On quilting big quilts on a little machine.

I’ve always encouraged people to quilt their big quilts in their little machines because it CAN be done. But I find it significantly easier to stipple a big quilt than straight line quilt it. You can work your way through the quilt in a more manageable way.  Do you agree?  I’m only talking about BIG quilts here…

Stippling

This one is huge.  Huge. The goal was 95″ x 100″ but my 90″ batting ended up not being quite wide enough so it will end up being about 92″ x 100″ (don’t you love that a quilt will still fit your bed if you chop three inches off??).

I wanted to straight line quilt it.  I wanted to do horizontal straight lines, every 3/4″ to 1″ over the whole thing.  But my machine is limiting me.  For the first time in my quilting life, I am consciously aware that my machine can’t do what I want it to.

I simply can’t straight line quilt a quilt this big for two reasons. 1) my machine will pull at the layers (even with the walking foot) and inevitably it won’t look as clean as I want it to and 2) that’s a whole lotta quilt to fit through the throat of my machine.  I find it possible with stippling in that you can shove and push and maneuver the quilt as you please – but with straight line quilting it all has to feed through in one straight motion.

So – to any of you avid straight line quilters out there – are there secrets I don’t know about?  My thinking is that it’s just probably way past time for me to upgrade on my machine, huh? Oh Janome Horizon – how I love you and covet you.

49 Responses to “On quilting big quilts on a little machine.”

  1. Mary September 2, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    I really must learn free motion quilting . . . straight line quilting is VERY hard on larger quilts!

  2. Liz Harvatine September 2, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    I’m with you. I also think that stippling is much more forgiving if the layers do shift, as long as your stitch lines don’t cross each other. Any extra fabric stays in little pockets and you can’t really tell once the quilt is washed and crinkly.

  3. Molly September 2, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    Now I’ve never been able to free motion anything large! I’m almost in a state of disbelief when people claim it’s easier. No matter what I try I just get a mess of thread or a pattern that looks slightly pornographic. I’m totally impressed by your skills and I’m willing to give it another try …. Send good thoughts my way!!

  4. mjb September 2, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    I’m curious to see what people will say. I’m not confident in my free motion skills, but I’ve never tried a very large quilt, either.

  5. Judith September 2, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    I made my daughter a 90″ x 90″ quilt and did free motion quilting on my small machine but it was physically quite tiring having to keep hauling it back on to the table! I have never used safety pins but tack quite closely together all over first. Do you think safety pins are better?

    • Alissa September 2, 2010 at 11:26 am #

      Hi Judith, I’ve only ever pin basted so it’s what I’m used to… it works well!

    • Nehemiah James March 11, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Hey Judith,
      I am, and have been, working on a quilt for my fiance that seems to be ultimately impossible for me. I measures 120″ by 120″. I only have a small singer machine from Wal-mart and have been working on this quilt for a year now trying to figure out ways to get the fabric in the neck of the machine because I had the great idea to stipple it by doing quadrants instead of starting at the center. Do you or anyone else have any ideas that I can try? Thank you for your time.

  6. Kendra September 2, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    I’ve done a queen size quilt in my little machine – not quite as big as yours, but I did straight line quilt it and it worked fairly well. I do find it frustrating to tightly roll the quilt after every single line. And you do not want to hear the words that run through my head if my bottom bobbin happens to run out of thread in the middle of a line. I’ve thought about doing a huge quilt with straight lines, and thought that a quilt-as-you-go technique might work well. If you pieced it together in strips, and quilted each section before you attached another, you wouldn’t ever have to have a huge roll of quilt in your machine. The strips could probably be up to 20″ wide, no problem. Does that make sense? I see it in my mind. Should I draw a picture??

    • Alissa September 2, 2010 at 11:25 am #

      Hi Kendra! yes that quilt as you go method does make sense… a great idea if you’re ok with piecing it together at the end. I’ve never actually done that and should try it!

  7. Amanda September 2, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    I just finished straight line quilting a large quilt. I sewed the first few rows on my own and had the same problem with my machine pulling. My solution . . . I went to my mom’s house and had her hold the quilt up and move it along as I was sewing. It worked like a charm. The quilting went fairly quickly for straight line quilting and I was very pleased with the results. The only trick is finding someone who is willing to spend hours with you quilting.

