A couple weeks ago, Kevin and I decided it would be best if I quit my job and became a stay at home wife and mommy-to-be. There were many factors that came together to help us make this decision — and it has been absolutely WONDERFUL. I am able to stay home and keep the house clean and get all of the projects done that I need to for my Etsy shop, Designing Tomorrow.
First, let me say this. I do not have a long-arm quilting machine. Although it is one of my hopes and dreams to finally purchase one… those suckers are EXPENSIVE! So, keep in mind that all the quilts that I do are on a domestic sewing machine. Do you know what that means? Those of you without the luxury of having a long-arm quilting machine can successfully design, make, and complete beautiful quilts, too!
Here are my 10 very basic tips for quilting that I have learned are very important over the years. There are SO MANY other things I plan on writing about quilting. However, for the sake of your attention spans (and my current attention span), I am going to leave it at these 10 tips for today.
When I first started quilting, I lived at my mom’s house. We had a whole basement that was dedicated to crafting (which was SO nice). When I got married, I moved into a one bedroom apartment with my husband. I do not have the luxury of having my own craft room anymore. So, my husband and I push ALL of the furniture in the living room as far out of the way as possible and that is my work space. I do all of my cutting, ironing, basting, free-motioning, and binding there.
There is nothing worse than having to stop everything that you’re doing and rush to the craft store because don’t have something that you need. Here is a quick list of just a few items that I make sure I have before I begin my quilts. Some of them are obvious… some not so much.
Rotary Cutting Ruler
Quilt Basting Spray (This one is my FAVORITE!)
Fabric for the quilt: the top, the backing, and the binding. (Sometimes I purchase the fabric as I go on a quilt — just to make sure everything looks good.)
Quilt piecing typically run in rows and columns. Therefore, be sure that you look at your quilt template before you start to randomly piece it together. There usually is a method to the madness. Can you tell how I pieced this quilt together?
When I first started quilting, I didn’t think this step was very important. I wanted to get done with it QUICKLY instead of accurately. Do you know where this left me? With a very mismatched quilt! So — slow down, take your time… it will be worth it in the end!
I recently did a t-shirt quilt for a client. Before I make t-shirt quilts, I wash all of the t-shirts. When I washed his t-shirts, he had a red shirt that bled ALL over the other t-shirts in the wash. Luckily, I was able to save all of them by re-washing ALOT… but think about how it could have ruined the quilt if I hadn’t washed the t-shirts first!? When I first began t-shirt quilting, I did not think this step was important. My thought was, They are T-SHIRTS that the people have probably worn and washed a million times! Although in most cases this is true… skipping this step could lead to you having that ONE red t-shirt that has never been washed before BLEED everywhere — like I almost did!
It’s also very important to wash and dry all of your fabric before you begin cutting it. Fabric shrinks when it is first washed and dried. So, if you pre-wash and dry your fabric you won’t run this risk of having your beautiful quilt shrink and look strange in the end — unless that’s the look you’re going for. Also, fabric will bleed its’ colors if it is not pre-washed. So, pre-washing and drying the fabrics prevents any bleeding onto the quilt.
I cannot stress to you enough how important ironing is in the quilting process. You are going to want to iron your fabric when it comes out of the dryer, after you piece it together, and before you make your quilt sandwich. I know this probably sounds a little excessive… but ironing a million times helps prevent the fabric from bunching up while you’re free-motioning (which is NOT pretty — trust me.). It’s also very important to iron your bias strips before you start binding your quilt. Without doing this, it makes the whole complicated process even harder.
Unless you are a seasoned quilter who has ALWAYS basted with safety pins… I highly suggest using basting spray. I use the June Tailor Quilt Basting Spray from Joann Fabrics and I LOVE it. It does not mess with my machine or my needle. It is not too sticky and comes off in the first wash. Another thing I love about this basting spray is that it is strong enough to keep your quilt sandwich together but light enough that you can easily reposition your fabric if you want.
I have never met a free motion quilter who got it right on the first try. Getting the pedal speed and how fast you move your fabric synchronized is key and very challenging. Each machine is different and I’ve learned that various fabrics react differently under the free-motioning foot as well. There are LOTS of YouTube videos on Free Motion Quilting — I suggest watching them multiple times before attempting it the first time. Then, grab some scrap fabrics and batting and practice practice practice! When (and only when) you feel comfortable on the scraps… move on to the real deal!
I am a total fan of using the cheapest thread in the craft store on my everyday sewing projects. However, I am quite the thread snob when it comes to Free-Motion quilting. Using cheap thread on a free-motion project can result in HORRIBLE outcomes. First of all, cheap thread doesn’t typically hold up well during the violent beating of Free-Motion — and it breaks mid-stitch!! Second of all, cheap thread gets very tangled on the bottom of your quilt – leaving it a free-motion NIGHTMARE.
Here are two of the threads that I have become very fond of over the years:
Guterman Sew All Polyester Thread: Guterman thread is wonderful in the free-motion setting. It is a bit pricey, but completely worth it. I have come to adore this brand up until recently. Although it is still my #1 pick when it comes to sewing and quilting… I recently had a horrible experience with the red thread made by this company.
Coats & Clark Machine Quilting Cotton Thread: Because of my horrible experience with the red Guterman thread, I decided to switch it up on my last quilt to the Coats & Clark Machine Quilting thread. It was WONDERFUL! It did not get all tangled up on the back of my quilt — AND it did not bleed in the wash. I believe I may have found my new favorite quilting thread!
When I first began quilting, I was so excited and anxious to get my quilt completed that I would try and do it all in one day. Although it is possible, there were many reasons why I chose to start slowing down my free-motioning process. For one, free-motion quilting is HARD on the body. There are all sorts of quilting experts who will say that it shouldn’t be. However, sticking a queen size+ quilt through a domestic sewing machine is challenging and tiring. Spreading out the time spent flexing my upper body muscles helped keep up my stamina and prevented my body from being overwhelmingly sore.
The second reason that I chose to spread my free-motion quilting out over a few days was because of my machine. Although I use the Singer Confidence Quilter and it was designed for quilters… my little domestic sewing machine probably wasn’t built to handle multiple queen size+ quilts every couple weeks. Simply put — my machine gets tired. When it starts to get overheated, it doesn’t produce as great of stitches as it would if it was cool and well-rested.
If you agree with my two reasons for spreading it out over a couple of days, here is my suggestion for effectively dividing up the workload. Do it one bobbin at a time. Many quilters will tell you to buy 20 extra bobbins before beginning a free-motion project. However, I say you only need one bobbin. Fill up your bobbin and free-motion until that bobbin runs out. Then, you can take as much time as you want to rest before you begin the next bobbin.
I find this to be effective in many ways. For one, it takes about an hour for me to go through one bobbin. So, if I have a quilting deadline coming up, I can schedule by day very easily by completing one bobbin every other hour. That way, I am still getting a substantial amount of quilting done while getting the housework, homework, etc. done as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these 10 tips and found them helpful. There are a few of them that I wish someone had told me BEFORE I had to find out through trial-and-error.
Head on over to my Etsy shop, Designing Tomorrow, and check it out. I don’t have very many large quilts in my shop because I typically custom make those for people who are located near me. However, I have many baby changing quilts and jewelry that you’re welcome to check out!