My friend, Diane Harris, is learning how to quilt with a stationary longarm machine, her HQ Capri.  Diane is an ambassador for HQ Stitch sewing machines and writes the blog over on the HQ Stitch page. In recent posts she has been sharing her lessons in machine quilting, and I have been sharing her posts with you. She is learning some wonderful lessons!

This week she writes about figuring out what to quilt and about getting stuck. I’ll share her thoughts and my words of wisdom as a seasoned quilter.

Lessons in Machine Quilting

By Diane Harris, HQ Stitch brand ambassador

Comments by Mary Beth Krapil, Handi Quilter National Educator (MB)

I’m learning so much about machine quilting each day. The lessons apply whether you’re quilting on a domestic like HQ Stitch or on a stationary longarm like the HQ Capri. Some of them would also be useful if you’re longarm quilting with a machine on a movable carriage.

Diane Harris lessons Christmas Album quilt

I wrote about quilting My Christmas Album in the last post, and today I want to dive deeper into some big lessons I learned on this quilt and talk about how hard it can be to know what you should quilt.

In other words, do you need geometric shapes or should you outline the patches, can you quilt right on top of the applique, should the quilting be dense or sparse, and so on.

diane Harris lessons pointsettias

As I considered the blocks, there didn’t seem to be a lot of space for quilting. I stippled a couple of the blocks but I wanted to be more creative on the rest.

diane Harris lessons gingerbread

The gingerbread men got outlined loosely.

diane Harris lessons trees

I meandered a large stipple over the trees.

diane Harris lessons pointsettias

A smaller meander worked between the poinsettias.

Diane Harris lessons snow flakes

I curled in and out of the snowflakes. These ideas aren’t horrible but they’re not great, either. I am hoping that knowing what to quilt will improve with practice.

MB: Knowing what to quilt is a HUGE topic. Of course personal preference plays a big role, but how does a person know what their preference is if they are only just getting started? The answer, my friend, is STUDY. Study is a word that carries memories of forced memorization and poring over boring books. Luckily, the type of study you will be doing is nothing like that! Here’s how you study: you will look at quilts and pay particular attention to the quilting. Go to shows (someday soon I hope), open Pinterest, look on Facebook, browse Instagram, page through quilting books. Find quilts that appeal to you and make note of how they are quilted. You will soon develop personal preference. It might be modern, geometric, angular, flowing, flowery, feathery; there’s really a lot of styles. So first of all…

#1 Know what you like

Then, think about the quilt you are about to quilt and ask some important questions. These will help determine a lot about the quilting.

How is the quilt going to be used? – I will quilt a wall hanging much more densely than a bed quilt. A wall quilt must be stable to keep it square as it hangs and resist sagging of the fabrics. A bed quilt, on the other hand, needs to be soft and drape-able so that it will be cuddly and lay nicely over the edges of the mattress.

What kind of batting will I use? – The package of batting will have a suggested minimum distance for spacing of quilting lines. It’s important to follow these guidelines if you plan to wash the quilt and want it to hold up.

Who is the quilt for? – Man, woman, child, someone playful, someone more formal, modern, traditional? This will be important for the tone of the quilting design. You might put dinosaurs on a kid’s quilt, but might want to stick with feathers on a quilt for the Queen.


Second of all…..

#2 Consider the Quilt

Once you know what you like and have figured out what the quilt needs, it is time to choose a design.  

We are quilters. We all have a stash. Don’t even try to deny it; I know you do. You have more fabric than you could ever hope to use. And when you become a quilter (as opposed to a topper), you will also develop a thread stash. Those of you who have been quilting for a while are nodding your heads. You need one more stash: a design stash. A place to go when you are trying to come up with some idea of what to quilt on your quilt. I started my design stash with books of quilting designs. I have a few. This is only a small portion.

Mary Beth Krapil lessons books

I suggest taking photos of quilting that you especially like. Sketch designs that you have seen on quilts. Add these to a notebook. As you study quilting on social media, save photos to a special file on your computer or tablet. All of this becomes your design stash. Then when you are stumped as to what to quilt, browse your stash and the ideas will start to flow.


#3 Keep a design stash and know how to use it.

Let’s go back and see what other lessons Diane learned.

One other problem presented itself. I made a plan for quilting loosely around the gingerbread men.

Diane Harris lessons gingerbread

However, I hadn’t planned for how to travel from one to the next. You can see on the left above my wiggly line as I tried to travel. And under his arm, you can almost feel the panic as I ran into a roadblock and didn’t know where to go.

MB: Once you’ve settled on a design choice, figure out your path. One way of doing this is to use your Quilter’s Preview Paper and draw the design without lifting your pen. You can also simply finger trace the design over your block as if you were stitching it. It is great practice for when you are actually quilting, and you’ll find your quilting looks nicer when you take the time to finger trace before actually stitching.

Lesson 4

Trouble comes when I don’t know where I’m going.

I must have a plan for what to quilt, but also for how to travel around the quilt.

And that leads into another lesson.

Lesson 5

Stop. STOP! Sooner, not later.

I tend to blunder forward, adding bad quilting and making the problem worse. The more I blunder, the more quilting there is to remove later. I’m learning to stop as soon as I sense trouble.

MB: This is very common. Quilting is a continuous line, so we want to keep going, continuously. I always tell my students that when you get in a bind and are not sure where to go next, remember: the machine has an OFF switch as well as an ON switch. Take your foot off the pedal, or in the case of a moveable machine, hit the stop button, then take a breath and figure out your next path. No one likes to get that seam ripper out, and what is it about removing stitches? What takes 3 minutes to quilt takes an hour and a half to pick out. So stop before you get into trouble and let the dust accumulate on that seam ripper.

Diane Harris lessons Christmas Album quilt

As for this little quilt, while I struggled mightily, it is finished. And in my book,

Finished is better than perfect!

MB: That is a good attitude to have, Diane! We are our own worst critics. We are so close to our work that it is sometimes hard to stand back and just take it in as a whole and appreciate the quilt. You enjoyed the process of making it and you learned a few things along the way. What could be better?

And now because machine quilting is finally FUN, I’m off to quilt the next one!

MB: I can’t wait to see what you tackle next, Diane. There is one more question you have to ask when you are deciding how to quilt something:

What is my skill level? – Maybe you really want to quilt feathers on a quilt, but you’ve never quilted a feather. There are 2 paths here: practice your feathers until you feel ready, then proceed; OR pick a different design.

Remember how you all committed to practicing 15 minutes EVERY day? You did! You raised your right hands and promised! Here is what you will practice: the design you want on your next quilt. Whatever that may be—feathers, ribbon candy, stipple—practice until you feel confident. Then GO FOR IT.