Machine Quilting 101 sylabus
Machine Quilting Confidence
Developed and Taught by Pat Kerko
My intention today is to help you develop CONFIDENCE in your ability to learn and
progress in the skill of machine quilting. Developing this skill takes time and patience. All
you need to learn is the willingness to take the time, make mistakes, and learn from those
mistakes and sometimes a really good sharp seam ripper.
Today we are going to go over the basics so that you understand the components of machine
quilting and get you started.
We will try to accomplish the following in the time we have together:
• Needles
• Thread
• Impact of Fabric, Thread and Needles on Tension and how to adjust your tension
• The importance of good pressing and seam direction
• How to sandwich your quilt
• How to stabilize your quilt
• Starting
• Stopping
• Machine Guided Quilting
• Free Motion Quilting Learning how to do a well balanced stipple and meander
• Hopefully we will have time to talk about marking and various methods to mark out designs on your
Make sure your machine is clean….we sometimes think we can sew on our machines for a year and
never look underneath the stitch plate. Well I am here to tell you that a lot of junk gathers there. You
need to occasionally stop and take it apart and clean your machine.
You need a good flat surface is a real help. Especially if you have a table for your machine to set down
into. I highly suggest this if you are thinking of doing any significant amount of machine quilting.
Make sure your thread is feeding freely, that it is not hanging up on anything.
For machine guided quilting you need a walking foot or a dual-feed mechanism
For free motion quilting you need a darning foot and the ability to disengage or lower the feed dogs. If
you cannot lower your feed dogs you can always tape a business card over them.
Developed by Pat Kerko © 2007
Please do not copy without permission
Thread and needles:
Choosing the right size and type of needle is very important for machine quilting. The eye,
shank, and taper of a needle all have an effect on the quality of your stitching. Sharp or universal
needles are basic sewing needles, and they’re the best choices when working with cotton thread
or nylon. However, I prefer to us Sharps or Quilting Needles at all times. I find that they are just
a bit “sharper” than universals and do not “punch” as much of a hole in the fabric. Following is a
guideline to needle usage, however, when all else fails, just use an 80/12…or 75/11 sharp or
quilting needle.
General Guidelines:
 60/8 use with 60wt embroidery or Polyester thread
 70/10 or 75/11 use with 50wt cotton or Polyester thread on most cottons
 80/12 use with 50wt cotton or Polyester thread when stitching on slightly heavier fabrics.
Also use with 40wt cotton thread
 90/14 use with 40 or 50wt cotton threads on heavier fabrics. Also use with metallic
threads. Do not thread the last eye on your machine.
 Metallica and Metalfil needles are the best choice for metallic threads but you can also
use 90/14 topstitch needles.
Threads are numbered according to size, with the lightest weight thread having the highest number. A
spool with the number 50/3 means it is a three-ply 50 weight thread. Ply refers to the number of strands twisted
Cotton – 100%, Best bets: Mettler and YLI, 50/3 or 40/3, Aurifil 50/3
Needle: 75/11 sharp/quilting
Rayon or Polyester – many brands on the market
Needle: 75/11 or 65/9
Metallics – Yli, Sulky, or Madeira
Needle: 80/12 Metallica or 90/14 topstitch and do not thread the last guide on machine
Monofilament – Yli, MonoPoly or Sulky in smoke or clear
Needle: 65/9 or 75/11
Always pull the bobbin thread to the top of your quilt when you start a new line of stitching. Once the
bobbin thread tail gets tangled underneath the quilt and stitched over repeatedly with free motion
stitches, it can be nearly impossible to remove.
To pull your bobbin thread up, hold the top thread and run you needle into your fabric and back up.
This will create a loop with your bobbin thread. Then tug on the top thread and this will pull your
bobbin thread up to the top.
There are several ways to start you thread for free motion quilting. My preference is to pull your bobbin
thread to the top. Hold both the top and bottom thread in your left hand. Take several small, closely
spaced stitches. Stop with needle down. Lift presser foot and then clip the threads. Then continue
You can also pull your thread up to the top and leave them later to embed down into the quilt. This is a
personal preference. I think the earlier method, if done correctly provides a clean finish with a lot less
Developed by Pat Kerko © 2007
Please do not copy without permission
You will take several small stitches in a very close space. This should lock the stitches so that they do
not pull out. It is not necessary to backstitch. Then take one more regular stitch, raise the presser foot
and pull on the upper thread. The bobbin thread will just barely come to the front. Then both threads
can be cut at the same time eliminating the need for clipping the back threads later.
You can also pull the bobbin thread to the top and embed after your work is finished with a hand needle.
This is not my preference.
If you run out of bobbin without having the opportunity to pack stitches you will want to pick out a few
stitches back. When you refill the bobbin start back into this spot and the connection will be less
obvious. Use the same starting method previously described but take two or three stitches back from the
end of the quilting stitches.
The perfectly formed stitch is characterized by smooth, neat threads on both sides of the quilt. Thread
does not pull on the fabric or cause puckers. There are no loops or thread knots on either side of the
quilt. Perfect stitching is easiest to achieve on machine guided quilting (using your walking foot with
feed dogs up). Perfect tension is difficult to maintain when free motion quilting, since the constant
changing of stitching direction affects the stitch formation.
For this class we are only going to discuss adjusting your top tension. On most machines you can also
adjust your bobbin tension, however this can provide some difficulty. So we are just not going to deal
with this right now.
Too much needle/top thread being visible on back: - First rethread the machine with the presser foot
raised. If rethreading doesn’t correct the problem check the needle/top tension, you will most likely
have to tighten the top tension. If the top thread is visible on the bottom it generally means that the top
tension is too loose.
Too much bobbin thread visible on the top: - Loosen the top tension.
Tension problems are frequently caused by the top thread not feeding freely. Check to see if the thread
is caught on the quilt behind the machine. Or perhaps it is canting a clip or notch on the spool edge.
Hands and Hand Position:
I do use tacky gloves. There are many brands on the market, so find what is best for you. Additionally
if you are working on a small piece you can also just keep your hands moist with greasless hand cream
and not wear gloves.
I like to place my hands on either side of my work at 9 and 3 as positioned on a clock.
Machine Guided Quilting
This is when you use the machine to guide you. It is basically utilizing your walking foot to move your fabric
along. Generally this method is used to stitch in the ditch or to do straight lines. There are many possibilities to
utilizing straight line quilting.
Stitching in the ditch is quite often used for securing or stabilizing the quilt. Stabilizing can be
done with either monofilament thread or water soluble thread so that you can later come back
and do more decorative, free motion quilting in the blocks that were outlined. Additionally
Developed by Pat Kerko © 2007
Please do not copy without permission
stitching in the ditch is an excellent method of securing your quilt if you want all of the attention
to go to your piecing and not to your quilting.
Straight line quilting can be used to enhance open areas to show up piecing. Echoing in
triangles or in a border area. Straight line repeats in a border can be a very nice effect. Or Cross
hatching using the guide on the walking foot for evenly spaced lines.
Lastly, if you want to have a little fun you can use your walking foot to do wavy lines and get
quite a nice effect.
Free Motion Quilting
This is where you are in control, basically quilting with a darning/free motion foot and putting your feed
dogs down. You will use your hands to guide your quilt and draw with your thread. You create pattern.
Curved lines are much easier to do here than are straight lines. So keep this in mind when selecting a
design you want to use.
Gaining control over your abilities and developing the skill of free motion takes time and a lot of
The basic that everyone needs to master is a good stipple. Sometimes taking a pencil and paper and
doodling a stipple is helpful for you to develop your rhythm. Generally the ideal is to not cross lines,
keep them as evenly spaced as possible and to not have corners, everything is rounded. Unless of course
you want to do a stipple with corners, then make sure everything has corners.
There are also two basic stipples. A closely packed stipple and a meander. A meander is a widely
spaced stipple.
Stipple last. Quilt whatever designs you want to have in your quilt first and then come back and stipple
last. Stippling can stretch the fabric out. If you were to do this first you might get a lot of puckering
when you come back to do your designs. Additionally, stippling can be used to enhance designs.
Tension adjustment is important here. Always check this prior to starting your work.
Developed by Pat Kerko © 2007
Please do not copy without permission
Free motion quilting does not necessarily mean stitching at the speed of light. Learn to move your quilt
at a consistent pace that works with how fast you are moving the machine needle. Some quilters like to
stitch quickly. However if you get going too fast you will get inconsistent stitches. You have to find
your own pace here. It will also be important to eventually learn how to vary the speed of your quilting
so that you can control your stitch in various areas. If you find that you are having difficulty slowing
down, you can sometimes adjust the motor speed on your machine.
