Staff Stories: Machine Quilting Lessons

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My first quilt was a sampler of all of the blocks I had made during a class at my local quilt store. My mother, an experienced quilter, suggested I finish it and give it to my grandmother as a gift. I quilted diagonal, straight lines in gray thread (so it wouldn’t show!) across the whole thing. I can remember my mom sitting next to me, holding my hand through the whole scary process! This is the very first quilt I ever made and quilted.

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I was feeling somewhat confident so I decided I was ready to make a project all by myself, that was all mine, start to finish. I fell in love with Eleanor Burns’ Jewel Box Quilt from Quilt in a Day. Jewel tones are right up my alley and I bought the complete kit.

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Quilt top pieced and ready to quilt. I stuck with my trusty diagonal straight lines again for the blocks, although this time instead of gray thread, I used white to match the background. So far so good, although as I look back on the quilting now, I probably shouldn’t have used the variegated thread in the bobbin with the white thread on top. If you look closely, you can see little tiny dots of color where the stitching on the back shows through to the top. Every couple of inches you can see a new color peeking through! Oh well, live and learn.

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The sample in the store had these wonderful loops in the piano key border. I loved how it looked and wanted mine to match.

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I knew I had to freemotion quilt them and was pretty sure the only way I was going to be able to get mine to land in the right spot on the piano keys was to draw them onto the quilt and quilt on the lines. Out came my trusty white marking pencil and I marked one border. I chose variegated thread to blend with all of the colors in the border. Ready to go. It didn’t take long to realize that trying to trace a drawn line was not working well for me. It felt stiff and was really hard to do. The more I concentrated on following the line the more awkward my curves became. Not working. I ripped out the quilting I had done and decided I would just mark some guidelines and target points to aim for as I was looping around. I marked a line parallel to the inside border, about a 1/2″ away and another about an 1″ from the outside edge. These were the lines I wanted my loops to hit so they would be even. Then I marked a line down the center so I knew where to crossover to the next piano key.

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For me, it was much easier to have a target to shoot for and to “draw” my quilting lines within the guidelines instead of trying to be so exact and match what I had already marked. That’s not to say it all went perfectly!

photo 3 Staff Stories: Machine Quilting LessonsThere are plenty of jogs when I stopped and started or moved too quickly.

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And some not so smooth curves and tiny stitches.

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Overall I was pleased with the way my quilting turned out and I learned a few things too.

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I named this quilt “Everyone has a first quilt” knowing that it wasn’t an award winner, but it was mine, all mine, and we all have to start somewhere. It has been well-loved over the years and that’s what counts.

photo 2 Staff Stories: Machine Quilting LessonsTell me about your first quilt that was “all yours”? We love when our readers share their stories!

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As part of Quiltmaker’s Year of Machine Quilting in 2014, staff members will share some of their early machine quilting experiences. Read more Year of Machine Quilting blog posts. Find lessons, ideas and inspiration at

About Denise Starck

I am the Graphic Designer for Quiltmaker. I really love what I do and being able to combine my two passions, graphic design and quilting, into every day is fantastic! I've been quilting for over 14 years and enjoy all types of quilting.
This entry was posted in Machine Quilting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Staff Stories: Machine Quilting Lessons

  1. Peg Spradlin says:

    My first quilt was a pieced throw for my sofa. I knew how to sew my own clothes but making a quilt was a whole different story. My quilting was all in the ditch and not only were the stitches not in the ditch, they were all different lengths. There were tucks in the backing of the quilt, but not knowing any better, I took it to a quilt contest. Knowing what I know now, I laugh at my naiveté. Thankfully, the judge was very kind with her comments.

    Flash forward a year or two and I was asked to free motion clouds in the sky of a quilt I was quilting for a customer. They’d sent along a quilt diagram and, like Denise and her piano keys, I marked every line. I don’t think the customer expected the clouds to be an exact copy of the design but I had no confidence in my ability to free motion quilt the clouds without marks to follow. The customer didn’t complain so I must have done an ok job; but the first chance I got, I took a free motion quilting class.

  2. Linda says:

    I am in my third year of quilting, and I have only completed 6 quilts and one quilted pillow. Three were made for family, one was donated to a church craft fair, and one was sold on Etsy. The remaining lap quilt I intended to sell in my Etsy shop, but instead it resides on the guest bed that shares my sewing/craft space, so it is “my quilt” by default. I decided the dark and light blues, candy apple red, pistachio green, and light yellows of the quilt would be a great color scheme for my room. My cat thinks it is her quilt. ;)

    The pattern, Dulcinea, was not one I would have chosen but it was the Schnibbles pattern on a quilt-along I was following at the time. I altered the pattern slightly, made it with two charm packs from Moda’s Avalon by Fig Tree, and bound it with Sherbet from Moda’s Ruby by Bonnie and Camille.

    For this quilt I did mostly straight line quilting with my walking foot and did attempt some free motion circles and swirls on the border. I am still not completely comfortable with FMQ but I am determined to get better. I am especially inspired by these stories of experienced quilters first attempts.

    When I do make a quilt just for myself (and I have a long list of quilts for others I want to make first) it will be a classic, rather than modern pattern, and the colors will be soft. I hope to be very comfortable with free motion quilting by then!

  3. It was about 1979 and was a kit from the Family Circle magazine. Log Cabin block in fall colors .. I loved it. It said it could be sewn in a weekend; who was I to disagree? My background was garment sewing. I hadn’t actually sewn a quilt yet. But, I was confident. :-)

    The kit arrived. I told my newly married husband not to bother me the entire weekend. Friday after work, I began. I cut and sewed. And cut and sewed. And cut and sewed. This was a quilt as you go technique, so when each Log Cabin block was sewn, it was also quilted.

    I worked steadily all weekend long. I had every anticipation of finishing it by Sunday evening. Why would I not? The article *SAID* I could finish it in a weekend.

    Did I mention this was a king size quilt?

    Well, by golly, I *did* finish that quilt on Sunday evening. I didn’t do anything else that weekend, probably barely taking the time to use the bathroom. But everything was done: all the individually quilted Log Cabin blocks, sewing all the blocks fronts together, hand-sewing the seam allowances down on the back and the binding. I was doggone proud of myself.

    I still have that quilt. The batting is awfully thin. It isn’t a very warm quilt. But the seams are still holding and it still gets used.

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