Machine Quilting – the basics

This is a wall-hanging quilt I finished last Saturday using scrap fabric and leftover charm squares. This quilt makes for a perfect example of various and simple ways to machine quilt (e.g. for this small quilt, I machine quilted this via straight-stitching, stitch-in-the-ditch, echoing, free-motion quilting).
Here’s how the back looks like – you can really see the quilting in this lighting.

This is probably one of the easiest ways to quilt as it only involves straight lines. The placement of the stitch is in the pressed seams. In this photo I’m using a presser foot.
All you have to do is decide what shaped you want outlined (or stitched in the ditch), and then go for it. When deciding what shapes on your quilt top you want outlined, try to keep in mind how the back of the quilt will look.

Echoing: After stitching-in-the-ditch, I then echoed the heart with a straight stitch using a 1/4″ seam. Again, I used a presser foot.
Here’s how the back of one heart looked after outlining and echoing with a straight-stitch:

Straight-stitch: After outlining and echoing each heart, I quilted inside of each heart differently. For the first heart, I simply quilted symmetrical lines using a straigh-stitch with a presser foot. I started and ended each stitch with a back-stitch:
For the last heart, I quilted wavy-lines, still using a straight-stitch. I simply guided the quilt top in long, wavy motions underneath the presser foot.

Free-Motion Quilting: For the middle heart, I used a darning foot (picture below). Follow your sewing machine’s instructions to replace the presser foot with a darning foot. Also, you will need to cover the feed dogs on your sewing machine (there should be instructions in your machine’s manual for that too). With free-motion quilting, you have total control of the movement of fabric beneath the needle because the feed dogs on your sewing machine are covered. On the contrary, when using a regular presser foot for straight-stitching the feed dogs are exposed (which is why you should never pull the fabric when straight-stitching, simply guide the fabric through). Maintaining a constant sewing speed and fabric movement under the needle will help you sew even stitches. To secure a stitch, simply hold the fabric in place and sew several times in the same spot. This is basically the equivalent of doing a back stitch but with a darning foot. Do this when you start and end a stitch. When free-motion quilting, it helps to choose a continuous pattern (i.e. loopy-loops or swirls).

With the darning foot, I quilted free-motion stippling which is basically a bunch of squiggilies that never overlap (though i confess i messed up several times, you can see my mess-ups in the video below :-o). In this video I’m wearing what I call my Michael Jackson-Gloves, aka quilting gloves that have traction on the finger tips to help give me more control over the quilt top. You can get these at your local crafts shop; i can definitely tell the difference when i use them vs. not using them.

Here’s a mini video of me free-motion quilting with my MJ gloves 😉

Anyway, for those of you that have never machine quilted and are thinking about it, I hope this gives you some helpful insight. Feel free to post any questions and I’d be happy get back to you. I’m no machine quilting guru, but i’d be happy to try help!

16 Responses to Machine Quilting – the basics

  1. Weatherbee ;) September 5, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    Hi. What great information! I am a new quilter and I don't have a walking foot yet. What kind of foot are you using in the first picture, and why do you use it there and a walking foot for the other straight lines? Thanks so much for all of the help! 🙂


  2. Jera September 6, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    Hi Weatherbee – thanks for your comment 🙂 In the first picture (as well as the 2nd where I'm echoing) I am using a presser foot. Forgive me for using the term "walking foot;" that was a typo which I just edited.Sorry for the confusion! A presser foot is named so because it presses down the fabric as it is fed under the needle with the sewing machine's feed dogs. A walking foot has built-in feed dogs that feed the TOP layer of fabric, in addition to your sewing machine's feed dogs (which feed the bottom layer of fabric). Quilters usually use a walking foot because it helps pull all 3 layers of your quilt (e.g. quilt top/batting/backing) under the needle evenly, preventing puckering, etc. I personally prefer a presser foot over a walking foot. Hope this helps…let me know if you have anymore questions. Thanks again for the comment! -jera

  3. Weatherbee ;) September 6, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    That helps a lot. I've never heard anyone suggest using a regular foot instead of the walking foot, so that's GREAT news for me (because that's all I've got). Can't wait to try it out. Thanks so much! 🙂

  4. Anonymous February 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    What kind of thread do you use when machine quilting?

  5. Quiltingintherain February 4, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    I get ALL of my thread here:

    It's the BEST, and affordable. Works great for machine quilting too.
    Thanks for your comment!

  6. chookychick February 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    If you thread your machine with quilting thread, do you put it in the bobbin as well as on top. I've never machine quilted with anything thicker than normal sewing thread, but it looks better with thicker thread so will try it soon.

  7. Anonymous November 1, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Thank you for your information. I am just in the process of machine quilting and appreciate your tips.

  8. Amanda Hunt June 1, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    I have been taught to quilt by my grandmother and I love it. However there are some techniques that I have always wanted to learn, this being one of them. She has always used yarn to tie the layers together. This has helped tremendously. Thank you for posting this!

  9. Anonymous October 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    Just found your site and I love it!

  10. fit eater January 24, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    Thank you for your blog. Thanks to you my second quilt turned out much better than my first!

  11. Bernadette Wesse May 14, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

    Hi Jera, I'm new to quilting and i think all of my research has deterred me slightly and it seems to be quite complicated i was trying to start small by making a cot quilt for my daughters first birthday by using her cute little clothes we bought her… but the fabric is stretchy and is very hard to sew a straight seam on so my blocks are rather crooked and i kinda lost hope of being able to finish my quilt could you offer a few pointers for someone who has no idea how to throw this thing together on such a tight budget. Parts i do get are the quilting part now! Thanks! But i need help with binding cause i dont really want to use it like i think its called birthing?

  12. Anonymous August 10, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Where do I find your "quilt as you go post"?

  13. Zenia Rene August 23, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Free motion scares me and I'm horrible at it. =(

  14. Anonymous September 7, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    Have been wanting to try free motion quilting. I know about dropping the feed dogs down, but I'm not sure if the top thread tension needs to be adjusted. Any info would be helpful. Just a little intimadated. All my quilts have been machine pieced and hand quilted. Am ready to try free motion. Thanks

  15. Anonymous September 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Seriously contemplating starting to quilt, never quilted before but loved the advice you gave here.

  16. Anonymous May 15, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    its chance visiting ur blog while searching the worthiness of having a walking foot instead of pre-owned pressure foot. i m very new to the world of quilting. just started learning with help of online tutorials. u hv explained every thing in depth with all the relevant pic accompanying the description. thanku so much . i was doing sm echoing on the outer edge of my baby quilt boarder using pressure foot. n the fabric is puckering specially on one side. is it becos of pressure foot. if yes thn should i use walking foot for stitch in ditch n binding too. plz help me. i m stuck from finishing my maiden project . thnx

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