05 June, 2013

Ten Tips for Machine Quilting Large Quilts


Still quilting...

Yes, I'm working on a king sized quilt on my home machine. Some of you expressed surprise at that, some wished me luck in that kind of evil way where you don't actually believe I can do it. Or at least it seems so incredulous that it comes across that way. I get that, I totally get that. But I'm here to tell you that it is totally doable. You just need a few tricks up your sleeve.



1. Have support.
Not the kind that stands behind you and cheers you on as another row of stitching goes in, although that is indeed helpful. Rather, make sure your quilt if physically supported by a table, your body, the wall, etc. You don't want your quilt hanging off the table and pulling as you try maneuver it through the machine. For this one I've kept my table against the wall instead of the middle of the room to make sure the quilt doesn't fall off the edge.

2. Break it down into smaller sections.
It is daunting to stare at a large quilt and even think about quilting it. Break it into sections, even if it is only mentally, to make it seem more manageable. Perspective is everything. And just like when you are trying to lose weight and you reward yourself as you reach 10 pounds of the 40 you need to lose, give yourself a treat as you finish a section.

It also helps to approach the quilting in sections so that you can roll, fold, and position the quilt for each section. This makes supporting and moving the quilt easier.

3. Have a beer.
Or a glass of wine or even a stiff scotch. People often say that having a bit of a tipple helps loosen you up for free motion quilting. Even if you are doing straightline stitching on a large quilt, being a little loose helps. And having to stop and move your arms in another direction is a very good thing. If water or tea is your preference, keep something by the machine. Quilting is thirsty work.

4. Take breaks.
Big quilts are heavy, very heavy. It takes a lot out of your shoulders, neck, and upper back to quilt these beasts. I can do about an hour at a time before I feel the tightness creep in. Then I have to get up, stretch, do a load of laundry, or actually attend to the kids. I feel like I accomplish a lot when I get a solid hour in but my body feels it.



5. Prewind bobbins.
Having a bobbin run out is inevitable. And while the bobbin change is a good time to stretch and take a break, it can seriously disrupt your rhythm if you are in the groove. I wind 4-5 at a time on these large quilts. It's just nice to be able to grab and go when a change is needed.

6. Keep clean and sharp.
Every time you change your bobbin clean out any lint from the bobbin casing or around the needle. And speaking of the needle, you will definitely need more than one on a large quilt. I tend to change mine every 6 hours of quilting or so. I want a sharp needle and clean machine. It means less headaches while quilting and better results.

7. Raise it up.
It is a lot easier to quilt on a large flat surface. I have a special plexiglass table that is made for my machine that gives me a large surface to quilt on. If you can get one for your machine, definitely do it. Or if your machine drops into a table, great! (Just make sure the table is big enough to support the quilt, or add side table while quilting.)

8. Sit higher.
Without 1-2 pillows underneath my butt while quilting I find that I am too low to be comfortable, especially once I've put my quilting surface on the machine. But raised up a little saves my neck and stops me from hunching horribly. If you are getting really sore, try sitting up higher.

9. White noise.
Yes, the sewing machine is noisy but I need more noise while I'm quilting. Music is great (and oh so necessary for piecing) but I prefer TV while quilting. Not TV I need to really pay attention to because that is too distracting. Movies or shows I've seen are best - like a friend keeping you company. For example, I've had Downton Abbey on while working on this beast. A third of the way through the quilting and down Season 1 and a few episodes of Season 2.

10. Don't forget to breathe.
Seems obvious, I know. But I am not immune to the tendency to hold your breath as you do a pass with the machine. Push the pedal down, hold breath. Release the pedal, breathe. It's a bad habit and one that is necessary to break. Even breaths as your sew keeps your mind and muscles working well.

Don't let the size of a quilt scare you from quilting. You can do it!

39 comments:

Lee D said...

keep on trucking! great tips

Sequana said...

I thot I was seeing things until I read #3. :)

patty a. said...

I quilt large quilts on my Pfaff 1475 all the time the biggest one being 8' x 10'. Your tips are spot on. I would add patience to the tips. I find that when you get into middle of the quilt you can only quilt a little before you have to adjust and smooth the area - this is where the patience comes in because this does slow down your progress. One more thing, having a machine with a needle down feature is crucial for all the stopping and starting.

Beth said...

Thanks for all the tips. I have some tops that have been staring at me and I have been avoiding them cause I am just too scared to get going. Maybe I will do a small one and work my way up to big ones.

elle said...

True! And I have forgotten to break my next project, a queen sized double wedding ring, into manageable sections. I've been seeing the big whole and I'm not anxious to start. But it needs doing so thanks for the reminder.

Laura C @ littleandlots said...

This is a really great post. I abandoned a wip partly because I was scared senseless about quilting a large quilt. With a Stella, though, maybe I can handle it.

Ali said...

Thanks for the tips - I love that alcohol and Downton are involved, if you could get chocolate in too...

Alisa said...

Very good tips! I am not very tall so lately I've been quilting standing up by my counter. Seems weird but it works for me.

Gail Lizette said...

Thanks for posting your tips ~ VERY helpful!!

lisabeth said...

Thanks so much! Can I ask you what kind of sewing table is that? I'm looking for a similar one-- white, with a larger area in the back and on the side.Thanks again.

Suzanne said...

This was a great list! I do many of them already so it was validating to hear that I'm not the only one who needs to sit up high, wind tons of bobbins and have on the white noise.

madfabriholic said...

Okay, I prefer vodka and Buffy, but still... I'm working up my courage by forcing myself to finish more of my little WIPS. When I'm ready to take the plunge, I'll be back to re-read the other tips- they are wonderful!

LT said...

I'm about to tackle a queen sized quilt on my home machine and thanks for the tips on making it as easy as possible!

Tina said...

Thank you so much for all you good tips! I'm still a newbie at FMQ and am grateful for every good advise!

Roni Webb said...

Very encouraging. Thank you!

And also for your values class in Portland recently. I came home and practiced on my fabric and online shops. When I went to the mother of all fabric stores in Portland I saw a sea of light/med/dark. What a difference this new skill is going to make in my future quilts!

Thanks again!

Roni

Roni Webb said...

Very encouraging. Thank you!

And also for your values class in Portland recently. I came home and practiced on my fabric and online shops. When I went to the mother of all fabric stores in Portland I saw a sea of light/med/dark. What a difference this new skill is going to make in my future quilts!

Thanks again!

Roni

Roni Webb said...

P.S. Fabric Depot

Miriam in KS said...

I like to sew with the T.V. on too...to help me keep track of time! If I know the channel I am "viewing/listening to" is showing 1/2 hour to 1 hour shows, I have a better idea of how long I have been sewing. Especially when it creeps past the midnight hour!

Vicki said...

Great post. :)
I quilted a king size quilt on my regular machine--somewhere I had read something about starting out without all the batting basted in, so that's how I did it--batting in the center 1/3 or so to start and then I did the side sections one at a time. It was pretty challenging but really satisfying to get the job done.

Wens said...

Awesome! Great tips, I'll be attempting this soon :)

A Quilter's Mission - Vicki said...

I am just learning to machine quilt, so your hints are so helpful! Thanks...

Esch House Quilts said...

Great tips! Although I've never quilted a king sized quilt, I've done a few queen sized and, as you say, it just takes time and patience :)

Margaret said...

thanks for taking the time to post such great tips. I am just starting FMQ and love all the help I can get. I too have the tv and listen to all the reruns of NCIS my favorite show.

TheSewingLoft said...

#3 is by far the best tip. Thanks for keeping it real and reminding us to stay loose!
~Heather

CitricSugar said...

"Movies and shows I've seen are best" - Glad to know i'm not the only one who'll put on repeats or old favourites for quilting. I've done large quilts on my machine - though nothing to terribly fancy - and all of this is sound advice. Thanks!

Patti said...

Excellent "rules" for quilting large quilts on your home machine. I watched a video with Carol Bryer Fallert and she even has clamps hanging down from her ceiling so she can clip the excess quilt up and out of the way. And a beer or other libation...makes the job seem almost decadent! Thanks so much for passing along your wisdom!

JaneB said...

Wish me luck, I'm about to start one that is 84" x 84".

RobinSue said...

As an admirer of your quilts in Sunday Morning Quilts, I am happy to read that I am doing something correctly when it comes to quilting. I tend to make large quilts and am self-taught in FMQ techniques on my home machine. I found that placing the foot on a board or box helps out as well because adding cushions to the chair makes my legs dangle. The one tip I haven't tried is alcohol -that's got to help with shoulder tension!

Blair said...

This comes at such a great time for me, I am starting on my 3rd king sized quilt. I think your tips are perfect, and I like embarking on anything that a little toddy helps with : D. I thought about trying to split the batting into 3 parts this time, have you ever tried that? Thank you for commenting on my blog about comments. That post convinced me that I should leave them on, and that the conversation happens in lots of places.

Victoria said...

Great tips... especially the breathing and the beer!

sewkatiedid said...

I've got the beer part down!

leanne said...

fabulous tips - I just saw this photo over at pinterest and laughed when I saw the stella artois sitting by the machine - love it :)

Lynn Dawes said...

Well said, and just the encouragement l need to continue quilting on my domestic machine. I'm closer to 60 than 50 and have been having a lot of back pain when working on bigger quilts. So had contemplated being brow beaten into using a professional quilting service- and then had a heart attack with the price they quoted. And I totally relate to "Don't forget to breathe" cos l do just that at times!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. I am a new quilter and wasn't sure if the majority of experienced quilters had a long arm or sent theirs out. I was going to get a long arm but it just didn't make sense because I'm so new. I will definitely try all your tips!

Carol said...

I started free motion quilting about 4 years ago. I love it and have quilted 2 king size quilts and 3 queen size quilts plus lots of other small projects. I was happy to read these tips and realize that I already do most of them. The only thing I do differently is I don't roll my quilt. I found rolling it made it too heavy. One of the many books I read on free motion quilting suggested "nesting". That is really just bunching up the quilt around the area you want to quilt. After quilting that space then you move on to the next area, bunch it up again and quilt that area. That works well for me.

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