  8. Anne September 2, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    I have a quilt that I started hand quilting but did not like and removed all the stiches I had done. I changed the fabric on the back from a color to a neutral grayish-khaki and decided that it would be the first quilt I quilted on a machine. I have tried to different machines, mine and my mother’s, attempting to quilt straight lines and it has been frankly awful. I have never tried stippling but the more I consider it the more I agree with you. It must be easier to work in a small controled area instead of attempting to pull the entire quilt through a small or medium-sized machine. I think I am going to order the foot to be able to stipple.
    It’s a relief to know that order people have the same issues.
    Thanks for your blog. I have really enjoyed reading it for the past few months.

  9. Anne September 2, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    I should have mentioned that the quilt is for a twin size bed.

  10. Doris September 2, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Alissa, I upgraded to the Horizon a few months agao and I so do not regret it…

  11. Emily September 2, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    How timely! I just finished stippling a 90×90 inch quilt. It’s the largest quilt I’ve ever attemped and frankly, I was too scared to try it on my mid-level Janome. So I borrowed my mom’s Janome 6500p which has a 9″ throat. Holy Moly did it make things easy!!! I mean, I whipped through that quilt in probably 6 hours! I am seriously coveting a bigger machine. I will have to save my money though because I am on such a shoestring budget.

  12. Live a Colorful Life September 2, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    I’m still trying to get up the courage to quilt my own quilts. How did you become proficient in stippling? Just practice practice practice?? I’m just sure I will sew myself into a corner and it will look, uh, “slightly pornographic” (which totally cracked me up…) as Molly said in the second comment.

    • Alissa September 2, 2010 at 11:53 am #

      Ha – Molly’s comment cracked me up too – so funny!

      And yes, in terms of stippling it is just practice, practice, practice. The more you do it the better you get. That’s just how it is. It becomes pretty easy once you have practiced enough and really know your machine well. Make a lot of pot holders and place mats and so on if you don’t want to try a quilt straight away and work your way up to bigger and bigger projects. That’s how I did it!

  13. Debra September 2, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m currently straight line quilting a 90×72″ quilt, actually a bit bigger since that is the size of the front and I had to add for the back. It’s working pretty well. I’m quilting diagonally which means I really have to roll it up and I have an inexpensive Kenmore. No bells or whistles here. I find the best way is to adjust the quilt only when the needle is down and I have the rolled up portion over my shoulder and work it in bit by bit. The diagonal stitches are done and now I just have the horizontal and verticals. It’s a pinwheel quilt. It would have been better free motion, but I can’t free motion at all yet. I’ve tried. My husband says my tries look great, but I’m being a perfectionist. I need to do some smaller quilts and just let it go. It’s difficult when we see such great work online though!

  14. nanette September 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    I set limits for myself. I only do up to a certain size on my machine. I get frustrated if the quilt is too big. Tho I know a lot of women who can do any size. I’m not that good. And I would rather make a top.

  15. Audrie September 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    I tend not to do straight line quilting for the same reason but ever since I got my Horizon, I’ve been straight line quilting larger quilts since its walking foot does the job pretty much perfectly.

  16. Bellgirl September 2, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Aha, interesting and timely- I usually hand-quilt, but I’m about to start a monster king-sized quilt and am wondering how to do it. I did my first machine quilted lap-quilt this week with straight line, but haven’t tried stippling yet, so I’ll have to get me some placemats and potholders and give it a go!

  17. Victoria September 2, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi Alissa!
    I don’t mind straight line quilting on my Juki… A lot more pins helps me, and my walking foot is pretty good… I can also adjust how hard it’s being smooshed under the foot…. helps stop the wonky layer thingy…

  18. Kelly September 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    I just finished stitching-in-the-ditch on a 96×102 quilt where the lines are mostly 4″ apart. My machine is a really basic Bernette. I used a walking foot with the feed dogs up. It worked well, but maybe because my batting is thin (thickness of craft felt). I can stipple, but I tried free-motion straight lines and it was a disaster! Now I want to quilt some sections by following the geometric patterns of the fabric. I tried free-motioning that, and that too was a disaster! I am wondering if a year of practice would make any difference or if I should forget about it!

