Machine Quilting on a Small Sewing Machine

Hooray! You've finished piecing the quilt top and it's beautiful. Now it's time to quilt the top, the batting, and the backing together. But the only problem is you don't know how! Don't worry, finishing a quilt can be done in several ways:

  • Paying for a long arm quilting service

  • Machine quilting on your sewing machine

  • Hand quilting

Long arm quilting is by far the easiest option, however, it's the most expensive. Long arm quilting can cost $50-200+ and will include pre-made or custom designs that you can pick out. Long arm services may also take time depending on their schedule.

Hand quilting is beautiful, but it takes A LOT OF TIME. More time than a lot of quilters have, and that's okay. We'll do another blog post dedicated to hand quilting, but for now, let's focus on machine quilting a quilt. 

Note: Quiltd Studios encourages every quilter to find an option that works best for you. I think everyone has varying resources, abilities, time and money. So to assist those that would like to machine quilt on a domestic sewing machine, read on for some tips and tricks.

Things you'll need to machine quilt on a small sewing machine:

  • A lot of Curved Safety Pins (like these)
  • Spray Baste (homemade or you can buy it here, this brand is my favorite!)
  • A walking foot (like this one specific to your machine)
  • A quilt sandwich (read on for details)
  • Grippy gloves, (like these, or use clean gardening gloves!)
  • Iron will (I'm not kidding)

    Siracusa Quilt Pictured Above in Kona Black, White, and Benartex Cotton Shot Steel, White Sherpa Backing

    1 - Make your "quilt sandwich"

    Lay the backing (pieced to cover the quilt top and hang over by several inches, you can find free backing calculators like this one to help with piecing) right side down. Now unroll the batting, and then add the quilt top right side up on top of each other. Smooth out any wrinkles. Many people tape the backing to the floor or even use pins to hold it down. To prep my quilt top for a quilt sandwich, I usually iron all the seams, trim all the strings (a lint roller is your new best friend) and starch it for extra stiffness.

    2 - Spray baste

    I use two methods for basting, a combination of non-permanent spray and safety pins. It seems to work the best for shoving large quilts through a small sewing machine. You can find spray baste at local craft stores or even make your own! Gently peel back and roll the batting/quilt top to reveal the backing (right side down) and lightly spray.

    Carefully unroll the batting and quilt top in small sections, patting it down as you go. Make sure there are no wrinkles. WRINKLES ARE THE ENEMY. Repeat with the quilt top, this time, gently rolling the quilt top to reveal the batting and lightly spraying.

    3 - Pin, Pin, and More Pinning

    No, it's not as much fun as pinning gardenscapes or Julie's instant pot shredded chicken on pinterest, but it will be worth it, I promise. Carefully place safety pins around the quilt (starting from the middle ideally), capturing the backing, batting, and quilt top. Doing this on a hardwood floor is ideal. 

    Straighten and smooth as you go, making sure there are no wrinkles. If there are, undo the pins, gently pull everything to make it taut and try again. Whatever you do, don't use normal open ended sewing pins, you will be stabbed a million times. I've done it and I still have scars.

    4 - Get Ready to Quilt

    Prep your space, clear your sewing table, change your sewing machine settings to a longer stitch length (2.0-3.0mm, I like 2.7, but that's me), install your walking foot (this will help keep the sandwich together, try quilting without it and you'll see that it's worth every penny).

    Grab your trusty grippy gloves and turn on music or a movie to help you stay relaxed. If you want a specific design on your quilt, you can use the back of dull knife or one of these to mark your design on the fabric. I usually do straight lines that are in the "ditch" or 1/4" from the seams.

    5 - Quilt

    Starting in the middle or on the side of the middle, slowly, very slowly stich on your desired lines. I usually use the walking foot's edge as a guide and stitch about 1/4" from the ditch. You can shove or roll all the excess fabric through the arm of your machine.

    Use your hands to keep both sides of the fabric around the walking foot smooth and flat. It takes some arm strength to do this!

    6 - Don't Give Up

    About halfway through, you're going to want to throw in the towel. I know this, because I always feel this way. I call it the "Quilting Wall". This is when I'll take a break, and finish it the next day.

    Just remember to check your bobbin for low thread (nothing worse than stitching with no bobbin thread left) and to keep the fabric as flat as possible. It takes LOTS and LOTS of practice.

    7 - You did it!

    Now onto the binding..

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