Archive for the ‘Quilting Tips’ Category

Proverbs 3:13-15

My quilt project this week, Nightlites, had lots of matching star points.  Timid quilters often avoid patterns that involve so much matching, sensing the frustration that lies ahead.  It’s a love-hate relationship, I admit, but for me a relationship worth pursuing.

Completed Quilt


When I decide to make a more complex quilt design, I take a few extra steps to insure that my points are sharp, crisp, and matched up.  Here is the method that works for me.

If I’m sewing a point that doesn’t have to match up with another point on the underside, I stitch 2-3 threads to the right of the X intersection of the seam allowance.  This takes into account the rollover effect and keeps the point sharp.

Quilt Block Intersection

Quilt Block X Intersection

Matching two points from the back side of a block can be a challenge since you can’t always see the intersection.  Additionally, the second point is under the top block so it’s impossible to know whether it will be in position or not even if you have pinned the seam.

In the case of matching two points, I pin and pre-sew across the intersections (about two inches) with a 4.0mm stitch length.  I then check the front side to see whether the points are matched and sharp.  Sullivan’s Glue Pins can also be used to accomplish the same thing.  If all the points match, I sew my regular seam allowance and stitch length, simply sewing over the pre-stitched areas which now serve as guides.

Pre-Sewn Quilt Block Intersection

Approaching a Pre-Sewn Intersection

If the points don’t match, I pull the top thread out and start over again.  When sewing long rows of stars and other design points, this can take some patience.  In the end, however, I’m rewarded with sharp points and perfectly matched stars—a good feeling.

Sharp Points on Quilt Block

Checking Points for Sharpness

I can always choose not to invest the effort and have mismatched points.  The problem is my eyes will go immediately to the errors and drive me a little crazy each time I view the quilt—not a good feeling.

This may explain why wonky blocks are so popular.  Who wants to spend all their quilting time matching points?  But occasionally exercises in precision quilting can benefit the overall experience.

Lots of Points to Match

I hope you find these quilting tips helpful.



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Whenever I machine quilt, I remove the general throat plate and replace it with a straight stitch plate.  I know these aren’t available for all machines, but if one is available for your brand of sewing machine, I do recommend purchasing it.

With the feed dogs lowered and the straight stitch throat plate in place, I then cover the bed with a Sewslip.  The Sewslip and Super Slider are non-stick surfaces with holes under your machine needle.  They have a tacky backing that keeps them in position.  Anything that will eliminate drag on your quilt while it’s under the needle is helpful.  I’ve been using one for years, and I do think they make machine quilting a little easier.


Next, I turn on my sewing machine and lessen the presser foot pressure.  Every machine does this differently so read your manual for instructions.

Pressure Foot Pressure

Lower Presser Foot Pressure

With my machine set, I now take a little time to warm up by using a sample quilt sandwich made for this purpose.  You don’t want to skip this step.  It allows you to test your stitches to make sure they are balanced.  Also, your head and hands get a chance to change into quilting mode before you actually beginning stitching your quilt.

Free Motion Quilting

Free Motion Warm Up

The last thing I do before beginning to machine quilt is apply Tri-Flow to my machine needle using a Q-Tip.  Since I use 505 Adhesive Spray to “baste” my quilt sandwich, I don’t want any skipped stitches.  This brand of spray is pretty good at not gumming up your needle, but I still like some extra insurance.  Tri-Flow puts a Teflon coating on the needle and insures against the build-up of gummy residue.

Apply Tri-Flow to Needle with Q-Tip

I position my quilt somewhere in the middle section and pull my bobbin thread to the quilt surface, leaving enough thread tails to pop back into my quilt later.

Bobbin Thread

Pull Bobbin Thread to Surface of Quilt

I know that most people make a few securing stitches at their starts and stops; I’m just not one of those people.  It goes back to my hand quilting days.  I don’t like the look of thread buildup, so I use self-threading hand needles, form a single knot, and feed the thread into the batting until it pops.  Yes, it takes an extra minute here and there, but it’s worth it to me.

Knot Thread and Pop Back into Quilt

For easier maneuverability, I roll the side of my quilt that falls to the right of the needle.

Roll Quilt

Roll Quilt to Right of Needle

I also keep the front and back of the quilt loosely bunched to prevent drag as I’m stitching.  The bed of my machine is even with the sewing table so this is most helpful in the area between me and the machine.

