I'll admit I'm not the best at machine quilting. I have taken classes from Lynda Howell from Stitch Connection, Sue Nickels, Beth Ann Williams and Nancy Roelfsema. I learned something different from each teacher so I can't encourage you enough to take a few classes on machine quilting and then practice, practice, practice. I'll share what works for me. Try my method to see if you like them but remember, machine quilting like hand quilting is a very personal technique. What works for me might not work for you and there is no right or wrong way to quilt.
Batting & Backing
I love the look cotton batting give my quilts, especially after the quilts are washed. I have two favorites that I use, Hobbs Heirloom Organic Cotton and Quilter's Dream Cotton.
Place your quilt backing, right side down, on a large flat surface. I usually set up a 6 foot folding table that I have just for basting. Tape or secure with jumbo binding clips. the backing to the surface keeping it slightly taught. The binding clips are about 2" wide and available at most office supply stores like Office Max. If you don't have room to store a table just for basting, many quilt shops will let you use their classroom tables for basting so be sure to call and ask. Another option is to use your church's fellowship hall.
- Center your batting and quilt top, right side up, on the backing.
You can thread baste the quilt with long stitches, through all three layers by stitching a horizontal and vertical line through the center of your quilt beginning in the center and stitching toward the outside edge. Next, you'll want to baste diagonally from corner to corner in both directions. If you are working on a large quilt, you'll need to add additional lines of basting so that you've covered the quilt with basting rows no more than 4" apart.
You can pin-baste your quilt in the same pattern using #1, rust-proof pins. Be sure your pins are rust-proof. They'll be labeled that way on the package. If they aren't, you could end up with rust spots on your quilt in quite a short time especially if you live in a humid climate.
- If I'm working on a quilt that is crib size (45" x 60") or smaller I often use the Hobbs Fusible Batting. Follow the manufacturers instructions and I think you'll be pleased with the results.
- Quilters, who were a few years ago saying that a machine quilted quilt wasn't a real quilt are quick becoming converts to the unlimited possibilities machine quilting offers. Machine quilting your top goes back to the days of the treadle sewing machine. At that time (and even now) sewing machines were expensive. If you were lucky enough to own one, you made sure to show it off by using straight stitch applique and/or machine quilting your top.
- You don't need a fancy machine to machine quilt. You just need to be able to do a straight stitch and either lower or cover the feed dogs. Granted, some are easier to use than others but I have machine quilted on my Viking Designer I, Viking 400 and Pfaff 2046 all with good results. The larger the opening between the needle and the side of the machine, the easier it will be to machine quilt large quilts. I have quilted on both the Brother 1500 and Juki 98 and loved them both. They have the longer arm, are mechanical machines as opposed to computer and have fantastic stitch speed and tension. I used my Brother 1500 on a Hinterberg Machine Quilting Frame.
- If none of these machines are within your budget and you'd like a machine just for quilting, you might want to consider the vintage Singer 301. It's the big Sister to the Featherweight 221 and has a longer arm than most machines. It's a workhorse of a mechanical machine. I picked one up on ebay for just over $100. It is also a suitable choice for use on the large frames for machine quilting.
Machine quilting is divided in two catagories. The first uses a walking foot with your stitch length set at about 10 stitches to an inch. This works great for straight line quilting, "in the ditch" outlining and on gentle curves.
Free motion quiltng with your feeddogs lowered or covered is the second catagory. In Free Motion quilting you hand guide the quilt under the needle to create designs like feathers or waves along with stippling and meandering.
- You'll want to use a darning foot or a foot made especially for machine quilting. Check your machine manual or with your dealer to see what's available for your machine. Many generic feet are made for older machines.
- I always try to have a practice piece set aside so I can quilt on that for a while before working on my quilt. It helps get you back in the rhythm of using your machine to quilt with an electric needle.
- It's important to keep the quilt supported as you work on it. You can't make nice stitches if you're trying to hold the entire quilt and move it under the needle too. Put an extra table next to your machine and another behind it. You'll have plenty of room to maneuver the quilt through the machine and your back and shoulders will thank you for the support.
- In free motion quilting you'll want to keep your hands on both sides of the quilt as you guide it under the needle. Remember with your feed dogs down you can quilt up, down and sideways. If you're a beginner, keep your speed slow and even. I like to wear a pair of gloves made just for machine quilting. They are available in a variety of styles and sizes. Machiners Gloves are my favorite.
- Unless I've been quilting on small projects I like to start each large quilt with a new needle. I like the Schemtz 70 Microtech needles or Schemtz Metallica 14/90 needles. The Metallica needles are very sharp and have a large eye to handle a variety of specialty threads. For my normal machine quilting with cotton thread I use the Microtech needle. You'll need to test different needle and thread combinations. I recommend starting a journal to record your results with each combination and especially the ones that worked so you can look back on this information as a reference.
- Ninety percent of the time I quilt with a high quality 100% long-staple cotton thread in the top of the machine and and a 60 wt cotton thread in the bobbin. My favorites are YLI Machine Quilting Thread for the top and Mettler 60 wt cotton for the bobbin. If I use invisible thread, it's YLI .004 monofilament in either clear or smoke depending on the colors in my quilt top. Again, I use the 60 wt cotton thread in the bobbin. I don't recommend putting the invisible thread in your bobbin.
- If you're having trouble with the tension on your stitches, try adjusting the top tension first. I'm always reluctant to mess with the bobbin tension and most problems can be corrected by adjusting the top only.