Machine Quilting Sequence

Now that you’re ready to begin machine quilting, where do you start? A strategic approach can save you time and help you achieve great results. Diane Gaudynski calls it the “plan of attack” and it’s always helpful to have a plan!

When machine quilting on a home sewing machine, the quilt cannot be turned around to sew in different directions. Therefore, it is important to arrange the quilt and sew as many lines in the same direction as possible. It is also incredibly helpful to be able to sew free motion – that is, in any direction without turning the quilt.

To arrange the quilt (Sue Nickels calls it “packaging”), roll the quilt from one side towards the center. Sue rolls the other side too and balances it over her shoulder and onto an ironing board positioned behind her. I prefer the “puddle” approach. The quilt is rolled neatly to the right of the sewing machine needle but loosely pooled to the left (and not as neatly as shown in the photo).

Step 1: Stitch in the Ditch
If possible, begin machine quilting the straight lines between the seams. This will stabilize the quilt before other free-motion stitching is added. Find the first straight line closest to the center and roll the quilt to that point. Using a walking foot and starting at the top of the quilt, stitch the line from the top to the bottom. Unroll the quilt to the next line and stitch. Continue in this manner, unrolling the quilt and stitching each straight line in that direction. Turn the quilt 180 degrees and repeat the process for all the straight lines on the other side of center. Then turn the quilt 90 degrees to stitch the straight lines in that direction.

If the blocks are set on point or there are straight lines on the diagonal, roll the quilt from the corner toward the center.

Step 2: Motifs
With the three layers of the quilt secured with straight line stitching, switch to a free-motion foot to quilt the motifs. Arrange the quilt in the same way as before and quilt all the motifs, working from top to bottom and from the center out to the edge. Rearrange the quilt to stitch the motifs on the other side. The difference is that you will be sewing free-motion, with the feed dogs lowered, and moving the quilt under the needle to complete each motif.

Step 3: Background Fill
The final step is filling the background areas with quilting. Follow the sequence from step 1 for straight line fills like cross-hatching and the sequence from step 2 for free motion fills like stippling.

Let’s look at an example. This quilt has nine appliquéd blocks in a straight set with sashing. Step 1 would be to quilt in the ditch between the blocks and the sashing in the sequence indicated. Since the appliqué acts as a motif, step 2 would be to free-motion stitch in the ditch around the flowers and leaves in the sequence indicated.

The background is filled with a straight line diagonal grid. The quilt would be rolled from the corners and the lines stitched from the center out to the edges.

Not every quilt fits neatly into these three steps, but it is a good starting point for planning your machine quilting sequence. Diane Gaudynski recommends quilting all of the same shape before switching to the next shape in order to take advantage of “muscle memory”. While it makes sense and I think it is a good idea, I did not take this approach when quilting Flourish on the Vine. I worked section by section – outlining the appliqué, stitching the vines, cross-hatching and stippling. I found it kept my interest and enthusiasm going, as I never became bored doing the same thing over and over. Whatever approach you decide to take, a good strategy is a great plan!

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  1. So helpful – simple, easy to follow concept and drawings. Thanks.
    Kathy loved your presentation and exquisite quilts at the Quilting Guild in Wasaga Beach.

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