Tips for Beginners: Quilting with a Sewing Machine
The thought of quilting with a sewing machine can be daunting – especially if you’re new to this creative sewing skill. But don’t let this somewhat tricky process scare you away from a satisfying and rewarding accomplishment! It’s not necessary to invest in an expensive, complicated machine when you can produce beautiful homemade quilts of all sizes using your standard sewing machine.
Whether you plan to make quilts for family members, friends, charitable organizations or plan on starting your own home quilting business, the following tips for quilting with a sewing machine will help make your venture into quilting far less intimidating.
Prepare the Fabric
If you’re new to sewing in general, you might not be familiar with getting your fabric ready for your project. It’s important to wash, dry and iron it according to manufacturer’s directions before using it to avoid the horrors of future shrinkage or running colors. No one wants their lovingly created quilt to turn into a grotesquely stained, shrunken mess after its first laundering.
Worthwhile Quilting Tools
Quilts, even small ones, are bulky and uncooperative, especially when using a traditional sewing machine with limited throat space and a small work area. Investing in the following items will make creating your project easier.
- Quilting Gloves: These specialized gloves are designed to give you a secure grip on the quilt as you work on it. They also protect the fabric from oils and other substances on your hands.
- Walking Foot: This type of presser foot provides more evenly distributed pressure on the fabric as it moves beneath the needle. This helps feed the fabric evenly while preventing the possibility of having the fabric bunch up while you sew.
- Quilting Needles: As painful as universal quilting needles are when your finger meets the business end of one, they typically have slightly rounded tips. Quilting needles are sharper, with slightly heavier shafts. They’re designed specifically to easily punch through thick quilt layers and stitch over seams. These needles are also valuable when making a patchwork or rag quilt using heavier fabrics such as denim.
Start Small and Simple
Avoid the extremes of tiny and huge. Tiny won’t prepare you for what’s to come and huge will only lead to frustration. Start somewhere in the middle, such as with a wall hanging, an infant quilt, or a throw no larger than 36 inches by 48 inches or so. Don’t choose heavy, hard to manage fabrics or lightweight, slick fabrics like tapestry or satin; cotton is much easier to manage and won’t try to escape.
Choose a simple quilting design. Straight line quilting will give you a feel for the process without being too complicated. Try a grid pattern, evenly spaced lines of stitching, or if you’re feeling particularly creative, how about skipping every other line of stitching? Another easy, yet visually interesting pattern is by stitching wavy lines. This last style doesn’t involve dropping your feed dogs – it merely involves careful control. Note: Always take the time to practice on a small quilt “sandwich” made by layering equally sized layers of fabric and batting scraps.
If this is your first
try at quilting, making a few mistakes might be inevitable: they happen. Even
experts make them. But taking a couple of precautions up front can help make
simple errors less noticeable.
- It’s easier to hide imperfect stitching by using thread that closely matches the most prominent color in your fabric. Using clear mono-filament is also a wonderful choice for first-time quilters.
- Avoid using solid color fabric as your quilt backing. Match or contrast the quilt front and back by using “busy” patterned fabric(s) on both.
Use Fusible Batting
There’s nothing more time consuming than having to stop sewing every several inches to remove pins from your quilting project. Fusible batting is easy to iron onto the quilting fabric. It produces a secure bond, reduces the puffiness of the quilt sandwich and slightly stiffens the fabric, making it easier to handle.
Before getting down to business, there are a few proactive steps to take that will help the quilting process move smoothly. Actually, these steps are a good idea when working on any large sewing project.
- Pre-wind several bobbins with the thread you’ll be using.
- Always insert a new needle into your machine before beginning a quilting project.
- Make sure your quilt sandwich is fused, ironed, trimmed and ready to go.
- If your machine is a portable, set it on the short end of long table (if possible). If it’s an older cabinet model, set up a table behind the machine. Either action will prevent the heavy quilt from hitting the floor. Its unsupported weight will seriously reduce your control.
- Make sure your machine’s tension is properly set and the walking foot is installed.
- Shorten your stitch length; it helps control the quilt layers.
Dropping the Feed Dogs
That dual set of metal teeth directly beneath the needle plate operate in unison to feed the fabric smoothly through the machine as you sew. They also give you little leeway when sewing in any direction beyond a straight line. Not all machines include the option of dropping the feed dogs beneath the plate for free motion sewing. If your sewing machine lacks that capability but you’d like to practice some limited free motion stitching, you can gain more control over your fabric by lowering the feed dog setting to its lowest point.
Rolling or Folding the Quilt
Let’s face it … even small quilts are bulky and hard to handle during the stitching process. And many older and new sewing machines don’t offer the throat space (between the needle plate and the machine head) needed to make quilting an easier undertaking. Some machine quilters swear by rolling up the end of the quilt not being worked on and securing it with pins or clips. Others fold the quilt until it’s more manageable and still others simply scrunch up the loose portion against the machine head. The best way to do it is to go with whatever makes it easier for you.
If you still feel somewhat intimidated about taking on a large quilting project after completing your small one, why not consider creating a large “patchwork” quilt by creating more small quilts and stitching them together? That would be a conversation piece!
Like any other creative skill, learning to machine quilt takes plenty of practice and a little courage but there’s nearly unlimited help and great advice at your fingertips. Take advantage of online instructional videos and quilting tutorials, join a few quilting groups and speak to experienced quilters. Your confidence in your abilities will quickly grow along with your skill level. To quote a pretty famous movie line: “You can do it!”