Machine Quilting Advice: How Not to Quilt

18 Dec 2012

I hate to admit it to myself and to others, but I really did just ruin a small pillow top by machine quilting it. You read correctly: I ruined a perfectly nice piece of patchwork. The stitching is crooked, the thread is blah, the quilting takes away from the design rather than enhancing it, and the workmanship is not the best. I can only blame myself--I achieved lack-luster results all because I didn't follow my own self-imposed "rules" for quilting.

example of bad machine quilting
My machine quilting mistake.
I've been thinking long and hard about investing in a new machine specifically for quilting my larger pieces. But in the back of my head I know that no matter what machine I have or how much time and effort I spend in learning how to use it, I will never create pieces that are of show-stopping quality if I don't follow some basic steps before starting to stitch.

So are there really rules for machine quilting? Maybe not hard-and-fast rules, but when I do follow a few guidelines I get better results. And this time, I think I broke every single one of them.

My own internal checklist has me answer a few simple questions before I get started.

1. Plan the design before you start. If I had taken a few minutes to relate the quilting pattern to the quilt top, the overall result would have been significantly better.
 Fill an extra bobbin or two. This ensures there is enough thread for the project and minimizes stopping and starting as you wind bobbins and rethread your machine.

2. Practice on a small quilt sandwich before quilting on the final project.
10 minutes of practice usually gets me "in the groove" to stitch any design with confidence. Instead, I practiced on my project, and the results are inconsistent design details and stitch length.

3. Pull the bobbin thread to the top to avoid unsightly nests underneath your work.
Ugh, that happened twice.

4. Always move the work away from you so you can see where you are going.
I got lazy and tried to quilt by moving the work toward me on alternating rows of quilting. The results speak for themselves...

5. Relax. My shoulders were tight after only a few minutes of quilting. Relaxing makes a big difference in the quality of the stitching.

Better than my advice is to review the incredible wealth of information from the real experts. My go-to sources for inspired designs and practical quilting advice are past articles in Quilting Arts Magazine and Quilting Arts Workshop videos. Two videos I highly recommend are Susan Brubaker Knapp's Master Machine Stitching and Elin Waterston's Creative Machine Quilting. There's even a free machine quilting eBook available on our website, packed with advice for quilters of all levels.



P.S. How do you prepare for quilting? Do you plan everything ahead, or do you just jump in and stitch? Leave a comment on the blog and let us know.


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Comments

Mrninglry wrote
on 19 Dec 2012 10:51 AM

Someone suggusted a way to relax is to have a glass of wine.  Make sure that you drink half of it before your start to stich.  Then, go with the flow.  Not sure if it will work, don't have enough courage to try that one just yet.

on 19 Dec 2012 2:31 PM

I do some planning and playing before I stitch the full project.  I don't mark my quilt but I like knowing what design I plan on using and then I draw it on paper and then practice it on some scraps.

Shirls55 wrote
on 20 Dec 2012 11:38 AM

I've heard so many quilters say to have a glass of wine before (and during, and after) you start to stitch ...... problem (for me) is, I do not drink!  Have tried fizzy, non-fizzy and just tea and coffee but it obviously does not do what wine apparently does for everybody else.  Woe is me! LOL

Tanyadunc wrote
on 22 Dec 2012 6:11 AM

I've tried the glass of wine technique- it leads me to thoughts like, "wow, I'm doing great work- and so fast!"  when really I'm just ruinging a quilt, quickly.  (Of course I tried the technique more than once, just to be sure.)  Perhaps a smaller glass next time?

Tanyadunc wrote
on 22 Dec 2012 6:11 AM

I've tried the glass of wine technique- it leads me to thoughts like, "wow, I'm doing great work- and so fast!"  when really I'm just ruining a quilt, quickly.  (Of course I tried the technique more than once, just to be sure.)  Perhaps a smaller glass next time?

MneMe4 wrote
on 22 Dec 2012 7:35 AM

I can certainly relate!  I keep some practice quilt sandwiches handy and fill them up with possible designs until I like what I see and then go to town on the real thing.  I then trim the edges, zigzag and donate the practice pieces to the local animal shelter for cage mats--I make sizes they're interested in (12x18, 18x24, and larger).  Recently I was going to quilt a Christmas wallhanging but had gotten a heart-wrenching phone call from my daughter.  After three practice pieces, I could see that my mind just wasn't there so I've been doing other things until things settle down.  Sometimes just leaving the room to clean house or do dishes will do the trick--after all, what would you rather do: clean house or quilt!!!

on 22 Dec 2012 9:49 AM

Hmmm, can't see where you went wrong from the pic. I like the wavy line design, but I like the quilting design to be different than the pieced design. Wavy lines with squares, feathers with big blocks, straight lines with curved piecing.

on 22 Dec 2012 9:49 AM

Hmmm, can't see where you went wrong from the pic. I like the wavy line design, but I like the quilting design to be different than the pieced design. Wavy lines with squares, feathers with big blocks, straight lines with curved piecing.

pegwillyd1 wrote
on 22 Dec 2012 7:22 PM

Why can't I read the articles? Just a word or two in a vertical line? What good is it to post some thing to read and then have it put up like that?

Moebaly wrote
on 24 Dec 2012 12:12 PM

I have a sit-down quilting machine which is one of the best things I ever purchased for myself.  I've gotten more tops quilted in the past 2 years than I had in the past 20 years.   I follow all of Vicki's tricks above, most important, be patient.  Because I work full-time I have to divide my time up, the first evening I work on THREAD: picking a color, winding bobbins, and getting the tension correct which can be frustrating sometimes when I'm switching type of thread.   Then I leave the machine set up with the quilt on it and ready to go the next evening, I only sew for a short while, sometimes only 15 minutes, you cannot believe how quick a quilt top can become a quilt.   Another big plus for me is that I've bargained with a friend, I quilt one quilt top for her a month and she hand binds one quilt top a month for me.    I only do meandering at this point, I don't have time to mark the tops, and we are keeping our bargaining at table runners, lap quilts, or twin size quilts.   The bargain my friend and I have made has made me push myself to get things done!

pam clark wrote
on 29 Dec 2012 8:05 PM

I have never had good luck with machine quilting.  I do all of my quilts by hand (queen size).  I find that much more relaxing. Maybe if I bought a new machine I would change my mind.

sofia m wrote
on 23 Jan 2013 9:50 AM

It really helped me watching Leah Day's youtube video's. She is such a great teacher. She gives great and simple steps to help with quilting.

on 9 Mar 2013 8:34 PM

My samples are ruined....even though they look so simple on T. V.  so I just pay the price and pay to have my quilts quilted on a quilting machine.  

Lettyregan wrote
on 30 Mar 2013 1:54 AM

I'm still a serious novice so I have a few practice sandwiches.  I get an idea of what design I'd like to have and I practice for a while until I get the "physical memory" of the stitch pattern.  This is not to say my fingers don't forget regularly or get confused... they do.  I do find that if I do this practice first that I can usually get the practiced rhythm back.