Thursday, September 14, 2006

Beginnings and Endings

I asked in my last post about how to begin and end quilting neatly, and got some helpful replies.

I know some folks feel that the back doesn't matter, it's all about what's on the front. I agree with that maybe 75%...which is to say that I don't worry much about how the back looks, and in fact I typically put a big splashy print on the back so the details of my quilting aren't quite so obvious.

But the 25% of disagreement comes from several thoughts. First, I make quilts. Sometimes art pieces, sometimes bed quilts, some contemporary, some more traditional. And for me, good technique is part of what I'm striving for. It's not the only thing, and it's not the biggest thing. But I'm proud to be part of a quilting tradition, and I have no quarrel with the expectation that the work be well-presented on both sides. Plus, I know that there've been plenty of times where I've seen a striking piece (whether it's an art quilt or something more traditional) at a show, where the design is really good and the color is effective...and the closer I get, the more disappointed I am at the really sloppy technique. (I'm not saying here that I don't like raw edges and wonky bits and nonpointy points.) But maybe this is for another discussion.

Anyway. I don't like the fact that my not knowing how to do this seemingly simple thing gets in my way. So, I"m trying to figure it out so I can move past being impeded by this.

Okay. On the free motion quilting, here's what I've been doing with great success. I take one stitch (really, just roll the needle down and then up again), then pull on the upper thread tail until the loop from the bobbin thread comes up, and then pull the bobbin thread to the top. Then, holding both threads out of the way, I stitch once or twice in that same place, then stitch forward a ways, stop, and cut off both thread tails.

For stopping, I do what I Ricky Timms shows on his DVD... As you slow to a stop, you end with a few teeny stitches, then raise the presser foot and needle, pull the fabric a few inches away so you can catch the upper thread, then keeping the upper thread looped around your left index finger, you bring the needle down once in the same place where it came up... Again, raise the needle and presser foot, pull the fabric away a few inches, and pull up on the loop around your finger. It pulls the bobbin thread up to the front and you can snip both off. Everything is secured by those teeny stitches you took just as you were stopping, but it's not visible because you're not stitching over other stitching.

But as for the straight stitching, not free motion? Here's where I've not perfected a method. I've tried starting, stitching a stitch or two then back stitching for a stitch and moving forward again, but my Bernina always does two back stitches when I wanted one, and I see a heavier mark where the stitches were back-stitched over. It looks clumsy to me.

I've tried just starting and going forward (thinking to tie the threads or bury them later), but what tends to happen is that I end up getting the threads tangled in or sewn in by what i'm doing, and that makes a mess that is hard to totally erase later.

So, here's what I'm trying now when I'm quilting with feeddogs up and a walking foot or other regular foot on. I pull up the bobbin thread with one needle insertion, as described above, then I set the stitch length to almost 0 and take a few really teeny stitches but still moving forward and not in the same place so as not to get a little blob on the back...then I increase the stitch length to normal and go on my way. I can cut the thread tails off and it's secured. I reverse the process for stopping.

So far, this seems to be working well but I have to think about's not automatic.

And really, when I quilt on my Juki, I tend to use the thread-cutter button on the foot pedal, which cuts when you want it to and leaves a tiny 1/4" tail on the back. The only problem with that is that it's not so fun to go find all those teeny tails to snip them off, but it sure makes for quick quilting.

If anyone has any other suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them. This is one of those things I'm sorta paying attention to right now, as I'm trying to do more visible quilting, dark thread on light fabric, and fully allowing the quilting to show on back. I'll see how it goes.


  1. I agree with your thought that the back should look nearly as nice as the front. I'm pretty sure I learned that approach from my 7th grade Art teacher who taught me my first embroidery stitches. She encouraged us to tie off rather than carry the thread across the back to the next spot. I loved her and must've internalized her advice. I've tried tying off machine quilting in all the various ways you've described and like the method that brings both tails to the top and then takes small stitches. I agree, it's tedious, but it's faster than quilting by hand! :D

  2. Sounds like you have a good plan to me. You said it works, but isn't automatic, but I think it will be with practice.

  3. I do what you do and then search the back for the tiny threads! I am a real newbie at free motion quilting and am still trying to just get the stitches uniform. Invariably the quilt gets caught up on something and then my careful pacing goes to pot..I learn and
    I love the circles you did on the quilt!

  4. With sraight stitching I do what you describe towards the end of your post: pull up the bobbin thread, set the stitch length to 0,5 and take a few stitches, then increase the stitch length to normal and go on my way, cutting off the threadends as I move along. And the reverse when stopping. I really think this is the best way, and if you do it often enough, believe me, you stop thinking about it and it becomes an automatic thing! :-)

  5. Diane, thanks for bringing this start and stop stitching always has bothered me also. I'm going to try the down to zero stitch length and I'll let you know how it goes for me.

  6. oh, and i used a light gray solid backing on my last quilt because i wanted to actually evaluate the appearance of my quilt lines on the back and the front. i think i'll continue to do this with backing fabrics until i'm satisfied with what i'm doing.

  7. Diane Gaudynski (sp) says to start and stop walking foot quilting by gradually increasing stitch length and gradually decreasing at the end. I've been trying that, but I don't know that it works better than other methods. As far as tails go, I cut the top thread very short, leave bobbin long, then after quilt is out of machine I pull sharply on bobbin thread, the needle thread comes through (or buries itself in batting actually) and then I cut bobbin thread off very short. This does not leave a visible tail, and because the bobbin threads are longer, they're not that hard to find. I don't like the bobbin thread pulled to front on straight stitching though. Why would you want the mess (if there is one) on front rather than back?

  8. This tip was given to me years ago, and can be done from the front or back. Thread a needle, putting *both* cut ends through the eye which leaves you with a loop of thread. Run the needle through the layers of the quilt,going in where the tail ends come out, pull the ends through the looped thread and tug. Clear as mud? It is neat and quick and I'll try to do some photos of the technique on my blog.

  9. Anonymous5:49 AM

    I just learned this trick at Maurine Noble's machine quilting class and it works with the bernina. (i use my featherweight so much i forget about anything fancy)

    Anyway, IF your machine has stitch memory or preferences, set the zig-zag width to zero (equiv. of straight stich) and set the zig-zag length to .5 or something tiny. Then when you start and end hit zig-zag. Until you turn off your machine (which resets it) you have a one button lead/end stitch. With in the ditch quilting, don't cut and start over, just pull along and cut the treads before you switch directions.

    I can't wait to try it on my next top. I've just been mucking along, hating the back stitch look and not sure what to do either.

    PS just remember to set the width to zero before you do it with the single hole plate in...great way to break a needle i found out!...oops