top and bobbin threads, but in reality this is not always the case. If the two threads have high contrast, you may see little dots of thread either on the front or back of your quilt. You can also use invisible thread in the top or bobbin, just not both at the same time.

4. Sketch it, quilt it. Warm up before you quilt by sketching your quilting design on a piece of paper or on a photograph or printout of the quilt top. If you understand the flow of the thread path, you can mimic that motion on your actual quilt.

5. Practice free-motion quilting daily. Prepare several practice samples consisting of two 10″ squares with a layer of batting in between. Fill one sample every day and date each sample. Within a week, you will begin to see a noticeable improvement.

6. Embrace the walking foot. Although free-motion quilting allows you to quilt beautiful, intricate designs while stitching in any direction, don’t forget about the designs you can quilt with your walking foot. Instead of stitching in the ditch, try continuous spirals, organic shapes, and gentle wavy lines.

7. Quilt on real quilts, then give them away. Practice makes progress. What better way to learn by practicing on a quilt for someone who will love it and won’t notice the imperfections?

Christa Watson's free-motion machine quilted butterfly and swirl pattern.
Before quilting this butterfly design, Christa made several practice tries.

8. Press seams open for a flatter quilt top. Contrary to popular myth, pressing seams open will not weaken your quilt top. Just lower your stitch length to secure the seams, and you can stitch in the ditch with no problems. Each time you quilt over a seam, it helps strengthen the quilt and you won’t break a needle trying to quilt through lumps and bumps.

9. Take the time to baste properly. I find basting is the least enjoyable part of making a quilt, but it pays off in the end. All three layers should be as smooth and flat as possible. Spray basters can press the quilt on both sides to set the glue; pin basters should double the amount of pins they normally use.

10. Develop a can-do attitude. This is the last–but most important–tip. You only need to work with one-fourth of the quilt under the machine at any one time. Take your time with the process and remember–this is supposed to be fun!

Once you’ve sketched and practiced your machine quilting designs, try them on an entire quilt! Explore 90 modern quilt designs when you download your Modern Patchwork 2016 Digital Collection featuring all four issues as they were published. You’re sure to be inspired by the projects, articles, and more!

Happy quilting!

Brenna's Signature

P.S. What machine quilting advice to you have? Leave a comment below to share.

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