Last week, we began a discussion about machine quilting designs. We identified two main approaches and took a closer look at allover machine quilting designs. I wasn’t sure how to categorize the second approach, but decided to call it “custom fit”. Instead of quilting the same thing across the entire surface of the quilt, designs are carefully selected to “fit” and enhance each individual element. This approach opens up such a vast array of choices that we will divide custom fit machine quilting designs into categories to discuss one by one in the coming weeks. We continue our series on machine quilting this week with a look at machine quilting in the ditch.
“The ditch” is the seam line between two patches. When seam allowances are pressed to one side, the side with the seam allowances sits slightly higher than the side without them. Quilting in the ditch means quilting on the side without the seam allowance, which also means switching sides as we move along a line of piecing if the seam allowance changes direction. In this Nine Patch block, if the seam allowances were pressed towards the blue patches, quilting in the ditch (the red dashed line) would mean stitching close to the seam on the pink side.
Stitches in the ditch are not easily visible – when you stay in the ditch. Stitches on the side with the seam allowances look more like top-stitching and are much more obvious. So although this is a relatively easy way to machine quilt, the challenge is to keep the stitching line consistently on the side without the seam allowances. (See some great photo examples on C&T Publishing’s blog.) It is for this reason that I like to use invisible (monofilament) thread for quilting in the ditch, but we’ll talk more about thread later.
We’ll also talk more about sewing machine presser feet later. For now I will say that it is helpful to use a walking or even-feed foot for machine quilting straight lines of any kind, including those stitched in the ditch. It is even better if the walking foot has an open toe so you can easily see the seam line you are following. The ultimate is a walking foot with a metal guide built right into the center – simply lay the guide in the seam line and stitch!
Machine quilting in the ditch applies to appliqué as well. In this case, a walking foot does not work well because the stitching lines are not straight. Machine quilting can also be stitched free-motion in the ditch using a darning or free-motion quilting foot.
If quilting in the ditch isn’t easily visible, why bother with it? Sometimes it is preferred for that very reason, either to disguise beginner stitches or to avoid competing with complex patchwork or intricate appliqué. The greatest benefit of quilting in the ditch is the fact that it stabilizes the quilt before other types of stitches are added, making it a very functional element for almost any quilt.
For example, this Shoo Fly quilt set 2 blocks by 4 blocks in a straight set, could be stabilized by quilting in the ditch between the blocks as indicated by the blue lines.
It could also be quilted in the ditch between the patches…
… but then again, that isn’t always the most creative option.
These appliqué blocks are set on point, but machine quilting in the ditch might not be desired between the blocks…
… especially if the space between the blocks was to be filled with fancy feather quilting. Stitching in the ditch around the appliqué patches, however, is almost always a good idea.
Thank you for the answers to my biggest questions! Pressing seams to one side and using clear thread! I have so many books and you had the best tips!
Debbie Fawcett says
Again you have really given give advice on such a simple topic that everyone thinks we all know about so nobody explains it.Well done.
Debbie Fawcett says
I really enjoyed this topic and the clarity. Everyone talks about “in the ditch” but if you are a newbie this is not clear and they might feel insecure about e asking for clarification.