One other note here, believe it or not I do not worry about my stitch length. I feel as I gain experience
with my machine and my quilting a consistent stitch length will come to my work. However, I do try
not to create span bridges. If I find my stitch is getting really long I do slow my hands down a bit. This
approach for me just take one pressure off that does not need to be there.
Sandwiching your Quilt:
Always press your top and make sure it is square.
Wherever possible press your seams open. This will assist you when and if you decide to stitch in the
Be cautious of wherever you have Bias seams as in a mitered border. Tugging on these areas will cause
your quilt to go out of square.
Layering, if you tug on these areas too much they can easily stretch
Batting, I prefer cotton or cotton/poly blends. I do not use polyester at all, it is generally too
lofty and will beard as the quilt is used. I use a lot of Hobbs Heirloom 80/20, I have used Thermore on
work that I want to be thinner and I am starting to use Cream Rose by Mountain Mist. I do know that
there is a lot of talk about the wool batting that Hobbs is coming out with and I have gotten samples to
Backing- I highly suggest you wash your backing prior to use. Also ironing well and using
sizing or starch on it will help it to slide on your machine and quilt easier. Additionally, when
constructing your quilt back, be aware that joining the back with a vertical seam will provide for more
stability and less pucker when quilting then if you construct the back with horizontal seam. However,
constructing with vertical seams does take more fabric and may be unavoidable.
Basting and Stabilizing
i. Layer your quilt with the backing wrong side up and secured to a stable surface. Either tape
your quilt back down to the surface or use clips to clip it to a table.
ii. Next lay your batting down and smooth out any puckers or wrinkles. I will generally open my
batting up and put it in the dryer for 5-10 minutes to help get the wrinkles out
iii. Then lay the top down, right side up making sure that all seams are laying flat and the whole
top lays flat.
iv. Pin baste initially where you feel you will not be quilting. I do a lot of pinning.
v. Stitch in the ditch first vertically, working from the center out, then horizontally working from
the center, wherever you have straight lines. I generally us Monofilament thread to do this so
that if you go out of the seam line you will not see your stitch as much.
vi. Another alternative is to use water soluble thread. This can be washed out of the quilt at the
end. I do this quite often.
The whole point of this is to stabilize each section of the quilt so that the quilt layers are not
shifting around as you handle the quilt under the machine. You will be able to work on each
distinctive area
Developed by Pat Kerko © 2007
Please do not copy without permission
There are many methods of marking your quilt. I hate this part…really hate it, which is why I am trying
to develop my skill at doing my quilting free hand. However. following are several methods and my
opinions on them. You will have to find what works best for you:
Blue wash away markers…be careful here that if you mark your quilt ahead of time that you do
not expose it to sunlight or heat. The marking will set in. But these pens are great and work will
in a lot of situations. However they do not work on dark fabrics.
Purple disappearing markers. I like these, but sometimes the marking will disappear before you
get to it…cannot mark much ahead
Roxanne pencils, are very nice, but you can occasionally have trouble removing the marks…test
on your fabric
White markers for dark fabric do not leave on your fabric too long or they will not come out.
But they work great on dark fabric.
Pounce, regular, this is loose chalk used to mark stencils. Do not get too much chalk in your
pad. Issue here is that it will vibrate out of your quilt and you can only do one area at a time or it
will rub off.
Pounce, iron off….I love this stuff. Stays in your quilt better and does not smug as easily. They
when you are done just put an iron too it. Issue is that it right now only comes in white.
Golden threads tissue paper. Great way to make multiple copies of a stencil…I dislike having to
tear the tissue off.
Things to watch out for:
Even distribution of quilting. Try to keep the density of your quilting similar through out your entire piece.
This will help your quilt lay flatter.
Watch out for bias seams. These can easily stretch or get out of shape. Do not pull too much on them when
you are stitching in these areas. Particularly watch out for them in your borders. This is one way to
really take your quilt out of square when you are quilting your borders.
Note: If you have questions or need to contact me please do so at [email protected] or call at 864-8982707.
Guide to Machine Quilting by Diane Gaudynski
Free Hand Fillers –Sue Patten Stacy McDougall
Developed by Pat Kerko © 2007
Please do not copy without permission
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