Machine Quilting 101

I thought it would be good to share some of the tips that I have found to be helpful about machine quilting here on the blog. It seems like there is a real surge in interest from quilters to be better with their machine quilting. I think people are realizing how long it takes to hand quilt and how much it cost to have someone quilt it for them. My classes in MQ are always full and everyone tells me how much better they feel after taking the class. So this is for you guys who live to far away or just can’t make it to a class.

Here we go.

Let’s start with our equipment.

I started machine quilting about 20 years ago. I knew that I wanted to be able to quilt my projects and I knew that hand quilting wasn’t going to get it done. I hand quilted several large bed quilts and it took me forever. Besides my fingers got so cramped doing it.

The sewing machine that I had at that time was a great machine. But it only had a 7” opening between the needle and the side arm. I started out by quilting a “queen” size bed quilt. I don’t suggest you start that large, try something smaller first.

If you are serious about machine quilting your own large quilts I hope that you will invest in good equipment. Try out all the machines when you go to a bigger quilt show and see which one you like the best. They usually have deals at the shows and you can finance your purchase to spread out the payment without interest over a year.

The best advice I read and heard when I first started machine quilting was to make sure that the area where I was quilting was flush to the sewing bed of my machine. And I still believe that is the very best thing you can do to be more successful machine quilting a large quilt. 

When I first started machine quilting I jerry rigged an arrangement to make that happen.

Here is a picture of what I had arranged.


I had a sewing table that my machine sat down in and I had two tables that were pushed up next to that table to make a larger sewing area to support my quilt while I was quilting it.

While this worked well for the space and time it is not ideal.

I now have a great sewing table from Mike at Tracey’s Tables. He delivers anywhere in the country. My sewing machine sits down in the table and I have drawers on two sides. I can also expand the area of the table where a large quilt will rest while I am quilting it.


I now have a newer model sewing machine that has a larger opening between the needle and the arm of the sewing machine. These two factors; a good machine with a larger opening from the needle to the arm and an area that is flush to the bed of your machine to support the weight of your quilt while you are quilting it, I think are the biggest contributors to success with machine quilting a large quilt, besides of course practice.

You should also invest in a good chair to sit in. I have an adjustable chair that allows me to raise and lower the height of the chair and also gives me good back and leg support. Because when you are quilting on a larger project you will spend lots of time sitting in this chair.


Those are your basic equipment issues. I worked long and hard to save up my money to buy these and feel that it was well worth the expense and am a happier quilter because of it.

Next time we’ll talk about basting a large quilt.

4 responses on “Machine Quilting 101

  1. Cornwoman

    I’ve noticed a lot of quilters talking about wanting to get better at free-motion quilting too. So many times we think that we’re the only ones who aren’t good at (or even can’t do) something, and we’re ashamed to say anything.

    I am of the firm belief that others aren’t saying anything either for the same reason! That’s where I feel the least secure about my skills too. In December, I decided that I wanted one of my goals for this year to be to get better at free motion quilting, and shared that with my online group. Was I ever surprised to find out that they all were in the same boat!

    So each of us is now working to improve our skills in that area. I am looking forward to reading your blogs on this subject! Thank you!

  2. Mommarock

    I just got a new machine, I was so excited. I tried my free-motion quilting on a small project, and was sad to see that I forgot one small step. The tension change for free motion quilting. I finished, and looked at the back of my project. The back looked HORRIBLE. Well, I was quite put off with free motion quilting. I’m hand stitching again.. and will get up the nerve to go back again soon.

  3. free indeed

    I have so wanted a drop in table for my machine…I know I am not sitting ergonomically (?) to the machine with its raised bed. I went to check out the tables you mention…could you email me with the approx price you paid? I just want to make sure it’s within a price I’m willing to pay before contacting the company…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *