Machine quilting is a passion I’ve had since before I could even sew. It’s because of that, machine quilting has been my go-to for years, and I finally decided to share some tips on how anyone can do it!
This post will walk you through the process from finding the suitable fabric and needles to assembling a project preparing for your first few passes of stitching, and taking care of this machine afterward. I’ll also give you a few pointers on troubleshooting common issues you might run into along the way.
What should I use?
The first step in machine quilting with a regular sewing machine is to decide which materials will be best for your project. It can be tricky to know exactly what will work without trying it, but I’ve made a few suggestions below based on my own projects.
The most important thing to remember when choosing fabric for machine quilting is that it has to be 100% cotton. Even if you have a fancy, expensive sewing machine that can sew through multiple layers of thick fabric, it will still jam on the underside of your layers. Cotton is the only kind of thread and fabric that will reliably stay underneath the stitches and move through the layers without snagging or breaking. Don’t use polyester or man-made fabrics on your machine quilt. Polyester and man-made fibers knit together very easily and will work their way under the stitches, getting in the way of the needle or breaking up the stitches themselves.
Determine the width of your quilt
If your machine quilting project is big, you’ll want to go with wider fabric. The thicker the fabric, the more stable it will be for stitching and less likely to wrap around and pull apart. A quilt that is 4-6″ thick can handle a variety of different fabrics, but from there, I find that using 2 or 4 strands of thread in solid colors over a cotton backing gives me the best results. If your quilt is smaller, you might want to thread your needle with a thinner fabric.
Choose the right thread and needles for your machine
I always recommend using a “sturdy” thread. This is usually not as thick as regular sewing thread but keeps its strength better when you’re handling multiple layers of fabric and thread. Sturdy threads also stay together better than thinner threads woven into the fabric. I usually try to use thread that is white or a solid color, but if you can’t find any you can also stitch over thread leftover from different projects.
Because you will be using needles designed for machine quilting, it’s important to choose needles that will go well with your thread and fabric. If you have a brand new project that has never been sewn, I would go with an 80/12 needle. This is a standard machine quilting needle that can go through two layers of fabric.
If you’re looking to quilt a project that’s been sewn before, I would recommend using an 80/16 needle. It’s the same size as the 80/12 but only half as sharp and much more forgiving. Something to consider in the future is purchasing a few extra needles because sewing with regular sewing needles can get frustrating when you run into snags in your threads or encounter problems with your needle head.
Use your machine manual to determine the area you should be working on
When it comes to machine quilting, there are a few things you’ll want to know before starting. First is how many stitches per inch your machine can do. This will vary depending on the type of fabric you’re using, but I would recommend choosing a setting between 2 and 3 SPI. The lower the SPI, the more natural-looking the quilting will look. The higher the SPI, the more your quilt will look like a machine quilting project and less like braids or nests.
The most important thing to remember is that even though there is an area to be stitched, you will need to cut, pin, and adjust your fabric before you start working. If you’re new to machine quilting, I recommend choosing an area that doesn’t require much adjusting, but it’s something to keep in mind as you work on doing your first project.
The next thing to know about is the bias grain of your fabric. When it comes to getting the tightest stitches that won’t break, it’s best to have the fabric grain running in one direction. If you’re going to be quilting a wider area instead of a tiny patch, I would recommend using a fabric with a 60/40 bias.
This means that half your material will have an angle on it, and half will have straight grain. To determine which side is the bias, stretch the fabric out until it’s straight and fold it in half again. The side that doesn’t want to lay flat on your surface is the bias.
If you’re working with a small piece of fabric or stitching, it might be a good idea to use a straight grain because this will make your quilt lie flat and not bunch up in one direction while you work. Choose a 45/45 or 90/90 grain for this type of project.
Use your machine to test the fabric before you start
I always recommend testing what type of fabric works best with your machine and thread before starting a big project. This is because there are a number of different threads that work with different machines, and you don’t want to waste valuable time on your project if you end up having to un-sew everything because the needle breaks or gets stuck in the material. To test your fabric, run a few stitches in a free area.
If the stitches come out looking even and tight, you’re on the right track. If the thread seems loose or gaps appear after each stitch, you may need to go back to swatching to find a thread that works with your machine or adjust your tension settings. When it comes to thread size, I would recommend using either a 50 weight embroidery thread or 100 weight sewing thread if you can find it. This will produce a quilt that is very dense and sturdy.
The three most important things to remember when it comes to threading your machine are as follows:
Thread the needle from the back of the machine toward the front. This will keep your threads from sticking out and possibly becoming stuck in the fabric. Thread your needle into the bobbin, then thread it through the correct space in the top section of your machine. You can quickly get an idea of what space this is by referring to your manual or looking at a picture online.
Before you start sewing, pull the thread from the bobbin up through the upper part of your machine and cut off about an inch. This will keep your needle and thread from tangling while you work.
The only other thing I would recommend changing is setting your stitch length to 0.2. This will ensure that your stitches are close together, which is essential for getting a nice, tight quilt.
If you are just beginning to sew, I would highly recommend practicing something soft like a pillowcase or scrap piece of fabric. This will help you get a feel for your machine and sewing in general. Remember: practice makes perfect!