My struggles with machine quilting (= more grey hairs)

Last weekend (yes, it’s taken me this long to write about it) I wanted to do lots of machine quilting on the pink quilt, having had the notion I’d like to finish the quilting before I go away the weekend after next (yet another ambition unlikely to be fulfilled, at least whilst keeping a grip on sanity, such as it is). Alas I seem not only to be in less control of the pedal than ever, but the machine is producing stitches of different lengths, some so tiny they’re not much bigger than a pinprick, and really tight. I tried refitting the bobbin like last time, but it hasn’t helped. I read it may be that the quilting foot isn’t compatible, but I don’t want to buy another and have done so much with it already I’ll just have to soldier on. When I’d done a few inches on one row and then saw how bad it was I pulled it out, but could barely get the seam ripper under the stitches. Here are some examples, bearing in mind the one I pulled out was even worse:

I’ve now got so many bad bits, in terms of wonky lines and other things that don’t look good, that I’m having to let go of my more perfectionist tendencies and get used to the idea that it looks like something a 5 year old’s had a go at (probably my sewing machine user age!). I think the most glaring is the pinwheel which I failed to notice didn’t meet the neighbouring square at the right point for the point of the pinwheel to be in the corner of the square. I only realised when I quilted over it and the quilting line was fairly straight but sits about half a centimetre, or more, away  from the central diagonal of the pinwheel. With pink stitching over a plain bright green fabric, this is more than a teensy bit obvious! Another goody is where I lifted the needle to shift a bit of renegade masking tape, and failed to put the needle back in exactly the same spot, which again I didn’t notice until it was too late. Coincidentally, that’s on a pinwheel too! The squares that were meant to be one of the best features are turning into the things that highlight the worst parts.

Last weekend I was almost a gibbering wreck, so must avoid that this weekend and accept I won’t finish it by self-imposed deadline, but will have finished it for when I need it in December, and that it will be distinctly amateurish. At least it’ll be okay from a distance !

The current state of things:

In the last 30 mins of my lunchbreak I am off to find aniseed balls, hooray! Shame I’ve done something to my toe, seem to have crushed it under me at a strange angle whilst hunkering down on a concrete floor labelling manuscripts which were resting on a 2-inch high box in the absence of any better working space, and now can’t bend it and it’s rather sore. This may hamper my aniseed ball hunt, so had best limp off now…

Starting to machine quilt

Last weekend I put together the quilt sandwich for the machine-stitched pink quilt, for my aunt. I’ve had more fun! First, on Friday night, I cleaned the machine (which I’ve never done before) and fitted the quilting / walking / easy feed foot. Mercifully, that went fine and I see now what a big difference having the foot makes. The clunking sound as it goes along is quite noticeable, and for some reason the stitching seems to be going faster, it sometimes takes me by surprise (like my attempts to drive). I tested various tensions on the sample mini quilt, and thought I’d got the right one (minus 2).

Saturday brought putting it all together. I used low-adhesive masking tape to tape the back to the floor and spent ages, with my husband’s help, marking the diagonal lines for quilting, using quilter’s tape. I’ve never used it before, but in my one previous attempt at diagonal lines I used yellow chalk and unfortunately didn’t realise you couldn’t sew over the top of it without getting permanent yellow lines across the quilt. Plus, the bits I didn’t sew over rubbed off, and I found I couldn’t see pencil lines, and am scared to use the wipe-off pen in case it doesn’t wipe off. I know you’re supposed to test it first, but given how many different fabrics I use it would get silly,  and I still wouldn’t feel safe. I did realise I’d have to cut gaps in the masking tape where the lines crossed, but still thought it the best option. I didn’t realise the roll of quilter’s tape wouldn’t go that far, so just had to trust that the low-adhesive masking tape my husband uses for his crafting wouldn’t mark the fabric.

Quilt sandwich (before pinning) with lines marked out

Then I pinned it in place, or tried to. Not so easy when it’s taped to the floor!

I sewed quilting lines corner to corner, and the line either side of the central one, managing just two lines on Saturday and four on Sunday. Husband had to help me, because I couldn’t get quilt to move forward under my own steam, the weight of it meant the needle sometimes went up and down on the spot, so he sat opposite me and lifted it. I got some rucks underneath – maybe bad pinning? – and unpicked on line for a bit to get to the ruck, tied the threads together and hid the knot inside the quilting, then picked it up on the machine and redid it, but I am not keen to do that again, it was difficult and not neat.

