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Quilting Techniques: Machine and Hand Quilting
The term "quilting" refers to stitching the layers of a quilt together. This can be done by hand or by machine. Generally
it is best to hand quilt if you are following an intricate pattern or are not skilled at using a machine to follow curves, etc.
Hand quilt stitches should be small and evenly spaced.
Machine quilting can add strengh to your stitches and is best if the stitch lines will follow straight
lines (such as outlining
blocks or following the straight lines of rows).
Your stitch pattern can be simple, such as outlining blocks, or sewn in complex designs and patterns. Hand quilting
is generally done in patterns or alongside seams of blocks. When machine quilting, I generally stitch "in the ditch" (right on top of
the block seams). For intricate patterns, templates are used to draw patterns onto the quilt. Use fabric marking pencils (NON-permanent) for this
purpose. I often use a regular #2 pencil. Test a piece of fabric first, to be sure you can remove the marks. Templates
can be purchased or found FREE on the internet. Use graph paper to create your own designs.
Seam Allowance - Quilting Foot
Sewing with a very precise 1/4" seam allowance is extremely important when piecing together quilt
pieces. Being off just a tiny bit on each piece can make a big difference when you multiply it over the entire quilt.
To help keep your seam allowance accurate, a quilting foot is very helpful. The edge of the foot is
exactly 1/4" away from the needle. Line up the edge of the foot with the edge of your fabric to keep your seam allowance
straight and the correct width. Taping your machine in front of the feed dog area at
1/4" can be helpful if your throat plate is not clearly marked, or if you do not have a quilting foot.
In the photo on the right, notice that the feed dogs show just a bit on the right side
of the quilting foot. This is because the quilting foot comes out to exactly 1/4" width and the feed dogs
extend just beyond that.
When several squares or triangles must be sewn, they can be sewn in succession, without
cutting threads between sets. This makes the sewing go more quickly. After a string of sets is sewn, the threads between
them can be cut. Thread color is enhanced in the photo below.
Strip quilting is a great way to very quickly piece together a quilt
in an intricate pattern. Many different looks can be achieved. Strips are cut and stitched together, then pieces are cut and re-arranged in
various patterns. Experiment with different numbers of rows, different color sets, varying widths of rows, etc.
Another variation of strip quilting is called the mile a minute checkerboard. Strips are cut, stitched together, and then cut into strips
that are perpendicular from stitched rows. The new strips are rearranged to create a checkerboard. Very fast and very easy.
Blocks are often made by piecing together small squares, rectangles or
triangles. Perfection is not possible, so
blocks are made to be slightly larger than the finished size. This is to allow room for error. If seams are made a bit too large,
or cutting and sewing are not entirely straight, the block will contain "mistakes". Squaring down corrects most mistakes.
Squaring down evens up the block's sides while also cutting it down to the correct size.
For example, if the block is made up of two triangles, the seam must run diagonally from corner to corner.
After the excess is cut off the diagonal seam must still run from corner to corner. A quilter's square is a big help in this case. Just line up the diagonal of the quilter's square
with the diagonal on the block and then trim the edges of the block evenly. A rotary cutter and mat are very helpful.
Using the straight sewing throat plate is helpful in quilting because it prevents
your fabric from being sucked into the machine. A zig-zag plate has a wider opening for the needle to go through, and it sometimes allows fabric to be pulled in. CAUTION: BE SURE YOU ARE USING STRAIGHT STITCH: If you use anything other than straight stitch with this plate, you will BREAK YOUR NEEDLE.
Notice in the photo below the tiny hole in the throat plate where the bobbin thread is coming out.
If your quilt is too thick for quilting, tying off is a good choice. Many people use yarn, such as baby yarn, for this purpose. I prefer to use embroidery floss. Tie off the quilt in close enough intervals to hold the quilt securely together (4" intervals).
Starting on the top side, run the needle and thread down through all layers. Bring the needle back up through all layers. Cut the threads and tie them securely. I leave my ends quite short. Choose a length according to your own tastes.
Typical quilting tools include a cutting mat, sharp scissors, rotary cutter,
quilting pins, seam ripper and large sewing ruler. Other tools used (not shown) are hand quilting needles, quilting thread
and small or large quilting hoop. The small scissors shown are very sharp, and wonderful for cutting threads or making tiny cuts.
The photo below shows the large cutting mat and quilter's square (used to square down a block).
Large rulers are 6" x 23" and quilting squares are 6" x 6".
Lighting is extremely important in sewing. Stitching and cutting must be precise. There are now several
excellent sewing lights that make seeing those tiny stitches and dark colors much easier. I have special lights attached to the ceiling; they point down at my machines and work spaces. I also place my sewing machines near a large window because I like the natural light. Magnifying lights are also available for close hand work. The magnifying lens with surrounding light is attached to an adjustable arm.