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The Complete Guide to Matchstick Quilting

Have you ever seen matchstick quilting? This niche type of straight line quilting is an impressive feat, but it’s actually not as tricky as you might think.

matchstick quilting example

What is matchstick quilting?

Matchstick quilting uses straight, parallel lines of stitches that are spaced very close together to create a dense texture. On larger quilts, lines spaced 1″ apart can have a matchstick look, and on smaller quilts, the spacing between lines can be as small as 1/8″.

But how exactly are those tiny lines stitched so perfectly parallel? Here are a few tips to get you started!

What you need

Step 1: Start with one straight line of quilting

ruler as straight line guide

The first step? Just stitching a straight line.

To stitch the first line of matchstick quilting, use a ruler as a guide. If you like, you can begin stitching on a line of patchwork (which is often called stitching in the ditch) and go from there.

Begin somewhere in the middle of the quilt and work your way toward the edges. This will help ensure that the lines in the middle of the quilt are perfectly lined up. 

Step 2: Align your walking foot with your next line

To keep the next line of stitching parallel to the first, you need to give yourself a guide. You have a lot of options here.

quilting parallel lines with ruler

You can use the ruler as a guide to stitch the next line parallel to the first line. This is a good method to use for stitching lines that are more than 1″ apart.

quilting parallel lines using walking foot as guild

If you plan to make your lines less than 1″ apart, you probably won’t be able to use a ruler as a guide. Instead, choose a point on the walking foot as a guide. For example, in the photo above, the small opening on the left side of the walking foot is a guide for keeping the lines parallel and perfectly straight. 

quilting parallel lines using walking foot edge as guild

Using the edge of the quilting foot is another great way to create parallel lines. These lines will be spaced farther apart, but that’s OK — you’ll come back after these are sewn and fill in between them.

Step 3: Start stitching parallel lines

Once you decide how you’re going to maintain your spacing, you can start quilting!

hand placement for quilting

Remember to leave room between your lines of stitching for now. Later on, you’ll come back and fill in more stitching between them. Starting with wider lines will make the process faster, easier and more accurate than trying to stitch narrowly spaced lines the first time.

Hand placement is very important when machine quilting. Keeping hands on both sides of the stitching keep the sandwich even and the lines from straying. It also allows for an easy feed through the machine, avoiding puckers and tucks. Place your right hand on the fabric in the same manner as the left, so that the walking foot is stitching between your hands.

verfiy lines are parallel with ruler

After stitching a few rows, use the ruler to check that the lines are parallel. If your stitching lines are drifting to the left or right, this is a good way to determine that and correct it. 

Step 4: Add more stitching between the lines of stitches

quilting additional lines between parallel lines

Once the initial stitching lines are in place, you can begin to fill in the stitching lines between the existing ones. This will be easy to do, as the stitching lines can be your guide. 

close up of matchstick quilting

Again, it’s a good idea to check your stitches with a ruler to ensure that you’re keeping your lines parallel. This will prevent any unevenness between lines, or drifting from one direction or the other. This is going to be the framework for the quilting, ensuring that additional rows will be easy to add.

Step 5: Keep adding stitches between the lines

matchstick quilting progress

Once your initial stitching rows are in place, you can begin to fill in between the lines with additional stitching lines. At this point, your stitching lines will be extremely close together and perfection is not the goal as much a creating a texture with the stitching lines.

matchstick quilting detail

Notice that you don’t have to add the same number of stitching lines in each row. And not every stitching line needs to be exactly the same distance apart. This makes the overall effect more interesting.

For added interest, consider different thread colors or introducing decorative stitches. In the sample here, I used a tiny zigzag stitch. Other small stitches would be interesting as well — look at the options on your machine and experiment!

With a little practice, you’ll be stitching matchstick quilting lines on anything you want! Have fun and be creative. Start with a small mug rug, and before you know it, you’ll be matchstick quilting full size quilts!


Deborah Fields

You didn’t mention using a guide bar that attaches to the machine. It can easily be adjusted to any width.


I like this!! I can not quilt lg projects on my machine but will surely try small ones like this!! Thank you

Terry Sheldon

Nancy, you can quilt any size project you want! There are so many demos and classes about quilting large quilts on small machines…if I can do it, anyone can!


This is a good tutorial. How would it look on fabric other than solid color? What stitch length is shown? Thank you for the tutorial. Cheryl

Terry Sheldon

Stitch length is any size you want, that looks good to you. I usually use 3.0, sometimes 2.5. The whole deal is about what you like the looks of!

Dolores Bonsal

I have so many lap Quilts to take to long arm but this is so much better and more fun . Thanks a lot .

Susan K Cleveland

I’d like to suggest stitching with a heavier thread for more impact. My favorite is Wonderfil Spagetti 12wt cotton through a 100 TOPSTITCH (or 90 works for some machines) needle and regular 50-60wt cotton bobbin thread. I use a big stitch length (3.0 -4.0). This heavier thread makes a statement!
You can learn more in my Craftsy class: Creative Quilting – Alternatives to Free-motion (Susan Cleveland).


Thank you Susan, I learned so much from your class!


Thanks Susan. I enjoyed your class


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