I mentioned in a previous post that music can be an aide to machine quilting.  I believe it relaxes you and helps you to form a smooth rhythm with your quilt as you move it under the needle.

And speaking of the quilt being under the needle, I focus my attention on a small area as I quilt.  Sometimes I make a taut “U” shape with my two hands; other times I might use a quilting hoop made for machine quilting.  My eyes are always looking ahead to where my needle is going next.  And this brings me  back to free motion presser feet.  Some are better than others when it comes to vision, so give them a test drive before making a purchase.

I hope you find something helpful to take away from this post.  But the one thing I can’t help you with is practice.  Practice is the key to successful free motion quilting. Practice makes progress.  Maybe someday practice will be the cure to my butterflies.  Maybe.

Free Motion Quilting

Free Motion Quilting Completed

Happy quilting!


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I was introduced to a product named Tri-Flow years ago on an embroidery forum.  If you experience skipped stitches when using fusibles or sprays, you will welcome this product into your sewing studio. I find it especially helpful when using the Bernina BSR attachment since this little accessory is very fussy when it comes to adhesives.

Tri-Flow Lubricant

Tri-Flow is also a great aide when doing free motion work at high speeds since it eliminates friction. Using a Q-tip, apply a thin coat to your sewing machine needle from top to bottom. I usually need to recoat the needle several times during the course of the project when fusibles or adhesives are involved.

Apply Tri-Flow to Needle with Q-Tip

Tri-Flow is advertised for bicycles, bearings, and movable parts on machinery.  However, many sewing machine technicians use this product in their workshops. For home use, Tri-Flow can clean and lubricate your bobbin area (metal parts) as well as remove dirt and dust from the surrounding surfaces. It also displaces moisture and prevents corrosion, which means you can use it on the core of metal bobbins before winding them with thread.

One caveat:  Tri-Flow is NOT sewing machine oil. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions and only use the sewing machine oil recommended in your manual.  Many modern machines do not require oiling.

Look for this product in bike shops, online, and at some sewing centers. For the uses I’ve listed above, purchase the 2 ounce fluid (not the spray).


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When you purchase a new sewing machine, it normally comes with a  standard stitch plate that accommodates the widest stitch width your machine is capable of, such as 5.5 mm, 6.0 mm, 7 mm, etc.  For general sewing purposes, this is the plate I keep on my machines most of the time.

Standard Stitch Plate

For piecing and quilting, however, I highly recommend that you purchase a straight stitch plate for your particular brand of sewing machine.  The straight stitch plate aides in the formation of straight stitches by providing support for the fabric as the needle pierces through it at a high speed.  With such a small entry hole for the needle, the fabric stays flat rather than being pushed down into the wider opening of the standard stitch plate.

Straight Stitch Plate

This may seem like a small thing until you begin free motion quilting.  Have you ever wondered why the stitches on the back of your quilt look as if they pulled the top thread too tightly?  This often happens when creating circular or wavy patterns during the free motion process.  The straight stitch plate cured this problem for me and made a big difference in my stitch quality.

I do need to warn you about one thing.  Make sure you use the middle needle position and only the middle needle position with this stitch plate.  Some machines allow you to lock this needle position so that you don’t break your needle or damage the plate by switching to a zig-zag or other width stitch.  Other than that, this is a great accessory for quilters.


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There is one product I use repeatedly and keep well stocked:  fusible thread.  Fusible thread is unique in that it eliminates the need for basting and pinning on lots of sewing, quilting, and craft projects.  Manufactured by several companies, fusible thread can be found online as well as in sewing and quilting stores.

Fusible Thread

Here is a partial list of applications where fusible thread can be used:

1.  Positioning pockets in general sewing
2.  Adhering hems without pinning
3.  Positioning zippers before sewing in place
4.  Positioning trims such as Ric Rac
5.  Positioning appliqués
6.  Adhering bindings

Although the directions for fusible thread state that it can be used in the needle, I prefer to use it in the bobbin since it’s rather thick.  I always keep an extra bobbin wound with this thread handy.  I also keep the thread tails in a small plastic bag for future use.  Sometimes you just need a small amount of adhesion and these thread tails fit the bill.

Fusible thread is activated by the heat of an iron.  Never place a hot iron on the thread itself.  Press with steam from the reverse side, using a temperature appropriate for your fabric.  Allow the fabric to cool before touching.

You will be seeing fusible thread in some of my upcoming quilting tutorials.  If you’ve ever pricked your finger on a pin while quilting or sewing, this product is for you.


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There are three patchwork squares used repeatedly in quilt tops:  the half-square triangle unit, the quarter-square triangle unit, and the four-patch.  Since quilting has been around for some time, quick and accurate methods for constructing these squares have been introduced into the quilting community.  Additionally, I have recently developed a method for making four-patches that I really like and that produces consistently accurate results every time.  It just came to me while piecing one day, but it’s hard to believe some other quilter hasn’t thought of it before (and they probably have; I just haven’t seen it anywhere.)

This tutorial will introduce the half-square triangle unit.  I will be making two units at the same time, but you can make a single unit just as easily.   Each of the squares mentioned above have a special measurement to remember.  Don’t worry, it’s simple math.

To begin, choose two fabrics, one light and one dark.  Think about the size you want your finished (sewn) square.  To that measurement, add 7/8-inch.  That is always the case regardless of your finished measurement.  For example, if I wanted my finished squares to be six inches,  I would cut my light and dark squares 6 7/8-inches.

I would like to give you a quick tip at this point.  For greater accuracy, starch your fabric.  By its very nature, fabric shifts while being sewn.  Starching your fabric prevents some of the shifting and stretching, which makes for happy quilting.  I use Sta-Flo liquid starch and mix it 50-50 with distilled water.  I then pour it into a spray bottle that I always keep by my iron.

Starch Your Fabric

Here is one more tip.  I quickly cut my squares a little larger than the desired measurement and then starch them.  Sometimes the fabric shrinks slightly, so this insures that I won’t have any problems getting the exact cut I need.  After pressing the starched squares, I then cut the precise measurement.

Now you have two accurately cut squares that are 7/8-inches larger than your finished square measurement.  In my case, I have doubled the measurement (width) so that I will have two finished units in the end.

Turn the light square over (face down) and place it on top of the dark square.  With a sharp pencil in hand, position your ruler diagonally, crossing the top left and bottom right corner of the square units.  Draw a line from corner to corner on the wrong side of the square.

If you are making a double unit, draw a line down the center.  Then position your ruler diagonally as above and draw a pencil line from corner to corner.  Repeat for the second unit.

Center Line

Center Line for Double Unit

Diagonal Cutting Lines

If you don’t have a patchwork presser foot, mark ¼-inch sewing lines on each side of the solid lines.  I would recommend dashed lines so that you can distinguish sewing lines from cutting lines.

Take your marked square (or rectangle) to the machine and place a few strategic pins here and there to keep the fabric in place.  Attach a patchwork presser foot (quarter-inch foot) or sew the ¼-inch dashed lines that you marked.  Begin sewing a scant ¼-inch from the solid pencil line.

Sewing 1/4-inch from Cutting Line

When you finish sewing one side, lift the presser foot and reposition the unit so that you can sew down the other side of the marked line.  If you are working on a double unit, continue sewing until you have sewn scant ¼-inch seams on both sides of your solid pencil line.

Turning the Corner

Take your ruler and place it on the solid pencil line between your stitching lines.  Using a rotary cutter, cut the unit(s) in half.

For the double unit, cut the center line first, then proceed to cut the units in half.

Cutting the Center Line

Cutting the Diagonal Lines

Now open your  units and press toward the dark fabric.  Square them if necessary, checking your measurements to make sure they are precise.

If you have made several units, you can play with them to make various patterns.  Here I have made a pin wheel.  Wasn’t that easy?

In the next tutorial, I will show you how to create quarter-square triangle units.  The method will build on what you have learned in this lesson.  Happy quilting!


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Chain piecing is a real time saver when you have many identical units to sew.  Here’s how it works.

First, gather all your piecing units into a pile.  Next, place the first one under the presser foot and begin sewing your ¼-inch seam.  As you come close to the end of the seam,  place the next unit in place behind the first unit without lifting the presser foot.  Continue sewing the second unit.  Then repeat the same action by placing the third unit behind the second unit.  Keep sewing until all your units have traveled under the presser foot.

Chain Piecing

There will be a few stitches between each sewn unit.  Lay out your long chain of piecework and clip the individual units apart.

Clipping Your Chain-Pieced Units

You are now ready to press and square-up your work.  Wasn’t that fun?



A little time here and a little time there really adds up over the course of constructing a quilt.


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