Ten Tips for Machine Quilting Large Quilts

Still quilting...

Yes, I'm working on a king sized quilt on my home machine. Some of you expressed surprise at that, some wished me luck in that kind of evil way where you don't actually believe I can do it. Or at least it seems so incredulous that it comes across that way. I get that, I totally get that. But I'm here to tell you that it is totally doable. You just need a few tricks up your sleeve.

1. Have support.
Not the kind that stands behind you and cheers you on as another row of stitching goes in, although that is indeed helpful. Rather, make sure your quilt if physically supported by a table, your body, the wall, etc. You don't want your quilt hanging off the table and pulling as you try maneuver it through the machine. For this one I've kept my table against the wall instead of the middle of the room to make sure the quilt doesn't fall off the edge.

2. Break it down into smaller sections.
It is daunting to stare at a large quilt and even think about quilting it. Break it into sections, even if it is only mentally, to make it seem more manageable. Perspective is everything. And just like when you are trying to lose weight and you reward yourself as you reach 10 pounds of the 40 you need to lose, give yourself a treat as you finish a section.

It also helps to approach the quilting in sections so that you can roll, fold, and position the quilt for each section. This makes supporting and moving the quilt easier.

3. Have a beer.
Or a glass of wine or even a stiff scotch. People often say that having a bit of a tipple helps loosen you up for free motion quilting. Even if you are doing straightline stitching on a large quilt, being a little loose helps. And having to stop and move your arms in another direction is a very good thing. If water or tea is your preference, keep something by the machine. Quilting is thirsty work.

4. Take breaks.
Big quilts are heavy, very heavy. It takes a lot out of your shoulders, neck, and upper back to quilt these beasts. I can do about an hour at a time before I feel the tightness creep in. Then I have to get up, stretch, do a load of laundry, or actually attend to the kids. I feel like I accomplish a lot when I get a solid hour in but my body feels it.

5. Prewind bobbins.
Having a bobbin run out is inevitable. And while the bobbin change is a good time to stretch and take a break, it can seriously disrupt your rhythm if you are in the groove. I wind 4-5 at a time on these large quilts. It's just nice to be able to grab and go when a change is needed.

6. Keep clean and sharp.
Every time you change your bobbin clean out any lint from the bobbin casing or around the needle. And speaking of the needle, you will definitely need more than one on a large quilt. I tend to change mine every 6 hours of quilting or so. I want a sharp needle and clean machine. It means less headaches while quilting and better results.

7. Raise it up.
It is a lot easier to quilt on a large flat surface. I have a special plexiglass table that is made for my machine that gives me a large surface to quilt on. If you can get one for your machine, definitely do it. Or if your machine drops into a table, great! (Just make sure the table is big enough to support the quilt, or add side table while quilting.)

8. Sit higher.
Without 1-2 pillows underneath my butt while quilting I find that I am too low to be comfortable, especially once I've put my quilting surface on the machine. But raised up a little saves my neck and stops me from hunching horribly. If you are getting really sore, try sitting up higher.

9. White noise.
Yes, the sewing machine is noisy but I need more noise while I'm quilting. Music is great (and oh so necessary for piecing) but I prefer TV while quilting. Not TV I need to really pay attention to because that is too distracting. Movies or shows I've seen are best - like a friend keeping you company. For example, I've had Downton Abbey on while working on this beast. A third of the way through the quilting and down Season 1 and a few episodes of Season 2.

10. Don't forget to breathe.
Seems obvious, I know. But I am not immune to the tendency to hold your breath as you do a pass with the machine. Push the pedal down, hold breath. Release the pedal, breathe. It's a bad habit and one that is necessary to break. Even breaths as your sew keeps your mind and muscles working well.

Don't let the size of a quilt scare you from quilting. You can do it!