How to Machine Quilt – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 7

**Check out this post for the series overview and printable checklist!**

It’s finally time to quilt our quilts! Or tie them. Whichever you prefer.

Which brings up our first topic: How do you decide whether to permanently bind together your quilt sandwich with stitching or tying?

Quilting means you’ll be using your machine (or hand sewing if you’re like some awesome people in my life) to stitch your quilt top, batting, and backing together. This can give a longer life to your blanket as the stitching generally holds up better when washed frequently. However, machine quilting takes a longer time than tying, can be difficult with a large quilt on a domestic machine, and you’ll need a walking foot for the best results.

When tying a quilt, you’ll use yarn or embroidery floss to tie knots 6-12″ apart across your quilt sandwich. All you’ll need is your hands, thread, and a large needle (I use a chenille size 20 or so) to get through all the layers.

For the t-shirt quilt I’ve been working on during this particular sewalong, I decided to machine quilt, so that’s what this tutorial includes. However, here’s a great post if you’d rather tie yours, and I also have all of the steps on the T-Shirt Quilt Action Plan Checklist! Perhaps I’ll be back someday with my own “tying tutorial”.

Machine Quilting

Some things to think about before starting the quilting process:

  1. Make sure your sewing space is large enough that your quilt won’t hang off the edge too much, creating tension or drag when going through your machine.
  2. Check out which type of needle you’re using. I used a ballpoint 80/20 for this quilt because both the top and backing fabrics are knit.
  3. Attach a walking foot to your sewing machine if you have one. This keeps the fabric layers from shifting and stretching as you quilt.
  4. Adjust your stitch length. I go up one to two stitch lengths for quilting (compared to piecing).
  5. Decide what type of quilting you’ll be doing. For patchwork quilts, I always stitch in the ditch to start and do a simple motif to let the t-shirts or memorial fabric shine. But there are loads of walking foot designs out there and free motion tutorials here and here if you’re interested in those!

Now, off to the races!

As I mentioned above, I like to stitch in the ditch to start off patchwork quilts. That means stitching in each seam. For this quilt, I’ll stitch the three long seams top to bottom, and the 4 long seams side to side. Many quilters stitch the middle seam top to bottom, then the middle seam side to side, before quilting the rest. This is called anchoring your quilt. I live dangerously and just do whichever seams I feel like in whichever order seems easiest at the time.

To get started, decide which seam (or area if you’re not stitching in the ditch) you’re going to sew first. Roll up both sides of the quilt and leave just that area exposed. Roll tightly enough that the quilt roll can easily fit through the throat of your machine. I often also roll up the side that’s on the opposite side of the machine for easier handling.

Alternatively, you can just roll up the side that will be by the machine and leave the rest of the quilt in a pool on the table. I go back and forth with which method I prefer.

Whichever you choose, toss the bulk of the quilt over your shoulder or on your lap to start your first seam. You may want to go slowly at first because the quilt will feel heavy as it begins to feed under the presser foot.

Stitch with the needle hitting on the lower side of the seam (the side that does not have the fabric pressed to the side under it) when possible. It won’t always be possible.

When my points aren’t perfect (gasp) as you see above, I jog over in the ditch by shifting my quilt sideways and stitching along the off centered point until I hit the seam again that I’m currently sewing. You could just keep stitching straight and pretend like that imperfect point isn’t there, though ;).

Speaking of quilty imperfections, you might want to go a little more slowly than I did here when stitching along your seams. It takes longer, for sure, to keep that pedal speed down, BUT you’re less likely to end up with wandering stitches like in the photo above.

Once you’ve stitched all of the seams, that might be enough quilting if your blocks are small enough! However, the packing on the batting I used told me to keep my quilt line no more than 8″ apart. My blocks are 12″ each, so I had to add in some more quilting. I decided on a simple crisscross pattern through each of the blocks. To keep my lines straight, I used a water soluble pen and my trusty ruler to draw the lines just where I wanted them.

Time to roll the quilt on the diagonal and sew a bunch more lines.

Don’t worry if your t-shirts start to look crinkly during this process. There’s a lot of rolling and creasing going on, but the quilt will wash up nicely after. If you’re seeing a lot of dragging along the quilting lines, though, that might indicate that you didn’t baste taughtly enough or your need to less the pressure of your presser foot.

All done! That’s a lot of X’s. My kids would call this “crisscross applesauce”.

It may be stretchy and leave a lot of fluff around the house after cutting it, but I love a good minky quilt back. *Happy sigh*

Now it’s hanging out on our spare bed, waiting to be bound. Until then, I’m happy to answer questions about quilting or tying your t-shirt quilt in the blog comments. Come back next week for our last mission – binding!

Next Post >> Week 8 – Binding


Together we can find more ways to reclaim fabric
and breathe meaning, joy, and life into our sewing.


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2 thoughts on “How to Machine Quilt – T-Shirt Quilt Series Week 7

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