Machine Quilting: Tips and Tricks

Updated: Aug 21

Written by: Dana Goyer


There are definitely two different methods of getting those quilt tops turned in to finished quilts. Some piecers prefer to do their own machine quilting on their domestic sewing machines while others would rather send them to a longarm quilter to quilt them for a fee—so, quilting by check!


Either way is perfectly acceptable but there are a few things to consider whether you’re quilting yourself or sending it away. Here are some tips and tricks for finishing that beautiful quilt you’ve spent so much time on.

Five tips for machine quilting your quilt tops on your domestic machine:


1. Baste, baste, baste! You really don’t want to have a beautiful quilt top with a back that has tucks sewn in because of a poor preparation. Basting is a process all its own, so it deserves some discussion.


To baste your quilt, first lay out your backing right side down on a large surface. Depending on the size of your quilt, a table top or the floor work best.


Then, tape the backing down to the table top or floor (using something like blue masking or painter’s tape). Use a piece every 12 inches all the way around the quilt. You might have to adjust some of the pieces after you've worked all the way around the quilt.


Next, lay out your batting on top of the backing piece. Make sure there are no wrinkles or creases.


Finally, after you have given your finished quilt top a good pressing, lay it right side up on top of the batting. Take care to keep it square with the backing.


Now comes the real fun: the actual basting. There are two main ways to baste your quilt top, batting, and backing together.


You can use either a long needle and heavy duty thread or safety pins, whichever you prefer. Just be sure that, if you are using the needle and thread method, that you baste every six inches both horizontally and vertically. If you are using the safety pin method, you should put them close enough together that you cannot put your hand anywhere on the quilt top without touching a pin.


Here is a huge tip! If getting on the floor to baste a quilt is physically difficult for you or if you just don’t want to take the time to do the necessary prep work, a lot of longarm quilters will baste your quilt for you! Check in your area for prices. Sometimes this can be money well spent even if you are going to do the machine quilting yourself.


Once you’ve basted your quilt, you have what we call the “quilt sandwich.”


2. If your machine has a Dual Feed feature like the BERNINA 770, be sure to use it if you are planning on stitching on your seams lines—stitching “in the ditch” as we call it.


If your machine doesn’t have this feature, be sure to use a walking foot. These are specialty feet made for sewing multiple layers of fabric at the same time. They can be purchased to fit most machines. Using these special features and feet can prevent the tucks that can occur when you are stitching together the quilt sandwich.


If you are planning on doing free motion quilting—quilting in all different directions—you’ll want to use a darning foot.


1. Decide how you are going to quilt the quilt! Do you want to stitch in the ditch (along the seam lines)? Do you want to stitch designs such as feathers, flowers, or swirls? Once you’ve planned how you’re going to quilt the sandwich together, make a small quilt sandwich and practice prior to starting on your treasured quilt top.


2. Use Jaws or quilt clips! These tools are very handy. They’re circular clips allow you to “roll” up the sections of your quilt that you are not quilting on. This means that you won’t need as much space when you’re quilting, and that your quilt won’t be falling all over the floor while you’re doing it.


3. Use quilting gloves to take the strain off of your hands and fingers. These gloves are specially made with a material that grips the fabric. They allow you to move the quilt sandwich smoothly.


Machine quilting is also much more manageable if you have a sewing machine with a large throat space. The larger throat space allows the quilt to move easier with less struggling on your part.


Five Tips when Sending Your Quilt to a Professional Longarm Quilter:


1. Get references from your quilting friends to see who does their longarm quilting and what they like about the work that he or she does.


2. Discuss what type of quilting you want done on your quilt top. Do you want custom quilting or a pattern that will go from edge to edge on your quilt?


3. Let them know what color of thread you want them to use, or, if you are going to have the quilt custom quilted, do you want the thread color to change and match the quilt top in different areas?


4. Find out what the quilting service is going to cost. Most Machine Quilters charge by the square inch or square yard.


To calculate the square inch, just take the length times the width of your quilt top and multiply it by the square inch cost. So if your quilt top is 72 x 84 and your quilter charges $.02 per square inch for an all over design, your cost for the quilting would be 72 x 84 x .02 or $120.96 for the quilting service.


There are usually charges for the batting and the thread, also, and in some states they must also collect state sales tax. Get a total price up front so no one is surprised.


5. Get an estimate on when your quilt will be ready to be picked up.

What if you want another option when finishing your own quilt tops?


Maybe you have quilt tops stacked up waiting to be quilted and the task of doing the basting is overwhelming. Or possibly you have so many tops to do that you are thinking about purchasing your own longarm machine and doing the quilting yourself.


We are so fortunate that our options on longarm machines are so varied. For many years, the selection of longarm machines was very limited. Now there are several sewing machine manufacturers that offer a variety of longarm models. My personal favorite is the Bernina Q-Matic.


Talk about the Cadillac of Quilting Machines!


The Bernina Q-Matic can stitch simple edge-to-edge designs or do the intricate custom block patterns. You can transfer designs from your PC or laptop to the Bernina Q-Matic! And it is so easy to learn! These fabulous machines come on different size frames (9’, 12’, or 13) depending on what kind of space you have available.


No matter how you machine quilt your projects, just know that you are making something that will last a lifetime. Whether this quilt is something you will treasure yourself or it is a gift for someone special in your life, take the time to make the finished product the treasure that you intended. Checkout our blog on the "Best Quilting Sewing Machine" to learn more about our recommendations for your next sewing machine.


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Stitchin' Heaven Howdy is a blog designed to inspire and draw out the creativity of the quilter, sewer and the crafter. If you love fabric as much as we do, we look forward to building a great community.  

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