Machine Quilting Tips

This is my soapbox! This is where a 5’2” woman announces to the world that she quilted a 94” x 94” quilt using her regular machine and states that with the right supplies and instructions she knows you can too! I never thought I would make a quilt that big, but when someone I love was unable to find a lightweight bed quilt in the right color, I did it!

A combination of machine quilting techniques were used; straight line quilting using a walking foot with feed dogs up to anchor large “work zones” and free-motion quilting with feed dogs lowered to add decorative details. Supply choices based on the purpose of the quilt, kept the bundle as lightweight and flexible as possible, made it as easier to maneuver.

Now, you may never want to quilt something that big, but did you consider how much simpler the job could be if you use the correct supplies and technique? Considering those details made all the difference to the outcome of my project and will change yours too.

The information you find here are just the tip of the iceberg. I have a ton of machine quilting advice to tell you here and on my blog.

First, I want you to be successful using the machine you have. Machine quilting is like a big onion, with many layers; you must understand one concept before grasping the next. Trust that I can teach you just one thing and then we will build on that together. Take time to learn before you try only to become discouraged. Understand how supply choices impact the process, how to set-up your workspace to avoid aches and pains, and the tiny details that impact a perfectly formed stitch. Keep reading below and the blog to gain what I discovered over many years of focusing on each and every detail of this skill. If you want all of the details in one place right now, order my book, Joanie’s Quilting Elements or a classroom on a DVD.

Joanie’s Quilting Elements-Seven Simple steps to Navigate and Stitch Quilting Designs Background Bonanza DVD Can You Spare a Square? DVD

This TIPS Page and my blog (Starting Soon) will be our chance to peel back the layers of this big adventure. I am honored to be chosen to teach the skill that will enrich your life with great satisfaction and accomplishment. Let’s get started so you will soon need my quilting designs to make your quilts pretty and unique.

Lea design

List of Resources


classic quiltingFAQ’s  

I have been asked the same questions so many times I decided to write answers to the most frequently asked questions here for all to read and learn about how I create my quilts. Keep in mind that the supplies I use are chosen for the style and purpose of my quilts which are formal and for display, not heavy use however the machine quilting technique will apply to any machine quilting project.

What are you were wondering?

This space is for you, the visitor to this site. Email me with your requests. If I you have a question or need my help, I’ll do my best to find a solution and share the answers.

What is Refined Free-motion Quilting?

Refined Free-motion Quilting, also known as Heirloom Machine Quilting, is performed on a regular home sewing machine, using advanced free-motion techniques. The scale of the work is refined. Straight lines as well as curvilinear motifs are stitched to produce a decorative, sculptured quilt surface. This craft of Heirloom Machine Quilting was originated about 1980 by Harriet Hargrave who wanted to “use her home sewing machine to hand quilt”.

With free-motion quilting, the feed dogs of the sewing machine are lowered, and the operator controls the stitch length as well as the direction of the stitching line with the movement of the quilt with her hands. The quilting patterns are drawn on the quilt top, and followed with lines of stitching.

Quilts with Heirloom Machine Quilting usually include background quilting which fills the negative space around the designs with dense stitching. This creates contrast between the curvilinear shapes and the flattened background space using stippling, echo quilting, repeated patterns, or geometric grids.


Joanie’s Picks – Equipment and Supplies

If you have been in my classroom, you have heard me speak of my formula for successful refined free-motion quilting. These are the products I use to achieve that play of light and shadow across the surface of my quilts. These are my supply choices for formal display quilts, and why I use these products.


In general, use only good quality fabric, you are investing your time, and you don’t want to create problems for yourself that destroy the enjoyment. Take the few minutes to prewash, again to avoid problems of the dye running on to neighboring patches and to know that each pieces has been preshrunk so it won’t pucker and distort your precision patchwork after the quilt has been laundered. Most fabrics we have available today are colorfast and strong, but they do vary substantially in weight and in the tightness of the weave. Batiks for example, are very densely woven and some are heavy in weight. They dull a needle quickly when piecing patchwork as well as during machine quilting. While the make very beautiful quilt tops, avoid a batik as backing.

