Yummy! A quilt sandwich! This is when you finally start to feel like what you’ve been working on will one day very soon turn into an actual quilt. To be honest though, it’s my least favorite part. As you’ll see in the directions that follow, I like to spread my quilt layers out on the floor, and by the end of the day, my back is killing me. Plus, I’m not a big fan of the actual quilting. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a little OCD. (I think all quilters are. You have to be…if not, we wouldn’t be able to make such beautiful works of art.) My machine quilting skills are not where I’d like them to be, so I usually send my quilts out to be quilted, or, as in this case, I stick to in the ditch quilting. I’m slowly working on my machine quilting skills. I keep saying one weekend I’m going to lock myself in my craft room until I can come out with perfect, exact stitches….unfortunately, I think I’ve been saying that for over two years now.
Nikki, In Stitches
Part 1: The Quilt Sandwich
Backing Fabric: 3 yards
Batting: Pre-cut 60″ x 60″ or 1 1/2 yards of 90″ wide
1. (Considering this quilt is 50″ finished, you will need to piece the back. You can find fabric that is extra wide, but usually your choices are limited.) Cut your 3 yards of fabric into two 1 1/2 yard pieces.
Sew these together, being sure to cut off the selvedge edges first. (It may be tempting to use the selvedge edges as a nice straight guide for sewing, but the weight of the fabric along that edge is different than the rest of your fabric. Your seam will not lay nicely, no matter how well you sew or how much you press.)
Give this now extra wide piece of fabric a good press and spread it out, right side down, on your pinning surface. (I like to use the floor in my kitchen. I also like to tape the perimeter of the fabric. You will be kneeling down on the layers and reaching across them, so the tape helps save a lot of frustration and keeps your fabric in place in future steps.)
2. The next layer of your quilt sandwich is your batting. Center your batting over the seam in the backing and smooth it out so there are no creases. (Batting tends to stick to cotton fabrics, so there is no need to tape this layer.)
3. The third and final layer is your actual quilt top. Again, center it over the seam of the backing and smooth it our as much as possible.
4. Pin all three layers together using safety pins. Start in the center and work your way to the edges, smoothing out any excess fabric along the way. (I tend to make a grid on my quilt top with the safety pins. Your batting should come with a recommendation for quilting, that I use for pinning also. For example, in this case, the batting I selected recommended quilting a minimum of 10″ apart throughout the quilt. Knowing this, I pinned accordingly, already getting an idea of how I was going to quilt the pieces together.)
Part 2: Stitchin’ in the Ditch
“Stitching in the ditch” is exactly what it sounds like it would be. Because you press your seams to one side when quilting, on your quilt top, one side of every seam is a little lower than the other…that lower side is what we refer to as “the ditch.” I like my stitches to be very much in the ditch. I try to get them as close to, if not pretty much on the seam, as I can. Some quilters like the look of their quilting to stand out more, so they purposefully stitch away from the ditch, anywhere from just a hair away from the seam, to sometimes 1/4″ away. It’s totally up to you, and what you like the best. I encourage you to experiment, but also go to your local quilt shop and look at the finished quilts. What stands out to you? What is visually appealing to you? What do you not particularly care for? This will help get your creative juices flowing. I do use a walking foot for my quilting. If you haven’t invested in one yet, now is the time. This gaurantees that all the layers of your quilt move through your sewing machine at the same speed. Without it, you will have puckers in your quilt. The directions that follow can be used for all quilting techniques, whether it be stitching in the ditch or free motion quilting, which is something for a whole different blog post!
1. At your starting position, lower your needle, then bring it back up out of your fabric. Pull on your top thread. Your bottom, bobbin thread should come up through your quilt.
2. Pull this bottom thread through your quilt until the cut end is now on the top of your quilt as well. This will prevent your bobbin thread from clumping and knotting on the back of your quilt. (I insert something angled to a fine point into the little loop that appears when you pull on the top thread. Something like a very thin knitting needle would work, a straight pin, or maybe even a seam ripper. I have an old compass from my teaching days that works great!)
3. With your stitch length set to 0, take a few stitches in place. This will lock your stitches and prevent your quilting from ever coming out. Slowly increase your stitch length to the desired length, and stitch in the ditch to within about 1/2″ of your end point.
4. As you approach your end point, slowly decrease your stitch length back down to 0. Take a few stitches there to again lock them into place. Needle up and clip your thread. Clip the thread on the back of your quilt.
5. Repeat until entire piece is quilted. (With practice, stitching in the ditch becomes very second nature. For this particular project, I decided to stitch around each block. I also highlighted a few pieces of each block. Sometimes I picked a fabric I liked, and stitched around those pieces. Sometimes I picked a design element. Regardless, I had to pick something, because, again, I had to have quilting at least every 10″ in all directions. I also went around the entire quilt one time, stitching in the ditch of the border fabric. At times, this quilt felt a little too large to fit into my machine. At those times, its important to take a break and neatly fold your quilt so it fits better into your sewing maching. You can see in the pictures below the correct way and the incorrect way to quilt your pieces together. Not only will rolling your quilt help ease it through the machine, but you will find that without the weight of the quilt pulling on itself your stitches will be more accurate.)
For other posts from Nikki, In Stitches related to the Relay Quilt, please see the following: