Your quilt top is pieced, you have added the border and you have basted the layers together. What comes next? Quilting stitches! By adding the quilting stitches, you are adding the finishing touches to your quilt. The actual quilting of your quilt can be quite time-consuming, so it is worthwhile giving some thought to exactly which quilting stitches you plan to use.
Purpose of Quilting Stitches
Quilting stitches are stitched through all 3 layers of the quilt in order to hold the layers together. It is stitched through the top, batting, and bottom layer, all of which are sandwiched together. Without the quilting stitches, the layers would separate and your quilt would not last as long.
Quilting stitches are done after the top has been completed and before the binding is stitched on the edges. Commonly before the quilting stitches are started, the layers of the quilt are basted together to stop the layers from moving around.
Hand Quilting vs Machine Quilting Stitches
The first decision is whether you would prefer to hand quilt or machine quilt.
Hand quilting is obviously far more time-consuming than machine quilting, but it does have advantages.
- It has a very special look about it, which can never be replicated by a machine.
- It is portable. You can sit in the sun and quilt on a chilly day, you can quilt in front of the television, you can chat to friends or fellow quilters while you sew.
Machine stitching, of course, a lot quicker than hand quilting!
- Machine stitching can be used to create intricate patterns.
- It is more durable.
Hand Quilting Stitches
Supplies For Hand Quilting
- Needles – It is best to use ‘Betweens’ or quilting needles.
- Thimble – You will be doing a lot of hand stitching so protecting your fingers
- Thread – Choose a thick cotton thread so that your quilting stitches show up nicely.
- Optional – Some type of frame or hoop to hold your fabric flat. This is optional.
Types Of Hand Quilting
There are 3 main types of hand quilting stitches:
Hand Tying a Quilt
This is not strictly a quilting stitch, but is a different way of joining the layers of the quilt.
You need an extra thick thread for this, cotton perle embroidery thread works well. The aim is for your ‘ties’ to be visible.
Use a long thread and make stitches through all three layers of the quilt, leaving long loops in between. Continue until you have placed a stitch in each position where you want a tie. Cut between the stitches, then tie your loops using a quilter’s knot. Trim the ends of your threads.
Sashiko Quilting Stitches
This can only be done by hand. It is based on the Sashiko embroidery technique from Japan. This technique was traditionally done with white thread on a blue background, but of course, you can choose any colors you wish.
Again, you need a very thick thread, as you want your stitches to act as an embellishment in this case. It consists of simple running stitches in a contrasting thread. You can simply sew straight lines across your quilt or you can create beautiful shapes and patterns with your running stitches.
Conventional Quilting Stitches
When hand quilting you need to use a strong thread, sold as quilting thread, to avoid breakages in your stitching. I find it helpful to hold the quilt sandwich in a frame or large quilting hoop to keep it flat. Some quilters, however do not like this method at all, and hold their fabric ’in hand’.
Your aim is to form straight, even sized stitches.
- Start by making a small, flat knot in a long length of thread. Enter the quilt about ¾” (2cm) from where you want to start your line of stitching. Then push the needle through the batting only and come up at the starting point of your stitching. Pull the thread sharply, so that the knot will pull through the fabric and lodge in the batting. It will be invisible inside your quilt sandwich.
- To start quilting, enter your needle into the fabric at a right angle i.e. directly downwards. Push until you feel the needle with your hand under the quilt. Now use that under finger to push the needle upwards at the same time as you rock the eye toward the top surface of the quilt. It is advisable to wear a thimble to help you push the needle through all the layers.
- When the needle comes back through the top layer, rock it back into a perpendicular position to re-enter the quilt. Repeat until you have a few stitches on your needle, then pull the thread all the way through the quilt.
- This rocking motion will eventually become second nature to you, and you will be able to move along your quilting line quickly and efficiently. Repeat the motion until you have about 6” (15cm) of thread left and end off by making a small knot which lodges in your batting, as you did when starting. Alternately, you can finish off by making a firm, neat back stitch on the underside of your quilt.
