The HQ Ditch Ruler was designed to aid in a perfect stitch-in-the-ditch every time. Line the notches up with your ditch line and stitch your seam.
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usually on the side of the seam where there is less bulk from the seam allowance.
by Mary Beth Krapil
Let me answer a few Q’s to get us started.
Q: What is “the ditch”?
A: The ditch is formed by the seam between two pieces of fabric. A pieced quilt top has lots of ditches.
Q: Why do I want to stitch in it?
A: Ditch stitching defines the spaces on the quilt top and creates areas for other quilting designs. If done correctly, SID (stitch in the ditch) can help to stabilize and square the quilt.
Q: Why do quilters avoid stitch in the ditch?
A: The short answer: it is boring. It is exacting work that really doesn’t show on the top of the quilt. If it shows, you’re not doing it right. It has to be done right. It is very unforgiving, the stitches must remain in the ditch at all times. NO wandering out of the ditch. After all, it is called, “stitch IN the ditch”. It is not called, “stitch somewhere near the ditch”.
So, we have some tips to help you bring your stitch in the ditch to the professional level.
1. Use invisible thread. My favorite is MonoPoly by Superior Threads.
It works for all quilt tops and helps hide the stitches.
Alternatively, you can use a matching, fine thread.
2. Use the Sure Foot. It has a higher profile than the ruler foot that makes using rulers much more secure. Less danger of the ruler getting between the foot and the needle.
3. Use the Ditch Ruler. The tabs on the end of the ruler are lined up on the seam line, which places the needle right in the ditch.
4. Stitch on the low side of the seam.
Q: What is the low side?
A: the side that the seam allowances are pressed toward is the high side. The other side of the seam is the low side.
Stitching on the low side helps hide the stitches in the ditch.
Also, keep the ruler on the low side.
5. If you bobble out of the ditch, don’t un-pick the whole line of stitching. Stitch back over your previous SID, being careful to keep in the ditch where you bobbled out. Then just un-pick the small part where you bobbled. The over-stitching will secure your threads.
6. (this is a bonus for Pro-Stitcher users) Use Mark to stitch in the ditch. If you need to learn about Mark, go to https://hqprostitcher.com/education and watch the video titled “Record”. If you are a Pro-Stitcher user, Mark is the way to go for SID!
The photos in this post came from Marie Eldredge’s Color Play Video on the Yellow Quilt. Handi Quilter has offered free patterns for Marie’s Color Play Quilts and American Patchwork and Quilting offers free videos of Marie showing how she quilted these quilts. Get the patterns here. To see the videos click on “Watch the video” under the quilt. A new video is released each month. Watch the Yellow video here.
See you in the ditch!
Made from .25-inch thick quality acrylic. This 3″x12″ ruler is for straight edge quilting stitch in the ditch diagonal lines etc. Use with the HQ Ruler Base.
Made from .25-inch thick quality acrylic. Perfectly sized to fit in your hand, this 2″x 6″ ruler is used for straight-edge quilting stitch-in-the-ditch diagonal lines etc. Use with the HQ Ruler Base.
In this, yet another, installment of the series on finishing the edges of your quilts while still on the frame, I’ll explain how to apply facing on the longarm. You can get up to speed by reading Apply Binding on the Longarm and Extra Tips – Binding.
What is Facing?
There are times when you don’t want any binding to show on the front of the quilt, but you want the durability and security of an actual binding. Facing is the answer. Facing strips are sewn to the front of the quilt and then turned to the back, rolling the seam, so that none of the facing is visible on the front of the quilt. Then the facing is hand stitched in place on the back of the quilt. It makes for a clean, non-stop visual as the eye travels to the edges of the quilt.
Making it easy
It really makes a lot of sense to apply facing on the longarm. The large quilt is stretched out in front of you and held smooth and secure by your leaders. What could possibly go wrong? Well, there are a few things you need to be aware of when facing a quilt this way. But no worries! I’ll clue you in.
Prepare your facing
Before you loaded your quilt on the frame for quilting you measured, right? And you wrote down those measurements, right? You’re going to need them now.
You’ll need one facing strip for each edge of your quilt. I use 1 1/2 inch wide strips, with one edge pressed under 1/4 inch. You can decide how wide you would like your strips, but don’t go much more than 2 1/2 inches. If the facing is too wide it doesn’t lay flat on the back and you end up with puckers in the facing. No one likes a floppy facing!
