Tips for Domestic Machine Quilters

September 2011 Tip of the Month for Domestic Machine Quilters!

Six years ago, I began quilting using a domestic sewing machine and learned (the hard way) a lot of trouble-shooting skills.  As a professional quilter now, I would like to share those tips with you!

Practical Trouble-Shooting Tip for large loops (commonly nick-named "nests") on the back of your quilt (commonly created while free-motion quilting with the feed-dogs down): 

It is important to note that those pesky loops are actually caused by the top thread and is the top thread coming through too far.

If you get loops on the under-side of your quilt, check your bobbin.  It probably became un-threaded through the bobbin hook of your bobbin case.  To fix it, simply remove your bobbin, re-insert it into the bobbin case, thread the bobbin hook and resume quilting.

If the problem persists, check the threading of your machine.  This problem is also created as the thread comes out of the thread hook lever (also called thread take-up lever) above the needle assembly.  By simply re-threading your machine correctly, your problem is eliminated!

TIP: FASTEST WAY TO UN-PICK THOSE NASTY NESTS:  Remove your quilt from the machine altogether.  If thread is caught around your feed dogs, use a seam-ripper to carefully cut the threads from the feed dogs.  Remember to remove your feed-dog plate and clean out any thread that may have fallen into your sewing machine.  Once out of the machine, turn the quilt over so the backing side is up (along with all of those nasty loops).  Cut the bobbin thread only using your seam ripper and pull it out in the direction perpendicular to the orientation of the loops (leave the loops alone).  Once all of the bobbin thread is removed, turn the quilt over and pull out the top thread.  All of the loops will come out, the resume quilting that area.

While this rarely occurs in professional quilting machines, it may occur so check the same places to stop the problem.  The fastest way to un-pick those loops while the quilt is on the frame is to roll the quilted area onto the take-up roller.  Then, using a seam ripper, un-pick the straight bobbin thread only and pull out this thread.  Then "reverse" your quilt back onto the cloth leader rollers and adjust it to the problem area.  Pull all of the top thread you see there.  This will quickly and safely remove the improperly quilted area.  Check your roller tension to ensure that no puckers could form, then resume quilting.  With a professional frame system, there is no need to remove the quilt to fix this error.

Happy Quilting!

October 2011--Quilting Tip of the Month for Domestic Machine Quilters

Some common domestic sewing machine quilting problems and what I did about it:  

  •   Adjust your stitch length to a shorter stitch, I liked “2” on  my Kenmore.
  •  Move your quilt sandwich slower!
  • Practice!
  •      Pin more closely together than the recommended “fist width”. 
  •         Iron AND STARCH your backing fabric before pinning it.
  •          Avoid pinning on piecing lines you intend to quilt over.
  •           Before quilting an area, “feel” your sandwich with your hands as it approaches the needle.  You can smooth out bumps before they become sewn into tucks.

I admit that getting tucks in the backing fabric was one of the most common frustrations I had.  The top would look perfect, and then you would turn it over only to see tucks.  To overcome this problem, I would actually double-quilt my quilt using water-soluble thread.

1.      Safety-pin baste your quilt in the usual manner.
2.      Load the bobbin with water-soluble thread.  My machine would not work if I loaded the top with water-soluble thread, but if yours will, then more power to ya!
3.      With the feed dogs down, meander a very large scale “stipple” pattern over your entire quilt—about fist distance apart.
4.      Now any possible tuck will appear on the backing.
5.      Dab the tucks with water and re-pin that area flat.
6.      Change your machine to your regular quilting thread—ESPECIALLY YOUR BOBBIN!  Now your quilt is perfectly basted.
7.      Quilt your pattern as desired (I usually use my walking foot now).
8.      Bind, then launder in the washing machine.  All of your basting stitches will magically disappear and your quilt will look perfect.  If you did not use water-soluble thread in the upper threading of your machine, pull these now hanging threads out perpendicular to the direction of the quilted thread path.


  •          I got really tired of safety-pinning and then un-pinning, then accidentally sewing over pins, busting or blunting needles, so I adapted the method hand quilters use for their quilts to baste the quilt sandwich.   This really works well.

1.      Lay out your quilt sandwich on a flat surface.
2.      Using a hand running stitch, sew a line of basting stitches starting at the center of your quilt from corner to corner to create and “x”.  Then go from the center again to form a “t.”  (This is faster than pinning).
3.      Load your sewing machine bobbin with water-soluble thread (and top if yours will let you). 
4.      THIS WILL ONLY WORK WITH YOUR FREE-MOTION (Darning) FOOT, so put it on and lower those feed dogs!
5.      Because a domestic machine has a workable three-inch throat space, place a seven-inch embroidery hoop in the center of your quilt.  You will need to lift up your presser foot to slide the bottom hoop under your quilt and then lower the top hoop over your quilt sandwich.
6.      Use a large-scale stipple stitch and baste the area inside the hoop.
7.      Once area is sewn (about one large “s” of the stipple meander), put your needle down and pop open the hoop. (DO NOT REMOVE THE QUILT SANDWICH FROM YOUR MACHINE).
8.      Reposition the hoop above and slightly overlapping the area just basted through.
9.      Continue this process by moving the quilt out from the center using a counter-clockwise spiral pattern.
10.  Once entire quilt is basted, change from the water-soluble thread to your quilt thread and quilt as desired.
11.  Bind, then launder in the washing machine.  All of your basting stitches will magically disappear and your quilt will look perfect.  If you did not use water-soluble thread in the upper threading of your machine, pull these now hanging threads out perpendicular to the direction of the quilted thread path.

OH, JUST TIE IT!  I admit, since I was a hand-quilter first that this just seemed like cheating.  However, on a quilt that is for a child, it works really well.  I had been working on a top I wrote the pattern for and just wanted it done.  My toddler son came in and said in toddlerese,  “Mum, what doing?”  “A quilt for a baby.”  His eyes lit up like fireworks and yelled, “I your baby!”  He ripped the quilt out of my sewing machine (thankfully the needle wasn’t down) and hugged it.  I quickly tied it and then bound it.

The quilt held up through it’s first couple of launderings and then the patchwork seams began to pop open.  I whip-stitched them closed and then used my walking foot to machine quilt in the ditch those pesky patchwork seams.  He’s slept with it now for three and a half years straight with out a problem.

It’s okay to “just tie it!”  Use tying instead of pin basting, then go back and stitch in the ditch using a walking foot.  It works really well.  I created this pattern.