A Quilting Question Answered

Kathy left the comment/questions below on a blog post so I thought I’d just repost it here and see if I can answer her questions.

I love reading your posts and seeing your quilts. I’m fairly new to quilting and wondered if you could comment on how you sandwich/sew/handle quilting such big quilts. I’ve only tried spray glue on throws or smaller things thus far. I’m also curious if you have a favorite free motion quilting instructor’s name/website/class for someone who has only used a walking foot/stitched in the ditch so far. I appreciate any tips you have if I’m not asking for too many questions or taking too much of your time.

First – no you’re not taking too much of my time and I’m happy to answer questions if I can. ūüôā¬†¬† Of course, this is what works for me – there are many ways to do things and everyone had their own preferred method or needs to figure out what works for them.

I’m a self-taught quilter, from before there were internet videos/tutorials of all kinds of techniques available to watch.¬†¬† The local PBS station and books were my teachers.¬† Today it is so much easier to find a video to watch to see step by step how to do something.

As to sandwiching and quilting large quilts – it’s all just more time consuming due to the larger size but I don’t know that I really do anything different on a small wall hanging versus a large quilt with one exception.¬†¬† I do occasionally¬† spray baste small wall hangings or table runners but I pin baste with safety pins¬†anything larger in size.

I have a banquet table that is my sewing table.  Black binder clips (from the office supply store) are my best friends when layering a quilt.

If you click on the images above they should open up larger.¬† The first is my backing fabric wrong side up binder clipped to the table.¬† I generally start at one edge on smaller projects and just let the excess hang over the other edge.¬† If it’s a large quilt, I generally clip the center of the backing centered on the table and work from the center¬†out.

The quilt I’m pinning in the photos is a lap quilt so I’m just working from one side across the width to the other.¬† After clipping the backing place – repeat the process with the batting removing each binder clip one by one, smoothing batting into place and reclipping it.¬† Then repeat this step a third time, adding the quilt top and smoothing and clipping it in place.¬† That’s what is show in the top three photos.¬† The bottom two are just my finished quilting (I meandered this one) and backing fabric which I love and has been in the stash forever.

If my quilt is longer/wider than my table – after I pin baste the area on the table top, I unclip it and slide it over to the next section, smooth and clip it all down again and pin the next section and repeat until it’s all done.¬†¬† If you’ve never pin basted a quilt¬† (or you can thread baste it too) there are many videos of how to learn to do that too.

This one wasn’t a huge quilt but it just takes more wrestling with your quilt when you are working on a larger one to get the area where you want to quilt laying flat and smooth, I sort of puddle the rest of the quilt around the area where I’m working so it’s not sliding off the other edge of the table causing drag (which will at the very least distort stitches and more importantly can break needles).¬†¬† When I started quilting, many books said to roll the part of the quilt under your machine bed — for me that simply makes it much harder to deal with.¬†¬†You have this long roll that has a mind of it’s own, weighs down the quilt etc.¬† I much prefer to “quilt in a puddle” with the rest of the quilt outside the area my hands are in just loosely puddled up.

There simply is a “just a lot more” needed for a larger quilt versus a smaller one — a lot more moving¬†sections about to pin baste the entire thing, a¬†lot more maneuvering of the quilt sandwich to get it flat where you want to quilt it and keep¬†the rest around that area from causing drag on where you are quilting, a lot more moving, rearranging, smoothing —¬† but you just take your time, do one area at a¬†time, move on to the next¬†and above all relax.¬†¬† I find it interesting when I read comments from quilters that they can’t make a large¬† and enjoy the process since it’s not a race to the finish.

I don find it funny when I read comments from a quilter that they can’t make a large quilt because they can’t quilt it on their machine — perhaps “they” can’t but many of us can. :-).¬†¬†Some quilters ¬†may not “wish” to deal with quilting a large quilt on a home machine and¬†choose not¬†to ¬†and that’s fine –¬†that’s what choice is all about.¬†And there’s always the choice to send it out to have someone else quilt it.¬†¬† I actually enjoy machine quilting and have¬†¬†quilted all sizes of quilts¬† for over 30 years on a standard size sewing machine¬† — and actually had to finish quilting a queen size quilt on my Featherweight because of a show deadline when my regular machine died (not that I’d want to repeat that experience ever again)!

