The Free Motion Quilting Project: Stitching in the Ditch - Part 1

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stitching in the Ditch - Part 1

Now it's time to kick off this new How Do I Quilt This?! series with Stitching in the Ditch!

Learn how to create a plan of attack when it comes to stitching your quilt in the ditch in this first part video:

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Keep in mind as you watch the videos from this How Do I Quilt This?! Series, that I'm using white thread so you can see what I'm doing on video. I would normally never stitch in the ditch with such a highly contrasting thread!

Now to get started Stitching in the Ditch, you first need to take a good look at your quilt and create a game plan for quilting the quilt from the center to the outside edges.

free motion quilting | Leah DayWhen quilting on a domestic sewing machine, I always start in the center of the quilt and work my way out. This really helps to deal with any shifting of the quilt top, and it also makes quilting the quilt gradually get easier with every stitch.

So the first step for quilting Morning Glory was to stitch in the ditch inside all of the piecing lines around the blocks and sashing.

Here's a diagram of how I quilted the around the blocks and sashing:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
You can follow along with the arrowed lines by starting on the white dot near the center and following it around the blocks. To finish up the sashing, start on the outside white dot and follow the arrow lines around the outside sashing area as well.

Now I'm always try to minimize my thread breaks because all loose threads must be hidden in the middle layer of the quilt.

For a quick review of hiding your threads, here's the video I created on this a few months ago:

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So by stitching through the sashing area, even though it's not strictly 'in the ditch', I managed to save myself several thread breaks.

Tips on stitching in a pieced ditch line:
  • Keep your hands closer to the needle and use the index finger of your right hand to rub against the side of the foot as a guide when stitching straight lines.
  • Never hesitate to rotate or reposition your quilt for better movement. If you can't move your quilt, you definitely can't free motion quilt it!
  • When stitching straight lines, try stitching toward your body for better vision over the line you're stitching in.
  • Slow down! Staying in the ditch is tricky, so definitely slow down your machine for more control and better looking stitches.
  • During the piecing process, press your seams open so it's easier to stay right in the ditch rather than to one side.
So that just about covers stitching within pieced lines. Stop by tomorrow for the videos on stitching around applique shapes!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

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  1. As always you are very detailed in the process, the whys as well as the hows... Thank you..... I am still laughing at the speed it up at the end.....

  2. I like the series but I would like to know how you pin your quilt so that you can quilt it.

  3. Great question Glapha! I actually cover my unique basting method in the DVD Free Motion Quilting Basics for Beginners.

    You can check that out at:

    Let's go quilt!

    Leah Day

  4. I have always heard that pressing to one side is very important when stitching in the ditch. If the seams are pressed open, you are only quilting down the threads that are holding your seams together. The quilts I make are to be used and washed a lot, so they need to handle a lot of stress. Also, I found that it is not that difficult to hide the threads in the seam when it is pressed to one side. It just takes practice.

    Just some comments and thoughts. I love your site, and have been learning a lot!

  5. Kristine - Of course, everyone has a different opinion when it comes to pressing seams and to stitching in the ditch.

    For a beginner, I really think pressing seams open is the best option, but as with all things with quilting, try it yourself and see which way you like the best!

    Let's go quilt!

    Leah Day

  6. Thanks for this video series!

    I just have one critique. The dark background you put the quilt top on made it more difficult to see the quilt and something about it made me lose focus from it. Maybe try a lighter background next time.

  7. Great again! I was wondering after your first video if you would stitch in the ditch using free motion stitching or a walking foot. This is definately something I want to try. I was awake half the night thinking that I could perhaps quilt my current project with a combination of ditch and my own designs. Great inspiration. Great tutorials!

  8. I am glad to see more quilts stepping out of tradition using black backgrounds!!!!!!my favorite choice

  9. Leah, thanks for your videos. As always, they are practical and answer so many of the questions we quilters have!
    I, like Kristine, do quilt 1/16" inch from the seam and press seams to the side (usually to the darker side). I don't want to risk stitching right on top of the seam and exposing the batting or opening up the seam, especially on quilts that I use and wash regularly. For that reason I still use my walking foot which gives me a guide to keep me straight and precisely 1/16" away from the seam.
    Regardless of whether free motioning or walking foot, planning out those stabilizing seams is so crucial. It causes you to really think through your places where you will need to turn and reposition the quilt, as well as try and avoid as many thread breaks as possible.
    Thanks again for sharing with us--your input is so very appreciated!
    Wouldn't it be great if we could speed up our quilting X4 like the video :)


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