Saturday, June 7, 2014

Learning to Quilt

By definition a quilt must have a top, a filler (batting, flannel or, as in pioneer days, an old blanket), and a backing.  The sandwich must be fastened together.  A simple option is to tie it together with thread or yarn in multiple places.  Alternatively, the layers can be hand stitched with a varying amount of complexity.  A nicely done hand quilted quilt is a beauty to behold with a quality that cannot be duplicated by a sewing machine.  Today, with the world in such a big hurry, we want to speed up the process, so machine quilting has been reluctantly accepted and is also stunning when well done.

As with anything else, there is a learning curve.  Even a baby has to learn to feed itself and the first attempts can be pretty messy.  It takes time and practice to learn to coordinate the foot pedal, hand movement, machine speed, and even the movement of your eyes.  You can and should research the process via classes and/or reading, but YOU have to experience it yourself and practice.  You must learn about thread and needles in order to rein them in to work for you without causing alarming noises from your machine or broken needles and thread. You must learn what your machine likes and dislikes, and how to adjust the tension properly.  Lots to think about.

TIP:  Practice, practice, practice.  Start with paper and pencil to develop muscle memory of a design.  Make up fabric sandwich squares and spend some time each day to develop coordination.  Mark designs and learn to follow the lines.  Learn to stitch in the ditch.  Learn to do curves then straight lines.  Learn to draw freehand with the needle.  Inundate your brain with quilting ideas and improve your performance one step at a time.

Finally, the appliqué on Hallelujah Rhapsody was done.  It took a very long time.  I quilted it with numerous filler patterns, and that took a long time too, but I believe that on this quilt I became more competent than ever before, and I turned the corner into becoming interested in doing the quilting.  I always loved the sewing, but dreaded the quilting, because it never looked good enough.  They say that the quilting should be planned in the design process as it is an integral part of the quilt.  I knew that, but didn't yet know how to even think of quilting designs that wouldn't be executed for months yet.

TIP:  Before you begin quilting you should quilt around the outside of the appliqué.  I don't remember if I knew that when I made this quilt, but it is great FMQ practice and really improves the look of the quilt.  You can do it with invisible thread if you are worried about possible imperfections.

I quilted the Hallelujah Rhapsody on the fly with different filler designs.  There was no room for anything bigger.  I had chickened out on feathers and added them as appliqué.  Was that insane or what?  I have posted this picture before, but this time note the different fillers.

I learned how to do pebbles.  They are not easy, but invite a rhythm and commit you to strive to follow previous stitching lines perfectly.  They are a great exercise for developing control of the myriad parts that must interact in the process of quilting on a machine.  Among some of the pebbles I inserted flowers.  That was fun, and they make the quilting more interesting.  You will learn to either draw freehand with the needle or follow the marked lines, depending on your personal inclination.  I stippled some.  Did you know that stippling is one of the most difficult filler designs?  You have to constantly move in many directions and this is hard for a novice.  After finishing Hallelujah Rhapsody I found myself thinking about quilting ideas as I designed my quilts rather than as an afterthought.  Definitely a step in the right direction.

TIP:  In your early attempts at quilting try a more defined pattern and leave the stippling until later.  Don't distress too much over your imperfections.  If I had done so on this quilt it would still be in the UFO (Unfinished Objects) pile.

This quilt was my first to be juried into not one, but two shows.  I learned how to enter a show!  I was most gratified to have my quilt accepted even though it didn't win anything.  The judges offered several suggestions regarding my quilting:  attention to tension, strive for even stitches, watch starts and stops.  These comments were not unexpected as I was still very much a novice quilter so I worked on the areas in which I was judged deficient.

TIP:  Don't be discouraged by feedback such as this.  Just work on getting better.  The judges aren't mean, but they are very experienced, and I have found that even their negative findings are couched in positive terms on the evaluation.  Remember that you have achieved some level of competence to be juried into a show.  Very exciting!


  1. Yes, quilting is still my tripping point. Love making tops, hate quilting! :) With small projects I manage but the larger ones... Oh, boy! I blame the lack of arm space and as my machine doesn't go backwards, I need turn the whole quilt so no pebbles for me until I will update my machine park LOL. I wish to reach your skill level! Maybe one day but seems that it will not happen tomorrow .... or even next decade !

    1. Can you lower your feed dogs? That lets you move freely any direction you want. Leah Day has a good post on FMQ ( with feed dogs up using the Supreme Slider. Incidently, I LOVE my slider! It is well worth the money and I believe that Leah sells the new, larger one, although I would check other sites for pricing.

  2. I currently have a newly finished quiot top where I am letting quilting ideas marinate before plunging in. Unlike yours, it has a lot of solid areas where the quilting will really show. Working up my nerve.

  3. Try tracing your quilt or portion thereof on tracing paper and then try all sorts of pencil quilting on the tracing paper. When you find something you like doing, draw it over and over to establish muscle memory. Then practice on sandwiched squares. When you feel comfortable start on your quilt. At least you should be comfortable with how the design will work. Good luck and enjoy. It is very gratifying to do your own quilting and be able to say that every part of the quilt is done with your hand...or needle.

  4. your quilting is really lovely! and great tips!

    Thank you so much for sharing at Needle and Thread Thursday!

    :) Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation