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Domestic Sewing Machine Quilting Tips and Tricks

12 Tips for Quilting on a Domestic Sewing Machine

Combine your creativity and sewing skills with some beautiful fabric and a sewing machine to quickly master quilting on a domestic sewing machine. If you're feeling confident and ready to go, you can jump in on something like a large quilt. If you're feeling less certain, start with smaller projects, such as table runners or a baby quilt. Once you've made your first quilt and started to master the quilt-making process, you can gain a lot of satisfaction from making your own quilts.

close up of needle quilting on a domestic sewing machine

Tip 1: Practice Straight Seam Machine Quilting on a Domestic Sewing Machine


Quilting begins with piecing a gorgeous quilt top, but some practice sewing straight lines is often needed first. Even if you've been sewing on your machine for years, if you're new to quilting on a domestic machine, making seams that are 1/4-inch straight lines can take practice.


Cut straight edges on some fabric scraps, then practice mastering the narrow machine seams typically used when quilting.


Tip 2: Practice Free Motion Quilting on Scraps


Practice free motion quilting when you're confident in your quilt seaming skills. Make a quilt sandwich using three layers of fabric and batting scraps. Begin your free motion work by drawing a curvy quilting design on the fabric with tailor's chalk or a fabric marking pen.

Slide the practice quilt sandwich under the presser foot and set the machine to the free motion quilting setting. Sew slowly, following the design you drew on the fabric until you can easily follow the curving lines.


Tip 3: Practice Making Quilt Sandwiches


Making quilt sandwiches is a foundational step in the quilt-making process. On smaller projects, it might be enough to spread out each layer and smooth out its wrinkles before proceeding. However, in a larger project, such as an entire quilt, you may need to secure the layers.


You can do this by basting the layers together or by using an adhesive product to hold the layers in place. Many quilters combine pins and basting, or pinch clamps and adhesive such as painter's tape, when making a quilt sandwich for big quilts.


Tip 4: Spend Extra Time Cutting


Whether you're just getting started quilting or you've been quilting for years, you can't underestimate the value of accurate cutting. A rotary cutter and straight edge are useful for this step.

  • Rotary cutter: Put a self-healing cutting mat on your quilting table before spreading your quilt panel or quilting fabric on top of it. Carefully measure and place the straight edge on top of the fabric. then roll the rotary cutter along the straight edge while applying just enough pressure to cut the fabric.

  • Scissors: If you're using scissors instead of a rotary cutter, lift the fabric only as much as necessary to cut out pieces for your quilt. Additionally, check each piece after cutting to make sure it's cut straight.

Tip 5: Ironing Is a Necessity


As a general rule, no matter what you're stitching on your machine, your iron is almost as important as your home machine. Here's why it's so important: Pressing the fabric smooths out wrinkles and puckers that can deepen when quilting. Unless you're intentionally adding puckers as a design element, smooth is the goal.


Additionally, when you press seams open, not just the bulk of the fabric, it makes the whole quilt top smoother. So, it looks better and is easier to work with when you move to the next step of making your own quilts.


Tip 6: Focus on One Block at a Time


When you're new to quilting on a domestic machine, bypass any bulk production attempts. Just focus on making one block at a time. Being focused on your stitching can help you make noticeable improvement as you create each block for your quilt.


If you're making a panel quilt rather than using blocks to make your quilt top, you can focus on steps like adding borders and perfecting your free motion quilting designs.


Tip 7: Choose the Right Machine Quilting Needle

easy machine quilting on a domestic machine

The best type of machine quilting needle is a sharp or universal needle. If you're piecing the quilt top, a smaller gauge sharp needle is typically enough to do the job without gouging bigger holes in the fabric. If you're machine quilting all three layers of the quilt sandwich, use a heavier gauge needle so it's strong enough to poke through the layers without breaking.


Make sure you plan for a needle change every few hours. Consider 10 or 12 hours the maximum length of time you should quilt on one needle. Additionally, if your machine has been sitting a while or your thread starts to break frequently, changing the needle can help your machine sew more smoothly.


Tip 8: Pick the Right Machine Quilting Thread


Match the fiber content in your thread to the fabric fiber you're using for your quilt when possible. This helps ensure the fabric and thread will shrink at about the same rate when you wash your quilt.


Thread weights: After choosing the type of quilting thread fiber you want to use, the thread weight is usually the next consideration.

  • Lower gauge numbers are coarser and show more when used for creating a free motion quilting design.

  • For example, a 30-weight quilting thread makes a bolder quilted pattern on your quilt top, while a 50-weight typically blends in for a subtle effect.

  • A 40-weight thread is used most often for free motion quilting.


Tip 9: Schedule Breaks During Long Quilting Sessions


When you're seated at your home sewing machine working on a free motion quilting project, remember to include time for some self-care. This is especially true if you're working on a big quilt project. Pay attention to your posture to avoid neck and shoulder pain. Also, move around a bit to keep your muscles and joints from getting stiff.


Consider setting a timer to remind you to stop and stretch at least every 20 to 30 minutes. Schedule longer breaks every couple hours, too. Use the longer breaks to stretch your legs and get a drink or snack. Walking away for a bit gives you a chance to refresh and come back to your quilt project with a fresh attitude. A little bit of self-care can make the time you spend quilting more enjoyable.


Tip 10: Find a Quilting Buddy


Learning to machine quilt can be a detailed process, and finding a quilting buddy can make it more fun. Sharing the journey with a friend or loved one can be a bonding process as well as a learning one. It can help you gain confidence in your quilting abilities when you have someone nearby cheering you on.


This is especially true if you're making your first quilt or making a quilting plan for a complicated quilt top pattern. Your quilting buddy can share your skill level if you want to learn together. Or, if one of you is a more experienced quilter, the quilting plan guidance can be really helpful for the one who's new to quilting.


Tip 11: Take a Lot of Pictures and Notes


Consider starting a quilting journal. This can be especially helpful when you're new to quilting and learning quilting terminology for the first time. Have your digital camera, cell phone camera or a sketch pad handy to get images of what you're doing. This gives you a reference source you can review later when you're making your next quilt.


Additionally, make notes about anything you change from your quilt pattern. Include notes about quilt pattern steps and free motion quilting problems that give you trouble. This provides you with written information about your quilting project that you can go back through to avoid repeating the same errors.


Tip 12: Design Your Sewing Space for Your Quilting Groove


Quilting is an enjoyable, interesting hobby, and you deserve to be comfortable when you're working on a quilt project. Adjust your quilting space to fit your needs and accommodate the space you have available.

  • Sewing room: If you have a dedicated room for quilting, set your work surface up to accommodate your height so you don't have to stoop over to cut fabric. Additionally, make the most of your work space by having shelves installed under the work surface to store your quilting fabric and supplies.

  • Kitchen table: If you use your kitchen table as a work surface for quilting, expand your table space to allow enough room for your quilting work by adding a leaf if possible. Keep quilting supplies organized and portable by using baskets or tote bags.

  • Small space: If your quilting projects are designated to a small space, you can still be happy quilting. Don't let a small space make you feel like quilting isn't an option for you. You can focus on making smaller quilts or quilt blocks. You can also make the tops for quilts and send them to a quilt shop to be quilted on a machine.

Ready to get started making your own gorgeous quilt? Browse through our collection of resources and tutorials here on Stitchin' Heaven to find more tips on easy machine quilting on a domestic machine. Our sewing tips can guide you through the process of making your quilt top, adding the batting and quilt backing and stitching it up on your home sewing machine.


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