  19. mamaark September 2, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    I agree, you can easily quilt a large quilt on the home machines. First, pin the hell out of it. And second, roll that sucker up and have it resting over your shoulder, not in your lap. It also helps too if you can always leave your needle in the quilt if you have to stop for any reason. Some machines don’t do this automatically.
    I can’t speak to any other machines, but I do know the even-feed foot on my Pfaff works better than the walking foot I used on my 1960s Brother that I used for 8 years.

  20. Kate September 3, 2010 at 5:13 am #

    I did an extra-large twin with flannel backing this summer and straight-lined it. It was a lot of wrestling all that rolled bulk — my shoulders are still sore!

    I think support is the key to quilting big quilts on a little machine — both in front, to the side and behind so there’s less of a chance of the quilt pulling and stretching while you’re working on it. I used my ironing board and a couple chairs on the far side of my machine, and a rolling file next to me to take some of the weight off.

    Good luck!

  21. Debbie-Esch House Quilts September 3, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    I straight line quilt all my own quilts on my old Kenmore with no walking foot. I agree that the pressure on the presser foot is important. Too much pressure pushes the fabric unevenly. I also make sure the quilt is not dragging anywhere as I sew. It is a lot of work pushing the quilt through the throat, but I think it is worth it in the end since I really want to quilt my quilts myself. I also second (or third) the comments about making sure the needle is in the fabric when you stop! Good luck!

  22. Georgia September 3, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    I have had a very hard time with free-motion on anything larger than a baby quilt. I haven’t done anything very big because I dread having to quilt it. I want the horizon SOOOO bad but it’s completely out of my budget. Ah well.. I’ll just keep practicing with my trusty little Pfaff!

  23. Julie September 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    One thing that bugs me about modern quilting is that the movement has really done amazing things on the design of the pieced part of the quilt, but we get lazy when we quilt it. Stippling and straight lines are added to quilts as an afterthought. There are very few modern quilters that actually proactively consider the actual quilting as part of their design. It is a true shame because these quilts could be so much more than just a boring stippled quilt. We need a revolution in the quilting part of modern quilting. I understand there are limitations, but I have seen women from my traditional guild free motion a gazillion intricate feathers all over a king size quilt and that is some hard core sh*t. Granted, feathers may not fit many of our designs, but why, as modern quilters, can we not take the lessons and abilities from our traditional counterparts and translate them into something new?

    • Alissa September 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

      Ouch. A touch harsh to call my quilts “boring stippled quilts” but I take your point. I think that the modern quilting movement is new and so are the majority of quilters in it. As the movement grows and progresses you’ll see the quilters grow with their quilting skills as well as their piecing design. At least that’s how I feel.

      I have consciously been thinking that I’m sick of stippling, but at a certain point, you don’t want to “ruin” your quilt top so you do what you know will turn out well… And when the day comes that I can 1) afford a better machine or 2) go long arm my quilts, you’ll see changes in my quilting. It’s certainly not that I don’t want to “take lessons and abilities” from other quilters.

  24. Cara @ Me? A Mom? September 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    oh, this is such a timely post. I’m getting ready to pebble quilt my husband’s quilt (72″ x 84″ if I’m remembering correctly) and I’m so nervous about the bulk in my tiny Janome Jem.

  25. krista September 4, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    I get Julie’s comment. When it comes time to do quilting on my stuff, I go back and forth trying to figure out exactly what to do. I think the challenge with quilting a modern piece is finding the right design to fit– so many of the more ornate free-motion designs would look out of place on a modern quilt. And layout affects it too. It seems the traditional quilts have more predictable zones for doing a design, if that makes sense. Blocks are very orderly, borders are clear, etc. How do you make that work on a quilt that is asymetrical like your Yellow Pop quilt? So the stipple is an easy fallback with happy, beautiful results– we all love that crinkly goodness when a stippled quilt comes out of the dryer! And then the fabric and piecing remains the star of the show.

    I don’t have much advice on straight line quilting since I’ve never gone that big either– I think Jacquie would be a great resource though. I know she’s got a system for making sure the lines stay straight throughout the entire quilt. I imagine it just takes a lot of extra time.

