How do we quilt big quilts on a domestic sewing machine?
I know I've said time and time again that you can quilt anything, even king sized quilts on a domestic, but how do we really do it? It seems like trying to fit a circular screw into a square hole - it's just not going to fit!
The thing we really need is a strategy guide.
In the video game world, a strategy guide is used to teach you how to best maneuver your way through a dungeon and fight the evil boss at the end.
But we need a quilting strategy guide to help us deduce the best way to maneuver our quilts and fight the dreaded evils of drag, friction, and gravity that make quilting frustrating.
So here goes:
From what I've found, there are literally MILLIONS of ways to quilt a particular quilt.
Please understand that there is no WRONG way to quilt a quilt.
As long as you're finishing the quilt top and getting it out of the closet and ready to use, you're doing the right thing!
But this is where most quilters look at their giant king sized quilt tops, look lovingly at their sewing machine, and decide that it can wait another year before this monster is let out of the closet.
I think what we really need to do is to break these big quilts down. No, I don't mean chop them up into pieces, that's just plain sacrilegious!
Let's instead break the quilt top down into sections, focusing on the hardest to quilt areas first, then moving on to the easier areas.
Here's a super fancy quilt diagram that will illustrate what I'm talking about:
In this quilt diagram, you see a typical patchwork setup of 12 blocks with sashing and borders.
Depending on the sizes of your blocks and sashing, this quilt could easily be full, queen, or king.
So here's how to quilt it:
Start quilting in block #1. This is one of your central quilt blocks and will be one of the hardest to quilt.
Understand the difficulty going into it and gear yourself up accordingly your favorite music or audiobooks that will get you into the quilt slaying spirit and quilting gloves, which will help you to grip that sucker and move it anywhere you want it to go.
You will want to quilt blocks #1 and #2 in one sitting if possible. It will make you feel like you've accomplished a whole bunch because all the rest of the blocks will be much easier from here.
DON'T roll your quilt up into a log to get it under the arm of your machine! If you do this, the whole weight of that quilt will be fighting you.
Instead, slide the edge of the quilt under your machine and just keep pushing, wrinkling the quilt top up and smooshing it against the arm until you get to the center blocks.
Here's a picture of a quilt one of my great grandmothers made that I slid under the machine to illustrate how this works.
See how the quilt is just puddled up around the machine and smoothed out in the center to quilt the middle block?
It might look messy, but this works much, much easier than rolling your quilt into a log. You can actually have much of the quilt top twisted to the back so you have better access to the center.
It may take a few minutes of positioning, but you want to make sure that the weight of the quilt top is on your tables - not on your lap, not on the floor, not on your shoulders, or anywhere else you might decide to put it!
The next set of blocks will be #3 and #4, which lie above and below the center blocks. These will be much easier because they're closer to the border.
Again, try to quilt both blocks in one setting. Don't get up to check your email or answer the phone - just quilt it!
Now you're on the home stretch. You've quilted the 4 most difficult to quilt blocks and everything will be easy from here on out.
Blocks #5, #6, #7, and #8 can again all be stitched in one setting and, if your bobbin is big enough, without breaking thread.
If this feels like too much pressure for you, just try quilting 2 blocks in one setting.
Make it your goal to quilt through at least 2 blocks each day. Would you believe you could quilt a whole king sized quilt in 6 - 12 days?
Once you finish the last set of four blocks (#9, #10, #11, and #12), now it's time to work on the sashing and borders.
Sashing can be tricky because it's often the areas that excess fabric pools between the blocks. If you find yourself with loads of excess fabric or with lot of puckering, try stitching a long, high movement design, like McTavishing, in this area.
You can hide a lot of puckers if you quilt your lines parallel to the puckers.
Yes, puckers happen even to me! I don't know how they get in there, but the best thing to do is figure out how to quilt around them so they don't show in the finished quilt.
Finally, your borders will be the last thing to quilt on your quilt. They're the easiest to quilt because they're right on the edges of your quilt.
Unfortunately borders can be the most time consuming part of any quilt because surface area wise, borders often take up more space than 8 blocks combined.
I find that the best way to knock these guys flat is to break them up into sections just like with the blocks.
Aim to complete one whole side of the borders each day. The long sides may take more time, so you can always split them into 2 days each.
Whew! So there you have it!
You CAN quilt big quilts on your domestic sewing machine,
but you need to aim to knock it out as fast as possible.
but you need to aim to knock it out as fast as possible.
The longer that monster sits on your tables, taking up space, and eating your cookies, the less you will want to work on it and the more likely you will be to chuck that guy back in the closet.
Once you try it, you'll see that quilting in this block by block method is actually a lot more like quilting the 4" squares I demo each day.
The quilt is easier to maneuver and faster to finish because it's broken up into sections.
I really don't care for all-over designs, not because they ignore the piecing design, but because they're pretty darn difficult to quilt over a big quilt.
Think about it: an all-over design requires you to be constantly moving your quilt in one direction or another.
This works great for a longarmer on a frame, but all that movement is just going to give a domestic quilter a back ache!
When you work block by block, you get to focus more on the quilting design process as well, choosing which areas of the piecing your want to show off and which you want to ignore.
Working this way also allows your brain to go into The Zone. The Zone is a special place where time stops and your brain is disengaged and you can quilt for hours on end without stopping and not even realize you've done it.
One final thing you need to keep in mind as you quilt your quilt is your machine.
Some machines are wonderful and will quilt in any direction perfectly for as long as you want them to.
But some machines will mysteriously start to break thread if you stitch backwards or to the left. Who knows why they do it, but it's good to keep these things in mind as you move around your quilt.
I've often purposefully broken thread and repositioned my quilt just to avoid the headache of machine problems due to stitching in a direction my machine didn't like to go.
And last, but not least, go have fun!
If you pieced up a king sized monstrosity that is just so NOT your style anymore, give that top to a friend this Christmas instead of allowing it to torture you!
There's no point in trying to muscle through a quilt project you're not going to like in the end.
Speaking of muscling through, I'm feeling much, much better after 2 days of rest and relaxation and loads of video game vegging on the couch.
Thanks very much for all the well wishing! I think it definitely helped me kick this cold.
Now I'm off to go defeat a monster quilt of my own!
Let's go quilt!