Well howdy-do. Today is a quilting day! I know there are many of you out there who are on the edge about learning to machine quilt. Well, I want you all to know that you can do it! Once you know the basics, it's all about practice practice practice. I'm going to show you how I machine quilt. I'll also show you my favorite products and tools, and what works best for me. There are always many different and equally effective ways to do things in quilting. There are no rigid rules! So I recommend taking in as much information as you can, and then do what works best for you.
The first thing to do is baste your quilt. Most people use lots and lots of safety pins to baste their quilt. This is a perfectly wonderful way to baste. The only down side is that you have to repeatedly remove the pins in the area you're quilting. I'm a spray baster. I feel like I just said a bad word. Spray. I did it again. I like this because you have no pins to remove. It makes me feel so free! Weeeeeeeeeeeee! Sorry, I get carried away... There are a few different kinds of spray baste. It is very important that you don't skimp on quality here. The best spray baste out there, in my humble opinion, is 505 Spray and Fix. It's a temporary adhesive, so it washes out. Now, if you are making a quilt that you never plan on washing, I would recommend basting with safety pins. Anyhoo, you might be tempted to get some cheapo Walmart spray adhesive. Please don't put yourself through the torture. You have to use so much more of that stuff to get it to stick well, and the FUMES ARE TERRIBLE! With the 505, there are almost no fumes at all, and a little goes a long way.
So first, find yourself a nice place to lay out your quilt. I recommend a nicely swept garage or patio. Lay out your backing face down. (Please be sure that your backing and batting are a couple inches larger all around than your quilt top). Then tape it taut, but not too stretched all around the edges. I do the four corners first and then along the edges. Next lay your batting on top of that. My all time favorite batting is Warm and Natural. It's 100% cotton and is so soft and not too fluffy. If your goal is a nice, puckery antique looking quilt, this is the perfect batting. It comes in packages or on a roll that you can have yardage cut from.
It's so soft and pretty!
Once you have your batting layed out onto your backing, make sure it's all smoothed out and where you want it. Then sit in the middle of your batting and fold it back a few times toward yourself. Then spray some adhesive onto the batting, and fold it back down, smooth it out, and repeat until you have one side done. Then turn around, fold back the other side, and repeat the process. Apparently I forgot to take pictures of this part. But you do the exact same thing with the quilt top, and I took pictures of that!
Here's my backing taped down, and my batting already basted on. Now I have my quilt top all smoothed out nicely. Next I folded it back a couple of times, and sprayed the batting, and then smoothed the quilt top back down.
With one side done, I fold back and spray the other side, section by section. You have to do it in sections like this. If you just sprayed the whole thing and then tried to lay out the quilt top evenly you would have problems, and maybe start cussing like a sailor, and I don't want to be responsible for that. Remember how I recommended doing this outside?
I baste in my kitchen. Woops! I've done this so many times, I can do it without getting overspray all over my floors. And if I do get some wayward spray, I can just use my trusty swiffer mop to clean it up. That's the beauty of "temporary" adhesive. It washes out. Or of course you can use a towel or old sheet to block off the floors from the area you are spraying. Also, if when you're done you notice a part of your quilt top isn't laying nicely, you can lift it up and reposition it.
Now, once the thing is basted, lift off the tape and turn it over. Check for any puckers or loose spots. If there are, just smooth it out with your hands, that usually works just fine.
Now you're ready to start quilting! (It's a good idea to make up some mini quilt sandwiches to practice your quilting on before you tackle your first quilt).
It's always a good idea to quilt in the ditch around your borders first. I recommend using a walking foot for all 'straight' line quilting. They look funny, but are so helpful when sewing multiple layers. Here's mine.
See this little fork looking thing. Well it's important that you slip it over the screw thing that you tighten and loosen to remove your sewing machine needle. If you don't the thing won't do what it's designed to do.
That black screw thing there is what I'm talking about.
Here she is all hooked up. The walking foot works by letting the feed dogs grip the bottom layer, as they always do, and by gripping the top layer with the walking foots....well...feet. The 'feet' are the yellowish rubbery things there. They move up and down as you sew with the needle and nudge the fabric along.
This picture shows the feed dogs, those jagged little things coming through the machine bed there. Those move along the bottom fabric, and the walking foot grippers help push along the top layers.