Keep in mind that our goal is for the bundle as light as possible. If you are creating a wholecloth quilt which uses 6 yards for the top and another 6 yards for the backing, the only other weight you are adding to the bundle is the batting, (oh yes, and the pins, 500 to 600 pins), the weight of the fabric is a substantial percentage of the total weight. If the top is pieced and you purchased 9 yards of fabric, cut it into little pieces and sew it back together, figure the weight of 9 yards of fabric plus the thread. 

Elegant fabricWhat is that silky solid colored fabric you use for so many of your quilts?

The style for many of the quilts I make is elegant, sophisticated and quite formal. I love using romantic floral fabrics with coordinating solid fabrics where to have space where intricate quilted images show off. I have two favorite choices for solids, Radiance and cotton sateen Both add a luxurious elegance to my work because their sheen reflects the light to show off my ornate quilting designs and deeply sculpted background fill patterns.

What is the fiber content of sateen? Are there any special handling instructions or concerns?

Sateen is 100% cotton. The thread is twisted before it is woven so that it catches the light unlike dull cottons. For the better quality sateen the brands to look for are Robert Kaufman and RJR. The price is a bit higher than regular cotton, but a few dollars a yard more goes a long way toward the results I am trying to achieve. I pre-wash sateen just like all other cotton quilting fabrics; to preshrink it and to determine if it is colorfast. When piecing sateen, I mark the top edge of each cut piece to keep all of the sheen running in the same direction when they are assembled into a quilt top.

I also use Radiance by Robert Kaufman. It is 45% silk and 55% cotton, so choose this for heirloom projects, not dorm quilts. It has an illuminating sheen without looking like it should be used for lingerie. The deep, vibrant colors can bleed somewhat, you may use them for a project that will never be washed. If you find that a piece you want to use for a washable project does bleed, follow instructions using a setting agent for silk, let it dry, retest, and retreat until the water is clear. I handle the light colors just as I would cotton fabric, prewash and mark designs on it with a water-soluble marker. You will see many quilted examples of Radiance used for projects in Joanie’s Quilting Elements and as new quilts are added to the gallery. 

And of course, where can I purchase these fabrics?

Finding a good supply of either of these fabrics can be a challenge as the manufacturers add and eliminated colors from their lines often. Support your local quilt shop and then search online. At times you will find lower priced sateen at the chain fabric stores, purchase some to experiment before you by a ton, the quality is not quite as nice as those I have mentioned, it is lightweight and fuzzy.

Fabric Prep/Pin basting for Class Sample Bundles

Pre-wash your fabric and dry in the dryer.

Next, use spray starch to stabilize the fabric before you cut the pieces. Use a generous application for both the top fabric that will be marked with the design, and for the backing fabric, to avoid stretching during the stitching process. Press with the strait of grain with a hot dry iron until it is completely dry.

Pin-baste your 18″ practice sandwich with 16 small safety pins. Tape the stabilized backing fabric, wrong side up, to the work surface. If the surface has a grime resistant coating use regular masking tape, not painters tape. Use 8 pieces of tape, one at each corner and one along each side. Do not stretch fabric. Lay the batting loose, (cut 1″ smaller than fabrics), on top of backing. Center the stabilized top fabric on the layers and tape it in same manner with tape that is long enough to reach the work surface.

You may find it helpful to experiment with the lightweight thread in your machine prior to class. (100/2 silk, 60/2 cotton)  Adjust the tension if needed for the threads to catch one another in the middle of the layers. Read my book, Joanie’s Quilting Elements. Stitch some loops, write your name, trace out a design and follow my stitching advice. Now you have done all I could ask to be ready for our big day.

Keep your eye here, on my Blog, Facebook page and on my Pinterest Boards for loads of helpful information.