Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting

Cindy Seitz-Krug shares her knowledge gained from over two and a half decades of machine quilting award-winning quilts on a home sewing (domestic) machine.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?


People ask me all the time, “How do you quilt such large quilts on a home sewing machine?” To them, the task seems overwhelming. But my standard answer to that question is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” And it’s the same concept for quilting a large quilt (or any quilt for that matter).

It is a common thing for people to be intimidated at the thought of quilting an entire quilt, especially one that is bed sized or larger. If you just look at the entire quilt, you may groan in despair because seeing it as a “whole” is almost too much to contemplate.

So, here is my advice that can save you from that despair. Just look at the quilt in small portions. For starters, you can look at the different types of quilting you’ll need to do on the quilt. (See the end of the article to read my recommendation for the “order of quilting”.)

Foundation quilting (ditch quilting) the rows and borders with a walking foot would be the first thing I’d do. That’s usually when you hear me groaning because that work is BORING! But it’s necessary.** The second thing would be to do all of the free motion foundation quilting around applique pieces or small pieces in pieced blocks, etc. (less boring). Then comes the fun stuff; the beautiful quilting motifs. And lastly, the background quilting, which can be daunting because usually there is a lot of background to quilt, but at least this work is beautiful and will be appreciated by all.

The way that I work which has served me well all these many years is to set achievable goals. For instance, when I have to ditch quilt an entire quilt (walking foot quilting along rows of blocks, around borders, etc), I may set a goal of ditch quilting ¼ of the quilt in a day. Even on a large quilt, that would take at most 2 hours. So if I keep to my goal, I’ll have all that miserable walking foot quilting done in 4 days. That’s not a bad timeframe (at least for me it isn’t; I’m not in a race).

Then, let’s say I have to do a bunch of free motion foundation quilting around small pieces in blocks, and around applique pieces. For something like this, I may set a goal of doing two blocks per day. That’s do-able, right? And if I happen to do three blocks, then I’m ahead of the game.

And so it goes, throughout the quilt. When I get to the outer borders, if I’m doing an elaborate feather, I set a goal of doing one border per day. If that seems too much, maybe I’ll just set the goal of doing ½ of a border per day. And like I said, if I do more than that, so much the better!

To this day I can vividly remember quilting my first large quilt. It was a queen-sized double wedding ring quilt. You want to talk about daunting!

double wedding ringCindy's first large quilt; a queen Double Wedding Ring detail double wedding ringGoal for 1 day; center block and 3 melons

Well, this was the definition of that word! But I set a goal of quilting one block and three of the little melon shapes per day. Since the quilt was 7x8, I had 56 blocks to do (and who knows how many melons). But I knew that at most, this would take me two months to quilt (i.e. 56 days). Now, long-armers will scoff at that time frame, but if you’re a working-woman, or you have little kids at home and not much time to quilt, this time frame doesn’t really mean anything; it just means that you’re quilting a bit every day. From what I can remember, it took me about 45 minutes to quilt that one block and the three melon shapes. So, not quite an hour per day. Many times I’d quilt more than my set goal, and those were bonuses. When I finally finished that quilt, I was ecstatic! What an accomplishment for a new quilter.

ardathfullviewArdath and her beautiful quilt (her first large quilt machine quilted by herself) As a teacher, I have to tell you that when one of my students tackles a large quilt, I am so proud! I know that it’s so hard to conquer that fear. But when you become dauntless, you can conquer the world! Just last week, my friend and local quilt guild member, Ardath, brought a lovely queen-sized quilt to our meeting that she had just finished. Our entire group was gushing over her work, and indeed, it was very impressive. I felt myself beaming with pride over Ardath’s accomplishment. In the past several years, Ardath has taken several classes from me, as well as watching my on-line classes. And all that preparation and practice culminated in one drop-dead gorgeous quilt! I know the emotions that probably plagued her while working on this quilt. She talked to us of her doubts about finishing it, and even admitted that she seriously contemplated taking it to a long arm quilter. But she persevered, and now she knows that amazing feeling of pride and accomplishment.

ardathdetailDetail of Ardath's quiltingSo my advice to you is to be brave, fearless, intrepid! Set achievable goals for yourself. And remember this: you may moan and groan about the amount of work ahead of you, but after it’s completed, you’ll NEVER regret the extra effort you put into that quilt. Your work will be something you can always be proud of. Even if you’re a new quilter and you’re very critical of your own work, you’ll still be proud of yourself for persevering, and by the time you’ve finished that quilt, your skills will have vastly improved! So the effort will definitely be worth it.

So enjoy the process, enjoy the outcome, and bask in the fact that you are capable of creating beautiful things!

*Cindy’s recommendation for “The Order of Quilting”

  1. All “walking foot” foundation quilting (i.e. around blocks, borders, in the ditch quilting, etc.)
  2. All “free motion” foundation quilting (i.e. around pieces in pieced blocks, or around appliqué pieces)
  3. All “free motion” motifs (i.e. feathers, flowers, leaves, etc.)
  4. All background quilting (i.e. stippling, echo quilting, grids, etc.)

**If you find that some of these terms aren’t familiar to you, you may benefit from my beginning machine quilting class, “Successful Machine Quilting: Basic and Beyond” in which I go into detail about what exactly foundation quilting is, why and where it is needed, etc. Here's the link to order or view the trailer for the class: Cindy's Classes

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