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Machine Quilting

Updated on November 6, 2011

Machine Quilting on a home sewing machine, midarm, longarm

Hi, I would like to share some information about quilting on a home sewing machine and also do a comparison on the various types of machines and frames for quilting. I hope to give you some tips to make things as easy as possible.

My goal is to help you turn those quilt tops into quilts. If you are thinking about quilting more than one quilt or considering the purchase of a quilting system then this is the lens to look at.

It is organized by Home Machine, Midarm, Longarm, ;

Three videos about machine quilting on a home sewing machine; Group Information and at the very end is info about my experience as a professional quilter.

The photo in this module is of a quilt made by author Trish Stuart (from her book "Grizzlies") that was quilted by me.

Quilting by Machine - any home sewing machine!

Yes, you really can do it!

If any of the terms that I use are new to you, please check your owner's manual for your machine, or Google each term so that you are comfortable knowing the parts of your sewing machine.

On a home sewing machine (sometimes called a DSM - Domestic Sewing Machine) there are really only a few rules for quilting - pin it very well (stretched slightly while pinning and starting from the center of the quilt and working outward) and start quilting in the middle of the quilt and work your way out in a sort of spiral, or in sections. Don't start at one corner/side and work toward the other because this will distort the quilt.

At the very least you can stitch your quilt in the ditch, simply following along seam lines (as many as you want) until you feel that the quilt is "done". Use a walking foot if you have one, a straight stitch, with your feed dogs up. It's a piece of cake, really!

If your machine lets you drop the feed dogs (not all do) and you have a free motion foot then an overall stipple is easy and it works well with many traditional quilt patterns of blocks and strips. I find that I like to wear quilting gloves to help get a better grip on the quilt as I move it under the needle. I prefer Machingers Gloves (that is a brand name).

Complex quilt patterns can benefit from special quilting, usually with stitch-in-the-ditch around the outstanding design (like paper piecing) and some background quilting, in areas around the focus design, will enhance the design (stipple or loopies).

Save the borders for last, and do any inner borders first and the outer ones last.

I often would do a basic stitch-in-the-ditch (called SID) over the entire quilt, remove the pins and then add the decorative stitching, like feathers or border designs, wherever I wanted them.

I like to use old ironing boards that I buy at the thrift shop to give me the largest possible (flat and level) surface for supporting the quilt while I am quilting it. I remove the cover from the board and let the quilt glide over the metal surface. The reason I choose ironing boards is because the height is easily adjusted to match my sewing table, they can be put away behind the door or in a closet and they are cheap. I even used one in between me and the sewing machine (when it was in a traditional style sewing cabinet) to support the bulk of the quilt. Giving yourself a lot of flat area around the sewing machine helps a lot when quilting a quilt.

Please remember that dining table height is not a good height, ergonomically for your shoulders, arms and back, for quilting a quilt, unless you are a quite tall person. Try to use a low table and have your shoulders relaxed and loose. If your shoulders are touching your earlobes, your machine is too high and you are nervous! Breathe, relax and understand that little glitches are normal. Perfection is not your goal - quilted and done is your goal.

I have posted a lot of info and photos on my blog about quilting on a home sewing machine. Please take a look here if you would like more info. More Tips on Machine Quilting

I also built my own custom sewing/quilting table really inexpensively. Here is the lens on how I did it: Cheap Sewing Table

If you are considering a frame for your home sewing machine, please read the following first and keep in mind that most people are disappointed by the small area that they can quilt with these types of systems. They are a good start if you want to change from sit-down quilting at a machine to stand-up quilting on a frame, but the amount of fabric that you can quilt is very limited.

If there is any chance that you can afford a midarm system (they may not cost as much as you think and you *don't* have to spend and arm and a leg!), it's definitely the best for quilting, I'll tell you why I think so:


These systems were designed with one purpose only - stitching the 3 layers of a hand made quilt together by giving the quilter optimum space for quilting and keeping the tension balanced between the quilt top, batting and backing. They are the "3 Bears Best" - meaning that they are neither too big (like a longarm machine) nor too small (like a home sewing machine) they are truly the perfect system for quilting a quilt.

The best one that I have ever used was the Nolting FunQuilter on a Hinterberg Stretch Frame and it's a sweet setup. (I make no money on this ~ honest!) It offers more than enough room to quilt up to a 12" block or to do a lovely quilt design and you can finish a quilt in just hours doing a basic overall design.

There are many differences in machines and frames in the Midarm market, make sure that you take a close look at all of the options before buying. A very nice feature of the machine is one that has a deep throat (15" - 18") and *NO* stitch regulator!! Trust me on this, they slow down your stitching and they have umpteen glitches. Don't buy any machine without trying it and *without* the stitch regulator! Please don't believe the sales pitch that "you might not be good enough without it". I teach people all the time how to use their midarm and longarm machines and *every single one of them* discovers that a stitch regulator holds them back.

I find that the simpler the machine, the more reliable it is and the cheaper too. There is a lot of money being spent on advertising trying to get you to buy the expensive systems. Please do yourself a favor and try out as many machines and frames as possible before buying.

When reviewing a frame for your machine, the biggest complaint that I have is about frames that don't "drop the top" over the front bar. The ones that I dislike make you lean over the top take-up roller. This is bad for your back and tiring on your arms and whole body. You won't "feel like quilting" and you may not relate that to the posture that the frame is forcing you into. Be sure that your frame lets you 'quilt to the edge' and stand up straight while you are doing it - not lean over.

Another reason that I really like the Hinterberg is that *you* buy the poles and that means that *you* chose the length of the frame. You can put 12' poles or 6' poles or any other length that works for you - your choice! This is SO flexible! If you have a limited space to quilt in, this is just one more reason to consider the midarm systems. Here's the Hinterberg

Last word on frames - be sure that you can access the batting easily while quilting. This is hard to describe in words...ask your dealer to demonstrate how to access the batting and if it doesn't look easy to you, beware. You *will* need to do this eventually.

One more note about machines: some companies are spending a lot of money on advertising in magazines and anywhere else that they can and other companies know that they produce a winning machine that people love the instant that they use it, and they don't spend much on advertising. They get their orders from word of mouth and referrals from machine owners. Please don't buy based upon an ad and please try as many machines as you can get your hands on.


Longarm machines and frames are totally unsuited for finishing home quilts. These 14' frames with 28"-30" throats were taken, as is, from the bedspread industry and, with a lot of marketing, pawned off on quilters. Yes, they worked but only because there weren't any better systems on the market. Now there are - they are called MIDARM systems and they are made specifically for quilts.

The reason that the longarms have such a huge throat is because they are made for quilting 50 *yards* of fabrics with fluffy polyester batting all at one time. These machines were manufactured for the bedspread industry. Bedspreads like you see in hotel rooms. The manufacturers of bedspreads needed to be able to sew together yard after yard of d├ęcor fabric all rolled up and quilted at one time and then cut to the size of the bed.

Hand made quilts are not quilted this way. Each one is quilted individually, with its own backing which is loaded at the same time that the quilt is. That means that the space needed is for the area that you can comfortable quilt - not how much bedspread you can roll up at one time.

The only throat space needed on any machine is the length that you can comfortably reach and no more. If you are a short person with petite arms, you need an even smaller system.

Preparing to Machine Quilt on a home sewing machine - Yes, you CAN do it!

These are the tools and the things I do to prepare to machine quilt a very large quilt. Please also see my lense on my "cheap sewing and quilting table"

Stitch in the Ditch Machine Quilting - ANYONE can do this on ANY machine - Honest!

I know it's boring to watch someone quilt, but there's a lot of good info within the vid :)

Ergonomics of Quilting - Comfort is EVERYTHING!

If you are uncomfortable when you sew or quilt, you won't do it for long and your body will keep telling you "Oh, no, not THAT again!"

Table height is super important and your dining room table is TOO TALL for sewing on! Please watch and understand that it is very important to have a good, ergonomically correct, setup and it doesn't have to be expensive!


Finding other quilters online and at home...

There are many, many groups organized on Yahoo! that are made up of quilters all over the world who would be glad to help you. Take a look at Yahoo! groups and join one that most closely matches your interests and then search the archives for that group to find answers to questions you might have. The subject will undoubtedly have come up in the past and there is sure to be a wealth of knowledge there for you to review. Additionally, you will probably find quilters in your area that you didn't know until now. It is very possible to meet your next door neighbor online and then get together over coffee to compare quilting notes!