Two strips should be the length of your quilt and 2 strips should be the width of your quilt. These measurements don’t need to be super exact. Just close. Your quilt will likely NOT be the same measurements as the quilt top was before quilting. Remember, quilting draws up fabric, so your finished quilt will be slightly smaller depending on the density of the quilting.
The first time you face a quilt, choose a fabric that is close in color to the edge of the quilt top. Rolling the seam to the back of the quilt is a skill that takes a little practice. If your facing fabric shows a bit on the front, it will be less noticeable. Once you get good at applying facing on the longarm you can use any fabric.
If you need to sew lengths of strips together for a larger quilt, sew strips together on an angle. This creates less bulk at the seams. Just like regular binding!
You will also need two 4 inch squares of your facing fabric. Cut these squares from corner to corner, forming 4 triangles. Press the long edge of each triangle under 1/4 inch.
Ready to Apply Facing on the Longarm
I start at the bottom of the quilt since that’s where I finished the quilting. Place the triangles in the corners, right side down.
Lay a facing strip, right side down, with the raw edge of the strip at the edge of the quilt. Start about 1 inch away from the left corner. This will help cut down on the bulk of fabric layers in the corner, and the triangle will cover the raw ends of the facing strips once they are turned to the back.
Use care to not stretch the strip. You can add a few pins, if you wish, to hold it in place. Remove the pins as you stitch.
Don’t trim the right edge of your strip just yet. Leave the end and trim it when you get to the corner as you sew.
My favorite foot for this job is the 1/4 inch Square Foot. (The smaller one)
The tabs help hold the facing in place so I need fewer (if any) pins.
Set your machine for regulated, cruise, 12 SPI, and needle-stop down.
Start stitching on the left edge of the quilt top (stitch over the triangle and onto the facing strip), using the ruler to keep straight and 1/4 inch from the edge. The edge of the ruler and the edge of the square foot are both aligned at the raw edge of the quilt. That results in the perfect 1/4 inch seam.
If you didn’t trim the end of the strip yet, trim it right before you get to the corner, leaving about an inch from the right edge.
Sew all the way to the edge, over the triangle.
Take a side strip and repeat the steps for alignment and start sewing up as far as you can go in your throat space.
Secure threads with a couple of back stitches and break your threads.
With the other side strip and repeat on the other side of the quilt.
Before rolling your quilt, go back to each corner, and sew across the corner at an angle to help strengthen the corner for turning. Back stitch a few times back and forth.
Roll your quilt onto the belly bar to expose the next section in your throat space. Start with a few back stitches and stitch up the side within your throat space. Repeat on the other side. Continue in this manner until the top edge of the quilt is in your stitching area.
Place the other two triangles on the top corners, right side down. Finish stitching the side strips, remembering to trim the strip before you get to the top edge. Stitch all the way to the edge to secure the triangle.
Sew the top strip in the same manner that you sewed the bottom strip. Stitch the angle at the top corners for security.
Remove the quilt from the frame and trim the edges.
Trim the corners:
Cut off the corners about 2 threads away from the diagonal stitching.
Press all the facing strips to the outside of the quilt using a hot steam iron.
Turning the edges
Use the facing to pull the quilt edge around to the back. It’s OK to have about 1/16″ of an inch of quilt front showing on the back. Steam as you go. I like to use pins to hold it in place. Pins and steam (lots of steam) are the key here. Work little-by-little and take your time.
Flip the triangle to the back and use a blunt instrument like a chopstick or a point turning tool to help smooth out the corner. Don’t use scissors or anything sharp that could cut or punch a hole in the corner. Steam it in place and pin.
Stitch the facing to the back
of the quilt by hand. Make sure your stitches do NOT go through to the front of the quilt.
It takes a lot of words and pictures to explain, but it really does go quickly. And doing it on the frame is way easier for larger quilts.
Hope you give it a try and let us know how you like facing on the longarm.
About the quilt: this was a piece I painted in a virtual class with Helen Godden from Australia, then quilted on my HQ Infinity. I free motion quilted the sunflowers and the tiny matchstick quilting was done with a ruler. The background was done with Pro-Stitcher. I really prefer facings on art quilts like this.