Now, I like to bring up my thread when I start quilting. It's nice to be able to hold both your top and bottom thread when you take your first few stitches, that way you can keep them out of the way and not worry about tangles on the bottom of your quilt.
Find where you want to start quilting around your borders. Hold your top thread taut. Now bring your needle down and then back up again just once!
When the needle is back up, pull up on your thread until you see the bottom thread pop through to the top.
Then grab the loop and pull it all the way through.
Now hold your threads for the first few stitches, back stitch a couple of times to secure your stitching, and quilt away!
Once you've gone all the way around your borders, it's time to do some free motion quilting! If you're not quite ready, you can just sew stripes or a grid with your walking foot, that looks really nice! But, for the brave, have a glass of wine, and let's get to it.
First, you need a machine quilting foot, or a darning foot. They are essentially the same thing, the machine quilting feet are generally plastic, or have an open toe, the darning feet are usually all metal. I use both, depending on my mood. Because I don't want any of them to feel left out.
Aren't they just darling? Here's how they look all hooked up and ready to go.
It is kind of nice to use the clear foot, but if you don't have one and your particular machine came with a darning foot, that will work great. Now, it is very important to lower your feed dogs. My machine has a button just for that purpose.
You don't want these guys gripping your quilt at all. You will be moving it with your muscley arms. If you don't know if you can lower your feed dogs, get out your manual and check it out. Some machines have a lever near the bobbin area to lower them. Some you have to get your screw driver out to lower. If there is absolutely no way to lower them, just cut yourself a little square of thin card board, from a cereal box or something, and tape it over the dogs. You don't have to worry about your stitch length. The movement of the feed dogs is what determines the stitch length anyway. But, some people like to give the dogs a break and set their stitch length to zero so they can rest down there.
Now, find where you want to start. I like to start my meandering near one of the corners, to the inside of the borders. I always quilt the borders last. I also am a bit of a weirdo and meander in a spiral until I come to the center of the quilt and stop. Most people go from side to side from the top to the bottom. I like to go round and round. *Now, if you have basted with safety pins, I hear many people start meandering in the middle of their quilt, and work outward in a spiral, that keeps the chances of any of the backing ending up bunched up in the middle to a minimum.
Pull up your thread like we did earlier. Also if your machine has the feature, set it to 'needle down'. That way, when you stop to take your many quilting breaks, for redistributing the bulk of the quilt and such, your needle will hold your stitch place. If the needle stops 'up', your whole quilt can shift and when you start stitching again you can have some zig zaggies that you don't want there. Here's my needle down button.
Also you must have some quilting gloves. Some inexpensive gardening gloves that have little rubber dots on the palms work wonderfully. They really help you to grip your quilt so you can move it easily under the needle. I won't attempt to quilt without them.
It's also a good idea to load up a few bobbins, you'll go through these pretty fast.
Now, when you've pulled up the thread, take a few stitches in place to secure your stitching, and then speed up. The best way to do meandering, free motion quilting is to use pretty good speed, and move the quilt along in a random meandering pattern. The key is to use good speed, almost as fast as it will go, but not to move your hands too fast. Sometimes when we hear the machine going so fast we get all crazy and want to move the quilt really fast too. But that would make your stitches way too long. You want nice even stitches that aren't too long or too short. By moving your quilt along smoothly you'll end up with nice soft curves. It takes a little getting used to, but I promise with some practice you'll get into a nice groove and it will seem more natural to you. Remember, don't sew too slow, and don't move your hands too fast. That's a good rule.
You'll have to stop a lot to redistribute the bulk of your quilt. You'll quilt one section, and then notice it's getting harder to move the quilt. It often gets hung up on the edges of the table of your machine. It's a good idea to try to stop and start on a fabric that matches your thread well. With this quilt, the taupe thread blends well with the light colors and the greens, but shows up really brightly on the brown. So I like to stop and start on the lighter colors, so it won't show up any wonky spots too well.
The idea with meandering is to squiggle around without crossing over your previous stitching. When you're stitching, try not to stare at the needle, look ahead a bit so you can plan where to go next. If you do get stuck in a spot where you have to cross over your stitching, just cross over and move on. You won't even notice in the grand scheme of things. Just take your quilt section by section and before you know it you'll be done! I hope this helps some new quilters out there. Please ask any questions that are on your brain in the comments section. I'll do my best to answer them, I was a beginner once too! Happy quilting. x