The number one goal with machine quilting is a pucker free quilt, front and back. Sounds easy enough, right? (Hahahaha!)
Most often I grip the quilt with my left hand and that helps me guide it. I smooth the quilt down with my right hand and form a hoop of sorts to keep the small section that I am working on taut. I do NOT use quilting gloves. I learned without them, so using them now feels very bulky and unnatural. I know that some people find them very helpful.
We've already talked about the importance of practice, but it bears repeating. Practice is KEY! One thing I didn't mention earlier is that doodling on paper is a great way to practice before moving to the machine. When you switch to the machine, loops are a great place to start, because they are much easier than stippling.
Basic Quilting Designs
You can try loops in a line, as I did on my oatmeal quilt.
super stars quilt. These are pretty easy because the loops can be large or small or a mix of both. This is a fairly forgiving and flexible design.
Look at the big picture
When you are up close, staring at a 6" square of quilting, all of the imperfections are noticeable. You may think that your quilting is less than stellar, (I know I usually do!) but this is when it's important to take a step back and take a look at the project as a whole. Often times the parts that bug me the worst in the moment are hard to find later because they really aren't a big deal. It's easy for me to get wrapped up in perfection, so I have to talk myself down every once in awhile. If it bugs you, sleep on it. If it still bugs you, then rip it out.
If you are quilting in a high profile area, your standards may be higher. For example, when you are stitching with white thread on a navy background, you might want to be more precise in your spacing. It is much more visible than the stitching on your lighter colored prints. When I get to those spots in the quilt I take a deep breath, slow down and concentrate on my spacing just a bit more. That sounds SO corny, but it's what I do. And really, it's better to take your time and do it right the first time rather than rip out stitches.
Start and stop
When you run out of bobbin, or anytime you are starting and stopping in the middle of the quilt, you can do one of two things: 1. You can retrace a few of your stitches (use very small stitches) and overlap the old and new stitching lines. The overlap helps to secure your starts and stops. Or... 2. You can bury your threads as shown in this tutorial. The second option is my preferred method. I love that the starts and stops are invisible!
Keep an eye on the back side
Take a peek at the tension on the back every time you start a new bobbin and once or twice in between. It only takes seconds to take a peek, but it could save you hours of ripping later. I had to re-learn this lesson just this week! Thankfully the tension was QUITE loose, so the ripping was easy. But still!
For some reason after a bobbin change, my tension got quite loose. I don't know what happened, but I had to stop, get out my test scrap and reset the tension on my machine mid-quilt. It's weird, but that seems to happen from time to time. After more quilting, I was able to reduce the tension again. I don't know WHY that happens, but it does.
Before quilting, it is helpful to trim the backing and batting within an inch of the quilt top. This reduces the bulk and will help keep things manageable while quilting. Every little bit helps! Also, it reduces the risk of extra backing fabric getting flipped over to the back and quilted down.
The denser the quilting, the stiffer the quilt. The looser the quilting, the softer the quilt. Make sure to check the batting packaging for quilt spacing requirements. This one the stitch distance is 4". Some batting requires the stitching to be a maximum spacing of 10" apart. That's quite a difference! It's something to consider when picking a quilting design (and batting) for your quilt.
If you are doing multiple quilting techniques in one quilt, try to keep your density fairly consistent throughout, so that when the quilt is washed there won't be bubbles and bumps. You want the shrinkage to be uniform throughout the quilt.
nap like an Egyptian quilt I had to go back and add lines of quilting (around the smallest inner triangles) because I left too much space un-quilted, even though I followed the spacing directions on the batting. I added the additional quilting after washing, which isn't ideal, but it was a better option than not fixing it at all. It's still a little bumpy in places, but it's better than it was.
Some things come out in the wash. I am NOT a subscriber to the theory "if you can't see it from a galloping horse 10 feet away don't worry about it". I believe you should do as good of a job as you can. BUT, I also realize the need to forgive yourself those little imperfections, because it IS a hand made item, after all. What I'm saying is, don't drive yourself crazy...on either end of the spectrum! Much easier said than done.
If you don't use it, you lose it! I used to stipple so much more beautifully than I do now. Probably because I quilted almost everything with "a simple stipple" back in 2009. :) It's good to have variety, but it's also good to have a stand-by, or default in your quilting bag of tricks.
There is SO MUCH more that I could cover, but I think we will call it quits for today! I have two more topics in this series planned: threads and needles, and a post all about batting. Is there anything else that I missed?
If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them in the comments!
Here are the links to all the previous posts in this series:
Working your way around the quilt
Picking a Pattern
Have fun quilting those quilts!