The other, main, big problem came on Sunday, after I’d refilled the bobbin on Saturday night. Only after I’d done a whole line did I realise something was wrong, because it had started off fine. When I looked, some of the stitches were tiny and pulled hard. Starting the next line, husband noticed that underneath when it came his way the threads had formed little loops. Fortunately because I’d only done a bit I could pull that out, but we then spent ages testing different tensions, reading the instruction book, etc., trying to work out what was wrong. Then I thought it was no coincidence it happened after I’d changed the bobbin, so I tried refitting it. To be honest, I couldn’t see what I’d done wrong / differently, but it still helped. I also moved the pressure regulator wheel (sorry, don’t think that’s what it’s called, but it’s at the front and has 3 settings) so it was on 3 instead of 2, which helped even more, and after that it was okay. I had my shoulders up round my ears, though, and I don’t think the chair I work on is a good height, so had both a headache and a crick in my neck to start Monday morning! There was also the part where I lifted the needle to get a bit of errant masking tape out of the way and didn’t realise I hadn’t put it back on exactly the spot, so that looks bad, and also happens to be on one of the squares with a pinwheel, so the diagonal quilting line runs parallel to, but about half a cm away from, the central diagonal of the pinwheel. All in all, bit of a nightmare! I had wanted to finish the rest of the quilting, but not the binding, before we go away for a week’s break, which gives me only the next two weekends and I’m really not sure if it’s viable. The lines will get shorter, of course, and hopefully I’ve got the tension problems sorted out, so maybe…

But on the whole, not very satisfactory and I don’t know that I’ll do my autumn quilt with the machine. But I would like to make a cushion cover and would use it for that because it’s smaller, and because I’ll do all the patchwork by hand the corners of the blocks should meet so I can just ‘stitch the ditch’, which I couldn’t do on the pink quilt because the seams where the blocks were joined are wonky and I thought stitching a straight line over the top would make that more noticeable. Though in the end, I don’t know whether it would be better or worse than what I’m doing. Anyway, I’ll use the machine for cushion covers but don’t know that I could face it again for something big.



Pink quilt back and quilting plans


I finished the back of the pink quilt I’m making for my aunt at the weekend – feels like a lifetime ago for some reason! The pink on the top right is too purpley, really, but it does at least go with the butterflies next to it and I felt I did need another bright one amidst all the more ‘ditsy’ florals. Also, have spent a fortune on pink fabrics and couldn’t bear to waste it! The corners match a lot better than they did on the front, with only one square that’s off and fortunately not by much. My measuring wasn’t brilliant on a couple of the outer pieces, but it won’t matter once it’s quilted and they’re trimmed.

Below is the best of the six needle-turn applique flowers I did for the front, once I changed technique after the first couple. Glad I’ve tried it, but would be in no hurry to go down that route again! (And hoorah, I’ve rediscovered how to make images smaller on the website).


Now I’m psyching myself for the actual quilting. I’ve been reading up and decided that I definitely need a quilting / even feed / walking foot for my machine. I’d been put off because one person I know told me she’s never needed one, and another told me hers had cost £100! But everyone else says they’re a must, and when I looked online you can get them much cheaper. I’ve opted for an unbranded one that’s meant to fit most machines, so just hope mine’s one of them and it works okay. I didn’t want to spend loads of money so took the cheap option, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping it arrives by the weekend. I feel reassured by people saying that rolling up the quilt will get it through the machine, because one my main concerns has been how to get the bulk of it through the gap between the needle and the main body of the machine! I read that bicycle clips are good for keeping it in place.

I’ve made a small square of nine 4-inch blocks from left-overs and a piece of a bundle I think I was given or bought from somewhere like Hobbycraft when I first started, to practise tension and stitch length on and get a feel of what the walking foot is like; though realistically I don’t think such a small trial will be terribly helpful. I couldn’t face the thought of just wasting the wadding as part of the trial, but don’t really know what use a small pinky-purpley square mat is going to be, it’s not a colour scheme I’ll be putting in my sitting room, and I don’t know any little girls who might like it!

Now to hope foot and machine-quilting thread I ordered arrive by the weekend so I can get on with it…

Two blocks with new rosehips fabric (+ pink quilt update)

These are my latest two blocks, put together over the last 2-3 weeks, both using a new rosehips fabric I bought from Laughing Hedgehogs. I also got one in brown, which I’m working with now. I’m pleased to have got some more of the woodland animals fabric, which I think is nice and autumnal. Haven’t put all the blocks together for a while, to see how messy / overly orange it looks when they’re all together!

I’ve been focussing on the pink quilt at weekends, in between other commitments (what with swimming, driving lessons, and / or church events my weekends seem to vanish distressingly quickly), trying to make the back. Last weekend I realised that my plan A of 3 x 3 squares wouldn’t work because I needed fabric bigger than fat quarters, which is mostly what I have. So I decided on a 4 x 4 design, but am making the outer ‘squares’ larger, so that the ones in the middle of the four sides are actually rectangles, but once they’re cut down after quilting they’ll look square-ish. I had several disasters cutting fabric last weekend, it turns out bigger ones are hard to cut accurately with the rulers I had, so having wasted fabric and driven myself mad I sent for a 15 x 15 inch square ruler (bigger would have been better because the outer pieces are 17 x 17 at the corners and 14 x 17 in the middle of the sides, but the cost was against me) and more fabric. Some of the fabric wasn’t how I’d thought it would look in the online photos, so I’ve ended up with more ‘stash’ than I started with – argh!!! But still, I’ve eventually got the pieces cut, sometimes using two rulers alongside each other, and have decided where they’re going to be placed (taken a photo to remind myself) and have made up two of the four rows. I’d love to have all four made up and sewn together by this weekend, but me and the sewing machine are bad enough at the best of times, even less good friends at night. Yesterday I did 6 seams in total and two of them had to be pulled out again. I’m so nervous about quilting it when the happy day eventually comes, I may need to do deep breathing exercises in advance!