Friday, April 16, 2010

Machine Quilting Tutorial

Here it is, a very basic tutorial on how to free motion quilt the baby quilt we pieced in part 1 of this tutorial. This quilt could easily be quilted using straight lines / stitch in the ditch but because the top is so basic I think it lends itself well to a simple meander.

- Backing Fabric: It depends on the size of your quilt and your binding technique. If you are using a traditional binding technique your backing just needs to be large enough to cover the entire back of your quilt after it has been quilted (I would say that an inch or so larger then the top on each side should cover that). If you are using the binding technique I used in this tutorial (wrapping the backing around the edges of the quilt) you will want the backing to be large enough that there is a 2+ inch border of backing fabric around your quilt top after it is quilted. If you are unsure and want to play it safe larger is always safer. For the baby quilt we made in part 1, about 1.5 yards of fabric should work.
- Batting: The batting should be approximately 1+ inches larger than your quilt top on all side (I use warm and natural cotton batting because I like my quilt to crinkle but feel free to use whatever you are comfortable with)
- Safety pins or Adhesive Quilt Spray
- Cotton Machine Quilting Thread
- A free motion foot for your sewing machine (here is what mine looks like)

Tip for Beginners: If your quilt is small enough you can use a single piece of fabric for the backing but for larger quilts you will have to piece a backing together.

Layering the Quilt Pieces

Tip for Beginners: When I first started quilting I was a bit intimidated to try adhesive quilt spray but let me just say that I am hooked and I wouldn't go back to using pins. The adhesive is especially nice for beginners because it will help prevent getting puckers in your quilt and it is faster then pinning. You can buy it at Hobby Lobby, Walmart, or Jo Anns and it costs about $10 for a can (which will do multiple quilts). If you prefer though you can use safety pins (there are some tutorials online that will show you how to pin your quilt together but it is essentially pinned the way the finished quilt would look backing right side down, batting, top right side up).

1) I like to lay down a canvas tarp before I spray my quilt to avoid getting the adhesive on my floor. Lay the tarp down and lay your batting on top of the tarp. Spray the batting with a light spray of the adhesive (it will basically feel about as sticky as a post it note). I have found that a light spray will do the trick and that it isn't necessary to use too much of the adhesive.

2) Lay your backing centered over the batting (wrong side down so that the wrong side sticks to the batting). Start smoothing your quilt from the middle out making sure that there are no puckers in the fabric. If you accidentally create a pucker since the adhesive works like a sticky note you can always pull up your backing fabric and shift / move it until it is smooth.

Tip for Beginners: I like to remove the tarp before I start smoothing the backing on so that I don't have to work around the wrinkles in the tarp. Doing that is more realistic for a small baby quilt then a large quilt.

Here is what your piece should look like when you have attached the backing to the batting and flipped the two pieces over for the next step.

3) Spray the other side of the batting with adhesive and center the top of your quilt wrong side down over the backing. Starting in the middle smooth the quilt top to the batting making sure that there aren't any puckers. Your quilt should now be sandwiched together and there should be an even border of batting/backing around your quilt top (it doesn't have to be perfect, just fairly centered). If you are using the binding method that I used for this quilt make sure that you have a 2+ inch border of backing around the top of your quilt. Now you are ready to quilt!

Free Motion Quilting

4) Set up your machine for free motion quilting, refer to your machine's manual. This will most likely mean attaching the correct foot and checking the tension / settings. You may also want to use a quilting needle - when I use warm and natural I use a 90 (I have found that if you use warm and natural batting a standard needle seems to also work just fine). Your tension may have to be adjusted based on the type of needle you use. One thing that I like to do before I start quilting a quilt is preload enough bobbins so that I don't have to stop and load bobbins in the middle of quilting. For a baby quilt it will take about 3 bobbins.

Tip for Beginners: Before you begin quilting your quilt I would make a few practice sandwiches of fabric / batting and practice practice practice. It takes awhile to become comfortable with the motion. One thing that I did was I printed out a simple meander example and I traced it with a pen. Then I took a blank piece of paper and I drew my own meander. This will allow you to get used to the meander pattern before you have to try doing it on your machine. The goal of a meander is to have flowing wavy random lines that don't overlap each other (although if you have a few cases where you make a loop I promise no one will notice it once the quilt is done). Below are two examples I found online.

5) To get started center your quilt or test swatch, top facing up, under the needle so that you will begin quilting in the middle of the quilt. I like to line up with a seam so that it is hard to see where I started. When I first started quilting I used to quilt from side to side before someone told me that it is better to start in the middle so that puckers can be pushed out to the edges. Now you want to "pull up" your bobbin thread to the top of the quilt. This will prevent you from getting messy bunches of bobbin thread on the back of your quilt. To do that put your sewing foot down where you want to start quilting. Lower your needle and raise it once and then lift your sewing foot.

Now give a gentle tug on the end of the top string and you will see a loop of bobbin thread appear.

Pull that loop until the end of the thread appears (you now have both your top thread and bobbin thread on top of your quilt).

Lower your sewing foot where the two threads come out of the fabric so that you can start sewing in that place.

Tip for Beginners: I know it sounds REALLY silly but I highly recommend getting quilting gloves. They are like gardening gloves and have little bumps on the bottom of them. It helps you move the fabric and keeps it from slipping under your fingers. Mine cost about $5.

6) You need to lock your stitches in place now so that the thread doesn't unravel, I do this by sewing in place for 3 - 4 stitches without moving the fabric. Now start quilting your quilt by moving your fabric under the needle using fluid motions. The speed at which you move your fabric will determine your stitch length. If you move the fabric too fast you will get stitches that are too long. If you move the fabric too slow you will get tiny stitches, try to keep your speed and stitches as consistent as possible. You will be quilting in a circular direction (basically quilting in a giant spiral from the center of your quilt until you reach the very edges of the top of your quilt). Here are a few tips I have while quilting:
- Let the sewing machine do it's job (as in don't tug on your fabric too hard or faster then your machine can sew or you may break needles).
- If you have a machine that requires a horizontal thread position make sure that the thread is not upright or again you may break needles because the thread can't feed through your machine fast enough.
- You want to be looking / thinking / planning where you intend to sew not checking out what you have already done. I find that when I am not focusing on where I am heading I end up with little sharp kinks or loops.
- When I quilt my "spiral" I quilt about 4 - 6 inch sections at a time but that is really personal preference.

Tip for Beginners: Once I have quilted a few inches I usually pause and snip off the tails of the strings so that I don't accidentally sew over them.

7) So the next hurdle you will cross is when you either run out of bobbin, break the thread, or decide that you want to unstitch part of your stitches because you created a loop. How do you get started again? What I do is snip the threads that are attached very close to the fabric. Then reload your bobbin if necessary. I then start about 2 inches back from where I left off quilting and that is where you will start again. Pull up your bobbin thread, lock your stitches in place, and then carefully sew over the last two inches that you already completed and then continue quilting. Sewing over those last few inches will ensure the thread doesn't unravel.

8) When you finally reach the end of your quilt lock your stitches. I used white thread for this quilt so it is really hard to see the stitching in the below picture, sorry about that.

Tip for Beginners: If you are worried that your quilt isn't as "crinkled" as you wanted don't worry, I promise that once you wash and dry it the quilt will be nice an wrinkled.

For those of you who try this tutorial let me know if you find it helpful or not so that I can correct parts that are confusing.

Phew! I didn't realize this portion of the tutorial was going to be so long! I guess I will leave binding for a part 3.

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