By far the quickest and easiest way to learn how to quilt is quilting by machine. Sure, it's wonderful to have the time, stamina and precision to by able to quilt a whole quilt by hand, but most people these days don't have any of those things. It's not cheating to use a machine; its simply a way to be able to make more quilts in this lifetime.
Machine Piecing Your Quilt
Even the die-hard quilters who do their decorative quilting by hand will almost all agree that piecing a quilt by machine is a huge time saver. Many basic quilt tops can be assembled by machine in an afternoon, leaving you lots of time to contemplate the design of your topstitching and even to do it by hand if you like. The only thing you need to know in order to construct a basic quilt top by machine is how to sew a straight line and follow a seam allowance. You also need to be able to read and follow a pattern.
Perhaps the most difficult part for beginning quilters is that you have to be able to keep track (in your head or, ideally, on paper) of which fabric you are using to represent which color or design in the pattern. That way, you won't put the green blocks where the blue blocks should have been. You also need to trust the quilting pattern enough to assemble the quilt top in the way that it suggests. Don't start in the middle if the pattern says to start in the top left corner. There's a reason the pattern says to put it together in the way it says, so follow the directions.
Sewing machines also make quick work of sewing on borders and binding. To attach binding that wraps around the edge of the quilt, machine stitch one side to the top of the quilt, then fold the binding over so that it looks the way you want it to look in the back, pinning if necessary, and sew to the back by hand, using coordinating thread and taking time to sew small stitches that are difficult to see.
Sewing the Quilt Top By Machine
Purists will leave the machine turned off when it comes time to do the stitching that is visible on the top of the quilt. This stitching is very important, particularly if you are going to launder your quilts, because it helps hold the layers together and prevents one layer from shifting away from the others, forming an uneven quilt.
A good way to figure out if you have enough quilting on the top of your quilt is to make a loose fist. If you put your fist (fingers facing down) anywhere on the quilt, it should be touching stitching. If it isn't, you need to sew some more.
Quilting the top of your quilt by hand is a great way to show off your embroidery skills, and those who have such skills can make truly beautiful stitching that's often as impressive as the design of the quilt itself. Crazy quilting is a genre of quilt design that is all about showing off embroidery. The choice of fabric is almost secondary. Every stitching line is covered, and if a stitcher really knows her stuff, every line will have a different style of embroidery.
But quilting your quilt top can be simple, and it can be done on your sewing machine. The most basic way to finish a quilt, and the easiest to do on machine or by hand, is known as "stitch in the ditch." This refers to stitching that falls on the stitching lines that make up the pieced top, or the "ditch" between two different pieces of fabric. This is a quick and easy way to finish a quilt because you just have to follow along the lines you already stitched. This makes an unobtrusive stitching line and is the best choice for beginning quilters.
Over time, however, you may wish to try some more decorative needlework. You can do more elaborate designs by machine, either using a template (which you can draw onto the quilt with a washable fabric marking pen) or working freehand. You may need a special quilting foot for your machine in order to do this; check your instruction manual for information.
Decorative Machine Stitching
If you have a fancy sewing machine, you could reproduce some of the fancy embroidery crazy quilters are known for. Decorative stitching such as scallops, blanket stitching and others can be used with interesting effect, either as a focal point in your stitching (to frame the main block of the quilt, for instance) or all over.
A good way to learn what your machine can do and to decide what you like is to make a lot of little quilts, or simply take a couple of pieces of fabric and some batting and make a sample quilt on which you can try different techniques before you commit to using one on your full-sized quilt.
Free Patterns for Machine Quilting
Here are some great resources for free quilting patterns that you can create with your sewing machine:
- Victoriana Quilters - These basic designs can be used for top-stitching your quilt. Be sure to read the tips for sizing the patterns to fit your squares.
- The Quilt Studio - This is a rather large collection of designs, all of which can be resized to suit your quilt. They range from simple to intricate.
- McCall's Pattern Index - McCall's has long been a trusted resource for sewing and wool crafters. Their quilt pattern index contains many projects that are suitable for machine quilting.
Simplify and Save Time
Using your sewing machine to create a beautiful and practical quilt can save a lot of time. While many traditional quilters frown upon machine quilting, there is still a learning curve and a great deal of skill needed to make intricate designs and pieces. Whether you stitch by hand or employ a machine, the result will be a lovely quilt that you can hang, use, or give as a gift.