Here’s where we left off last time. The quilt is basted, and the backing is turned over the top edge of the border to reduce fraying.
I usually like to start any traditional quilt with some straight-line, in-the-ditch quilting. The straight lines stabilize the quilt layers nicely, getting the quilt ready for free motion quilting. You don’t have to start with straight stitches, but I like to. Sooo . . .
. . . We need some supplies.
Thread. I typically choose 100% cotton. It will age at the same rate as the quilt, assuming that my quilt is made from quilting cotton cloth (and it is). I choose the color of the thread based on the quilt top, then usually use a similar color in the bobbin, no matter what backing material I chose. Sometimes a little bit of the bobbin thread can peek through the quilting stitches and by choosing matching colors, those annoying ‘dots’ of color won’t show if the top and bobbin threads match. I tend also to use solid color thread for quilting rather than variegated colors. Those multi color spools sure are tempting, but I think they can add confusion as the quilts get more complicated. Truth be known, my go-to thread color choice is natural. There are lots of schools of thought on this topic, these thoughts just happens to be mine.
For this quilt, I’ve chosen a rusty orange that matches my quilt top. I’m tempted to stick with my usual natural, but I think maybe the orange might show up better in the photographs for the blog post.
Also, quilting gloves, a walking foot, and a darning or free-motion foot. Since we’ll start with quilting straight lines today, we’ll put the darning foot aside for now. Review your sewing machine manual to place the walking foot on the machine. Be sure the little fork-shaped arm is engaged with the nut on the needle shaft.
In my mind, this little needle–it’s called a self-threading needle–is critical. I swear, I can’t do any quilting without it. You’ll see why soon. I think it’s poorly named. It doesn’t thread itself! I’d prefer to call it an open-eye needle. I know the picture is blurry (my camera stinks, but then, only a poor craftsman blames his tools!), but can you see that the eye looks like a little fork?
To set the stage for free motion quilting later (the squiggly stuff), I like to start with some straight line quilting. I feel that the straight lines stabilize the quilt sandwich, then you can really play with the free-motion (squiggly) stuff. And for this quilt, I’m going to sew directly at all the seam intersections for the blocks and sashing. This type of quilting is called in-the-ditch quilting.
A bit about the walking foot–It makes it easier to sew through multiple layers of fabric. When you sew, the feed dogs advance the fabric under the up and down motion of the needle. The walking foot adds a similar advancement mechanism at the top. So both the feed dogs and the walking foot work together (like magic) to advance multiple layers of fabric under the needle.
A bit about in-the-ditch quilting. When you pieced together your quilt, you pressed the seam allowance to one side or another. For the next few sentences to make sense, let’s assume the up-side of the seam allowance is the side that the seam allowance was pressed toward (usually toward the dark fabric, but not always), and the down-side is the side the seam allowance was pressed away from. In-the-ditch quilting basically means that you are sewing a line of stitching ‘in the ditch’ or right in the seam allowance, HOWEVER, technically, you want to sew just a teeny-tiny bit to the ‘down-side’ of the seam allowance–I hope this makes sense. If you feel your quilt at the seams, you can actually feel the seam allowance lump. You want to stitch just to the down-side of that lump, but very close to the actual seam itself.
For starters, I’m going to sew around the border seam–the seam between the sashing and cornerstone pieces and the flowered border. First, I want to remove only the safety pins that will interfere with the walking foot (the safety pin on the left is in the way. the one on the right will clear the foot, so it stays). With a tail of top thread about 3″ long, align the needle over the seam corner . . .
. . . Then do needle down and needle up. A little tug on the top needle (upper left of the picture) should pop a loop of the bobbin thread up to the top of the quilt (red arrow, the thread is hard to see (camera/user issues), but there’s a little loop peeking up from the bottom). So you can keep track of this little bugger (and to keep from making an unsightly nest on the bottom of the quilt), use a seam ripper or sewing stiletto to pull the bobbin thread end all the way up, and rest it on the quilt behind the walking foot.
For quilting, I usually increase the stitch length to about 3.0 on the machine display (check your sewing machine manual for how-to on changing stitch length). Proceeding slowly and deliberately, sew with a nice straight quilting stitch on the down-side of the seam.
Especially when you are unfamiliar with the machine, once you’ve sewn about 10″ or so, lift up the quilt that you’ve just quilted so you can see the bottom. The stitches should be nice and even and well formed. It’s very possible that you’ll need to adjust the upper thread tension. Increase the upper thread tension if the bobbin thread is just sitting there and the top thread isn’t pulling it up into the quilt sandwich. Decrease the upper thread tension if the back of the quilt looks okay, but the stitches on top show too much of the bobbin thread. The upper thread tension adjustment is usually a knob above the needle. Check your sewing machine manual if you aren’t sure.
When describing quilting instructions, I try to avoid absolutes . . . never . . .always. But I think I can safely say, that I always quilt with my needle-down option engaged. That means that whenever I stop, the needle will be in the quilt. Some sewing machines do not have this option, but it’s nice to know you can stop sewing and know exactly there the needle will be and that the fabric won’t slip out of position.
In this case, I’m at a corner, and I’m going to pivot to proceed around the border corner. So with needle down, I can lift the presser foot, and turn the quilt, then drop the presser foot and keep sewing.
Once the quilting is almost all the way around, stop about 3-4″ before the corner. You’ll recognize the two threads you left on the top of the quilt at the beginning. With the walking foot ‘parked,’ make a square knot with the top and bobbin thread . . .
Then insert the threaded needle into the quilt batting right at the thread exit spot. Travel the needle through the batting maybe about an inch or so, then and pull the thread through and off the needle with one movement. As you pull, make sure to pop the square knot under the quilt top fabric layer . . .
Then snip the thread close to the fabric. And watch it disappear! This is called burying the knot.
Whenever possible, bury the knot on the back of the quilt. So . . . once you do those last 3″ of stitching. . . .
Give yourself plenty of thread and cut both the top and the bobbin thread without pulling the bobbin thread to the top this time, leaving about a 4″ tail in the top and bobbin thread.
Repeat the process to bury the know, but this time on the back of the quilt. Use the bobbin thread to pull the top thread to the bottom. Make a square knot. . . .
. . . and bury the knot in the batting from the back of the quilt.
A novelty at first, this knot stuff can get tedious! So while you are pin-basting, consider different ways you can quilt straight lines while minimizing loose ends and knots! You can pivot, or sew diagonally, or stitch over existing quilting.
Once the border seam was quilted, I decided to quilt all the horizontal and vertical seams as well. Sometimes the down-side of the seam switches in the middle of the seam. If the seams nest nicely (during piecing), it only takes a slight jog to switch from down-side to down-side.
This may seem nit-picky, but I really can’t stand when my ditch stitching gets off-track! I’m a fussy bucket about it. In the whole scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. A true-in the ditch seam is harder to do than it looks! You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, right?
And here’s how the quilt looks with all the block, sashing and border seams stitched in the ditch. Notice that I’ve left as many pins as possible in place, and removed them only when they interfered with the straight line quilting. Turn the quilt over, and . . .
You can quilt the whole quilt with straight lines and the walking foot. Check the batting package to see how far apart the quilting stitches should be according to the batting manufacturer. I like the way the in-the-ditch quilting makes give the quilt structure and puff. The pieces get a beveled look.
I know this is a lot of information, and I promise, most of this will make a lot more sense when you do it, but if you run into trouble, post a comment and I’ll see if we can address it.
Are we having fun yet?