Top 10 Tips for Quilting on a Domestic Machine

Welcome to Day 24 of the Back to School Blog Hop organized by Sam Hunter of Hunters Design Studio. If you are new to the hop, check out the end of the post for links to all of the “back to school” sewing tips!

Back to School Blog Hop - sewing tips

Top 10 Domestic Machine Quilting Tips

1. Baste Well

This is the least fun part of the quilt-making process but probably the most important. All three layers of the quilt (top, batting, backing) should be flat and smooth. I press seams open so they lie flat, and I also take the time to iron my batting. Spray basters can press the quilt after basting to set the glue and iron out any wrinkles; pin basters should double the amount of pins they would normally use.

2.  Use a Large Work Surface

Sewing Room

Buy a large sewing desk with a drop in table if you can. If not, put up an extra table behind your sewing machine and off to the left to hold the weight of the quilt. In my table above (which I bought 20 years ago from a company no longer in business) I added a couple of books under the machine to get it to the right height. You can also get a custom insert made to fit your machine. (Just google “custom sewing machine insert). Some companies also make large extension beds that go around your machine, giving you extra surface on any table.

3. Get tools that will help you grip and slip!

Machingers Quilting Gloves

Machingers quilting gloves help grip the quilt, and a supreme slider will make the bottom of the quilt slip and slide more easily under the machine.

Supreme Slider 2 Sizes

Two sizes of Supreme Slider are shown above, on my older sewing machine: the regular size (that I accidentally stitched through years ago) and the larger, queen size.

A word of caution – the Supreme Slider is only for free-motion quilting, NOT walking foot quilting. If you use a walking foot, you may stitch through the slider (ask me how I know….)!

4. Choose the Proper Needle and Thread

Here’s a general rule of thumb for matching thread weight and needle size: use a size 80/12 needle with a size 40-50 weight thread, and a size 90 needle with a 28-30 weight thread. Sharp or topstitch needles will have a sharper point, which will allow better penetration of the layers. A “machine quilting” needle is fine, too, but it’s usually more expensive and I don’t notice a difference. A “universal” needle is ok, but it’s not as sharp as the others and is better meant for all purpose applications.

Piece and Quilt Collection Aurifil Thread by Christa Watson

My Piece and Quilt Collection is available at The Precut Store, or your favorite retailer!

You can use nearly any thread you like for machine quilting, but I my favorite is Aurifil 50 weight cotton. You can use it for BOTH piecing and quilting, and it’s strong yet lightweight so it really blends in nicely. Rather than owning ALL the threads in ALL the different weights, I like simplicty – 50 weight cotton for EVERYTHING I do: piecing, quilting, and binding.

5. Match the top and bobbin threads

When quilting on a domestic machine, I also prefer to use the same color thread in the top and bobbin. It will hide any tension issues, and avoid the problem with a contrasting thread color poking through on the top or back of the quilt. This means you need to think about which fabric you are choosing for the backing of your quilt.

Christa Watson free-motion quilting

Current quilt in progress – this is the back using the same thread in top and bobbin.

If you are are a beginner, choose a busy back that will hide mistakes and allow different thread colors to blend in. If you want to show off your quilting, use a solid colored back so you can really see the stitches.

6. Practice Sketching

Warm up before you quilt by sketching your quilting design on a piece of paper or on a photo or printout of the quilt top. If you understand the flow of the quilting path, you can mimic that motion on your actual quilt. I like to develop a quilting plan for every quilt so that I’m not stuck wondering what to quilt next.

Possible Quilting Plan for HST Remix

Here’s a real life quilting plan for a quilt I’m in the process of remaking. It’s pretty messy with notes and thoughts as I figure things out, but I can print off multiple copies if needed until I’m satisfied and ready to quilt. Sometimes I will sketch out an entire quilting plan, while other times, I’ll just dooddle the quilting design to get the flow for how I’ll stitch it.

Check out my Craftsy Class – The Quilter’s Path to learn more about this method!


Practice diagrams for “swirls and pearls” – one of my favorite designs to quilt!

7. Practice Stitching

If you practice your “daily quilting exercise,” you’ll be a pro in no time! I always give my students homework when I teach – they are to make up a stack of quilt sandwiches (scrap fabric and batting) to practice on for 10 minutes a day for a week. After about 3-4 days of practice, they can see a noticeable improvement!

Free motion quilting practice

Fill up a scrap practice piece each day until you get the hang of the design!

Although I’ve been quilting for over 20 years, I still warm up every quilting session with a practice sandwich to test my tension for the day. I’d rather mess up on a scrap then on the real quilt!

8. Embrace both walking foot and free-motion techniques

Books by Christa Watson

In all of my books, I include ideas for BOTH walking foot  AND free-motion quilting!

Many quilters think they’ll never be able to quilt because they expect to free-motion quilt perfectly the first time! In my books, video classes and live classes, I always have the students start off with walking-foot quilting first because it’s hard to mess up! Once they are confident that yest they CAN quilt, then we move onto free-motion. By using both techniques in the same quilt you can really achieve some interesting designs. Some students prefer to use the walking foot exclusively while others are more comfortable with free-motion work. Many times, you don’t know what you like (and don’t like) until you try!

9. Quilt on Real Quilts and Give Them Away

Practice may not make perfect, but it does make progress! What better way to learn than by practicing on a “real” quilt as a gift for someone else? The recipient won’t notice your imperfections and you won’t have to be constantly reminded of how far you’ve come! I’ve given away dozens and dozens of “perfectly imperfect” quilts over the years and never would have gained the level of experience I have now, if not for tons of gift-giving!

10. Your Most Important Tool: A Can Do Attitude!

Start to finish quilting

Yes – you CAN quilt it! And I’m here to help!
Image is from my comprehensive start-to-finish quilting class on Craftsy.

I started teaching others to quilt in the late 90’s and I noticed that the students who had the most success, weren’t necessarily those with the most expensive sewing machines and tools. (Shhh! don’t let my industry partners know I said that!!) What they lacked for in experience or top of the line equipment, they more than made up for with their determination to get ‘er done!

You know the old saying “whether you think you can or can’t, you are right”?  That applies to quilting as well. My goal since becoming a professional teacher, author and designer just a few short years ago (with 20 years of “practice” under my belt) has been to get others to realize that quilting on a domestic machine can be both fun and rewarding if you stick to it and just take it one step, (or stitch) at a time!

Check out These “Back to School” Basics:

Check out each of these stops on the back to school sewing blog hop. There’s so much information contained in these posts that you are well on your way to learn everything you need to know to make your sewing and quilting experience more enjoyable. Happy reading!!














8 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for Quilting on a Domestic Machine

  1. Susan Paxton says:

    Christa, Thank you for these tips. I do most of my own quilting and each one of these tips are spot on. I bought 2 of your books at Panguitch Quilt Walk and am trying to free up some money so that I can purchase the latest. I love your patterns. Thanks for all you do for us quilters!!

  2. Cindy says:

    Very helpful information. I was surprised to hear your tip that you warm up with a practice sandwich, a person with all your expertise. Please keep sharing with your ‘Can do’ attitude!

  3. Sarah @BerryBarnDesigns says:

    This is an excellent list of tips, Christa! I especially love the gloves suggestion. It’s such a small piece to the process, but makes a huge difference. I don’t FMQ on my domestic, but I find them indispensable for even walking foot quilting. Thanks for sharing on the blog hop!

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