Just like my recent basting post, I’m taking this opportunity to share quilting tips, but it’s not at all limited to an Orange Peel Quilt-Along topic. I’ve machine-quilted a hefty pile of quilts now, on a machine that isn’t especially good at it, so I might have some tips to share that could help you, too.
My machine is fairly basic – a Janome 7025, which I bought as the cheapest machine I could get with the ability to lower the feed dogs for free motion quilting. This was several years ago now, possibly more, and I had no idea then how much sewing I’d end up doing. I just thought I’d want the option to learn more if I took a notion to.
I don’t know if Saul (that’s what I call this machine) is perhaps not quite as good as he used to be, or if I’m a better quilter and can feel his limitations now, but quilting a large (70″ x 70″, yikes!) quilt on Saul isn’t the easiest. (Note! Janomes are great machines! I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing them in general, I just think perhaps I’m ready for an upgrade.) I’ll go through some issues I have and how I deal with them, and hopefully that’ll help you out as you continue your project!
My biggest issue with quilting on my home machine is drag. It’s really difficult to manage the heft of a large quilt without the weight of it effecting the smoothness of the feed. In case that doesn’t make sense, let’s put it a different way: I need to support the weight of the quilt as much as possible so that Saul isn’t fighting against it. I roll my quilt (the side going through the machine, seen in the photo above) as tightly / small as I can, and heave that over my right shoulder. Yeah, it gets tiring. I don’t have a huge table to work on (sit at the biggest table you can, that’s going to be the best possible weight support), so I also try not to let any of the quilt hang over the sides of the table, which would create pull as it goes through the machine. The pull / drag will effect the consistency of the stitching, so it’s important to try to develop a set-up that helps support the weight as you work.
A related machine issue is feeding the layers of a quilt through evenly. You absolutely have to have a walking foot for quilting, there’s no arguing. I actually don’t use Saul without a walking foot for anything, except zippers, because that extra help feeding is just generally handy. But there’s no substitute for quilting – they’re expensive, but it’s just one of those things. It will help prevent your layers misaligning and bunching on your lovely quilt top.
You might also need to adjust the presser foot pressure, lift the pressure just a touch. Your machine will probably have a dial / knob to raise or lower the amount the foot presses down. On Saul, raising the pressure one notch is too much, I get the opposite problem – slippage. But on Bettie, my vintage Singer Featherweight, I do raise and lower the pressure constantly, based on what I’m sewing.
Stitch length is, I suppose, personal preference – on Saul, I usually sew at a 2.5 stitch length, and the quilting in these photos is a 3. I used to use a longer stitch, but I’ve been trying to get better quilting results, so I wanted to try out a shorter stitch for my peels. I also had to mess with my tension a little – after fixing some really faulty bobbin tension (the bottom thread kept breaking, thanks a bunch, maintenance people), I ticked the top tension up just a teeny weeny touch and that seemed perfect.
Absolutely make a scrap batting-and-fabric sandwich and test your stitching and tension out before you dig into your quilt. Nothing will simulate the heft of a quilt and the effect that will have on the process, but you can at least check tension and stitch length and make sure you’re happy with that before you start!
This is just a little run-through of the things to keep in mind as you get started on a big project, if you’re new to machine quilting. Of course, no amount of checklisting will compete with the knowledge that comes with experience, so get going! Get those peels quilted and I’ll be back with a binding tutorial later in the week, peeps!