Monday, October 7, 2013

Quilting Large Quilts

Just finished quilting the Sawtooth Star quilt. I love the way it turned out.

The quilt measures at 96" x 96". It is the biggest quilt I have quilted on my home sewing machine. I have a Bernina 440 QE with a fairly small throat space and quilting this one was a challenge. It required bit of planning.

I would have liked to quilt in straight lines but the thought of pulling the quilt back and forth along it's length did not seem appealing. Robin at RobinSueQuilts recently did something similar. Her quilt was even larger than mine but I did not feel up to it. I figured it would be easier to quilt it in small sections and decided on quilting it with a meandering stitch instead.

I had previously come across two approaches for quilting this:

1) One by Elizabeth Hartman of Oh Fransson! - Tips for quilting large quilts
2) Other by Leah Day of The Free Motion Quilting Project - Quilting big quilts

Once I basted the quilt sandwich I realized there was substantial weight to it. It was an effort to even carry it from the floor to the table. My sewing machine table was unable to hold its weight so I used the dining table. I sat at one end and let the quilt rest along the length of the table. 

At first I stabilized the quilt by stitching in the ditch in a straight line along the center of the quilt.

Then I tried Leah Day's advise - DON'T roll your quilt up into a log to get it under the arm of your machine! If you do this, the whole weight of that quilt will be fighting you

Unfortunately this approach did not work too well for me. It was all too messy and I was handling the quilt excessively. I was afraid the layers would shift and the fabric would bunch up on the back. My arms were sore from handling the quilt and progress was really slow. It was hard for me to keep track of the back of the quilt for tension problems.

I laid the quilt out on the floor again and rolled it into a log. This time around I tried Elizabeth Hartman's suggestion. This worked better for me as things were a bit more neat and organized however as Leah pointed out the weight of the quilt was definitely a factor. I could not traverse the quilt horizontally as easily but vertically it seemed doable. There was still excessive handling in parts but it was a lot easier for me to quilt.

Towards the center of the quilt I held on to the rolled portion of the quilt to move it but as I got to the end, the roll got a lot bigger on one side. Then I would let the roll rest on the table and pinch just a portion of the quilt from below. This is what Elizabeth also suggested doing.

I also did away with the gloves, bare hands worked better for me. I let the non quilted portion of the quilt rest on my lap and pushed the quilt away from me as I finished each little section.

In the end this is the approach I used to quilt it. Each time I was done quilting one quadrant I had to drag the quilt to the floor and roll it in the other direction. 

I learnt a few things along the way:

- Do what works for you. As Leah says there is no right way to quilt.
- Do not hesitate to re-pin the quilt. As a matter of fact I would recommend re-pinning it to smooth out creases as you progress.
- When quilting make sure that you don't let the weight of the quilt drag the stitching.
- Lastly sending it to a long arm quilter may not be such a bad idea. :)

Anyway now that it is done, on to binding and I promise there will be a lot more pictures soon.

Linking up to: Fabric Tuesday, Finish it up Friday


  1. Looks like it all worked out, luckily, with some creativity. Your quilting is gorgeous!

  2. I love you sawtooth star. And those large quilts are a bear no matter how you try to quilt them. Yours looks terrific.
    xo jan@sewandsowfarm

  3. Very useful tips. Thanks so much for posting and your quilt is gorgeous.

  4. This is gorgeous - good job! And thanks for the quilting tips. I've never done a quilt this big on my home machine - it's so intimidating!

  5. I have a 550QE and have done several large quilts, the largest being 96 x 110. I can tell you that a slider and quilting gloves are both a godsend for me when quilting a quilt that large. I don't feel like I have to pull so much. Your quilt looks great!

    :) Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

  6. I must say that you gave me quite a good chuckle. It is difficult to find a comfortable way to quilt on that large of a quilt no matter which method you use. It's true that large quilts are heavy! In the end, your quilt came out beautifully, well done!

  7. Nice work! Love your colors! I have the same machine, which I love, but it can be tight. You did the right thing to support the weight like that. I have done both methods, rolled and Leah's, and I usually end up with at least a loose roll. The other way makes me crazy.

  8. Great job. I have a similar sized Bernina and I would never have thougth that you could do that big a quilt on it. I admire your dedication to the project and thanks for sharing the how to suggestions.

  9. The quilt looks fantastic! Thanks for such a detailed account of the challenge. I love your chart. Make sure you bring it to quilt guild so we can all ooh and aah! xo


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