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9 Tips for Quilting a Huge Quilt on a Small Machine

Quilters, do you usually do your quilting on a small machine, a midarm or a longarm? If you said a small machine, you are not alone! Many, many quilters regularly quilt large quilts (queen, king and larger!) on a domestic machine.

But how does it all fit within the machine’s small neck? With a little practice and by following these tips, you should be able to get better results when quilting a bed-size quilt on your small machine!

Our best tips for quilting large quilts on small machines

1. Wear gloves

If you’re planning to quilt a large quilt on your domestic machine, a great tip is to wear quilting gloves. The gloves are made to grip the fabric as you move it around, taking some of the weight off your arms and shoulders. If you’ve ever felt your body tense up when quilting or even machine binding, wearing some gloves like Machingers (or even gardening gloves!) can help ease that.

2. Pre-wind all the bobbins

Nobody likes to get into a quilting groove only to realize that their bobbin is empty! Prepare several bobbins in advance to you won’t miss a beat when it’s time to replace the bobbin.

3. Use that table!

You probably keep your sewing machine on a table, right? Depending on the size of that table and the length of your quilt, you might want to set up additional tables around your sewing space. More surface area helps support the weight of the quilt and keep it from dragging down.

If having a permanent table isn’t convenient, maybe you can move to the kitchen table or look for a folding table to set up by your quilting station. Some quilters recommended height-adjustable tables from Costco. Others use two tables at a right angle, so one can hold the machine while the other supports the rest of the quilt.

Additionally, setting up your table flush against the wall keeps your quilt from falling behind the machine and weighing you down as you work.

4. Scrunch, don’t roll

If you’ve tried rolling your quilt into a tube and aren’t getting great results, try scrunching it instead! By squishing the excess quilt into the machine’s neck, you can get it out of the way without limiting your ability to flatten out and maneuver the rest of the quilt.

A quilt sandwich rolled into a tube is a little more cumbersome to work with, especially if you are free-motion quilting and need to move about the quilt top from side to side.

5. Start in the center

This tip works for walking foot quilting as well as free-motion work. If you start quilting in the center and work to the sides, you’ll only have to fit half of the quilt in your machine’s throat at any given time.

Rotate your project to quilt the opposite side instead of trying to scrunch the whole thing. You can also try quilting on the diagonal, so you get the largest diagonal row of quilting out of the way first thing, and the weight of the rest of the quilt feels lighter.

6. Turn the machine long ways

Ready for a tip that will blow your mind? Turn the machine so the needle is closest to you and the body points away from you. At this angle, some quilters find it easier to push the quilt straight forward into the machine’s neck as they quilt, rather than off to the side. This is the setup of sit-down midarm quilting machines and it can help save your shoulders!

7. Create a slippery surface

If you want the fabric from your quilt to just roll across the table, try a Teflon oven liner or special quilting slider to make your table a slippery surface for the quilt to glide across. You can tape it down to the table and quilt right over top of it.

8. Be courageous

A big part of learning to machine quilt is being brave enough to try. So take your time, grab a glass of wine (like our quilting idol Angela Walters) and practice! It may take several sessions to finish a large quilt, and that’s OK. Admire your progress, and take breaks as needed. After a few quilts, it should feel more natural.

9. Quilt as you go

If all of this seems too intimidating for you, you can always tackle a large quilt by quilting smaller sections and joining them together. When you quilt as you go, you can break the quilt into as many sections as you’d like and join them later.

What are your best tips for quilting big quilts on a small machine?

13 Comments

PAM ALLEN

Thank you so much for all the wonderful information you all share. I am 73yrs young and have learned so much with all your classes.

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Marilyn Tippett

Thanks for sending! I would never guessed the many ways to quilt at home. Since I’m a “somewhat novice”, (whatever that means!) I’ll try at home.

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Micki Bowne

I took a Crafsty class about this. Teacher suggested cutting the batting into thirds. First quilt the center. It’s easy to scrunch the two fabric layers without through the machine

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Renae

That makes sense! I might try cutting batting. I have an 80x 80 quilt to do and can’t afford to pay $250 to have someone quilt it for me. Thanks

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Barb

Instead of cutting batting into thirds, just cut off 1/3 on the right edge of the quilt. After quilting the center, you can turn the quilt & do the left side without having to replace the batting.

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Sandra Dennison

I love the idea of turning the machine. It sounds like a game-changing idea!

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sue mcconnell

The problem as I see it isn’t so much getting all the fabric rolled up in the neck as having to get it under the foot and needle! I have taken off the foot and removed the needle just so I can slide my work underneath then had to replace them to sew. This is for any piece of work regardless of whether it’s a quilt. Am I missing something?

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GrammaVee

With most machines, when you hold the lever that moves the presser foot up, it will allow you to push a little further and raise the presser foot just a tiny bit higher. This will make it easier to slide heavy or thick pieces under the foot without removing it.

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Sue

I have a singer treadle and need a walking foot. Can modern walking feet be attached, or do I have to find an original? Thanks.

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Kanday Kerr

Thanks for such great ideas! I’m new to quilting and these tips are going to come in handy. For the slippery surface, could I also use this under the fabric on the machine? I tired free motion for the first time but it was hard to move the fabric around.

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Norma

Lower the feed dogs to move fabric more freely .

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Mary Jane Borst

I had to finish the binding on a large quilt recently and discovered that it really helps to use your bed as a table if you can! I place my sewing machine table at the foot of my queen size bed, spread the quilt on the bed and move it as necessary…the bed takes away the weight entirely. I’m anxious to try quilting another large quilt this way myself instead of having to pay for a long arm quilter.

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Sandra Buss

Loved your article and I do all that with great success. But remember to quit when you are tired or in a hurry because it ends in disaster. He only thing I haven’t tried is turning the machine. That concept is interesting and I will try it this weekend because I have the knee adaptor for changing position. Can’t wait!

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