by Pat Sloan
Why I started and why I like it!
When I first learned to quilt it was all by hand. In the process of hand quilting my second quilt, my wrists decided that they did not like it! So I had to find a way to quilt my tops by machine. I knew right from the start I did not want to do straight lines and the freeform machine quilting I saw on other quilts thrilled me.
After several classes and much practice I was able to machine quilt pieces I was happy with. What freedom to have a quilt done! Along the way I have changed my style of machine quilting and I really enjoy the design process of it now. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
What Your Sewing Machine Must Have
The most important part of the machine quilting process is having a machine with feed-dogs that lower without covering them and a darning foot made for your machine.
A darning foot is usually a circle and when you lower the presser foot, the foot does not touch the bed of the sewing machine. You will have about an eight of an inch or so space between the foot and the bed. This is where your quilt goes! You must have this space so you can freely move your quilt around. If you have a plate that covers the feed-dogs, then the plate is taking up precious space you need for the quilt.
When I upgraded from my older machine with a generic darning foot to my new machine designed with quilters in mind, my machine quilting improved 1000 percent! No joking! The old machine did not have enough space under it to freely move the quilt. Which lead to me tugging and jerking the quilt to move it around. Which lead to uneven stitches and an unhappy quilter.
Batting for Success
Having taught machine quilting to hundreds of people, I have found that the best batting to learn with is a very flat batting. I recommend using 100 cotton. The downfall of 100 percent cotton is that many of them require you to quilt tightly. So look at the batting instructions and find one that suits you. Mountain Mist Blue Ribbon, Quilters-Dream, and Thermore (which is poly) are all flat and are great battings to learn with.
The key to a flat back is to start with a smooth back piece. I clamp the back to the worktable. Find the biggest table you can so you can baste as much of the quilt without having to unclamp. The library or a church might let you use two tables at once! Then layer your batting and top without removing the clamps on the bottom. Pin baste as much of the top as you can. Unclamp and shift to a new area.
Threads and Needles
I use 100 percent cotton thread in both the top and bottom. Use a good thread because they have fewer fibers hanging on it and will be through the fabric easily. I also use a size 70 or 80 needle. I change the needle often, usually after a large quilt is done. The batting is hard on the needle.
Getting the BIG Quilt in the Little Hole
First of all, you never have to get the whole quilt in the opening! Only half has to be in there at one time. I have found that I prefer to fan fold the quilt instead of rolling it. It unfolds easier as I need it to, and I can just push more into the opening if that is required.
What I use
I use a Bernina 440 now, but have used Janome's, Vikings and many years ago a 'white'. I have taught people with all types of machines, and the newer machines are usually more successful with this process than the older ones. The thread I prefer is Aurifil 100% cotton, silk finish (purple writing). It also seems to work in most machines. For batting I mostly use Mountain Mist Blue Ribbon and Mountain Mist Gold Fuse. But I also love Pellon batting and Quitler's Dream. For a stiff batting Warm and Natural is a good choice.
Patience and Practice
There are a few people who sit down and are just a natural at machine quilting; the rest of us have to practice! Don't be hard on yourself. I felt it took me several quilts before I was really happy with my work (but I was also doing this on the old machine!).
When working with a large quilt it also takes patience. You have to constantly fluff up the quilt so the weight of it is not tugging on your stitching area. Have an area to the left of your machine and behind your machine where the quilt can lay.
Have fun with it and get lots of quilts finished, which is a most satisfying experience!
Copyright 2002 Pat Sloan & Co. LLC