I started machine quilting on an old Kenmore sewing machine in 1995. I loved quilting so much that I bought a second hand Bernina and I perfected my stipple and feathers (the poor old Kenmore didn't like doing free motion quilting). Then I started teaching machine quilting. I got tired of struggling with big quilts on a home sewing machine so (it was the only system I knew of and I was stupid) I bought and owned a longarm for several years, professionally quilting for local customers and book authors (my quilting is published in the books of my pals Dina Pappas and Trish Stuart). I did this until I got tired of the huge bulk of the machine and realized that better systems were coming on the market. I researched them and tried them out at Quilt Market and then bought the Nolting and Hinterberg and loved them!

I wrote a book about a pretty quilt-as-you-go technique

Here's a link to my blog

My book is for sale on Amazon

Crazy Shortcut Quilts: Quilt as You Go and Finish in Half the Time!
Crazy Shortcut Quilts: Quilt as You Go and Finish in Half the Time!

Learn this easy quilt-as-you-go technique that lets you make crazy quilts from fat quarter bundles and use the decorative stitches on your sewing machine to do the quilting!

Sew & Quilt in Comfort: How to inexpensively create and customize your sewing and quilting area to fit you perfectly
Sew & Quilt in Comfort: How to inexpensively create and customize your sewing and quilting area to fit you perfectly

Learn how to inexpensively create a custom sewing and quilting area that fits your body properly and fits your sewing machine like a glove. a flat sewing surface is the key to successful machine quilting and you'll quilt better and feel better when you learn these tips.

Sew and Quilt in Comfort
Sew and Quilt in Comfort




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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You share great info. I have your Crazy Shortcut Quilts book - LOVE It!

    • MamaRuth profile image


      7 years ago

      I am just beginning to quilt so this was some great information for me.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am highlighting this in my blog today and then coming back to watch the videos.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 

      9 years ago from Central Florida

      Wow this page is packed with info on machine quilting. I am reading it for the 2nd time to catch what I missed. Great job.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very informative lens!

    • cherylsgifts2go profile image


      9 years ago

      Loved your lens. Although I love to hand quilt, I have tried to quilt with my sewing machine. Loved that you added the ergonomic info. In my dreams I see a long arm in my future. Thanks for all your info and, great job on your lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is a great lens. Thanks for making it. Very informative. I gave you a thumbs up

      cause I like your lens.

    • Quilter LM profile imageAUTHOR

      Quilter LM 

      9 years ago

      @tssfacts: Thank you! I checked out some of yours - great stuff!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great Lens. I am featuring it on my hand quilt vs machine quilt lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you thank you thank you.

      I just finished quilting a 95"x105" flannel log cabin quilt on my DSM (Janome). It is the biggest quilt I have ever made and I was afraid to try on the DSM and was looking at long arm machines - you saved me $5000 and a room to keep it in - your video gave me the confidence to go ahead & try to it really worked out just fine. I'll likely never make a quilt this big again though.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      excellent site.

      i like your honesty - based on your experience..

      rather than having someone trying to sell their wares.

      i also have a juki 98Q and am going to purchase a frame from:

      ... i've played on it... am looking forward to having my own....

    • profile image


      10 years ago


      I was Goggling machine quilting, and found your site..I'm quilting on a friend's Voyager 17, and in the past have rented time on a HQ16, and a Gammill...I couldn't really tell much difference between the HQ16, and the Gammil.

      I do feel a bit frustrated on the Voyager, as on other longarms its eaiser to do curvy designs.

      Some day I hope to buy a longarm, but don't know what size, as Iam unsure if I want to quilt for a lot of customers. I'd sure hate to invest a lot of money, and then resent having to quilt for others.

      Iam artistic, and love to "draw" on longarms, so I don't have much of a "learning curve", just so unsure if this will be a business.

      Anyhoo, thanks for listening to my whine...Any tips would be much appreciated!

      Gael Tino

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I just got a Quilting Machine and Frame and am starting to do Machine Quilting so I need all of the help I can get. I have a Janome 1600P

      and a King Size Grace Frame. If there is anything you can tell me to get started easier than I am now I would really like it. I have already broke my first needle and not even using it for over 3 mins.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I truly appreciate your candor and honesty. Someone who isn't pushing me to buy a long arm machine is great. I have the stretch frame as well with a Juki 98Q. Not quite enough quilting space but it will do for now. Thank you!


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