Machine Quilting I

machine quilting

Machine quilting has become the technique of choice for many quilters who wish to finish their quilt tops faster than if they had to hand quilt them. Since the advent of the rotary cutter and of quick cutting and piecing techniques, tops are faster and easier to piece, and many quilters become “top makers”, having a number of quilt tops pieced and ready for quilting. Machine quilting becomes a way to get them to become finished quilts in a fraction of the time it would take to hand quilt them, even if the hand quilting was minimal.

Any domestic use sewing machine can be used for machine quilting. Provided the feed dogs can be covered or lowered and the tension can be adjusted, the machine can be used for machine quilting. There are two types of machine quilting that require different accessory feet, but the rest of the process and preparation is the same in both cases. A quilter has a choice of straight-line machine quilting, in which the quilting lines are straight and normally follow the piecing lines (quilting in the ditch, right next to the seam line created when two patches are sewn together). The other type of machine quilting is free motion machine quilting, in which curved lines are stitched by moving the quilt sandwich.

Preparing To Machine Quilt

Preparing the quilt for machine quilting is no different than preparing the quilt for hand quilting. The three layers need to be basted together, whether by hand or with spray glue or safety pins. The sewing machine needs to be prepared too. It needs to be cleaned, oiled and a new needle needs to be used at the beginning of each quilt. The needle should be replaced often, each eight or so hours of sewing or quilting. A quilting needle (90/14 size) works well for most machine quilting. The tip is rounded and the eye is long enough to allow a thick thread to go through it without fraying with the repetitive poking of the needle while going though the three layers of the quilt sandwich. Bicycle clips are handy to roll the quilt top and just have a portion unrolled to work on. A big table is also handy so most of the quilt doesn’t hang off the table creating problems when the quilt weight makes it hard to guide it under the needle.

The choice of thread for machine quilting is a personal preference, just like choosing fabric is. For a beginner machine quilting, a thread that blends with the fabric is a better choice, just as it is for hand quilting so that mistakesmachine quilting don’t show as much. There are many thread types to choose from, going from cotton to metallic and monofilament. Quality thread is the most important consideration once you decide what look you wish to achieve. The thread should not break and should not snap or fray. Metallic thread is harder to work with than cotton thread, so it is probably best as a choice when a quilter feels experience and comfortable with the quilting process. Whichever thread, make sure it is not covered with a glaze. Glazed thread is used for machine quilting and can mess up the tension disks on a sewing machine.

A practice sandwich is a good choice before beginning to machine quilt a large project. Make a small sample with fabric and batting and use it to test the machine tension, make the necessary adjustments. Ideally, there should be no loops, and the stitch should lay flat. If your bobbin thread shows on the top layer of the quilt, loosen the needle tension. If the top thread shows on the bottom of the work, tighten the needle tension. Several adjustments might be necessary until balance between the two threads is achieved. Once the tension is right, choose the stitch length that looks good to you and discard the practice piece and start quilting.

Straight Line Machine Quilting

Machine quilting a straight line is easily accomplished by the use of a walking foot. A walking foot has feed dogs that feed the top layer of the quilt at the same speed as the bottom layer, therefore avoiding puckers. The walking foot accessory is not normally included with most machine starting models, so it needs to be purchased separately.

Change the machine foot to the walking foot and thread the needle. Have several bobbins ready by preloading them machine quiltingwith thread. Get the quilt sandwich under the needle and make sure you are sitting comfortably, right in front of the quilting needle. The quilt should be on the table as much as possible and not dangling off. Take the first stitch by using the wheel, slowly, to bring the bobbin thread up. Bringing the bobbin thread up to the top of the quilt surface prevents tangles in the back. Set the stitch length to the shortest possible stitch and take a few stitches to secure the thread. Then change the stitch length to six to ten stitches per inch and start sewing. The walking foot will guide the quilt, the quilter simply keeps the line straight. To do so, a quilting guide bar is another handy accessory that attaches to the presser foot and allows parallel lines to be stitched at the same distance. Of course, the lines could be marked before hand as well with chalk or a quilting pencil. When the end of the quilting line is reached, once again shorten the stitch length to secure the thread or backstitch a few stitches and cut the threads off before you start another line of quilting, to prevent them getting caught under the next line of stitching.


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