This article was written by Gina Halladay. Find her introduction here and enjoy her quilting wisdom below.

Hi, quilting friends! It is my pleasure to be a participant in Quilting Month at Sew,Mama,Sew! I am a lover of fabric. I am a quilt maker.

I know there are probably a bunch of you sewers who are crossing over to quilting and maybe are not quite sure how to about the process of finishing your quilting project, so I thought maybe I could give you a bit of guidance. And while I am no expert, I will share with you what I know.

Quilting your project on your home machine

If you are interested in machine quilting your quilt on a “domestic” or home machine, I highly recommend taking a class at your local quilt shop if at all possible. Knowing how to prepare your quilt properly will make your job of quilting it so, so much easier and you will be much happier with the end result.

“Quilting a quilt” means that you are stitching three layers of your quilt together—the pieced top, your batting and the backing fabric. How close your quilting needs to be is determined mostly by the batting you choose. In general, you should not have an area bigger than you hand that is not quilted, although there are some battings that allow your quilting to be as much as 10 inches apart. Check the information on the batting package.


Gina working on a quilt.

My favorite batting? Hobbs Heirloom. It is a 80% cotton, 20% polyester batting that is perfect for nearly every project. This batting does not need to be pre-washed and has just enough loft. I also really like Warm and Natural cotton, by the Warm Company. Both Hobbs and Warm are available in the normal “creamy color” of batting and a bright white. You can also get Hobbs 80/20 in a black batting for dark projects.

Preparing the quilt
To start, make sure your backing and batting are at least 4 inches bigger than your quilt top on all four sides.

Before you can begin the process of quilting, you must prepare your quilt by pinning (or basting) your quilt together, making sure that your backing, batting and quilt top are smooth and without puckers. There are several techniques/methods of doing this. Again, I suggest seeking the help of an experienced quilter or quilt shop staff. Many quilters pin with safety pins about every 5 or 6 inches, others hand stitch big basting stitches throughout the quilt.

Me? I have converted over to spray basting. I get me a big ‘ol can of basting spray—it is a bit expensive, but the $15 can do several quilts. There are many brands out there. Some do not have an odor, others do—but most work relatively the same. I spray the wrong side of the backing and lay down my batting. Then, I spray my batting top and lay down my quilt top. It is easy to reposition and to get the project nice and smooth. You can sew without getting a “gummy” needle and the spray washes out on the first laundering. I love the stuff. I probably like the brand 505 Basting Spray the best.


Which thread will you use?!

Choosing your thread
What is next? Picking the thread color and pattern for your quilting. There are times when you want to pick a thread color that really “Ka-Pows!” the quilt—and shows off the quilting. There are other times when you want to pick a thread color that “blends” or is not so noticeable on your quilt top. There are beautiful variegated and tone on tone threads available as well as regular solid colored threads available in different weights (like 40, 50 or 60—the higher the number the thinner the thread.) A good resource for reading about threads is at Superior Thread’s website. They put out an informative newsletter that addresses many questions about threads.

Your thread should not be discount or bargain thread. You should be using a strong, high quality thread—it can be cotton, a blend or polyester. (I always piece with 100% cotton, but quilt with a variety of “flavors”.) Besides Superior, other brands I like include Aurifil, Mettler, PermaCore and Signature.

Size and pattern

For your first quilting project, I suggest quilting a table runner or small wall hanging. Size does matter. The throat space on your machine and the size of your project really determines how easy you can quilt using your domestic machine. You will be rolling up and “shoving” and moving your project around the throat of your machine.

You can mark your quilt top with a pattern to sew. You may use stencils, templates to mark your quilt using a washable pen or pencil. This will allow you to follow a pattern while you sew. You may also follow the seam line and “stitch in the ditch” of that seam line. You should try to remain on one side of the seam line of the other and try not to cross back and forth.

The easiest to start would be to mark a straight line pattern to follow. Start in the center of the project and sew outwards. Checking the back and adjust the backing if necessary to avoid puckers. Most quilting magazines offer suggestions for quilting patterns and techniques.

Do not be afraid to try quilting on your own machine. This is a process that takes time and practice (and some unpicking!) but you can become a great quilter. You may become frustrated with the space limitations on your machine when you advance to bigger quilt projects.

Sending your quilt out to machine long arm quilter

If you want to “send your quilt out” to be quilted, you can take it to a long arm quilter who owns a giant, industrial-looking sewing machine. A long arm sewing machine is just that… It has a long arm or throat space that allows your quilt to be quilted easier and faster. A long arm machine is placed on a big table or stand that allows your quilt to be “racked up” with your top, batting and backing perfectly sandwiched together. The long arm machine is big…the table is usually 12 feet long and 4-5 feet wide!

A Gammill Statler Stitcher quilting machine.

Because the throat space is so big—it usually has between 12” and 22” of quilting space depending on the size of machine—the quilter has hundreds of quilting pantograph (edge to edge) patterns to pick from as well as using stencils, templates, and other patterns. An experienced quilter often uses no pattern and just quilts “free motion” and feels inspired by the quilt top itself.

There are different skill levels for long arm quilters. Some quilt only edge to edge patterns and they can “crank” them out, and others will quilt only custom quilts that will be entered in shows and contests. These quilters maybe quilt only quilt six or so quilts in a year. I know of one quilter who spent over 2,000 hours quilting on one quilt—she did win “Best of Show” and won a ton of cash!

Today, there are also computerized quilting machines which offer even more flexibility and literally thousands of quilting pattern options, from simple to extremely complex, and you get perfection in the quilting. I started my long arm quilting business on a Gammill Statler Stitcher Computerized Quilting Machine. I now own a Gammill dealership and quilting studio, Cranberry Quiltworks. I would be happy to answer any specific questions or send info to anyone who wants it. You can email me a cranberryquiltworks at gmail dot com.

A Gammill quilting machine.

How much?
The price for “sending out” your quilt really varies depending on what part of the country you live in and what kind of quilting you want done. An “allover” or “edge to edge” quilting pattern is the cheapest (FYI: at our studio, a 60” x 60” lap size quilt would cost about $80 for the quilting) and most quilters have a faster turn around time with an edge to edge pattern than with a custom design. Custom quilting may involve many patterns or thread color changes and is much more expensive, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars.

Finding the right quilter
To find a long arm quilter ask at your local shop about long arm quilters they may recommend. You can also attend a quilt guild meeting in your area and ask around. Some long arm quilters offer first time customers a discount in order to get your business and others may offer discounts for faithful customers.

Ask to see a quilter’s work before you give them your quilt. Discuss thread colors, pattern options and the turnaround time and get an exact quote before you leave. Another thing to think about before leaving your quilt: Is the quilter’s place of business animal- and smoke-free?… Your quilt could be hanging in the quilter’s place of business for weeks.

Another service a long arm quilter may offer is to bind your quilt. I have had customers who want a completed quilt, binding done, when they come to pick up their quilt. However, this too can be expensive. Make sure you get an exact quote for binding services. Sometimes binding can be as much as the quilting.

Over the years, I have been inspired and have taught some incredible people in this industry. I hope this info has been helpful. Enjoy the creative process whatever you do.