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When my friend Jenny over at Come Quilt first accepted my plea to teach me how to quilt, I had it in my head that all I had to do was sew the pieces together, and that somehow, all the REST of the stuff would just happen, somehow. (read more)
She did quilt my first two quilts, and eventually another that I gave to my son for Christmas, but after those first two, I sort of realized that I could not go on just handing her my quilt top and backing after I'd finished a top.
Yes, piecing the top makes a pretty picture, but it's not a finished product.
Frankly, I'd say it's only about 60% of the overall job. And here I was asking my friend to handle the other 40% of MY quilt.
Well, it just wouldn't do.
At first, I thought I might invest in a long arm sewing machine. I really didn't know if I could quilt on what a had, a little Bernina 930.
I quickly came to realize not only were long arm machines expensive, they were huge. Even if I had the money to spend, I didn't have the space. And while I can save money for one, I can't magically create more space.
Thus ended my dreams of owning an awesome Gammill.
What I realized, though, was that there must be thousands of quilters out there who quilt their own quilts, but don't own long arm machines.
If they can do, I can do it, right?
I mean, I'd learned how to do everything else, from piecing, to squaring, to binding, so why not quilting?
It was at this point that I threw caution to the wind, watched a few videos on YouTube, and just got to work.
So, I'm telling you it can be done. I'm going to show you how, and I want you to trust yourself.
You are going to make some mistakes, but I'll tell you a secret...all quilters make mistakes. The thing is, in a large quilt pattern, you don't see the mistakes. They blend in with the quilting.
If you make a utility quilt, it blends in even more because you wash it and dry it.
Forget perfect, perfect isn't a thing. Your quilt will be beautiful, you will love it. If you give it away, whomever you give it to will love it. And the best part is that it will be finished. It won't just join all the other quilt tops you have sitting on your shelf.
That's a huge accomplishment.
Let's get started.
YOU WILL NEED
Aside from your machine and thread, you're going to need a couple of other things:
Machingers (I love these and will talk more about them)
Silicone Spray - only if you have a dedicated quilting table
A Hopper Foot
That's it! And really you don't even "need" the Machingers and Silicone Spray. I just really like how much those two items help, so I'm going to list them.
Heck, if you just want to quilt in straight lines, you don't even need the hopper foot, but, really you need it, so...yeah.
We'll talk more about what they do later on, so you can decide if you want to give them a try.
THIS IS THE QUILT I'M QUILTING
This video just tells you a bit about the quilt I'm quilting, and that I'll be starting by placing the quilt under my hopper foot in the middle of the quilt. I will quilt in an outward pattern mostly, just because it's easier than working my way in.
As long as your quilt is basted well, you can start wherever you like. The middle is the hardest though, the place where you have to deal with the most material under your machine's throat, so I like to get that out of the way.
If you haven't basted your quilt yet, be sure to read my post about glue basting a quilt. I swear this method saved me at least an hour on my quilting today, and I had ZERO shifting fabric.
The first thing you're going to need to do is replace your piecing foot with your hopper foot. If you don't know how to do this, consult your manual or Google your specific machine.
On my Bernina 930 I just pull back the lever, flip up that grey/brown paddle, remove the foot, and replace it with the correct one, as shown in the pictures below.
There's my piecing foot.
This is my hopper foot, see how it hops (in the video)? It doesn't restrict your quilting motion, allowing your foot to just bounce along the quilt, no matter which direction you go.
Flip the lever, remove the piecing foot.
Push up the paddle (or raise the foot), so you have some clearance.
Remove the foot.
Install the new foot onto the nipple. I don't know what else to call it, so we're going with nipple. It just slides right on.
Reengage the lever, drop the paddle to drop the foot, and you're all set.
I know that was a lot of pictures explaining how to change your foot, but if you're like me, you may never have quilted on your machine. If you've never had to use anything but that one piecing foot, changing the foot might have been a mystery.
Now you know how, forever and ever.
PICK YOUR THREAD COLOR
I like to have choices for my thread color, and I like laying them out across the different squares so I can see what each one will look like against all of the materials I've used. Here we have grey and black, I ended up going with the black because I really wanted the quilting to POP!
I'll be doing a black border to tie it together on the backing side.
If you scroll through, you can see what I mean about seeing the thread on the material
LET'S START QUILTING
Pick up your hopper foot and needle, then slide your quilt underneath. You can start quilt top up or backing side up, whichever you prefer.
For this quilt, I used black thread. I started quilting with the quilt top up, but ended up switching to the backing side up. I felt like I needed to be more exact with the quilting seen on the backing side because it was white and the thread was black. That meant I didn't want to have any accidental gaps that I wasn't noticing because the black thread was blending in so well with the quilt top.
The choice is yours. Do whatever makes you comfortable.
A quick note on Silicone Spray - If you have a dedicated quilting table (don't spray this on your kitchen table), you can spray a CLOTH with the spray then wipe the cloth on the slide area of your quilting table. What I mean by this is that you don't need to spray the entire table, just the 8" square area where you'll be running your quilt under your foot.