Machine Quilting Stitches
Any of the following types of quilting stitches can be used for machine quilting:
- Horizontal or vertical quilting
- Stitch in the ditch
- Free form quilting
- Stipple quilting
- Outline quilting
- Echo quilting
- Template quilting.
Supplies For Machine Quilting
- Sewing machine.
- Machine quilting needles or ‘sharps’.
- Quilting thread.
- Quilting ruler.
- Walking foot or darning foot for your machine.
- Templates or stencils if desired.
Types Of Machine Quilting
Horizontal or Vertical Quilting
This is the simplest of all quilting stitches. You decide, based on your patchwork design, whether horizontal or vertical lines will look better on the quilt.
Mark your lines using removable pen and quilting ruler. Stitch along these lines.
It is useful to have a ‘walking foot’ for your sewing machine here, as this will prevent any tucks or puckers from forming along this long line of stitching. If you don’t have this foot, be sure to baste your quilt extra well!
Stitch In The Ditch
Stitch in the ditch means that you sew your quilting stitches along the seam lines of your patchwork which makes up your quilt. If you are careful and precise enough, the stitches will sink into the ’ditch’ or slight indentation caused where the fabrics join. This method does not showcase your actual stitching, but compresses the batting along the seam lines and causes puffiness in between. It is more visible on the back of the quilt.
Free Form Quilting
To do this you must have a sewing machine that can lower its feed dogs and a ‘darning foot’ or free motion foot.
Once you have set this up, you are in complete control of your fabric, the machine no longer guides it for you. You can move the fabric in any direction to create any pattern you like. Your speed of movement will determine your stitch length.
You can choose to mark your quilt top with patterns, using a removable marker, or you can move in random swirls and circles to form a pleasing pattern. Loops are the easiest to do completely free hand!
This is also a free form type of quilting, where you will drop the feed dogs on your machine and use a darning foot. You then move your fabric to form a meandering, jigsaw puzzle like pattern with your stitches.
Your lines of stitching should not intersect or cross over at all. It is a quick method of covering large areas of fabric, but it is definitely advisable to have a few practice sessions before attempting this on your quilt!
When choosing this method of quilting, you will follow the outlines of your patchwork or appliqué shapes with stitching. It is usually done with a normal sewing foot, or a walking foot, but can also be done with free style quilting as explained above. It emphasizes the shapes on your quilt and is especially good for appliqué quilts. Outline quilting can also be done by hand.
Is very similar to outline quilting. You first stitch along the outline of the shape you want to accentuate, then stitch another line in the same shape a certain distance (say ½” or 1 cm) away from your first line of stitching. Continue adding lines the same distance away from each other in the same shape, until you have filled the whole of that area with stitches. It is easier to create flowing curves if you choose the free form method of stitching.
Using a template or a stencil, you can sew specific shapes and patterns onto your quilt without the uncertainty of free form quilting. You can even buy templates for stippling!
The templates are made of hard acrylic and you push your darning foot against the hard sides of the template while stitching, following the form of the template to get your shape.
Other quilters use their templates as a stencil and trace around the shapes with a removable marker, then sew along those lines.
It is possible to buy template plastic sheets and make your own stencils. You lay the plastic over the design you want, trace it, cut out the plastic shape, then use a removable marker to trace around this shape. After this, you stitch along your drawn lines. These stencils will not be strong enough to push your sewing foot against and simply sew directly from the stencil.
The final way of using templates is to purchase special quilting paper. You will trace your design onto this paper, place the paper on top of your fabric and sew along your lines, right through the paper. When complete, you tear away the paper.
Quilting Stitches – Conclusion
The quilting stitches and methods you choose will determine how your quilt finally looks. They have a huge influence over the final appearance of that heirloom masterpiece! Use up some scraps, make up a small quilt sandwich, and practice various techniques. You can then decide which quilting stitches you are more proficient at, and which you like the best. You will soon have your quilt ‘all stitched up’ and ready to display!