Christa’s Quilt Along 5.8 – Hugs ‘n Kisses Stitching in the Ditch

Although machine quilting is my absolute favorite part of making a quilt, stitching in the ditch is my least favorite part of the quilting process. Stitching in the ditch means quilting right in the middle of the seam lines, usually outlining a block or part of the quilt. Think of stitching in the ditch as the anchor that holds the quilt together and provides stability so you can have fun quilting more exciting motifs later (as in next week)!

Step 1 – Gather the Needed Supplies

My Hugs ‘n Kisses Quilt is basted and ready to go so now it’s time to give a little thought to quilting supplies and thread selection.  Below are my absolute favorite supplies for machine quilting: a Supreme Slider, quilting gloves, a free-motion foot and a walking foot.

Machine Quilting Supplies

The Supreme Slider enables me to slide the quilt around easily during free-motion quilting.  It sits on the bed of the machine and covers the feed dogs so I don’t even have to drop them if I don’t want to (some machines perform better when the feed dogs are still engaged). However, one word of caution – remember to remove it when doing any walking foot quilting or you’ll stitch right through it!

I wear a pair of quilting gloves the entire time while quilting (both with the walking foot and the free motion foot). They allow me to grip the quilt, smoosh it around and push it through with ease. If you can only buy one tool for quilting, this is my number one recommendation. They are machine washable, too.

Thread and Needles

My favorite needles to use are titanium topstitch needles from Superior Threads. They have a longer eye so the thread can easily glide through the hole. I use them for all sewing from piecing to quilting. I use a size 70 or 80 needle for thinner polyester threads (50-60 weight) and a size 90 needle for thicker (30-40 weight) cotton or polyester threads, or specialty threads.

Whenever possible, I like to choose a stitch in the ditch thread that blends with most of the colors of my quilt top. In this case a light pink thread will work well for this quilt. A 50 weight cotton or 50-60 weight polyester are good choices for stitching in the ditch. I use the same color thread in top and bobbin.

Step 2 – Stitch in the Ditch to Anchor the Quilt (4.5 Hours)

First, decide which “ditches” you want to stitch. If you are quilting the X and O configuration it’s very easy to stitch between each row of blocks. Start in the middle of the quilt and stitch all of the horizontal rows from one end of the row to the other. Move over one row, and quilt all of the rows on that side. Then finish the other side, turn the quilt 90 degrees and stitch through all of the vertical rows. I’ve also included a closeup of my original Hug’s N Kisses where I was able to stitch through all of the ditches in white thread.

Stitch in the Ditch Closeup

Hugs 'N Kisses

Stitching in between the X and O blocks and should take a lot less time. Because I made my quilt with all X’s, getting in between the ditches took a lot longer.

For the all X configuration, I had to constantly turn and pivot to outline all of the blocks. In some cases, I back-stitched through previous lines of stitching. Here are some in process photos below:

Pulling up the Bobbin ThreadAlways thread your machine with the needle in the “up” position. This ensures proper threading of the top thread in between the tension discs.

When starting a line of stitching, pull your bobbin thread up to the top. Remember this phrase, “needle down, foot down – needle up, foot up” to grab your bobbin thread. You can either tie off your thread ends, or start and stop each  line of stitching with a few tiny stitches to secure your threads.

You can pull your bobbin thread up to the top at the end of a line of stitching by yanking on the top thread until a little loop of bobbin thread comes to the surface. Then pull it through with a needle or small pin.

Stitch in the DitchPivot When Needed

Using an open-toe walking foot really helps so you can see where you are stitching! Try to stay as close to the ditch as possible and slow down if needed so your stitches are straight and consistent. I only removed pins as they got in my way. I left the rest of the pins in for stability as I stitched.

About halfway through quilting, I decided to see if I could stitch in the ditch using my free-motion foot. This is a little more advanced technique which requires a lot of control over the movement of the foot. I found that if I slowed down enough I could stitch in the ditch with my free motion foot. The upside is that I didn’t have to pivot the quilt so much. I could just move the foot where I needed to go to get around all of the ditches.

FMQ Ditching
Whenever I’m quilting, my hands act as a hoop constantly surrounding the needle, giving me more control over the quilting process.

Step 3 – Quilting the Border Outlines (30 Minutes)

Some of the inner border will have already been quilted from outlining the blocks. I quilted the rest of the inner border seams and the outer border seam. This will stabilize the borders for now so I can add more decorative quilting later.

Stitch the BordersYou can see that I’ve left in most of my basting pins. I will remove them as I need to next week when doing the decorative free-motion work.

Stitched in the Ditch

All of my ditches have been stitched! I know it doesn’t look like much but you can sort of see the “poof” left by the quilting. The quilt is nice and flat and stable and I’m ready to move onto the “exciting” quilting next week!

Hugs ‘n Kisses Quilt Kits are available for purchase while supplies last. If you have any questions about this week’s homework, please be sure to join my flickr discussion, leave a comment, or email me directly at

Quilt Along Schedule – Links will go to each active post when published.

Hugs 'N Kisses

Hugs ‘N Kisses 48″ x 64″

Grab my Quilt Along button!

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3 thoughts on “Christa’s Quilt Along 5.8 – Hugs ‘n Kisses Stitching in the Ditch

  1. ivylovestosew says:

    So you pin-baste, stitch in the ditch, remove the pins, and then fmq to your heart’s desire? Could you skip the stitching in the ditch if you were doing just straight-line quilting anyway?

    • Christa says:

      Yes, that’s pretty much it. You could skip the ditching if you are quilting the heck out of it anyway and have pinned well. I like to outline and anchor all of my blocks. Others like Cindy Needham stitch every single seam, no matter if it’s part of the desgin or not. It’s more a matter of personal taste and what you think looks good 🙂

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