MN2302 Hovea / Sewalongs

Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting

We’ve prepped, we’ve planned and now it’s time to quilt! For those of you who have decided to machine quilt your Hovea or Hovea Curve jacket – this post is for you. We’re having a look at some of the tools & techniques that will help you along during the quilting process, and a few of the other little steps we’ll need to do during this stage of your Hovea making journey. So let’s get started!

Helping Hand Foot

If you ask just about anyone, they’re going to tell you that one of the most useful tools when machine quilting is a walking foot. It’s a foot attachment for your machine that grips your fabric better than a normal foot and instead of just moving up and down, it moves (or walks) front to back at the same pace as the feed dogs below. This helps the fabric be fed more evenly through the machine, as the top and bottom layers of your piece are being pulled backwards together, instead of just from below. This means that all the different layers in your quilt sandwich are going to stay in place better and not end up slipping and being skewed as you sew.

Another handy bit that comes with most walking feet is the attachable seam guides. In the image below, it’s the little metal rod with the sloped arm that sits out to the side of to the foot. This can come in handy when you are sewing parallel lines, as you can adjust it’s distance from the foot and line it up with your previous rows of stitching to then use as a guide while you sew.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Sewing With A Walking FootWalking feet are more expensive than your average foot, so it can be a tricky decision whether to get one or not, but when I bought mine I tried to think of it as investment that would pay off every time I didn’t cry with frustration when I went to quilt something. The other thing to keep in mind is that walking feet can be useful in a bunch of other situations other than just quilting – when sewing knits, particularly thick projects, leather, plastics and even when you’re trying to pattern match stripes and plaids. If you’re still undecided, ask around your local sewing community to see if you can try out someone else’s to test if it works for you, or even just to borrow it for a one off project.

Setting Up & Sitting Down

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Sitting Down To Sew

So the moment has come to sit down in front of your sewing machine and get the ball rolling! When you’re at this point, you’ll have a couple of things to think about:

  • Thread Colour: This is deeply personal choice and one that depends on the look you’re going for! If you’re wanting a discrete look to your stitching (to show off your fabric or hide any whoopsies in your sewing), then obviously go for the closest colour match to your fabric. If you have multiple fabrics like in a patchwork design, choose a thread to match the lightest coloured fabric in your quilt top. You don’t have to be subtle if you don’t want to though, you can choose a contrast colour, multiple colours to swap between or my personal favourite – a colour very close to your fabric colour, but just different enough to stand out a little. As always, doing some tests on scraps is going to be the best way to tell how things will end up, as threads always looks different when actually sewn.
  • Stitch Length: It may vary with the type of thread you use or specific project you’re working on, but in general a straight stitch length of 2.5-3 will do you nicely. Not tiny, not huge – but again, always safe to do a test to make sure it’s looking the way you’d like.Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Setting Up & Sitting Down
  • Machine & Space Setup: Make sure you have a nice clear space around your machine so you’re not going to be knocking things off and getting clutter caught up in your quilting. If you can, also work in a space where you’re piece isn’t hanging off the edge of the table, it might not be that noticeable but having the weight of your project hanging off the edge might skew things or add extra weight for your arms to be holding while you work. If you have a slide-on table accessory for your machine, I also suggest using that as it gives you a flatter space to work on that will do some of the supporting for you.
  • Piece Prep: Particularly when quilting larger pieces like the jacket back, I like to roll up the side of the piece closest to the machine to keep it tidy and out of the way. It ends up getting unravelled and messy as I go, but having it neat to begin with helps with getting a smooth start.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Setting Up & Sitting Down

  • Hand Positioning: When sewing, think about where your hands are and where you feel the most in control. A good position to start in is to place both hands flat on your piece, either side of your machine foot so you can gently guide the quilt through. If you feel more comfortable gripping the edges of the piece though, that can work too. You may have to be quite firm when wrangling your pieces through the machine, but it’s best to avoid too much dramatic pulling & dragging as you might end up skewing things or creating fits and starts in your stitching.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Setting Up & Sitting Down

  • Posture: It can be so easy to fall into the habit of having poor posture when working at your sewing machine, especially when quilting. Make sure you’re sitting up straight as much as you can, sitting front-on to your machine at a good distance and most importantly – taking breaks to rest your back and arms. Quilting can be physically demanding at times and if you’re not careful you can end up throwing out your back or shoulders! Apart from stretching and resting, it’s also important to make sure that the table you’re working on is a good height for you. Too low and you’ll be hunching over your work, too high and you wont have the control and line of sight that you need and might end up straining your neck and arms trying to get it.

Starting Point & Direction

We talked about edge to edge stitching in our previous post on quilting design & planning, but as I mentioned then, the second half of that discussion is where you start stitching & the direction that you go in.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Stitching Starting Point & DirectionWhether you’re sewing an organised repeat pattern, or an organic fluid design, it’s best to start in the middle of your piece, either along the top/bottom edge or the left/right side edge. From that starting point you can then work your rows of stitching outwards one way before coming back to the middle and working outwards in the opposite direction. This method means that any movement that might occur between your layers is all in an outward direction and even on both sides which will prevent bubbles and tucks.

Between rows, you can simply stitch along the edge, within the seam allowances, to reach the desired spacing, then pivot and sew back in the opposite direction. I find that if your layers aren’t slipping around too much, this push and pull of direction keeps everything even. It also means not having to back-tack, cut threads and move position, which can save a lot of time and thread. On the other hand, if you’re struggling with a lot of skew, you may wish to finish one row, secure the stitching and start back on the opposite side where you started. This way it will get less warped by each row being skewed in different directions.Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Starting Point & DirectionRemember though, that things don’t always go to plan – and thats ok! Just keep an eye on things, watching out for any pooling of fabric on either side of the quilt sandwich. You can always stop and readjust your layers and basting to accomodate for any shifting if you need. And sometimes when unpicking or re-basting isn’t an option, you just have to do what you gotta do! Like if you get into a tricky spot where a bubble forms while sewing a row of intersecting stitches, you might just have to stretch your pieces slightly and ease the fabric in. While it’s not an ideal fix, if it works, it works! Quilting can be hard and it can take a lot of time and practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself if at first things aren’t quite as polished as you’d like.

Free Motion Stitching

Now let’s move on to some tips for those of you keen to try your hand at free-motion stitching! With free-motion stitching you have the capability of stitching in any direction quickly and without pivoting, which is perfect when sewing organic and flowing designs. Instead of a walking or normal foot, you’ll need to use a free-motion foot, darning foot or quilting foot. They all look a little different but basically do the same job. You’ll also need have your feed-dogs lowered and your stitch width set at 0. The length of your stitch doesn’t matter as you’ll be the one in control of that. If your project is thin enough, you might find it useful to put your piece in an embroidery hoop to keep it flat & steady, but if your batting is too thick you won’t have much luck getting it secured in the hoop and it will be stable enough without it anyway.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Free Motion Stitching Feet

So! Let’s talk our way through doing a test swatch, so you can get the hang of it before starting your project:

  • To start, you’ll want to do a couple of stitches in a tight little space, back and forth over each other to secure them and stop anything unravelling. If you find it easier to do this with the hand wheel of your machine that’s ok too.
  • Next you’re going to place your hands flat on your work, either side of the foot. To change the direction and place of the stitching, you’re going to move the fabric around beneath the needle, so you need to feel in-control of your fabric and be able to move it around smoothly and calmly.
  • Gently begin pressing the pedal to start stitching. The most difficult part of free-motion stitching is coordinating the speed of the stitching, controlled by your foot, with the speed with which the fabric is moved, controlled by your hands. If you move the fabric faster than the stitching, you will end up with huge stitches and if you stitch faster than you move the fabric, you’ll end up with tiny tiny stitches all in the same place. It will take time but you’ll eventually find a happy medium and be getting nice, even stitches.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Free Motion Stitching

