We are sewing a mini quilt and this is part three: quilting
Welcome to the last part of the instructions. I am delighted to show you today how to bring your mini quilt to life. For me, that’s what quilting does: it breathes life into a top.
Are you new here? If so, it is best to go to Part 1 of the instructions, where we started the project by sewing the rows of houses. Then continue with Part 2 of the instructions, where we sewed on the appliqué letters. Then you can come back here and quilt your top following the instructions below. All three articles will remain permanently available on the blog, so you’re not under any time pressure.
Done is better than perfect!
If you already have experience with quilting instructions, then you have probably already had occasions when the last sentence of the instructions says: quilt as desired. Well great, that means nothing to you if you are a beginner. Instructions like that meant that I had 15 quilt tops at home and no finished quilts. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you with this quilt, I’m going to show you step by step how to quilt our top. To quote the motto of Angela Walters, one of my favorite quilters:
“A finished quilt is better than a perfect quilt top.”
This motto suggests that perfection has no place in quilting. It should be fun and enjoyable. I guarantee you that not every stitch will be perfect, but the end product will look wonderful.
Materials for Part 3
- Cotton fabric for the back of the quilt
- Cotton fabric for the binding
- Batting (made of cotton, polyester, wool, soya, … or a mixture of these)
- Safety pins, if possible curved
- Walking foot #50
- Quilting foot (e.g. #29, #24, #73, BERNINA Stitch Regulator (BSR))
- Quilting gloves
- Straight stitch plate (optional)
- Sewing thread
Let’s get to it! Making the quilt sandwich
A quilt sandwich always consists of a backing fabric, batting and a top.
The backing fabric and the batting are cut larger than the top because the top moves around during quilting and the batting shrinks. Cut out the backing fabric so it measures 20 in x 14 in (51 cm x 36 cm) and the batting so it measures 19 in x 13 in (48 cm x 33 cm).
A short remark about the batting: the more voluminous the batting, the more three-dimensional the houses and patterns you have quilted will look. However, thick batting is much more difficult to handle and is not recommended for beginners. So I would recommend the newcomers among you to use a thin batting. It doesn’t matter what type of material you use.
Securing the layers
Place the backing fabric on a table with the right (nice) side facing down. Then place the batting onto it, followed by the top.
Now we stabilize the sandwich with curved safety pins. These are special quilting pins that have been specially made for pinning quilts together. If you don’t have any at home, you can use normal safety pins.
First, secure the top right corner with a safety pin. Pierce through all three layers.
Now the quilt gets some TLC. Stroke the quilt flat before pinning the top left corner. Then stroke it again and secure the two bottom corners with safety pins. Take a quick look at the back to make sure the backing fabric is also tight and is not wrinkled.
Finally, put more safety pins in between to prevent the top from moving as much as possible. If you want to put in even more pins, you can do so.
Choosing the right thread
Before sitting down at the sewing machine and starting to quilt, we have to choose the thread color. I like to work with thread that matches the fabric because that way, the texture of the pattern comes into its own rather than the thread. The errors are also much less visible :-). The best way to see what the thread will look like is to unwind some and put it onto the top. The color on the spool can very often be deceptive.
Setting up the sewing machine
Once the thread has been selected, we are ready to start quilting on the sewing machine. I set up my BERNINA 350 PE as follows:
- I attached walking foot #50…
- …inserted a new universal 80 needle
- …threaded up
- …inserted the straight stitch plate
- …and set the needle stop to down.
- I kept the stitch length at 2.5 mm.
The walking foot helps to ensure that the top part of the quilt is fed in correctly and does not become distorted. In the first step, we sew along the right main seam of the quilt.
To do this, place the quilt under the walking foot and stitch in the ditch along the entire seam.
I am happy to explain the term “stitch in the ditch” to you: it’s best if you can visualize it. On this seam, the seam allowance has been ironed towards the white fabric. This creates a slight ridge. Stitching in the ditch means that we do not sew on the ridge, but in the lower part next to it, while also keeping as close to the ridge as possible. The thread then sinks into the ditch where it is no longer visible.
When you come to the end of the seam, take out the middle safety pin so that the fabric can expand. Despite using the walking foot, the fabric is pushed forward a little and must now be given space.
Take the quilt away, stroke it down well, secure the safety pin back in the same place and check the back to see if everything is still nice and smooth.
In the next step, we sew the second main seam in exactly the same way. Make sure you sew from the same direction so that the fabrics always move in the same direction. Did you notice that the ditch is on the other side on this seam?
Here too, check the back again. You can remove the safety pins in the middle, as the quilt is now well secured.
The seams shown below are quilted in exactly the same way. Always sew in the same direction and stitch in the ditch.
To ensure that the quilt always has plenty of space under the free arm of the machine, you can roll it up or fold it. It is only important for the quilt to lie flat at the place where you are sewing.
The quilt is taking shape and is already very well secured. Check the back again to see if everything still looks good.
The next step is to quilt the bottom row of houses.
I tried to quilt as many seams as possible in one go. As you can see in the image, there is also a line that is quilted twice, i.e. up and back. The fact that we stitch in the ditch means that the thread is not visible and we can quilt two or more times over it.
We start again at the top of the quilt. This time we don’t start at the edge of the quilt, but in the middle. I would therefore like to show you how I start sewing when quilting:
Starting and securing the seam when quilting
When quilting, the lower thread is always pulled up at the beginning. To do this, position the quilt in the right place under the foot. With your left hand, hold the upper thread lightly.
Now you have to make a stitch so that the lower thread is pulled up. Depending on the machine, this can be done by pressing the needle up/down button twice, using the handwheel or very carefully making a stitch with the foot control. When the needle comes back up, you can pull the upper thread and pull up the lower thread.
