Monday, November 4, 2013

Machine Quilting

I started calling this a tutorial, but really its no more than an explanation of my method of machine quilting - with a few tips thrown in. Nothing too revolutionary here, but you might find something you can use. 

Here is my quilt, pin basted, in preparation for machine quilting. 
I'm using Hobbs 80/20 in black, which feels a little like a brillo pad. 
(btw your 80/20 batt scraps make excellent soft scrubbers. I'm serious! Try it.) The black showing around the edge sort of puts me in mind of using black binding. Hmm....

I'm going to start out by quilting in the ditch between the blocks, 
on the diagonal, so I put pins alongside those seams. I don't feel its necessary to pin more inside the blocks, as once that grid is quilted it keeps everything locked down.

 I love my Sewline white pencil for marking on dark fabric. Strong (ceramic?) lead, sticks to the fabric significantly longer than chalk, but still erasable. I bought a couple of these when they first came out, paid about $15 apiece for them.  Fons and Porter now make a similar (exactly the same?) pencil, and you can find them at Connecting Threads for much less $. 

Here's how I set myself up. 
I roll both sides toward the center, start quilting there, and roll out as I go. Then I turn it around and go out from the middle again, down the other side. It sort of goes crazy after awhile, rolls coming unrolled etc, and I still do plenty of fluffing to keep it from hanging up. This set-up is not perfect, but its the best I can manage for now, and it works fine. Yes that's my dining room table, so I need to get this done asap.

Please excuse the following blurry photos.
Hopefully its clear enough for a beginner to "get".

At the beginning of the row, I pull the bobbin thread up so both thread tails are on top. This avoids a big mess on the back of the quilt. Later, I will bury the tails in the layers, so no knots, no glue, no nests.

I then sink the needle nice and tight into the corner, move forward one stitch, then take a back stitch before I continue forward again, along the ditch.

When I first started machine quilting in the ditch, I used to get my hands right in there and pull the seam open as I quilted, which results in a nicely buried and nearly invisible stitch. Unfortunately, not only is this method very stressful on the hands, but I found I consistently ended up with tucks on the back of the quilt. 
Not nice.

The method I use now takes a bit more hand/eye coordination and a lot of focus, but its infinitely easier on the hands. My left hand is lightly gripping the left roll from underneath, and I "steer" the quilt through, letting the machine do the work.  Making sure your seams are pressed correctly - all the way open with no folds - is essential. The goal is to slide the needle right along side the "bluff" and down into the ditch. It takes some practice, but when you get into the Zen of it, it moves along quite nicely with near perfect results.

Choosing the right color thread when you have multiple colors and both lights and darks going on can be challenging. I settled on this one for the stitching that went on top of the blue and between the lighter fabrics. 
I believe its called "Weathered Wood"  and its from Connecting Threads. The trouble with CT threads is that once you remove the cellophane wrapping, you have no reference to the name of the color, so I'm guessing on this one.

When I wasn't going over top of blue I used this, a favorite of mine called "Latte" (I marked the color on the inside of the spool - no easy task) also by Connecting Threads.

 I did "mark as you go" across the big triangle squares, with my Clover chalk roller. Which I thought was in the picture - oh well. I find it easier/faster than the pencil in this instance, and it doesn't matter that it rubs right off because by then you've already sewn through it.

The only place the stitching shows is on the blue sashing, and across those larger triangle squares. The "Weathered Wood" sinks right in to the blue so you can hardly see it. The "Latte" thread blends nicely with the lights, and does not stand out too horribly bad on the darks. Because the quilting is not a design element here, I want to see texture, rather than the color of the thread, and I think I've accomplished that fairly successfully.

After machine basting the edges, I marked the border thusly, also with the chalk roller, with the idea of quilting a wavy line.

 I figured out the area I wanted the the quilting within, and marked the area.

 I marked x's approximately where I wanted the line to bend

 then roughed in the wavy line.

It didn't need to be perfect, as I don't need to follow the line exactly. Mainly I needed it to be in the right spot, and be somewhat consistent.

Looking at the back, you can see what it looks like 
without the chalk lines.

I can't wait to get the binding on and wash this thing. I used all unwashed fabrics - a jelly roll and a couple of charm packs for the blocks - so I kept it consistent by not prewashing the border/sashing/backing fabric. I have to say, I'm not crazy about working with unwashed fabric - I pretty much hate the feel of it. It sort of makes my skin itch.

Well that's all for today!



  1. Great tutorial! So much for me to learn about MQ.:)

  2. Looks great! Do you know what weight thread that is? A friend of mine suggested wheat color, but I like the latte color too.

  3. Its 50 weight, Lori. Same as the Aurofil I've been using and behaves about the same.

  4. Hey Sandy, Great tutorial! I love that quilt too! You really capture the old time feel of the quilt with your choice of fabrics! I love that sashing. cheers, CW

  5. Great quilt top and very interesting tutorial. I think you managed to explain your technique very well.