Just Buzzing Through Quilt Along – Week Six – Spray Basting and Machine Quilting

Wow! I can hardly believe that Week Six of this quilt Along is already here! I’ve had a blast and I hope that you have, too! I have really enjoyed seeing the various fabrics and color placement that people have used to create their own version of Just Buzzing Through. I love the versatility of this simple, yet graphic, pattern!

This Quilt Along is scheduled to run for seven weeks, and, since you can work at your own pace, it’s never too late to join! The Just Buzzing Through pattern is available here. The Quilt Along schedule, is found here, and will be on my website indefinitely, so, you can start at any time! Make it on your schedule. Make it yours!

So far, we’ve covered cutting, piecing the units and the blocks, joining the blocks, and adding the border.  I felt that including spray basting in the machine quilting post, would make it extremely long. So, I addressed my spray basting technique and tips in this “Tips And Tools” post. Now it’s time for the best part, machine quilting.

Machine quilting on my domestic sewing machine, is like drawing a picture, only, instead of moving the pencil over the paper, I’m moving the paper under the pencil. It will feel strange at first, but, the more you practice, the more comfortable and natural it will feel.

Before I do any machine quilting on any of my quilt projects, I play around on a sample. I practice the pattern and techniques that I will be using on the real thing. I keep a couple of 24″ by 24″ quilt sandwich samples beside my sewing machine for just that purpose. If I have not machine quilted for a few weeks, working on a practice piece helps me get the “feel” of it again.

I also use this practice piece to make any tension adjustments needed. This is the back of my practice piece. Look at the center, curvy line.  The top thread should not be showing on the back like this. I checked my bobbin tension. It was perfect. I tightened the top tension and stitched the loop-de-loops and connected triangles on the right. The tension was much better, but I could still see top thread. I tightened it a bit more and stitched the feathered swirl on the left. Perfect!

I also make sure that my stitch regulator is in working order. I say that with a slight smile on my face. My machine does not have a stitch regulator, so I improvised one. If your machine does not have one either, check out my Tips and Tools post A Stitch Regulator for an idea which may help you. The length of your stitches is determined by coordinating the speed of your needle with how fast or slow you move the quilt under it. With my needle speed “regulated”, all I need to think about, is how fast or slow to move the quilt. For me, one less thing to think about is good.

Another one of my essential tools, is a pair of gloves to help grip the quilt so that I can easily maneuver it under the needle. There are many on the market, designed for quilters, from which to choose. We don’t have a local quilt shop, and I was too impatient to wait for shipping, so, I just went to our local home improvement store and picked up a pair of work gloves with rubberized palms. They are stiff enough so that the “grippy” part does not roll around on my fingers, yet pliable enough for me to pick things up.

There are a few different ways to hold your quilt sandwich so that you can easily maneuver it under your needle. Some people don’t use gloves at all. Try using gloves and not using gloves, and see which way you like best.

For me, when I use bare hands, the quilt doesn’t always move when I want it to. My hands slide over the fabric instead of leading it where I want it to go.
I tried gripping the quilt. The fabric moved alright, but, it was very tiring on my hands.
Using gloves and laying my hands out flat, works best for me. The rubberized palms of the gloves give me more gripping surface. I can spread my fingers to flatten the area that I am working on.

When machine quilting, I work on the area between my hands and stop, readjust my hands to a new area, and quilt that. I try to not stop on a curve or in a straight line, if I can help it. Sometimes it can be tricky to get it going in the exact direction as before. If I stop on a corner, or where two lines meet, any slight bobble in my quilting is less noticeable.

The photo below shows how I “mound” the quilt around where I am stitching. Doing this makes it easier to maneuver the quilt. I don’t have to “drag” the weight of it along as I quilt. Less drag, less strain on my arms and shoulders. I use my hands, represented by my gloves, to flatten the area where I am stitching.

I don’t use my arms to move the quilt. My arms and shoulders get tired that way. I keep my arms in relatively the same position and move my body instead. While I’m sitting, I lean forward, back, sideways, and at a diagonal. This way my core is providing the motion and not just my arms and shoulders. I can machine quilt for much longer this way.

