Tips And Tools Tuesday – Machine Quilting – Part One, The Tools

Have you been curious about machine quilting? Wanting to give it a try, but thinking, “I can’t do that”.

Been there. Done that. Got tired of thinking that. Decided to just do it!

Notice that I didn’t say, “Try it”. I said, “Do it.” To quote a character from one of my favorite movies, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

And, am I glad I did! I am having so much fun machine quilting my quilt projects! It has opened up a vast world of design possibilities that I could never have achieved with hand quilting. Oh, I still LOVE hand quilting, but, machine quilting provides an avenue of artistic expression that just can’t be duplicated by hand.

Every time I venture into unknown territory, I remember what I tell others who are struggling with thoughts, such as, “I’ve been wanting to try that for a long time, but, my _____________ could never look like that!”

If you get nothing else out of this post, remember this… Every master craftsman was once a beginner. Read that part again. Go ahead, I’ll wait.  The most exquisite anything that you’ve ever seen or heard, was made/done by someone who was once a beginner, just like you!Their first attempts at their chosen craft were, more than likely, dismal at best. Many were probably absolutely awful. But, they kept trying. And, little by little, they improved. The more they practiced, the better they became.

I decided to write this post for those of you who, like I once was, are hesitant to machine quilt your own projects. I want to share with you some things that have helped me along my machine quilting journey. A journey that I am still on.  Ever learning, practicing, stretching my abilities, and best of all, improving! Woohoo!

Before you begin machine quilting, it’s best to gather a few supplies that will help you to be successful. ( I mean, why shoot yourself in the foot before you start the race?) Set yourself up to succeed. Having some essential tools will get you started on the right foot. (Yes, pun intended.)

Here are my “must haves” for machine quilting, listed in no particular order of importance.

Gloves – a pair that is snug fitting on your hands, provides good grip, and is comfortable. There are many online shops that carry gloves for machine quilting. I picked up a pair of work gloves at a local home improvement store that work great for me. Some people like using fingertip grips. Others, use a grippy band around their hand, leaving fingertips free for threading needles, etc. Try a few different products and see which works best for you.

Sewing machine – If you don’t already have one, look for a machine, with the longest throat area, that you can afford. The longer throat area will make it easier to maneuver your quilt. I have quilted on my good old, standard, Singer sewing machine with its 7″ throat, but, since purchasing a machine with a 9″ throat, maneuvering my quilt is much easier.

New sewing machine needles – It is best to start a machine quilting project with a new needle. There are needles designed specifically for quilting. They are tapered to prevent thread breakage. You can use them for both piecing and machine quilting, so, a good rule of thumb is , ” Start a new quilt project, start with a new needle.” A sharp, new needle just makes better stitches and helps you get the job done faster.

Thread – Buy the best quality thread that you can afford. When you’re first learning to quilt, any good quality thread will work just fine. Don’t use old thread. It will result in lint build-up in the bobbin case and cause all kinds of headaches. A  50wt thread provides beautiful results with less build-up when traveling over previous stitches to follow your quilting path.

Marking tools –  There are some wonderful marking tools these days! There are water-erasable, air-erasable, and heat-erasable products with which to mark your quilt top. I recommend trying a few different types of marking tools. See which one/ones you like best, and which one works best with the current project. Always test the marking tool on the exact fabric you’ve used in your quilt. I once used a blue, water-erasable marker to mark a quilt. When all of the quilting was done, I sprayed the marks with water. The marks disappeared just fine, but, one of the red fabrics bled (even though I had pre-washed it) . I was just sick, but there was nothing I could about it then.

Free-motion foot – This sewing machine foot allows you to move the quilt sandwich freely under the needle. Depending on your brand of sewing machine, it can sometimes be referred to as a Darning foot, or an Embroidery Foot.

Walking foot – This sewing machine foot has built-in feed dogs which helps to pull the top fabric along, just as the feed dogs underneath help to pull the backing fabric along. For that reason, this foot is also called, an Even-feed Foot.

Lighting –  Make sure that you have plenty of good light shining on your quilting area. That way, you can see exactly where you’ve quilted and where you have not. This is especially important when quilting on dark fabrics.

Quilting plan – Have a plan before you begin quilting on your project. Will you do an all-over design? Will you quilt each block separately? Will each unit of the block have its own unique quilting design? These are all things to think about BEFORE you make your first stitch.

Mini quilts for practice – I have two mini quilt sandwiches that I use for practice. They are each 24″ x 24″. I practice the design that is in my head before committing to the actual quilt. I work out the bugs on something I don’t care about.

The main thing is to have fun! Who cares what a practice mini-quilt looks like? Just have fun experimenting with the creative possibilities that you can achieve with a sewing machine and thread!

Today is a good day to machine quilt something. Even if it is just a mini-quilt for practice.

Next time, I’ll share how I come up with a quilting plan, so, gather your supplies and let’s have some quilting fun!


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