Answers to Your Machine Quilting Challenges – part 4

Welcome to part 4 of my series that helps you solve your most challenging machine quilting issues.  You can read part 1, part 2 and part 3 for more helpful advice.

Christa Watson shares tips and advice for domestic machine quilting

Publicity image for my Craftsy Class: The Quilter’s Path where I share more quilting tips!

Problem: I have health issues that don’t allow me to quilt as much as I  would like.
My suggestion:
I totally understand! I recently had a bad fall and injured my left arm, so I haven’t been able to touch a machine in weeks. When my health is not up to par, I try to do other things that don’t wear me out such as playing with new designs on the computer, or getting inspiration from reading quilting books and magazines.

When I’m able to sew but feel like I don’t have the time or energy to do much, I set a timer for 15 minutes and get right to the machine. Even sewing one or two seams can give me a really satisfying feeling. Finally, if you can’t quite do the things you used to, that’s okay. See what you are able to do and don’t be timid about asking for help from others.

Problem: I do not like basting and always get puckers.
My suggestion:
Basting is definitely the least fun part of the process. It’s taken me many years to figure out how to baste without getting puckers. The key is to get all 3 layers of the quilt really flat before putting them together, and taking time to smooth them out as you layer them.  I prefer to use 505 basting spray and then iron the whole quilt after basting to smooth it out and set the glue. I’ve also had success with pin basting, too.

Tutorials on quilt basting for machine quilting

Students basting in a recent class I taught. Use a long ruler to help smooth out the quilt.

Click here to find several different tutorials I’ve written about the basting process. I’m sure one will work great for you! If all else fails, you can actually pay a longarmer to quilt long basting stitches on your quilt and then skip the process all together!

Problem: I don’t know how to use my new fancy machine.
My suggestion: I would say that’s a nice problem to have, LOL!! Whenever I teach newer quilters, I always recommend that they get acquainted with their machines right away. I know it’s kind of boring to do, but reading through the owner’s manual is really the best thing to do to get to know your machine. If you purchased it from a dealer, they should offer new owner’s classes for free. Another tip is to google, “how do I _______ on my _______ (make and model) machine” and fill in the blanks. I’m sure you’ll find a wealth of videos and tutorials to help you out!

Problem: I need help making pretty spirals (or other designs).
My suggestion:
Practice, practice, practice! It may not make perfect, but practice will make progress. Part of my teaching method is to have students draw out their motifs onto paper ahead of time to learn how the shapes are created.

Practice Drawing for free motion quilting

My drawings don’t look nearly as good as my quilting, but they are important to practice!

One thing to keep in mind is that most people will draw designs from left to right (if they are right handed), but quilting is usually done from right to left (starting on the right edge of the quilt). So keep that in mind and draw in many directions to get comfortable with the movement.

Problem: How do I get over my lack of confidence and fear of failure?
My suggestion: Just remember that you are learning a brand new skill and it takes time to learn a new muscle movement. Diving in and getting started is the best way to tackle any problem. If you are a brand new quilter, start with walking foot quilting first, and the move on to free-motion when you are most comfortable. Then remember this advice: the best way to hide imperfect stitches is with more imperfect stitches! One line of quilting will stand out like a sore thumb. But surround that line of quilting with more (imperfect) lines and all of a sudden you notice the overall texture, not the individual stitches.

Problem: I don’t know which thread to use for machine quilting.
My suggestion:
Grab my Piece and Quilt Collection from Aurifil! It’s 50 weight low-lint cotton that is perfect for sewing and machine quilting, as the name implies. The best thing about only using one type/brand of thread for everything I do is that I can stock up on tons of colors, without breaking the bank. Plus, any leftover bobbins from machine quilting can be used when piecing my next quilt!

Piece and Quilt Aurifil thread by Christa Watson

My Colors collection includes every color of the rainbow. The Neutrals group is versatile and includes way more than just black, white and gray. These two collections will provide blending thread colors for virtually any quilt you are going to make!

Click here to see which colors are included in each group.

Piece and Quilt Neutrals Aurifil Thread from Christa Quilts

Ask for my threads at your favorite quilt shop, or purchase online from The Precut Store.

Problem: How do I get an even stitch length?
My suggestion: That’s one of those things that will develop over time. When you are quilting with a walking foot (or dual feed system) the stitch length setting on your machine will work with the feed dogs to provide even stitches. Some newer machines with free-motion quilting include an option to use a stitch regulator. I learned the old fashioned way on a machine without a regulator and the key is to balance the rhythm of your hands moving the quilt through the machine with the speed at which you are quilting. It’s more of an art than a science and it’s like learning how to drive a manual car. But if you practice for 10 minutes a day, every day for a week, you’ll definitely see some improvement!

I hope you have enjoyed this week’s trouble shooting session. There’s still a whole bunch of problems to get through, so keep checking back each week for more! If you enjoy these tips and advice, don’t forget to pick up a copy of my machine quilting books that will help you put this advice into practice on real quilts!

Click here to purchase signed copies of my books, Machine Quilting with Style
and The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting.

Christa Watson Books

You can also find them on Amazon, from my publisher Martingale/That Patchwork place which offers a free e-copy with every print copy purchased, or from you favorite local quilt shop!

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13 thoughts on “Answers to Your Machine Quilting Challenges – part 4

  1. Magda says:

    I am a new quilter and appreciate all your lessons and tips. Please do not stop!! I just want to ask you when you do straight lines on your quilts, do you lower the feed dogs?
    Kind regards from South Africa.

  2. Jereena Ameen says:

    Thank you for these much needed advice. I have been struggling to find time to sew/quilt with full time job, one hour commute to and fro work, and taking care of my 3 yr old. I’ll sure try the 15 min rule.

  3. lilquilter says:

    Christa, thank you for posting your answers to our machine quilting challenges. I hope that you will include all of these posts together as a topic in your menu list for easy reference. My quilt guild’s (Brandywine Valley Quilters) February meeting program is a “Sew What” forum featuring Q&A sessions on various topics and I will mention your blog as a great resource for our members, both “newbie” quilters and those of us with experience as well. There’s always something we can learn to make our quilting experience more enjoyable and rewarding. Thank you so much!

  4. Paula S. Pike says:

    Very sage advise. I love your wall basting method, it has made my life so much easier.
    Continue to heal…you will appreciate it in the long run.

  5. Andrea_R says:

    In the Adventure Time comics, the dog guy says, and I quote this often, “The first step at being good at something is sucking at it.”

    So, you;re going to suck at it for a while, then one day you’ll be better. Then you’ll be pretty good. You’ll keep going and poke your head up a while after that and other people will go “WOW, you’re really good at this!”

    So be willing to suck at it. 😀

  6. margiestitcher says:

    thank you once agin for all the good advice, off now to check out the variuos basting methods, think i have managed better recently as I have 7 quilts now tacked! 4 also have been quilted and 4 more in flimsy stage. Also must practise more Free motion quilting as do find my stitches vary tremendously in size

  7. Suzy Jo says:

    Could we have more info about using rulers when quilting on your home machine. Like which brands, sizes and shapes for beginners, please!!

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