Which brings me to a very important step. Get up and move every hour or so. Walk around. Do some stretches. Eat a snack. Then, go sit in a recliner or lay on the couch for 5 minutes and just relax your entire body. You’ll actually get more quilting done because your body will have had a break and you’ll be refreshed and ready to get back at it.

I always have some type of temporary marking tool available. Here are some that I use. My favorite is a marker that has air-erasable ink on one end and water-erasable ink on the other. I do free-motion quilting, but, with some designs, I do a better job when I can mark a reference point on the quilt top.

Now for the machine quilting.

For this quilt pattern, I created a very straight-forward, easy to follow design. I let the seams of the piecing and the angle shapes in the blocks direct my machine quilting.  I looked for a “path” to follow so that I’d have as little starting and stopping as possible.

I use a free-motion foot. Mine is an oval shape, so there are two different ways to keep a line of stitching to 1/4″ .

The inside edge on both sides of the presser foot (indicated by the stiletto) is 1/4″ from the needle.
The front and back, outside edges of the free-motion foot, are 1/4″ from the needle.

When machine quilting Just Buzzing Through, I kept one of these reference marks on the foot lined up with the seam.

Here, I’m keeping the inside left edge of the free-motion foot lined up with the seam.

When I stitch, I do not watch the needle! I watch the 1/4″ reference mark to keep my stitching aligned.

I begin by tracing around an empty thread spool using an air-erasable marking pen.

I’ve drawn arrows to indicate where I start, and in which direction I stitch. I begin 1/4″ from the vertical, center seam, exactly where you see the beginning line of the first arrow.

I insert the needle, and bring the bobbin thread up to the top, then pull them both up and left to keep them out of the way of the stitching. I stitch in a counter-clockwise direction until I get back to the beginning.

From this position, I’m right in line to begin stitching around the shapes.

Here is the road map of stitching that I do. Every time the stitching brings me back to the center circle, I stitch right on the stitching line to “travel” to the next section.

Even though you see the “traveling” arrows drawn outside of the circle, I stitch directly on the previously stitched circle.

I continue around this way until the last line of stitching ends at the center circle.

When I get back to the center circle, I cut the threads about 2″ to 3″ long and bring the bobbin thread up to the top. Then, I tie a square knot, and bury the threads in between the layers.

When all of the center buzz saws are quilted, the quilt sandwich is stabilized and I can then, stitch the background quilting. If my background fabric is a busy print, I quilt from one edge to the other and back again. Sometimes I stitch each background buzz saw individually as I did the focus fabric ones, but, usually I use the “traveling” method.

For my “traveling” method, I start quilting the center section of the background, Then, quilt each section column by column on each side of the center.

I start from the top right side of the half-circle. Following the direction of the arrows, I stitch the half-circle all the way  to the other seam line. then “travel” back a few stitches to where the arrows go straight left. I follow the path on the left (drawn by the arrows) until I get down to the bottom right corner.

Then, I simply cross over the corner into the top left corner of the background buzz saw. I draw a circle in the center as before and stitch down to and around it.

I travel from one block to the next following this left path.

When I get to the opposite end of the quilt top (just before the border), I usually turn the quilt around (so that I can see where I’m stitching)and stitch down the other side, traveling over the stitches that connect to the next block, back to the starting half-circle. I quilt each “column” of background blocks this way.

When all of the background quilting was done, I used an air-erasable marker, and drew a line (here shown  in blue) to extend the seam lines into the border. I lined up a ruler with a seam line and an angle, and drew a line from the border seam to the edge of the quilt top. Then, I simply stitched 1/4″ beside the border seam and around the blue “seam” lines. Since I did a “stay-stitch around the outside edge, (explained in the Tips And Tools post Spray Basting), the edges are held securely until I add the binding.

Here is another quilting option for the border. I simply drew a line (with erasable marker) to extend the center seam lines of the blocks, and where the blocks are joined to one another, into the border. I would stitch around them as shown.

See? Machine quilting is easy to do. Just look for the quilting “path” to follow.

Have fun with it!


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