I suggest spraying a cloth and not directly onto the table because if you get overspray on your floor you might bust your butt the next time you vacuum in socks.
Or so I've heard.
Another option would be to put a silicone sheet under your quilting area. I have not used one, but it's something you can consider if you feel you need more glide and don't want to use the spray.
Here's my quilt all bunched up on my Aussie sewing cabinet. I'll make another post about that at a later date, but if you need a great cabinet and have the money to spend, this thing is amazing and folds up so small, while providing a ton of table space and storage.
The Aussie also has a plexiglass insert you can purchase from Arrow so you're quilting on an entirely flat surface. While I love my Sew Steady table and even made a post about it. I prefer to have complete flatness for the quilting part of the project.
Gently push your quilt beneath the foot and needle, careful not to snag the needle (it'll break, I've done it). Once you get the quilt where you want it, put your hopper foot down. Be sure to do this, if you try to quilt with the foot up...well you probably already know what happens.
Giant bird's nest on the backside. One you get the joy of plucking out before you start all over again, this time with the hopper foot down.
Once your hopper foot is down, gently press your pedal and do a couple of stitches. I like to do a couple forward, then a couple backward, just to lock it into place. I will also sometimes make a little swirly design where I stitch over in a circle, just to be absolutely certain nothing is coming out after I wash and dry it.
Hopper foot goes down...
Make your first stitches.
Clip that bit of loose thread so you don't accidentally sew it to your quilt, then get your Machingers on cause it's time to fly.
If you don't know what Machingers are, they're just gloves with rubber tips. This helps you grip the cloth as you push it under the foot. The first quilt I quilted, I didn't use Machingers and it was really bad. My shoulders ached, my material was bunched from where I was pinching it to push it through, and it was just a miserable experience.
I highly recommend getting some gloves like this. Mine are all grimy, but that's just because they're well used. :)
Place both hands flat on the quilt, make sure there are no edges hanging off the sides of your table, pulling your quilt down, and put the pedal to the metal!
No really, I'll talk more about this in a video, but basically try to think "slow hands, fast feet". Go as fast as you can with the pedal while moving at a steady pace with your hands. This is especially important if your machine doesn't have a stitch regulator (mine does not). You want even stitches and smooth motion. Going slow will make your movement jerky and rough, and it'll show in your stitching.
Slow (steady) hands, fast feet.
You'll start moving faster as you gain confidence.
Here's a video where I talk about it, but if you're not some place you can watch a video, I basically just repeat what I wrote.
THE ACTUAL QUILTING
I couldn't record this myself, believe me, I tried sticking my phone under my chin, but it kept falling, so I recruited my son to take the video. This is what it looks like when I'm quilting. It's smooth, fast, and actually a lot of fun.
As you can see, there's really no rhyme or reason to what I do. I simply meander, thinking of what a river does as it flows all over the place. I just go wherever, in smooth arcs and curves.
I learned this technique by reading Free Motion Meandering by Angela Walters. I highly recommend it.
Now that I no longer tack baste my quilts, the actual quilting goes very fast. It's amazing how much time you save (not to mention the mess) when you aren't having to cut tacks out of your quilt before you can quilt over the area.
This picture was after two and a half hours of quilting.
Ten minutes after that, I was finished, completely.
All that's left is to square it and bind it, then it's ready to gift off to the bride and groom.
I'll be sure to post a picture when it's all done.
A FEW OTHER TIPS
1. You're going to make mistakes, it's going to happen. Realize that a couple of "oopsies" are not going to show up in the grand scheme of things. It'll blend in, so just keep going, and go easy on yourself.
2. Don't let your quilt pull. You need to support your quilt as much as you can. This means a large table, maybe more than one, or at least a table against a wall so the quilt can bunch, but not hang off. This is such a big deal. If you're quilting and you find yourself having to jerk on the material, it's pulling and you need to re-situate yourself.
3. Adjust your hands, constantly. You're going to be moving fast, so you can't leave your hands in the same spot for a long time. Think of the area you're quilting as a picture you're taking. Quilt what's in the picture frame, move your hands to re-frame, then quilt some more. Keeping your quilting in that frame area will make sure you've got control over the material the entire time.
4. Take breaks. While I found this to be much less taxing than when I used to tack baste, it still took a few hours. Get up, stretch, eat something, loosen up your shoulders. Know that you can always fold it up, put it away, and come back to it another day.
5. Watch TV, listen to an audio book, do something OTHER than think, "Oh my gosh I hope I don't screw this up!" If you give yourself a chance to relax and get into the groove, you'll have so much fun.
6. Be proud of yourself! A lot of people think this is really scary, but you're doing it anyway, that's a big deal! I'm proud of you already.
I always love hearing from fellow quilters, so if you've got comments, I'd love to hear them.
Best of luck with your quilting!
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About The Author
I started quilting in June of 2018 after attending a quilt show in support of my
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