  • The first thing that everyone in the history of free-motion stitching draws (probably) is a loop-the-loop, so give that a go! Push the fabric back, to the side, forwards, back down again and to the side. Keep at it until you feel the flow and are getting smooth loops. The more fluid your movements are, the smoother your stitching will be. You can keep your work facing you, but you can also pivot your fabric and change your view of things. While the process of moving your fabric is a series of pushes and pulls, be careful to be moving the whole piece evenly and not to mush your top layer and batting while you move, otherwise you’ll end up with big bubbles and warping.
  • While taking it slow and steady is good thing, sometimes being too slow makes it difficult to keep up your fluidity and coordinate your hands and feet, so have a go at sewing a bit faster. It can be a bit stressful and at times you might feel like things are getting out of hand, at which point I’ll remind you that you’re in charge! Just take your foot off the pedal and pause. It sounds silly but I genuinely forget sometimes that I can stop at any time and reassess where I’m going.
  • At this point, the world is your oyster, so start experimenting with different shapes and patterns. It takes a little while to get the hang of free motion stitching, so I can’t emphasise this enough – practice, practice, practice! When you’re feeling confident enough, you can move on to your jacket pieces, but remember to take breaks and shake out your limbs between stints. I tend to stiffen up as I’m concentrating and tense muscles are not conducive to smooth stitching!
  • Lastly, remember to also choose designs that are going to work well with this style of stitching – fluid, continuous and relaxed. While it’s nice to have a plan and mark out your design on your pieces, don’t be too rigid in your attempts to follow it. I find, especially when working on small designs and tight areas, that following an exact path can be really tricky! So just use your markings as a rough guide and be prepared to deviate and not follow it to the letter – just go with the flow!

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Free Motion Stitching

A random note: If free-motion stitching has just become your new favourite thing and you want to be inspired, I recommend looking up the amazing machine embroidery done by artisans in the Colca Valley of Peru! I was lucky enough to visit the valley a couple of years ago and was in awe of their amazing skill and gorgeous designs!

Clean-Up Time

How the time as flown, can you believe you’ve finished the quilting part of your Hovea jacket or coat! Congrats! You can now remove your basting stitches or pins, trim threads and give everything a gentle press or steam to get things sitting nicely. If you’ve been quilting pieces larger than your pattern, now is the time to cut them into their final shapes. Something else you might like to do if your stitching pattern is relatively loose and open is to stitch or overlock around the edges of your pattern pieces to ensure everything is secure and your batting isn’t trying to escape. If you’ve only just trimmed down your pieces, stitching around the edge will also help to secure the ends of your stitching which have had their back-tack stitches cut off.

Being able to step back and appreciate your work is such an exciting moment! Seeing it transform from the scrunched thread covered textile, into an awesomely quilted jacket piece is pretty satisfying. It’s also a good moment to check that you’re happy and that there aren’t any edits or extra rows of stitching you’d like to add.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Clean Up Time Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Finished Piece After Clean Up

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Hovea Sewalong: Machine Quilting | Ready For Construction

And with that, we are ready to start construction! How awesome is that? If you have any questions about the topics in today’s post, or you have some handy-dandy tips you’d like to share with us, please let us know in the comment sections below!

Naomi xx


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About Author

Naomi is the Design Assistant here at Megan Nielsen Patterns, and our resident helping hand. She stays busy assisting Meg with pattern development leg work, getting super excited about good instructional diagrams and making green coloured fabric suggestions for every sample we make. She’s a problem solver, a fabric addict, a serial tea-forgetter and a passionate maker.

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2 years ago

All really useful tips. You mention practicing several times, but it can’t be emphasised enough. I recommend making up some tea towel size quilt sandwiches: first just exploring straight and free motion stitching; then, marking designs on top layer then basting to batting and backing and quilting layers. Keep practicing until you are feeding layers without bunching, and can keep stitch length more or less even. It might take several samples to achieve this. Don’t rush the process. If you’re daunted by machine quilting, hand quilting is much easier, and this jacket is smaller than even a lap quilt.