Answers to Your Machine Quilting Challenges – Part 1

While promoting the launch of my new Craftsy Class, I asked folks on Instagram what their #1 challenge was when it comes to machine quilting on a home sewing machine. It generated a lot of great comments, so I thought I’d try and tackle them here. There were so many great questions that I decided to break them up into multiple blog posts.


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Problem: Tension
My suggestion: Try and adjust the top tension first. If the bobbin stitches poke through to the top, the top tension is too tight, so lower it. If the top stitches show up on the back, the top tension is too loose, so tighten it. Always thread the needle with the foot up to engage the tension properly.

Problem: Choosing Quilting Designs
My suggestion:
Pick one or two designs you like and then go for it. You can pick one design to quilt allover, or break up the design into blocks and background and quilt a different design in each area. Once you are comfortable with a few designs, it will get easier to combine them together. My books are a great resource containing dozens of different designs for you to try.

Problem: Not Knowing Where to Start
My suggestion:
Divide and conquer! Quilt what you know you can easily do first such as stitching in the ditch along the major seam lines. I call this “anchor quilting” which helps stabilize the quilt for more intricate quilting later. I prefer to start on the right side of the quilt and work my way across the quilt, then fill in smaller and smaller sections. My Craftsy Class, The Quilter’s Path, covers this subject in great detail.


Practice won’t necessarily lead to perfection; but it will help you make progress!

Problem: Movement and Stitch Length Consistency
My suggestion:
Practice makes progress. It’s easier to get consistent stitches with a walking foot because the machine is doing most of the work for you. However, when it comes to free-motion, it’s a whole different movement. You need to smoothly guide the quilt under the machine, yet with enough force to push it through at an even speed. In essence, you do the work of the feed dogs since they are covered or disengaged while free-motion quilting. For consistency, a stitch regulator can help, especially for beginners. Also, slowing down can help. Aim for a smooth, fluid movement that begins to feel more natural over time, the more you practice.

Problem: Quilting a Large Quilt on a Small Machine
My suggestion:
Take it one step at a time and remember that only a small area of the quilt is being quilted at any time, so there is a lot of constant scrunching and smooshing to get it out of the way. Aim for designs that don’t need you to turn the quilt very much (such as gentle wavy lines). Also, quilt on the largest table surface you can find. When it’s time to upgrade your machine, get the widest throat/harp space (the area between the needle and arm of the machine) that you can afford.


Imperfect wavy lines look great every time and are quick, fun, and easy to do!

Problem: I am afraid I’ll ruin my quilt top.
My suggestion:
Practice on small “cheater” panels first. Turn them into baby quilts and give them away so you don’t have to be reminded of your beginner progress. (Or keep a few to see how far you’ve come!) Take time to make a couple of extra pieced blocks and practice quilting those first so you can see what your design actually looks like before you spend time on a whole quilt. Finally, if you are just starting out, choose an easy design to quilt with your walking foot such as a wavy grid, or a forgiving free-motion design such as random loops. This will give you confidence to keep going, knowing that you can quilt one or two designs that actually looks good!

I hope these suggestions help! If you have a quilting problem you don’t know how to tackle, please leave a comment. I’ll try to include suggestions for as many of them as possible in next week’s blog post! You can also post photos of your trouble spots in my facebook community,  and fellow group members can help make suggestions.

10 thoughts on “Answers to Your Machine Quilting Challenges – Part 1

    • Christa says:

      I prefer a thin cotton thread such as my Piece and Quilt collection from Aurifil. I will either match my threads or choose something like and neutral that will look good on a variety of colors.

  1. Jackie Parnell says:

    I have a huge problem with skipped stitches when I quilt on my Bernina QE550. I’ve tried everything from new/different needles to different kinds of thread. It happens when I use my walking foot and with my free-motion stitch regulator. It gets serviced regularly too. What should I try next?

  2. Paige says:

    I have a problem with my thread getting tangled on the back of my quilt when I start or stop a quilting line so it looks sloppy. I would like to not be limited to starting/stopping just at the edges of the quilt.

    • nonniequiltingdreams says:

      DO you bring your thread up to the top of the quilt to bury the threads? That is often used for show quilts and heirloom quilts.

      You can also pull the threads up to the top of the quilt, take small stitches and then snip off the threads. Some quilters make an artistic loop of small stitches before and after doing FMQing … great for kid / utility quilts … looks decorative.

  3. Martha cook says:

    thank you for taking the time to answer our questions on Instagram. my question now is,don’t you ever sleep? 🙂

    • Christa says:

      LOL!! Yes, I need lots of sleep to keep me going! 🙂 What I don’t do is watch much TV – I’d rather be sewing. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Christa Watson Instagram @christaquilts website/blog: Click here to join my facebook group: Quilt with Christa

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