The Ultimate Guide To Machine Quilting For Beginners


You have completed piecing a quilt top.

Now we must decide how you are going to quilt it. You have several options to choose from including hand tying, hand quilting or machine quilting.

Machine quilting is the fastest of these three methods but does require special feet.

Most beginner quilters are hesitant to use their home sewing machine because they believe that the quilt will not look nice once it is complete. New products like spray adhesives and marking tools have made it much easier to complete the quilt at home.

A word of caution here: if you’ve made a quilt top that’s queen size or larger, the space to the right of the throat plate may not allow you to quilt the machine at home.

If you do have a quilt top that size, you can attempt to quilt the top, but keep in mind it may prove frustrating and physically challenging.

The best way to learn how to machine quilt on your home sewing machine would be to take a small project and work on that first. Small projects would include a table runner, table topper, wall-hanging, or crib size quilt.

Machine quilting may either be done with a free motion foot or a walking foot.

Two Types of Machine Quilting Feet

1-Free Motion Foot/Darning Foot

The free motion foot is used for all over designs that do not require straight lines. After dropping the feed dogs, you can then push the quilt around freely as you quilt. The foot floats above the three layers slightly and hops up and down as it sews.

2-Walking Foot

The walking foot has a box on the back, a small lever, and an extra set of grips to hold the quilt in place.

The idea of the walking foot is to allow the extra set of grips to grab the quilt top and work in conjunction with the bottom feed dogs. This action pulls the quilt top and bottom together in one motion.

The lever sits on the peg above the needle bar and engages the top portion of the walking foot to move as you sew. If you fail to put the lever on the peg, the walking foot will not work.

sewing quilt machine quilting

When setting up your machine to use the walking foot, please read your instruction manual to set it up properly. If it did not come with a one, you can do a Google search and find out if one was made for your machine.

The walking foot is very versatile and can also be used for regular sewing when dealing with several layers of fabric at one time. When using a walking foot keep the feed dogs engaged.

Needles For Machine Quilting

Picking the right needle for quilting is extremely important. The type of fabric for the top and backing will help determine this decision.

If you have quilted your quilt with batik fabric, you will want to use a titanium needle to push through the dyes in the fabric.

If you use cotton on top and a batik fabric for the backing you will also want to use a titanium needle.

The standard size for most machine quilting is 12 or 14. You may also use a size 16 needle if your quilt fabric is made from denim. A universal needle will work for most quilting applications. If you choose to use a particular brand of a needle, look for ones marked specifically for machine quilting.

Always start your project with a brand new needle as needles tend to dull over repeated use. If you hit a pin, replace the needle as it may have bent or chipped. A bent needle will affect the quality of your stitches and often will break thread as you are quilting.

If your needle makes a thumping sound or is working hard to punch thru the layers you may need to change them to a larger size.

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Thread for Machine Quilting

Most people choose to quilt their layers with 100% cotton thread in a 40 wt. We work with 40 wt. so that the stitches can be seen on the quilt top.

Do not buy cheap cotton thread out of a sale bin at your local big box store. It produces large amounts of lint and tends to break easily.

Choose either neutral colors like white, gray, or cream or a color to match the top. For example, if your top is brown or black, choose the same color thread.

Basting The Layers

It is necessary to baste a quilt top to the batting and the backing. Most people use one of the two choices below.

Pin Basting

Pin basting involves the use of several dozen safety pins. Be sure that the safety pins are not rusty or bent as these will damage the quilt top.

Begin by pinning through all three layers at the center of the quilt measuring about 6 in between the pins and work towards the edges. Try to use safety pins that are at least 2 in size or ones labeled for quilt basting.

Spray Adhesive

Spray basting involves using an adhesive to hold the layers together. Begin by laying down the batting and smoothing the quilt back over the batting.

Bring the edge of the backing to the center batting and spray the batting with the adhesive. Move the backing over the batting and smooth and then repeat for the other side. Smooth all the layers. Be sure to always spray the batting and not the actual fabric.

Flip the batting and backing layer over so that the batting is face up and lay the quilt top down over the batting. Repeat the same method that you used for attaching the backing. Be sure to use spray adhesive designed explicitly for quilt basting.

You do not need to use much adhesive as a little bit goes a long way.

spraying adhesive on quilt machine quilting

Marking The Quilt Top

For beginner quilter, the best way to mark your first quilt top is to draw straight lines with a ruler.

There are several products available to mark the lines. Some people choose to use chalk, while others will use special ceramic pencils or water/heat soluble pens.

The type of fabric and color will determine which marking method will work best. If you have chosen a batik fabric, you will want to use the ceramic pencil or chalk to mark the top.

The heat soluble pens will you leave a white line once you iron them away. If your fabric is dark, then chalk might be a good solution.

If your fabric is light, then a water-soluble pen will work very well. The best thing to do is to try the different marking tools on a piece of similar fabric before marking your top.

Keep in mind that if you use the chalk, it is best to mark in small sections because the chalk will get brushed away as you are moving the quilt around.

To make straight lines on the quilt top you will use a ruler that is preferably 24″ in length.

Begin by drawing a straight line from corner to corner through the center of the quilt diagonally. This method will lead to a cross-hatch pattern. Once you have drawn the center line move the ruler over 1 1/2″ or 2″.

After determining the width of the line, use your marking tool and draw that line diagonally as well. Continue to do this until you reach the edge of the quilt, and then go back and mark from the center to the opposite corner. Again if you are working with chalk, you may want to only mark the one side first.

Once you are satisfied with marking the quilt top, it is time to stitch the lines.

Cross Hatch Lines

Once you have marked the straight lines on your quilt top, you will begin machine quilting. Attach the walking foot to your sewing machine being sure that the lever bar is above the needle peg and set your stitch length to 2.8 or 2.6. If the stitches are too small and you make a mistake, it will be challenging to pick those stitches out.

To set the first stitch, you will want to grab the top thread with your left hand and drop the needle down into the quilt. Usually, there is a needle down button on the sewing machine that brings the needle back up.

Pull the thread so that the bottom thread comes to the top. Stitch 2 or 3 more stitches right in this spot. This will lock the bobbin thread and top thread together. You will want to clip with thread tails and then begin stitching.

Stitch the first diagonal line corner to corner. Stitch the opposite diagonal line to secure the layers of the quilt. This step will help prevent rippling. Once you have sewn that line, move the walking foot over to the next line, and stitch back the opposite direction. At this point, it is a good idea to flip the quilt over and check the back. Make sure, that the layers have not creased or folded.

If you have folds, you will need to stop and remove these stitches. Continue to work in this manner until you have stitched all the diagonal lines on the quilt top. The top should look like a cross-hatch pattern.

marking quilt ruler machine quilting

Stitch in the Ditch

Another way to use your walking foot is with a method called stitch in the ditch.

This means that you are sewing a line a quarter inch away from the seam.

You will want to check to make sure you have a quarter inch by using a small ruler before stitching the entire quilt top. Previous versions of stitch in the ditch included sewing right into the seam, but over time it has been replaced by stitching a quarter inch over from the seam itself.

ruler marking quilt machine quilting

Both of these methods are useful beginner machine quilting stitches and encourage you to continue developing machine quilting skills.

The internet is full of resources for other types of stitching done with a walking foot.

Machine quilting on your home sewing machine can be very rewarding. Not only have you finished your project, but you have increased your quilting skill level.

With so many beautiful designs available you can make every project truly special.

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