When you step into your favorite department store and find a quilted jacket, blanket, or even handbag, nine times out of 10, what kind of quilting do you see on that item?
But if you want to recreate one of those items at home, how can you possibly keep your lines so uniform and, well, straight?
In this tutorial, I will show you how to accomplish those clean, beautiful, modern lines on your quilt projects.
Straight Line Quilting Designs
First things first — you want to figure out what kind of design you want to create. There is a wide variety of straight line quilting patterns to choose from, ranging from vertical lines, horizontal lines, a lattice design, checkerboard design, etc.
Once you’ve figured out the design, you need to ask yourself, “How far apart should quilting lines be?” Make sure to check the suggestions on your batting, and keep your lines within the manufacturer’s suggested limits for how far apart your stitching should be.
Most battings suggest between 6”-8” apart. This just ensures the batting won’t get all bunched up or wonky inside the quilt over time or during washing.
How do you mark a straight line on a quilt?
There are several different ways to mark straight lines onto your quilt top. The following suggestions work for straight-line machine quilting or hand-quilting. You can use your seams as a guide, painter’s tape (my personal favorite), a Hera marker, water-soluble marker, chalk pencil, a ruler, or a combination of these different suggestions.
The great thing about quilting is there isn’t “The One and Only” way to do something. You can come up with what works best for you.
My preferred medium is blue painter’s tape. It adheres well to the fabric, and I can get several uses out of each strip of tape. It’s also easy to find, so I don’t need to make a special trip to a craft store or order online and wait several days.
Supplies You'll Need for Straight Line Quilting
- Quilt sandwich, basted and ready for quilting
- Blue painter’s tape (I am using ¾” tape)
- Sewing machine
- Walking foot (optional) — this makes it a lot easier to work your quilt through the machine, but it isn’t a necessity. Just take it nice and slow if you are using a regular foot. (For this tutorial, I am using a regular foot to show it can be done!)
- Water-soluble marker (optional)
Step 1: Lay Your First Strip of Tape
This is going to be your most important strip, so take your time and make sure it is completely straight. Keep in mind you will be using the tape as a guide and should stitch ¼” from the tape’s edge.
Depending on what design you chose, you will either start in the top center (for vertical lines) or the top left-hand corner (for diagonal lines such as a lattice design).
For this tutorial, I am doing narrow vertical lines, so I will start at the top center. Beginning in the center and working your way out to the edges of the quilt ensures you don’t get any puckering in the middle of the quilt.
Find the exact center point and make a small mark with your water-soluble marker. With my project, you can see that the center has a seam going down the entire quilt top, which will help keep my tape straight.
I will also use my ruler as a straight edge to make sure my lines won’t end up being wonky or jagged. Line up your ruler with the mark you made with your marker and the seam going down the middle of the quilt.
Now you will take your tape and line it up with the edge of your ruler. Slowly run the tape down the edge of your ruler. Make sure not to pull too hard on the tape, so you aren’t making the fabric bunch or crease under the tape.
Once you have reached the end of your ruler, move it down about half the length of the ruler, so half is still next to the tape you have laid, and the second half is ready to be your guide for more tape. This will help you stay on track. Continue this process until you reach the other end of your quilt. Now you have your first strip of tape!
Step 2: Repeat Step 1 as Desired
This is when your design choice comes into play. How much space do you want between your quilted lines?
I want my lines to be fairly close together with ¾” of space between each line. So now comes the slightly tricky part, but don’t worry — you can handle it!
I like to use the batting to make marks, so I can visualize where my lines will be. I measure ¼” from the tape edge because that’s where my first stitched line will be. From that mark, I measure ¾” since that is how far apart I want my lines to be.
Next, I need to add ¼” where I will lay down my next strip of tape. In total, there will be 1¼” between my tape strips.
Once you figure this step out, it’s just a matter of repeating it across your entire quilt top. Make sure to write down notes to have those measurements readily available.
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Continue placing your tape strips onto your quilt top until you have as many as you would like. I usually do 4-5 strips, so I don’t have to travel between my dining room table and my sewing room as much. But since my lines will be so close on this quilt top, I’m only doing two strips at a time.
Step 3: Use Your Sewing Machine and Start Straight Line Quilting
Now you’re ready to start quilting! Take your quilt top to your sewing machine and take it slow, making sure you’re using your tape edge as a guide. I like to start my stitching in the excess batting and end in the excess batting. No need to backstitch because those edges will be concealed and locked in your binding.
As you get more comfortable with feeding the quilt through your machine, you can increase your speed. Tip: If your machine has the needle down feature, use it. It helps a lot, especially if you need to stop in the middle of a line. The quilt won’t shift under your needle and foot.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3
Repeat these steps until you’ve quilted your entire quilt top! Once you’ve stitched all the lines you can with the tape strips you’ve laid, take your quilt top back to the surface you used to place the tape, and apply your next set of strips. You should be able to reuse your tape strips 6-7 times before the stickiness wears out.
Go back to your notes and find what distance you need to place your next strip. Mine is 1” away from my last stitch line or 1¼” from the last tape edge. Continue sewing until you finish quilting your project.
If you do end up running out of bobbin thread in the middle of a line that’s totally fine. Just swap out your bobbin and go back a few stitches where you ran out and start stitching again.
Backstitch a couple of stitches and then continue until the batting at the end of the line. This is how I always continue a stitch after a bobbin runs out, and I’ve never had issues with it.
Some quilters like to tie the ends of the thread together and bury them as you would do in hand-quilting. It’s really up to you and what you prefer.
It’s an immensely satisfying feeling when you are quilting your lines and can look over and see the progress you are making with each line. Have fun with it, take your time, and enjoy creating those modern, clean lines!
I hope this tutorial has shown you that with a little time, effort, and painter’s tape, you can create those beautiful quilted lines on your next quilt project!
About the author: Miriam Ronne is a lover of all things quilting and sewing. She is a self- taught quilter and is constantly learning and broadening her skill set to create one-of-a-kind quilts! When she's not behind her sewing machine you can find her playing with her fur babies or trying her hand at other crafty things.