Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Quilting on a Domestic Sewing Machine
Have you ever found yourself crying at your sewing machine as you quilt your latest quilt?
Your gorgeous quilt top that you’re so excited to see quilted up, only to feel like you’re ruining it with your quilting?
I so feel you! I’ve been there multiple times myself.
I can vividly remember quilting a 90” x 90” quilt on my little Singer Inspiration sewing machine and cryiiiiiiing because my lines just wouldn’t stay straight and my stitches were anything but regular and I just felt like I was ruining the entire thing. Oh, and did I mention this was a commissioned quilt. Double blergh.
So, when I was on the phone a few weeks back with my quilty friend (hey Jess!) and she was telling me how frustrated she was with quilting her own quilts at home, I couldn't help but share a few tips that were total game changers. Turns out they were game changers for her too!
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Pictured above is the Reverberance quilt pattern | machine quilted with coordinating Aurifil Threads in 50wt.
TOP 10 QUILTING TIPS
If you’re on a similar quest to be able to create your own quilts on your domestic sewing machine from start to finish, then these top 10 quilting tips are for you!
TIP #1 - SLOW DOWN
Slow down! I know this is not a fun one to hear, but I promise that slow and steady wins the race. There are so many layers going through your sewing machine and adding too much speed to the equation can result in uneven and skipped stitches. Not to mention, it’s way more challenging to keep a good hold on things when you’re going so fast. So, slow down. If you’re machine has a speed control like my *Juki does, then lower the speed so you’re not tempted to zooooom your way through. When I decided to slow things down, I immediately noticed an improvement in my control and stitch quality.
TIP #2 - LOOK AHEAD
Look where you want to go, not at your needle. Just like when you’re driving your car, you want to look ahead and see what traffic or hazards are heading your way. It’s the same thing with quilting. You want to look where you want to go and not at your needle. I know it’s tempting to look at your needle, but as soon as I started looking ahead my lines ended up being straighter. This is especially important if you’re doing any kind of dot-to-dot quilting or stitching in the ditch. But really, it’s just how I piece and quilt. It’s a good habit to get into. Try it and let me know how it works out 😊
TIP #3 - QUILTING RESOURCES
Invest in quilting resources. If trying to decide on quilting motifs stumps you, then I highly recommend getting the *Walk book by Jacquie Gering. I picked up my own copy last year and have loved the designs I’ve tackled to date (only 2, but they were so fun – you can see them here and here). It’s helped open my eyes to different ways of tackling quilting with my walking foot. If free motion quilting (FMQ) is more your jam, then you might want to check-out Karlee Porter’s Graffiti Quilting books or course (save $50 with code SFGQ50). As with most things with quilting, it really comes down to practice, but having helpful resources can go a long way is providing guidance and inspiration.
TIP #4 - FOCUS ON ONE AREA (see the trees not the forest!)
Focus on the area you’re quilting. When I’m wrangling my quilt through my machine, I don’t worry about the entire quilt, I just focus on the immediate area I’m stitching. Here’s what I’m thinking about:
“Is my top and bottom fabric nice and flat?” I want to avoid puckering or bubbling as much as possible. Starting with a properly based quilt goes a long way in helping prevent these issues, but I find it important to still smooth out my fabric as I’m coming to each section. The key is to gently smooth the fabric out without pulling or tugging on it too much. It’s a delicate balance that you get better and better at the more you do it 😉
“are my stitches looking consistent?”
“have I run out of bobbin thread?” – ha! If you’ve gone and quilted a whole row only to discover you’ve run out of bobbin thread, then you know why I’m always checking in to make sure I’m seeing stitches!
“do I need to remove any pins?” Since I pin baste (*these are my go-to), I need to keep an eye out if a pin will be obstructing my quilting path. You want to remove these as you come up to them, but don’t wait till the very last minute as it can get tricky to remove the pin if it’s too close to your presser foot (ask me how I know this!).
“is my quilt dragging?” By this I mean, is the weight of your quilt pulling/ weighing it down as your feeding it through the machine. You want to focus on alleviating that weight so your quilt is being fed through evenly. The best way I’ve found to do this is to have the quilt resting in my lap. I keep shifting the quilt so that there is no ‘drag’. You’ll feel this pulling/ dragging effect if you’re not properly holding the quilt and managing the weight.
Pictured above is the Winter Star quilt pattern | this was my first attempt at using a darker/ contrasting thread against a light background.
TIP #5 - TO ROLL OR TO BUNCH?
To roll or to bunch? I’ve tried both methods and have found the best success with bunching. Rolling tends to create a much heavier weight to manage and it can be tough to feed it through your harp space (especially with smaller throat spaces). This also creates more of a challenge with dragging. Bunching puts less pressure on my shoulders too. Try both methods and see which feels best to you.
TIP #6 - CHANGE YOUR NEEDLE
Change your needle often. As in, every 3 bobbin changes. Yup, that seems like a lot. But a sharp needle plays an important part in stitch quality and helps on the tension front too! Which is why I buy my *sewing needles in bulk.
TIP #7 - CLEAN REGULARLY
On that note, clean your sewing machine frequently. Also, every 3 bobbin changes. And don’t forget to give her a little drink of *oil too. This will ensure she’s working at peak performance. You can read more about my sewing room maintenance habits here.
TIP #8 - CHECK THAT TENSION
Check your tension early on. I will take several stitches and then stop and take a peek at the back. This ensures that if you do have a tension issue, you’re catching it nice and early (AKA way less stitches to rip 😉). A great tip is to have a test patch to check your tension after each bobbin change. Make sure to use fabrics from your project so that you’re testing like with like.
Pictured above is the Cloud Surfing quilt pattern | this was the first time I used curved templates to create curved quilting lines using Aurifil Thread in 50wt.
TIP #9 - DIVE IN BEFORE YOU'RE READY
Dive in before you’re ready. You can think about it as much as you want or practice on smaller projects, but until you actually dive into quilting a full quilt you won’t know how it feels. So, dive in and give it a go. If you really, really don’t like it you can always unpick your stitches. This leads me to my next point.
TIP #10 - LIMIT THE UNPICKING
Don’t feel like you need to unpick every quilting line that isn’t straight. Nothing in quilting is perfect. And I’d much rather you focus on learning, improving and completing than on perfection. I always think back to my first quilt and how awful the quilting is on it, but I learned so much by doing it. Plus, I’ve used that quilt multiple times for comfort and warmth and not once have I sat there and focused on the stitch work. Instead, I look at it and admire the prints and think about how thankful I am to have found this creative outlet.
BONUS | TIP #11 - HAVE FUUUUUUN!
Have fun with it! Remember, the reason you’re quilting is because you want to have fun. So, try not to stress about any wobbles in your quilting lines or small puckers in your backing. Honestly, you notice these mistakes more than anyone else (unless, of course, you’re my hubz who has eagle eyes for anything out of place – ugh). So, don’t stress. Learn from it and you’ll improve next time.
Pictured above is the Double Windmill quilt pattern | this was the first design I tried from Jacquie's Walk book and I LOVED every minute of quilting her!
Those are my top 10 tips to up your quilty game. Now it’s YOUR turn to share your top tip in the comments!
And for more quilting tips, check out the following posts: