Quilting ... 10 Tips for Better Machine Quilting


10 Tips to Improve your Machine Quilting
By Jennifer Gigas

While most of us are familiar with the process of machine quilting, the thought of actually quilting our projects can be intimidating. There is no magic formula or secret to successful machine quilting; it's a matter of practice and following a few guidelines. These tips will improve your quilting skills and the look of your finished project.

1. Prepare
In order to quilt the project with the least amount of frustration and top-notch results, the quilt layers must be properly prepared for the quilting process. Before layering the quilt sandwich, make sure the top is squared. If any adjustments are needed, make them now. Excessively wavy borders, for example, will not quilt out.

To layer the quilt sandwich, spray the batting with quilt basting spray, fold the quilt top in half and position the fold in the center of the batting. Smooth one side of the quilt in place, then the other. Press from the front, this will ensure everything is nice and flat. Spray the other side of the batting with quilt basting spray. Fold the backing in half and smooth into place, one side at a time. Press from the backing side.


2. Bond with your machine
Is your machine in good working order? Has it been in for professional servicing by a qualified technician in the last 6-12 months? Regular servicing protects your machine investment and keeps it operating at its best. After every sewing session remove the throat plate to brush out the lint and fuzz that accumulates around the feed dogs and bobbin area. Oil as recommended by your sewing machine manufacturer.


3. Play with your feet
Most machine brands have several styles of presser feet for free motion quilting, as well as straight stitch throat plates, walking feet and seam guides. Having the tools for the technique at hand not only makes the process more enjoyable, but will also result in a better over-all finished project.

A walking foot will keep the quilt layers from shifting as you stitch. It is commonly used for channel quilting, grid quilting and stitching in the ditch. When stitching parallel rows, use seam guides to maintain spacing rather than marking each line.

Experiment with different free-motion feet to find the one that is most comfortable for you. Keep in mind that the best foot for the job may vary depending upon the type of free motion pattern being stitched.

A straight stitch throat plate improves the look of the stitching on the back of the quilt. The small opening provides more support under the quilt, eliminating what often appears to be a tension problem.

4. Choose the correct needle and thread
Be sure to use high quality thread and change needles often. Needles should be changed frequently, approximately every four hours of sewing. Keep an assortment of needle sizes and styles on hand. Use the smallest needle possible, while still maintaining stitch quality. Thread selection is primarily based upon the desired look and quilting technique. For finer stitches, use a smaller thread. If you want the stitches to stand out, use a heavier weight thread or contrasting color.

5. Positioning is important
Take the time to set up the sewing area for comfort and to accommodate the size of the project. There should be adequate area around the machine to support the quilt.

Be sure the machine bed is at the correct height; hands should be placed on the quilt without having to reach up; elbows bent at a right angle. Stay relaxed; take frequent breaks to stretch.

Proper lighting in the sewing area is more than just a luxury. Working in a dimly lit room will not only make it more difficult to see the stitching, but will cause eye strain and fatigue.

6. Practice, practice, practice
Nothing will improve free-motion quilting skills like practice. Prepare several mini quilt sandwiches and spend some time each day quilting. Once the basics have been mastered (consistent stitch length while moving in all directions, smooth curves, and a stipple), experiment with other allover patterns. Move on to continuous outline motifs, first free form, then marked.

7. Prepare a doodle cloth
A doodle cloth is a mini quilt sandwich made of the same fabrics used in your project. Before you begin stitching on the quilt, use the doodle cloth to audition thread selections, tweak tension and warm up.


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