For many quilters, once they have fallen in love with piecing their quilt tops, they turn towards learning to machine quilting their own finished projects. Paying a professional longarmer is always an option for quilting your quilts, but money spent on longarming means less money to spend on fabric. And there is something exciting about being able to say that you made a quilt all on your own — from cutting to binding.
Here are some basic tips and tools to help get you on your way to a finishing your own handmade quilt by machine!
Wendy’s Garden Sampler quilt via Craftsy instructor Wendy Butler Berns
Build your confidence and find success in your machine quilting with an online Craftsy class! Check out Machine Quilting: Free-Motion and More with award-winning instructor Wendy Butler Berns to discover step-by-step instruction on how to finish your quilts perfectly!
Machine quilting tools
To machine quilt your own quilts, you will need a sewing machine with a walking foot or free-motion foot, depending on the quilting designs you want to try.
A walking foot (pictured above left) looks very clunky. It is a large foot, with housing on the back, and a bar or fork at the top. The free-motion foot (pictured above right) has a loop (either a circle, oval, or kidney-shaped loop), and a spring. The loop might be a closed loop, or be open at the front. It can be metal or plastic.
Using a walking foot
The walking foot is the go-to tool for beginning quilters. If you are proficient at piecing your quilts, you’ll find the walking foot easy to use. You can create straight lines across your quilt, or use the walking foot to stitch in the ditch, as you quilt your quilts. Start by installing your walking foot on your machine.
How to install a walking foot
A walking foot installs just like your piecing foot, but the bar on the right needs to be placed properly. If the bar on the right has a fork (like in the walking foot picture), the tines of the fork should go on either side of the needle bar (the horizontal piece where the screw holding the needle in place goes). If the bar on the right of your walking foot has no fork, place the bar above the needle bar.
Installing the walking foot properly is essential. As your needle moves up and down, it will move the bar up and down. The mechanism in the large housing at the back of the walking foot moves the feed dogs in the walking foot. Having feed dogs on both the top and bottom of your quilt keeps the top and the backing moving at the same rate, preventing puckers.
Once you have your walking foot installed, you can make neat straight lines of stitching across your quilt.
Trying free-motion quilting
Free-motion quilting gives you full control over the designs you create on the surface of your quilt. Begin by lowering the feed dogs on your machine (usually a switch or button on the back or side of the machine), and installing the free-motion foot.
How to install a free-motion foot
If you are not starting your free-motion quilting design at the edge of your quilt, you’ll need to bring up your bobbin thread to prevent getting a mess of bobbin thread on the back of your quilt, and to tie it off later. Place your quilt under the needle, lower the foot, lower the needle, raise the needle, raise the foot and pull on your thread to bring up the bobbin thread.
Create your free-motion quilting design by placing your hands on your quilt top, on either side of the needle, and moving the fabric to create your design.
Once you have finished, tie a double knot in the threads you pulled up. Then use a needle to bring the threads into the batting of the quilt, then back up an inch or two away. Pull to bring the knot down under the fabric, burying it into the batting. Cut off the ends of the thread.
When you learn how to machine quilt, some designs and techniques will be easier than others. Practice often to perfect your technique. You may also want to check out the Craftsy class The Ultimate Guide to Free-Motion Quilting to help you build your free-motion quilting skills.