Thursday, July 14, 2016


Quilting on a domestic machine for anything bigger than a table runner or wall hanging was not always easy.  Well, at least for me it wasn't.  Maybe that is because my underlying medical condition causes muscle weakness, but hefting around a big quilt wore me out!  However with some trial and error I have discovered that it IS possible!

"Squishing" and "Supporting" are the keys to taming your quilt.

SQUISHING...When I first tried quilting this project, I rolled the right half of the quilt and slid it into the throat of my machine...with the right side of the middle block under my needle.  Had I been quilting a totally straight line, I probably would have been okay.  However, I was quilting tumblers.  Changing the angle at every row was darn near impossible with the rolled up quilt in the throat of the machine.  It was too solid, too rigid, and absolutely REFUSED to cooperate!  I pulled the quilt out of the machine and reinserted its middle under my needle...while squishing all of the fabric to my right.  EUREKA!

SUPPORTING...Supporting your quilt is just as important to your overall success.  It is amazing how much a little "drag" contributes to the "quilt wrestle".  You should not have to fight to move forward in your stitching.  Ideally, your quilt should be SO supported that you are able to move the quilt sandwich under your presser foot or FMQ foot using only the pressure of your fingertips.  You will learn that quilting like that is NOT possible if there is any drag on your quilt.

When I set up my new sewing room I placed two bookcases along the back of my sewing table, specifically to support my quilt sandwich.  A lot of people place a table behind their machines.  However, I was not willing to give up the open space in the middle of my room.  So I added these bookcases.  They are 12" deep and combined with the approximate 11" of room on the sewing table behind my machine, I have almost 2 feet of support. 

Bunching the fabric to the left and back of the machine helps to keep ALL of the weight at virtually the same height as the sewing surface.  As a result there is virtually no "drag" and less wrestling!

Bunching also refers to the quilt in front of the machine bed.  Notice that none of the fabric is below the level of my sewing table.

 I try really hard to keep any of the fabric from lying on my lap as even the few inches between my lap and the top of the sewing table is enough to pull and create drag.  I tend to reposition this fabric every time I reposition my hands. 

Now you are probably can I quilt with everything bunched up all over the place?  Won't I have folds in my backing and fabric caught under the needle that never should have been there?  Nope.  Not if you have basted your sandwich properly and "squished" your fabric properly in the throat of the machine.  As an added precaution, every time I reposition my sandwich, I feel the fabric on the bed of my machine for any folds in the backing, wayward fabric and PINS!  I prefer to pin baste my quilts and I use a fairly good number of pins, about every 3-4 inches for a "small to medium" quilt.  The bigger the quilt, the more pins I use.  My method of sandwiching involves pinning the batting to the backing and then slowly positioning the flimsy and moving the pins to the top.  It may seem like a lot of extra work, but it is what works for me and I have yet to have a problem with wrinkles on my backing.  Occasionally, I will miss moving a pin.  Feeling the sandwich that is on your machine bed will help you find those pins BEFORE your needle finds them.  This time I did find a pin!  However, if you start quilting in the middle of your project and squish to the right, moving your line of quilting to the right with each new line, you still have an unquilted access to the wayward pin!

As I move down the seam I "pay attention" to a very small area.  The rest of the quilt can be as "bunchy" as I need it to be.  I make a triangle with my hands (imagine my right thumb touching my left thumb and my right fingers just on the other side of the presser foot).  I make sure that the area within that triangle is flat with the quilt to the left, flat with the quilt to the right and free of pins, folds in the backing and stowaway fabric.  When I have sewn down to my thumbs, its time to reposition my hands.  This may seem like a lot of repositioning, but quilting a small area at a time has saved me and my seam ripper on many occasions!

When I have reached the right side of my sandwich, quilting from the top down, it is time to begin the left side.  Rotate the quilt and quilt from the bottom to the top, beginning in the middle once again with the unquilted sandwich bunched in the throat of the machine.  

Last, but not least, set up a tracking system that works for you...and use it every time!  If you look at the right and left borders you will see a row of pins along the fabric edge.  These pins tell me that I have completed all of the vertical "in the ditch" quilting.  For any newcomers in the audience, in the ditch quilting refers to stitching inside the seam where two fabrics meet.  According to Cindy Needham (an incredible quilter and teacher) before we begin the "fun" quilting, we should always secure our quilt by stitching in the ditch on ESS (every stinkin' seam)!  I have done the ESS quilting on all of the vertical seams EXCEPT the crazy strip piecing between the black borders.  There are still pins located in those sections to remind me that I have yet to finish the ESS in those areas.  Quite honestly, there is NO way I am going to quilt in every strip seam (sorry Cindy).  I intend to ESS quilt on the inside of the black borders and the crazy colored area with a different colored those areas will be addressed once I am done all of the horizontal ESS quilting. As you can see by the random pinning of the top and bottom border, I have yet to begin any of the horizontal arms are pooped out for today!

While I have yet to try a king sized quilt on my domestic machine (and doubt I ever will as my arms are too weak to heft around a king sized quilt)...there are many articles and classes available on the internet to help you learn to quilt a large project on your DM (domestic machine).  What I have described above is what works for me.  It is NOT the end-all and be-all of quilting on a domestic machine.  Each of us has a different furniture layout in our sewing rooms and different physical abilities.  My goal is to offer ONE method for you to try.  It may work, it may not.  Part of the fun of being a quilter is "making it your own"...and that includes the quilting!  Have fun!


(Linked in Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework, )


  1. Thanks for the tips. Once my basement is cleaned up from the flood, I am going to start quilting my butterfly quilt. I am sure to refer to your post often.

    God bless.

    1. Oh, Jackie...once again I am so sorry you have had water in your basement! It is horrible and until you have dealt with its destruction it is hard to believe how much damage rain can do! Take care and don't forget to take care of yourself and your dear hubby in the process!

  2. I sure don't like to quilt for the reasons you stated in your post. Folds in the back, bunching and squishing etc. My tops pile up because I see quilting as a chore. It is necessary however and your tips are helpful. Thank you.

    1. You are very welcome! I'm becoming an expert at learning to accomplish what at first seems too difficult. I'll be honest, I really am not very fond of the quilting process. I am much more drawn to the designing end of things!

  3. I love that scrappy quilt design! I am thankful I no longer have to wrestle my quilts into a small machine. Thanks for sharing your tips with Oh Scrap!

    1. Thank you! I had fun designing it such that I was using my scraps of fabric but keeping it intentional enough not to send my "orderly" brain into conniptions, LOL!

  4. Thanks for the tips! I am a hand quilter who is just now starting to play around with machine quilting.