Melanie Shortman Tuazon from Mel in the Attic shows you how to free yourself with some walking foot quilting. Experiment, practice and develop some fun designs to incorporate into new pillows! Learn more about Melanie in her introduction, and have fun with the tutorial.

Let us know in the comments if you do some creative walking foot quilting. Do you practice on smaller projects before you tackle a big quilt with a new technique? Have you tried walking foot quilting in the past?

Quilted Pillow Tutorial

Quilting is my favorite part of the process of making a quilt, so it’s pure fun to take it down to a smaller size and play with quilting designs on pillows.

I’m so excited to share some tips on how to make some simple, slightly improvisational quilted pillows that let you experiment with your walking foot in different ways. Walking foot quilting is especially trendy right now (modern quilting rockstar Jaquie Gehring just released an awesome-looking walking foot class), and it can be so much more creative than straight lines and stitching in the ditch.

Setting Up
First, find a walking foot that plays well with your machine. What is a walking foot? It’s a presser foot that has feed dogs on the bottom, usually propelled by a lever that rests on the needle screw. Together with the feed dogs on your machine’s foot plate, they feed multiple layers of fabric– such as a quilt top with batting and backing– through the machine smoothly. This ensures that the stitches are even and gorgeous.

Before starting, be sure to practice on a scrap sandwich to pick the stitch length that you like the best. (My favorite length on my Janome is 3.5 for walking foot quilting.) Some machines have built-in walking foot features and stitch regulators; you can also use these techniques with those.

Next, decide how dense you’d like your quilting lines to be. It can be fun to play with space and density, but I decided for this project to keep the distances relatively consistent. (My personal preference is about 1/2″.)

Finally, if your machine has a needle-down function, be sure to use it to mark your place and keep continuity in your quilting when you start and stop. We’ll also use the needle down function to pivot the quilt sandwich around the needle often. If you don’t have that feature, just be sure to put your needle down manually whenever you stop or pause.

To make each pillow I used 1 yard of textured cotton solid and ¾ yard each of low-loft batting and muslin. I basted a quilt sandwich of muslin, batting and cotton about 24” square for my 20” pillow form.

For thread, I chose Aurifil 12wt cotton to make the stitches really stand out, but the final look is about texture too, so subtle stitching will work just as well. (If you’re using a thicker thread, it can help to use a 40-50wt thread in the bobbin. Also, check your tension; my machine needs to have the tension lowered just a bit when using thick thread or the thread will break frequently.)

Modern Angles
Love the modern look of dense straight-line quilting? Take it up a notch with angles.

I used a ruler and an iron-away erasable pen to mark a right angle on one corner of the sandwich. You can also use masking or painter’s tape to make guides.

Using that line as a guide for the side of my walking foot, I stitch until I get about ½” from the corner. Next, I put my needle down and pivot the quilt sandwich 90 degrees to follow the next line. Once I have one line I use it as the guide for the next line. (Each edge of my walking foot is about ½” from the needle, which helped inform my choice of line density.) When quilting on piecing, you can use seam lines as your guides.

I keep echoing until the space is filled. When it’s time to move to the next area, use tape or a marking pen to section off a square or rectangle. I try to make the different sections different sizes, and always take the thread off the side of the sandwich to avoid having to bury knots. This part of the process is improvisational, so try new things! The most important thing to remember is to keep that needle down when you pivot.

Here is a look at a quilted pillow I made with this design, to see how it adds texture to patchwork.

For a more organic, free flowing look, try waves. I like to think of them as water, but they can also look like bark and flames depending on how you orient the design.

Start sewing your first line moving the quilt sandwich from side to side as you go. (This method gets a little physical, so make sure to take some breaks.) Be sure to allow the quilt sandwich to be grabbed by the feed dogs; don’t use a death grip! Just rest your hands lightly on top and guide the fabric back and forth. Then practice echoing that line.

On the fourth or fifth line, take your wave off on an angle. (Janice at Better Off Thread does something similar in her awesome wave tutorial here, but the way we fill the spaces is different.)

Next, I fill the space very similarly to the way I did angles; I echo one side of the open space until I reach a corner about ½” from two converging lines. Then I put the needle down and pivot the quilt sandwich, following the other side of the open space and sewing off the edge of the sandwich.

I repeat until the space is filled and then section off a new area to fill. The spaces can be big or small, but I always try to keep the spaces wide near the edge so that I don’t have to fill spaces in the middle or bury knots.

I love how this design gives motion to quilts, like this one I made with the Koi line of fabric.

This design gives the impression of circles without closing them completely. The curved, radiating design is good for creating a spiral effect.

Like the other designs, I just sew off the edges of the sandwich to prevent the need to make a knot or bury a thread.

To start, I used an embroidery hoop (though any circular object will work) to trace a circle with a heat-erasing pen. I made sure to have the edge of the circle go off the edge of the quilt sandwich. Then I sewed right on top of the traced circle and echoed all around until the pillow was filled with curved lines. The farther you go out, the straighter they become.

For true spirals, I like to do the center free motion. Then, when the design is big enough to go off the edge of the quilt, I switch to a walking foot to echo the curves the rest of the way like I did on this quilt.

Once the pillow tops are quilted, trim them down to 20 ½” square.

Finish them with your preferred method. I made simple envelope closures in a white solid for mine to emphasize the texture and colors on the front. Here is a great tutorial about finishing pillows.

I hope you have as much fun as I do quilting with your walking foot!