By Mary Beth Krapil
I’m willing to bet 9 out of 10 of you bought your longarm machine because you were not happy wrestling that large quilt through your domestic machine to do the quilting. Am I right? We solved one problem. But, then what do we do? We finish the beautiful quilting on our longarm, then take the quilt off the frame and wrestle that large quilt through our domestic machine to apply the binding. Let me ask, does that make any sense? I am going to share a little tutorial on how to apply binding on the longarm. Sewing the binding to the front of the quilt, while the quilt is still on the frame. It is quick and easy! The only tool you will need is a straight longarm ruler. I also use my HQ Square foot which makes the whole process much easier.
Apply binding on the longarm
by Mary Beth Krapil
I’m willing to bet 9 out of 10 of you bought your longarm machine because you were not happy wrestling that large quilt through your domestic machine to do the quilting. Am I right? We solved one problem. But, then what do we do? We finish the beautiful quilting on our longarm, then take the quilt off the frame and wrestle that large quilt through our domestic machine to apply the binding. Let me ask, does that make any sense? I am going to share a little tutorial on how to apply your binding to the front of the quilt while it is still on your longarm frame. It is quick and easy! The only tool you will need is a straight longarm ruler. I also use my HQ Square foot which makes the whole process much easier.
In last week’s blog post I explained how I prepared a not-so-flat vintage quilt top for finishing. If you didn’t catch it, be sure to read it first. No worries, I’ll wait.
Now that I had a nice flat quilt top, I could start thinking about the quilting. I wanted to ignore the seam lines in an effort to hide all the added sashing. This would make the tulips come forward and float on the background.
I planned to stitch-in-the-ditch around each set of tulips and do minimal quilting within the tulips so that they would puff forward. To accomplish the puff, there had to be some tighter background quilting behind them. And using two layers of batting, 80/20 on the bottom and wool on top is essential.
Drawing design ideas on Quilter’s Preview Paper over the quilt top with a dry erase marker is a good way to start letting the ideas become real.
Using Pro-Stitcher Designer, my digitizing software, I created some designs that would go over the seams and hopefully distract from them.
I start the design process by tracing the major elements of the top on Golden Threads Quilting Paper. Then I can place a 2nd piece of Golden Threads paper over that and start sketching. If I don’t like what I have drawn, I discard the paper and take fresh piece on top. I still have my major elements underneath.
This design will be available for purchase on Quiltable.com soon!
Next comes the fun of quilting and seeing the quilt top come to life. I employed a combination of Pro-Stitcher robotics, ruler-work and free-motion quilting. I wonder what Mrs. Gibson and Ora Tyler would think of their quilt today?
Of course a quilt is not finished until there’s a label. I chose to use one of the spare blocks as the label. Turning the corner of the block back so that the penciled name and hand stitching is visible. I think that is such a charming aspect of this vintage top.
You can also see how the block does not lay flat.
I printed the list of names of all the contributors to the quilt, along with the quilter’s name (me) and date it was finished. Now I proudly consider myself part of this group of ladies. I have 13 new friends! And I wonder if I’m young enough to go by just Mary Beth? I know I’m not old enough to be known as Mrs. Krapil! Mary Beth Krapil will do I guess. 🙂
Have you ever quilted a vintage quilt top? Please share your experience in the comments. We’d love to see pictures!
by Mary Beth Krapil
The adventure continues! Diane continues to quilt and learn and has some questions for Mary Beth. Read some of the previous blog posts to learn about Diane Harris and her adventures in learning machine quilting on her new Handi Quilter Capri with the help of Mary Beth Krapil.
By Diane Harris, HQ Stitch Brand Ambassador
Mary Beth Krapil, Handi Quilter National Educator
Diane: I started machine quilting an old UFO this week, and because I’m not experienced, I had questions right away. Mary Beth is a seasoned longarm quilting pro and is always just a text away. I sent my questions to her!
My general plan was to outline or echo quilt the horses, to put scallops in the setting squares and to finish off with ribbon candy in the borders. (Debby Brown, another Handi Quilter National Educator, has gotten me hooked on ribbon candy!)
Once around the pony didn’t look too bad so I echo quilted a few more times. I always get ahead of myself.
I stopped to see what Mary Beth thought because I wasn’t sure it was wise to continue.
A Little Q & A
Q (Diane): Should I stick with one outline here or continue with echo quilting?