Now hold both threads in your left hand and start sewing.
To secure the threads neatly, proceed as follows: take both threads and make a loop for a knot. Move the knot as close as possible to the quilt using a needle. To do this, put the needle through the loop of the knot and insert it into the quilt at the starting point.
Using your left hand, carefully guide the knot to the tip of the needle and pull it tight.
Now thread the thread into the needle, insert it into the starting point and pass the needle through the batting in the middle of the quilt. Make sure the needle does not come out through the back. With the needle, pull the thread until the knot disappears into the quilt. You often hear a “pop” sound. Now you can cut the thread very short, and you have created a beautifully neat top and back.
Quilting the rows of houses
Now back to quilting the row of houses; make sure that when turning the quilt, all the layers are always aligned properly under the foot and nothing has moved or is folded. When sewing along the edge of the quilt, you can sew at a distance of 1/8 in (3 mm) from the edge so that the seam is later covered by the binding. On the walking foot, this corresponds exactly to the inside edge of the foot.
Remove the safety pins whenever one is in your way. When you come to the double lines, quilt one line upwards, stop with the needle down, turn the quilt 180° and quilt back the other way.
Before you start the next row, check the back and secure all the threads that are in the quilt. With the next row, we finish off the bottom row of houses.
Well done, it’s going great. Take some time to admire your work before you continue with the top row of houses. We can also sew the top row in one go. Here too, there are double lines, which I have shown in gray:
This row is a bit challenging because you have to quilt in the same direction again and, depending on the size of your sewing machine to the right of the needle, it can be quite a squeeze. However, the quilt is now stable enough that you can fold, roll, bunch or otherwise squash it without any problem.
It’s now time to get out of the ditch and turn your hand to free-motion quilting. This is really fun and is like doing free skating after completing the compulsory figures in figure skating.
For this, we stabilize the middle part of the quilt again with safety pins.
We then reset the machine for free-motion quilting.
On my sewing machine, I
- attached quilting foot #29…
- …lowered the feed dog
- …and set the stitch length to 0 mm.
I used quilting foot #29 for quilting because I am very familiar with it and feel very comfortable with it, but there are many other feet (see material list) that are well-suited for this. If you have a BERNINA Stitch Regulator (BSR) at home, this is the time to use it.
Let’s talk about thread tension
Now is also the time to talk about thread tension.
The thread tension MUST be adjusted during quilting. I’ll say it again, the thread tension MUST be adjusted during quilting.
BERNINA sewing machines have a thread tension range of 1 – 10. You can make full use of this range. So before you start quilting on the actual quilt, test your thread tension on a test sandwich made with the same materials.
The upper and lower thread form a knot with each stitch. This knot should be inside the quilt sandwich. If the knot is on top of the quilt, the thread tension is too high and needs to be lowered. If the knot is on the back of the quilt, the thread tension is too low and needs to be increased.
The thread tension may change slightly, depending on the design and sewing speed, and can or may need to be adjusted. So play around with your machine a bit to get a feel for where the knot is at various thread tensions, until you find a good thread tension where the knot is inside the quilt sandwich.
Quilt around the letters
With the newly found thread tension, we now go back to the actual quilt. I have put on my quilting gloves, put the quilt under the foot, pulled up the lower thread and am ready to quilt.
I tension the quilt with my hands and move it at the same time. Because the feed dog is down, I have to guide and move the quilt sandwich from now on. The stitch length depends on how quickly I sew and move the quilt. It is no longer moved forward automatically. So start slowly at first, until you get a feel for the speed. Try not to turn the quilt sandwich. You can quilt backwards, to the right, to the left, and forwards, so you never have to turn the sandwich.
First, we quilt around the letters to secure them. I start in the middle and quilt around the bottom parts of the letters from “a” to “e”. You can bridge the big gap from “y” to “h” with your favorite quilt design. In my case, I have used small circles, but you could also use a meander or another pattern.
When you reach the letter “e” at the end of the lettering, you can quilt back along the tops of the letters.
When you get back to “a”, you can turn the quilt around 180° and quilt in the same way in the other direction. When you finish, do not cut off the thread because we are going to continue quilting. The quilt now looks like this:
Quilting the background design
The quilt is now stabilized enough for me to finally start on the design.
YouTube is full of ideas, instructions, and inspiration for free-motion quilting. Each quilter has their own designs that they like to use. People often start with a meander, then they learn to quilt circles and swirls, and maybe even a feather, so everyone is at a different level.
This makes absolutely no difference here. No matter what design you want to quilt, the most important thing is to have fun. For me, this means that I do one design after another, whatever catches my fancy, and I tend to use my favorite designs. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what design you quilt, only that you fill the background evenly. In the end, it won’t be obvious if you make a mistake in the design, but it will if you have left large unfilled gaps. So try to fill the background evenly with your design.
Starting from the letter “a”, quilt the background up to the edge. Don’t forget the spaces inside some of the letters, like the “e”, “a” and “o”.
If you want a particular design to stand out, you can quilt it a little bigger and the eye will immediately be drawn to it.
Now quilt the second side from the middle outwards, and your mini quilt is almost done. The little windows on the rows of houses are still missing. I quilted these at the end using free-motion stitch in the ditch.
Take a look at the back, which is always a highlight for me.
You can now topstitch the quilt all the way around 3 mm (1/8 in) from the edge to make it easier to bind and then trim it.
All that is left to do is bind your quilt and you’re finished.
You did it!
That’s it for my three-part workshop. It’s incredible how much work goes into making such a small quilt :-).
I hope you have lots of fun, and stay safe and healthy at home.