    When you get your Horizon, you will love it. I’ve only done little stuff on mine so far, but that big throat makes a huge difference. I’m going to try quilting my 65 x 80″ mermaid quilt on it tonight though, so I’ll probably blog about it this next week. The design? I’m not sure. Maybe some loops. But more than likely, I’ll stipple it ;)

    • Alissa September 4, 2010 at 8:41 am #

      Yeah – I completely get her comment too. And I actually thought specifically of my Yellow Pop quilt. because I did take the design into account… Square spirals on the block and stippling otherwise…

  26. Frances September 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    I free motion all my straight lines with little or no marking using my old Pfaff or my Juki without a frame. The largest being 130 inx130 in. Try lighhter batting like an 80/20 or the new 50% soy. Never roll a quilt. Its like trying to quilt a log. The best ting to do is take a class. Learn from someone with experience. And have fun!

    • Teresa September 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi. I’m getting ready to machine quilt for the first time and I have a full size (87 x 78) to quilt and I am a little nervous. I can’t afford to do this wrong so I found this blog and everyone’s experiences and skills are so helpful. I do have a question though, you say to never roll a quilt? I’m curious as to how one would get all that fabric through the throat of the machine then? I would love to take a class but my budget won’t allow it right now so I need to rely on the advise of all you experienced machine quilters. Help please… and thank you.

      • Alissa September 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

        Hi Teresa,

        I don’t roll when freemotioning because you can just smoosh the quilt through as needed… It’s not a long line you’re sewing, so don’t need to get the whole length of the quilt through at once. Hope that helps!

  27. Kelly September 6, 2010 at 7:13 am #

    Does anyone know what the lowest priced machine w/ a “stitch regulator” is?

  28. amandajean September 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    hi alissa, it was fun to read through the comments on your post. i have a lot of thoughts on this subject. being a free motion quilting addict, i am trying to make myself branch out on quilts and quilting them with my walking foot. i did two twin sized in a long weekend. it was surprisingly soothing. if you quilt on the diagonal, there is only a few places where it gets tough…the middle. you still can pool your fabric like you would a stippled quilt. now, about the stippling thing…i am reading A Guide to Machine Quilting by Diane Gaudynski. I checked it out from my library. She is a very traditional quilter and I don’t agree with everything she writes, but i do find it interesting and helpful to boost my machine quilting skills. it doesn’t cover nearly enough straight line quilting for my taste, however, her approach mixes both straight line and free motion. it may be something you want to check out. :) maybe i should have written an email instead of a comment? ;) congrats on your HUGE success in raising money for the women in the Congo!!!

  29. debbi dw September 7, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    I would love to encourage you to buy a new machine (so DO!), but I also came across a great idea online for reducing bulk in large quilts – the woman called it “Low Carb Quilting” – when I googled it I couldn’t find it online anymore, probably because she wrote this book: http://www.frommarti.com/QIS.shtml. What she does is cut her batting in thirds, quilt the middle section first with the batting only in that section, so the rest is lighter, then add the batting to the sides one by one. I haven’t tried it, but I plan to – it makes mucho sense! Post if you try it!

  30. Hillary September 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    I have a brother PC-420. It is my first sewing machine, and I have owned it for 20 months. My first quilt was a huge 9-patch. I did free-motion quilting on that one and the weight of it put so much tension on my machine that it actually broke my machine (but I had it fixed). Because of that first bad experience I have only straight lined my quilts since then–big or small. I have found that I can only do a couple of lines at a time because it is so hard to do.

  31. KerryQ September 8, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Historically, techniques evolve, but so do the tools! Maybe sewing machine manufacturers need to help us out here! Bigger throats, better feet, more control, etc. I’m sure the price tags will evolve too. Great discussion!

  32. Rhonda Gerbaz September 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    I never get tired of stippling! All of the straight line quilting I have done over the years, the threads are breaking! I was taught to use good quality thread: you would rather have the thread break and fix that than having the thread wear the fabric out! But seriously, every quilt!? The stippling on the other hand is still great! And I love how every quilt seems to be a little different.
    Longarm quilting is something I really have fallen in love with. You should give it a try! You can still quilt on your little machine too, you don’t have to abandon it all together!
    Thanks for all your great posts!