A (Mary Beth): That’s a matter of personal preference. If you like it, go for it. Audition with Quilter’s Preview Paper before you commit.
I personally do not like echo quilting, for the most part. Echo quilting creates motion and when quilted around some shapes like animals it makes them look like they are shivering or vibrating. Also, unless echo quilting is super-well executed it looks sloppy.
On the other hand, there are some instances that echo quilting is perfect. Have you seen Hawaiian quilts quilted in this style? That is an example of echo quilting that really sings! To do it well you need tools to get those echos nice and evenly spaced. The Handi Echo Feet work perfect for this. The Echo Feet Kit is a set of three acrylic feet with a ring that extends the width of the hopping foot. The feet provide a fixed interval to use when echo quilting around a motif. The Echo Feet provide a 3/8-inch interval, a 1/2-inch interval, and a 3/4-inch interval. When quilting an echo, position the edge of your foot on the edge of your applique and stitch using the edge of the foot as a guide to keep your echo uniform.
In the end, I took out all but one outline of the ponies. Now I’m happy with their appearance.
Between the ponies are checkerboards of 2″ squares. I tried machine quilting scallops/curved lines but I realized that if you’re using the patchwork to create something regular, then it has to BE regular (as in consistent) or it looks sloppy.
Q: Do the scallops in the square patches work? Should I fill in the middle, or fill in the scallops, or leave it alone?
A: Yes, I love continuous curve (what you call scallops) in checkerboards! This works so well because one of the principles to remember when you are choosing machine quilting designs is that curved quilting lines accentuate straight line piecing. And what could be more straight line than checker board?
I like to use a ruler for continuous curve and the curve at the bottom of the Handi Versa Tool is usually my go to. Using a ruler keeps the scallops all the same height.
However, with practice, it is possible to get fairly even and consistent continuous curve doing free motion. Here’s a tip, (this applies to ANY free motion quilting): Look ahead. Don’t look at your needle. Your eye should be on your goal. Start in an intersection, Your eye is there where your needle starts. Then your eye should be at the next intersection. As you quilt to that goal you will naturally make a nice smooth curve. If you are looking at the needle you will try too hard and quilt a wobbly curve instead. Once you reach the 2nd intersection your eye goes to the NEXT one. Look ahead to your goal. The other advantage of this is that your quilting line will go to the intersection if you are looking at it.
I put a version of ribbon candy over two borders: the checkerboard and the narrow orange. If I could redo it, I would probably quilt them separately.
MB: I know you didn’t ask, but I will pipe in here anyway 🙂 You have good instincts, Diane. When it comes to narrow borders I always stitch in the ditch on both sides. Often times, these are referred to as “stop borders”; they stop the eye and let the viewer know they are leaving the body of the quilt and are entering the border. If you combine the stop border with another part and treat them as one it defeats the purpose.
I prefer to define and accentuate that stop with stitch in the ditch. I know it is no fun to stitch in the ditch. It is slow and boring and when you get done, if you did it right, no one sees it! But it really makes a difference in the appearance of the quilt. In the case of a narrow border, it creates a channel which is a design feature that I love to incorporate in my quilting. Worth the practice time to get good at it.
Had a little “whoops” on this one. I squashed him flat!
In the final border, I repeated the pattern and nested the loops together. I like the idea of nesting, but I’m disappointed with the overall effect.
(MB: Love the nesting! Keep that in your bag of tricks.)
My problem is a failure to plan.
Why am I averse to planning? Sometimes I think I need a therapist more than I need a quilting coach.
I get so excited about my ideas for quilting. I start right in without thinking it all through. My personal style is to make decisions as I go. It’s how I design quilts, it’s how I cook, it’s just how I function.
Note to self:
Failure to Plan = Planning to Fail
Maybe that’s too harsh. The little UFO is finished, and that’s a good thing. I learned some stuff. And I got in a few hours of practice.
MB: Maybe it’s not a failure to plan but a failure to preview. You are just jumping into this and are gaining experience, learning what works and what doesn’t. Previewing helps with that learning curve, so keep that Quilter’s Preview Paper at the ready. And call me, I’ll be your therapist.
Follow along as Diane makes her way through Machine Quilting 101. Will she graduate? Will she find quilting happiness? Tune in next week.