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Quilting on a Domestic Sewing Machine

It's possible and you can do it!

by Beth Cooper

Did you know that you don’t need a longarm to quilt that beautiful quilt you just finished piecing?  Whaaaa?  You sure don’t.  You can quilt that bad boy right at home on your sewing machine, also called a domestic sewing machine.  It is a great way to quilt and saves you money on either a. buying a longarm or b. paying a longarm quilter.  Any size quilt can be quilted on a domestic sewing machine; if you’re quilting a very large quilt, just be prepared for more maneuvering. 


If you’re new to this, there are a few things you need to know.  The first thing you need to do is to baste your quilt top.  Basting is the process of layering backing, batting, and the quilt top into a “sandwich” and then securing it all together.  There are many ways to go about this.  Many quilters prefer to pin baste.  Using quilter’s safety pins, attach one every four to six inches all over the quilt.  As you quilt each section, remove the pins. 

Another way to baste is to spray baste.  This sticky basting glue comes in a spray bottle and will hold your quilt together without the pins.  It can be used on small or large quilts.  Be sure to cover your sewing machine, iron, or anything else in the room while using the spray baste to ensure no overspray gets on them. 

This quilt basting spray makes basting fast and easy!


After your quilt is basted, you are ready to start quilting!  Yay!  The possibilities are endless when it comes to quilting designs.  If you like the look of straight-line quilting or you want to stitch-in-the-ditch (simply quilting in the “ditch” or low side of your seam lines), you will want to use the walking foot on your sewing machine.  The walking foot allows you to sew straight lines while pushing your three layers through your machine.  A walking foot can easily handle the thickness of your quilt. 

But perhaps, you don’t want straight lines?  Are you ready to try your hand at Free Motion Quilting (FMQ for short)?  How do you start? First, prepare your sewing area.  Clear off and give yourself plenty of space.  A large flat surface is best so, if possible, use an extension table with your machine or even use a table where your sewing machine sits down inside of it and your sewing surface is flush with the table.

Lower the feed dogs on your sewing machine.  Check your manual if you are unsure how to do this.  The function of the feed dogs is to pull the fabric through in a straight line from front to back.  By lowering the feed dogs, you can push the fabric through in whichever direction you want it to go. 

Most quilters start off with a simple meandering pattern when learning to free-motion quilt.  The goal is to meander all over the section you are working on (and eventually the whole quilt) without crossing any lines.  Other patterns, such as loops, do cross the sewing line.  It really is a personal preference on what pattern you are most comfortable with, or which pattern would work best with your quilt. 

This is an excellent tutorial on beginner free motion machine quilting from Missouri Star Quilt Company.


Things to remember when free-motion quilting, just work on one section of your quilt at a time.  The rest of the quilt can be neatly rolled up or just haphazardly bunched up.  Truly, either way works.  Just keep the extra out of the way and focus on one small section at a time. 

Go slowly.  This isn’t a race.  If your machine has speed control, use it.  Set it to a slower speed until you are confident enough to go faster. 

Keep both hands on your quilt and just guide the fabric.  Consider using quilter’s gloves, or even gardening gloves.  These work well and allow you to grip the fabric.  Move the fabric and keep your eye on where you want the next stitch to be made, not where your needle is currently stitching.  This takes some getting used to, but it will pay off.  Think of it like driving a car.  You are always looking ahead to where you are going, not where your tires currently are.

These quilting gloves are comfy and help control your quilting movements.

Continue maneuvering your quilt around and quilt small sections at a time.  Don’t worry about small mistakes and resist the urge to unsew (pick out) those stitch lines that are less than perfect.  You will be the only one who even notices them.  Once the whole quilt is finished, the eye is drawn to the fabrics, colors, and the piecing.  That will be what others see, not your mistakes. 

Finally, enjoy the process!  Be proud of yourself that you finished your project.  You made something from start to finish and that is something to celebrate!

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Loretta Ivison
1 year ago

I’m sorry you don’t know about Pinmoors. A better way to baste a quilt.

1 year ago

Thanks for sharing this. Sounds like a great idea. Can’t wait to try it

1 year ago

Thanks! That was a great refresher, reminding me of the basics!

Elizabeth Cerri
1 year ago

What about fusible batting? Whenever I pinned I never had a quilt without puckers.

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