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Quilting Basics - Get Ready to Stitch

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

Good morning! I'm SO excited to do some quilting with you! I found myself writing ALOT of information in the first design post, so I decided to write a separate little post about getting ready to quilt for those of you that have not quilted before or not very confident with your quilting skills.

Since the Nothing but Love Quilt-Along is designed as a quilt-as-you-go project, most of the quilting posts will be specific to a design or motif, but I also want to share some beginning quilting tips with you.

What is "quilting"?

Most people speak of quilting as "the making of quilts," but usually I speak of quilting as referring to the stitching that keeps the layers of the quilt together. Technically a quilt has multiple layers that are held together with some sort of stitching.

This can be hand-tying, hand-stitching, or machine stitching. This is done to keep the layers from shifting, provide stability and longevity to your blocks, and also as a decorative and textural accent.

I can tell you that when I repair old quilts the rips are usually due to the weight of unsupported seams and material putting too much stress on the limited amount of quilting done originally. I am not saying all quilts need to be heavily quilted just quilted smartly with the structural support in mind. I want my quilts to be loved and used for a long time, so this is important to me.

Tools of the Trade

Marking your quilting designs can be done in a variety of ways which will be mentioned at times in the design lessons, but here are some of the ways I may not mention and also tools you may want to purchase.

For marking simple lines and designs I use my quilting ruler and marking pen/pencil. Marking pens/pencils can be found in most big name stores in the sewing section and of course all quilt shops will carry some options. Options include water-soluble, heat sensitive, and time sensitive ("disappearing") styles make sure you choose one that sounds easy for you to use and will definitely disappear - you don't want permanent marking lines on your quilt! For myself I like Frixion pens which are heat sensitive, so the lines disappear when you iron. If you do not wash your quilt the lines can reappear if it gets too cold, so be forewarned.

There is also a hera marker and tracing wheel which are used similarly to make a pressure line instead of an inked line.

There are a variety of plastic/acrylic stencils available with quilting designs for all sizes of blocks and borders as well. Usually to use these you will need a chalk pouncer or marker to make the lines. You do a few at a time, stitch, and then draw some more otherwise you could rub off the chalk marks.

In addition there are stencil papers (or you can print your own) that you would pin on your block or section, stitch over the design, and then remove the paper. Fancy right?!

The second important tool for quilting is feet for your machine. There are two main feet that I will be using: the walking foot and the free motion foot.

The walking foot is also called the dual-feed foot and it is primarily used for straight line and gently curved quilting. It has feed dogs on the foot that help pass all the layers of fabric through at the same time to minimize puckers and stretching the fabric out. The main reasons to not use this foot for all quilting designs is that it does not switch directions quickly and it only stitches in one direction, so you have to pick up your presser foot and swirl your quilt around to change directions.

The free motion foot (also called a darning foot) can come in different styles - closed, open-toe, clear, and ruler - are the ones I have seen. Basically they all function the same - with your feed dogs down this foot stitches within the target area in any direction and as fast as you want to go. You do have to be careful that your needle is always down when you stop stitching because this foot does not put the same kind of pressure down when stopped and your fabric will move.

Most machines come with these in the accessory pack or you can purchase them separately just make sure they will work with your specific machine.

Thread Choices

I do not have any hard and steady rules on thread for quilting. When I started making quilts, I read to use the same fiber as your material so they would wear the same over time, but I don't know that there is a significant difference in that theory. Many folks choose a side - 100% cotton vs. polyester or poly blends, but I go either way. Sometime I even use fun specialty threads like metallic or shiny rayon.

What I do pay attention to is the color and weight of the thread I use. For piecing, I use a 40 weight that is similar to the fabrics being used. Light fabrics = light thread color and dark thread for dark fabric. This is only important because sometimes you can see your thread through your seam if it's too dark and also if your seam stretches a little you will see the thread.

For quilting I prefer 50 weight if possible (but 40 is ok too) because I machine quilt and it is a finer thread and will sink into the fabric better. Hand quilters tend to use thicker thread (lower number like 10-30 wt) because it shows more.

Also I prefer my thread to blend with my quilt instead of contrast, so I choose colors to match or blend. This helps hide any irregular curves or mess ups that you don't want to draw attention (even though they really won't be noticeable to the user). It may surprise you, but sometimes pale colors go better than white on a light-colored quilt. I also like to use variegated threads to provide interest or if there are many colors in the quilt.

You can use different colors for the two sides of your quilt, but be prepared to need to adjust your tension. When you stitch you don't want to see polkadots of the other thread color pulling through to the wrong side!

Batting Basics

Batting is the center layer between the fabrics. It is what makes your quilt fluffy and insulating plus shows off your quilting design. They can generally be made with cotton, polyester, wool, fleece, and bamboo. The natural options breathe better (can stay cool in hot temps) and wool can keep warm even if wet, while the engineered materials are a little fluffier and keep you warmer.

The "loft" refers to how thick and fluffy it is usually 1/8 - 1/4 inch. The thicker it is the more your quilting will show and it also puts more material under your presser foot.

I found out last year that batting has a right side and wrong side. The "right" side is the smoother needle-punched side and the "wrong" side is the other side which usually looks nubby and fluffier. I noticed I could actually feel the difference when prepping my blocks for quilt-as-you-go.

Lastly your batting gives you information about how dense you need to quilt in order for it to hold up well anywhere from 4-10 inches typically. This is good to know especially if you want to hand-tie your quilts. For me, I like the feel and drape of medium density quilting. I can get carried away with quilting let me tell you and I notice that it makes the quilt heavier and a little stiffer, but the stiffness goes away with use and washing.

Quilt Sandwiches & QAYG Blocks

Lastly you need something to quilt! You can use a practice quilt sandwich (2 pieces of fabric with batting in the middle) or be brave and use your finished quilt blocks.

When doing quilt-as-you-go I like to sandwich my blocks as soon as they are made with my pre-cut backing and batting squares so that my seams all stay nicely pressed.

When making your sandwich: put your backing fabric wrong-side up, then put your batting wrong/fuzzy side down, and last put your quilt block right-side up. Then use your iron to press gently and smooth your block onto the batting and flip to do the same for the backing fabric. Then pin or stitch baste to hold it in place. You can also use spray baste but spray your batting before laying on the fabric.

And there you go folks - you are ready for a design motif!

I hope this helps you feel more prepared to quilt your blocks with confidence and that you are starting on the right foot!

Quilting design #1 (GRIDS) will be up in a couple days, so enjoy yourself until then.

Share your progress on social media with #nothingbutloveqal or #QAYGdesigns or tag me @polkadotpeepquiltsetc

Be blessed my friends,


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