Workshop Wednesday: The Truth about Machine Quilting


I’ve started to think of machine quilting as being similar to parenting in terms of how quickly we forget how befuddled we were in the beginning.

After all, taking care of an infant is basically nonstop troubleshooting—you’re always trying this technique or that approach to get the baby to sleep/eat/sleep/stop crying/sleep. It’s not as if kids who are older and more self-sufficient don’t need parenting and guidance, but hopefully you’ve got more systems in place by that point and you’re not so focused anymore on simply keeping them alive. Those little tricks you relied on when your kids were babies just to get through the day are no longer relevant, and so you forget them.

I mean, I know I somehow got my daughters to sleep at night when they were 6 months old, but I’m pretty useless when it comes to offering practical advice now that they’re in elementary school. If, however, you’re interested in my free-motion troubleshooting tips, I managed to write those down before I forgot them all. I guess you know where my priorities are.

Basically, I think that once we’ve gotten past the absolute beginner stage of machine quilting, we no longer pay attention to all the little things that start coming “naturally” when we sit down to sew. As a result, we may not be as helpful to beginning machine quilters as we’d like because we just don’t think about why we do what we do anymore. But the truth is that with machine quilting, the readiness is all (to quote the Bard).

We have a bunch of great resources for learning how to quilt using your domestic machine, some of which I’m about to list for you. But I want to tell you upfront if you’ve felt intimidated by giving it a try or been discouraged by your results that YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS. Sorry for the all-caps, I know they’re not very dignified, but I can’t stress enough that YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS. You can. It may take longer to get up to speed than you think it should, but pretty much everyone who machine quilts well had to go through this phase, whether they remember the details or not.

First things first: get your sewing space set up as best you can. A couple of years ago Erin Russek and Lori Baker joined me for a three-part video series about what I referred to as “machine quilting in the real world.” It’s one thing to machine quilt a small test sandwich, but it’s another thing completely to deal with a full-size quilt. In this first part, Erin and Lori talked about how they set up their sewing space when they’re machine quilting at home to deal with one thing in particular: the effect the weight of your quilt sandwich will have on your quilting.

In part two, Lori talked in more detail about feed dog-driven quilting (while demonstrating with a very large quilt of her own). She refrained from describing it as “straight-line quilting” because these techniques can also apply to quilting curves where you’re putting your feed dogs in tandem with a walking foot; the point is that you’re letting your feed dogs move the quilt for you. Lori recommends pin basting with pins close together and to go slowly so you can maneuver the weight of the quilt and ensure even stitching. The preview video is below; you can watch the full episode on our website here.

And in part three, Erin talked about her techniques for free-motion quilting featuring one of her gorgeous hand-appliqued original quilts, including how she pleats her quilt in the throat space of her machine and why she thinks stippling is hard. A short preview video is below; you can watch the full episode on our website here.


In the videos above, Erin touched on how much neck and shoulder strain quilters can experience from pushing and pulling quilts through their machines. That physical toll is another aspect that people don’t talk about very often, but it’s very real and can definitely impact the quality (and quantity) of your work. Erin worked through some of her own ergonomic challenges with a physical trainer to improve how she used her body while quilting, which led to the on-demand webinar “No More Backaches: An Ergonomic Approach to Quilting” with Michael Engman.

As he is not a quilter himself, presenter and personal trainer Michael Engman provides a fresh and informative look at the quilting process and the ways that it can affect our health. In this presentation Michael shows you how mindful movement in a well-designed workspace not only reduces the negative impact of your activity on your body — it improves efficiency, output, attitude, and perhaps most importantly, it enhances your connection with your own body and your work. Click here to learn more about the “No More Backaches” webinar.


In “Lessons Learned While Quilting,” an on-demand web seminar, experienced quilter and teacher Catherine Redford introduces you to her life as a quilter and the many and varied lessons she has learned along the way. Catherine will share around 50 quilts she has finished, some better than others. Not always serious, but definitely informative, you can look forward to a fun hour of quilts and inspiration in this webinar; click here to learn more.


And in another on-demand web seminar, “Modern Machine Quilting: Straight Lines, Spirals and More,” Catherine Redford goes into more detail about feed-dog driven machine quilting, including basting, thread choice, turning sharp corners, sewing curved lines, and how to handle a large quilt. Click here to learn more about this webinar.

Keep an eye on this website for an upcoming series of articles about domestic sewing machine quilting by Tricia Patterson that will begin in late January, in which Tricia will document her journey from successful hand quilter to successful machine quilter.

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