I do now have a home sewing machine with a larger throat plate that I quilt on and the added couple inches and extended flat table have made it so much easier.¬† I haven’t quilted anything as large as Barn Dance¬† on this machine yet so am looking forward to seeing how much easier it is now that I have a bit more “wiggle room” to maneuver my quilt sandwich in.

Another definite must for me is quilting gloves – they grip the fabric and help move the quilt sandwich more easily saving wear and tear and strain on my fingers and wrists.¬† Again I’ve tried many kinds but love Machingers – they are my favorites and work best for me.

As for quilting instruction name/website/class.¬† I don’t really spend time surfing the web looking at that kind of stuff.¬† Perhaps someone reading this blog post can leave a link in the comments to their favorite videos/websites.¬† ¬†I do, however, make use of some Craftsy classes¬† (especially when they are on sale or when they do the “get one free” class promotions).¬† And they are on sale right now by the way.¬† Anyway, one of the classes I like is


This one has lots of different free motion stitches, and is presented in a format I like.¬† I haven’t actually even watched all of it.¬† I wanted to learn to do pebbles so I watched that part and then quilted a project with them.¬† I went back and watched another stitch that I incorporated into another quilt so most¬†Craftsy classes I sort of watch bits and pieces of rather than watching start to finish but one of these days I’ll get all the way through it.¬† I like the way Christina Cameli presented these stitches – easy to see what she was doing since she demos on a small block rather than a whole quilt. Then when I was able to get a free class recently, I decided to get another of her free motion quilting classes but I haven’t watched that one at all yet.

Okay – this seems like just a bunch of rambling thoughts – but hopefully I’ve answered some of your questions Kathy. ūüôā

Oh and one of my favorite quilting books that I referred to a lot when learning to machine quilt – Harriet Hargrave’s Heirloom Machine Quilting.¬† A great reference to have in your personal quilting library or check out at your local library.






9 comments on “A Quilting Question Answered

  1. I think your post is spot-on! I also pretty much do my pin-basting the same way. The actual quilting process is so fun & relaxing to me also but it took a lot of practice before I got to this point. Once you’ve got it, it’s like riding a bike!

  2. Denise, You are truly an inspiration to other quilters. It was very nice of you to spend so much time with such a great tutorial. Your pinning method is the same as mine and it works very well. One thing that might also work for a beginner is using the walking foot to get used to managing a large quilt.

    • The person who asked the question had already done quilting with a walking foot and was specifically asking about free motion so that’s why it wasn’t included. I actually find the walking foot far more cumbersome to use myself.

  3. Thank you Denise for all that information , I have so many quilt tops ready but haven’t quilted any of them , too scared, I shall start doing them now .y

  4. Thank you so much for the detailed answers you gave Kathy. You recently gave me some encouragement ending with the thought that practice, practice, practice is the only way to get better at quilting my own projects.

    • yes – practice – lots of practice. I have some days when the Quilting Angels are smiling on me and my machine quilting goes just as I want. There are other days when it seems my mind is simply not controlling my hands. LOL But practice is the key.

  5. Thank you, thank you. I appreciate your time and comments. I particularly liked your comments that large quilts just involves a lot more effort on every front. I’ve always shied away from actually trying to tackle the few big things I’ve made, yet I knew others like you seem to manage so I should be able to, too. I love the binder clip idea and the moving of the layers over a table as needed. My husband suggested masonite over my dining room table could work for clips and getting things off the floor. I have two twin size tops ready for sandwiching (I’ll try the pin basting on them) and then I’ll check out your class recommendations for FMQ. I’m determined to learn to finish what I make. I, too, am self taught and am glad to have input from someone like yourself who is obviously experience and capable. If I can get some of my tops done, then I can make something new. (Your owl wall hanging from way back is on my list to do next!)

    • You’re welcome. Yes you definitely want to use something over your table top when pin basting — otherwise you’ll end up with little in pricks in your table top. Masonite over your table top would be a great solution.

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