  33. Katherine September 10, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Hi Alissa,
    I can so relate to this post and I love reading the comments from others on this topic.
    Stippling is my “default” when it comes to quilting large quilts BUT I am pushing myself to branch out and have done some with straight lines. It doesn’t go as fast, but if you can break the quilt into sections for quilting, it seems to help. Another idea might be to try quilting wavy lines in parallel rows. It’s close to the straight line ideal, yet it’s easier to accomplish, I’ve found. So far, all my quilting has been accomplished on my Janome 7500, so like you, I’m longing for the enviable throat size on the Horizon.

  34. nettie September 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    i am probably late on this comment, but i have to make one point on the boring stippling comment…when I first began quilting (about 10 years ago), stippling/free motion quilting was the new/exciting thing to do, I realize that now it is just the norm, but I think it has been part of the “modern quilting movement”. Maybe it is getting old, but sometimes I think the same thing about wonky log cabins.

    But most importantly. Do what you like. I don’t think there is a thing wrong with a stipple. I always find problems with my straight line quilting–noticeable things, but with stippling, it’s hard to spot problems, and I LOVE that about stippling.

    I love this quilt btw, it looks great on your bed (it is the same one right?)

  35. Aniza September 12, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    Call me idiot because my very 1st quilt is a king size and doing a log cabin, I was recommended to do stitch in the ditch. I just don’t know how to manage a big quilt basted with thread and to quilt it. At first , I was frustrated. Then I realised that it really help if I push my sewing table against the corner of a room so that my quilt will not fall off and being pulled by it’s weight. Then I used the top most drawer on the left side of my sewing table to support the weight of the quilt.Then I work in quarter of the piece. I’ve done stippling & straight line quilting on a few king size quilts.

  36. Heather September 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    I am late to comment too but I just had to say I love stippling too but I would like to branch out a bit into more complex designs. I have a quilting magazine that has an Amish-style pattern in it of solids that calls for feathers, cables and cross-hatching in the blocks and it looks stunning on the simple solid blocks. I think more complex quilting is a great skill set to work on with the modern quilts!

  37. kate September 17, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    what kind of machine are you quilting on? is it stitch regulated? i think i might be in the market for a new good, small machine capable of piecing and quilting…

  38. Vvian September 22, 2010 at 5:14 am #

    I agree on two fronts — you can quilt large quilts on a small machine. Looking at the photo, we had the same machine — the Euro-Pro 9106. while I have done straight stitching on it, when I think about it, it was on smaller wall quilts. On larger quilts (and I have done a few queen-size), all over quilting (whether meandering or decorative) are easier because you can manage the quilt better because you can quilt it in sections that are easily maneuvered through the narrow throat (“stuff ‘n fluff” ala Paula Reid).

    I say we HAD the same machine because this summer I bought the new Janome Horizon because I wanted a larger throat space. So far I’ve only used it to finish quilting a lap quilt can’t wait to try it on something bigger.

  39. Kathrin December 13, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    This is the best section of comments I hve seen in a loong time. I was soo frustrated trying to learn to quilt by myself on the other side of the world. I have found plenty of good stuff online for making quilt tops and then next to nothing about the quilting part. So now, I don’t feel so alone. thanks to everyone for sharing tips and experiences!! Greetings from sunny, hot Thailand!

  40. CotiCoto December 18, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    I am quilting my niece quilt for Christmas, I found being in a higher chair with the quilt on my lap I am able to maneuver it quite easily to make a straight line stitch. I also had a friend of mine make me a larger than normal extension table so that I am able to keep most of the quilt on the table.

  41. Jenny Cameron January 1, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Hi – I love this post – it has everyone talking about their experiences.
    I haven’t been quilting for long but I love big quilts and I want to do them myself, on a domestic. My first post on my blog is about the quilt that I made using the quilt as you go method. I broke it up into 6 pieces as I wanted to shadow stitch most of the quilt. There was no way I could do all that turning though the throat of my machine if I had the quilt in one piece.
    I did a fair amount of altering to the original design to accommodate this method of joining but am so pleased with the result. I will do this again! I have to say I was very skeptical about quilt as you go, as I too wanted a flat quilt. It worked and the result surprised me. I used Leah Day’s tutorial.
    The quilting of a piece has to be considered at the beginning. Not at the end. I think this is why there are so many unfinished quilts out there.
    My quilt can be found here- http://fiberlosophy.blogspot.com/2012/10/welcome-to-fiberlosophy.html?m=0

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