Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting

Cindy Seitz-Krug shares her knowledge gained from over two and a half decades of machine quilting award-winning quilts on a home sewing (domestic) machine.

Best Sewing Machine Features for Better Quilting

Best Sewing Machine Features for Better Quilting

Over my 20 years of teaching machine quilting, I’ve seen students with every make and model of sewing machine in my classes, and I’ve come to realize that there are several features on sewing machines that can really make or break the success of the quilter. It’s also common for my students to ask me about which features they should shop for when purchasing a new sewing machine, so here are some important features to keep in mind when you’re in the market for a new machine.

1) Easily Changeable Presser Feet

easily changeable presser feetThis photo shows several presser feet from my BERNINA 440. The hole in the presser foot simply fits onto a counter part on the machine, and is clamped down with a small lever which you push down with your index finger.One of the most frustrating things I’ve experienced with my students is having to change from a walking foot to a free motion foot if their feet are not easily interchangeable. What I’m mainly referring to are those types of machines in which you have to take out a screw with a screwdriver in order to change the feet. This is a huge pain in the rear! And it’s time consuming. So be sure to buy a machine that has easily changeable feet.

The photo below shows my BERNINA and I love the ease of changing presser feet on my BERNINA. It takes a whole 3 seconds, and I can do it blindfolded!

2) Lots Of Different Free Motion Feet Available

favorite free motion feetThese are my four favorite free motion feet One of the key points in my lecture, “Twenty Tips and Tricks for Better Machine Quilting”, is to have a variety of free motion feet. For some reason, many quilters think that the one free motion foot that came with their machine is the only one they need! How silly is that! Does your spouse only have one screwdriver in the garage? I think NOT! And we quilters need different feet for different quilts. Things like batting thickness, amount of piecing or applique, quilting design, and whether or not you’ve included Trapunto in your quilt will all have differing effects on your quilting. Your quilting can be much easier and better if you’re using the BEST FOOT FOR THE JOB, not just the foot that came with your machine. I have 4 different “favorite free motion feet” in my drawer next to my machine. I may use all four of them on the same quilt. It just depends on which foot I think will do the best job. So make sure that the machine you purchase has many options for free motion feet. (And above all, make sure you can get a metal foot; clear plastic feet are horrible!)

3) Easy To Adjust Top Thread Tension

easy to adjust top thread tensionThis simple “dial” type tension adjuster is my favorite type. It’s easy, quick, and simple to understand. The higher the number, the tighter the thread tension; the lower the number, the looser the thread tension.In my opinion, the simpler the better when it comes to being able to adjust your top thread tension. My machine has a simple dial with the default tension marked in red, and numbers 1-9 to denote how loose or tight the tension is (1 being loose, 9 being the tightest). What I find to be quite bothersome are the fancy machines in which you have to go to the computer screen on your machine, touch the tension button (and if you don’t know what that looks like, you need to look it up in the manual), then go into another screen to increase or decrease the tension. Ugh! What a hassle! And the worst are those machines that have “automatic thread tension”, so if you want to adjust it, you have to override the system. OH PLEASE! So even in this day and age of computers, you can still find machines with simple thread tension adjustment dials, so try to get one that has that. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.

4) A Removable Bobbin Case With A Screw For Bobbin Thread Tension Adjustment

removable bobbin caseThis type of bobbin case that is removable and has a tension screw allows me to get perfect (or nearly perfect) thread tension when quilting.Sometimes adjusting the top thread tension just isn’t enough, and an adjustment to your bobbin thread must be made. In fact, I do this all the time; it’s second nature to me. But if you have a drop in bobbin, you may not be able to do this. Over the years I’ve had students tell me that their sewing machine technicians tell them to never adjust their bobbin case, which I think is ludicrous. But, if they’re that adamant about it, they can buy an extra bobbin case that they feel comfortable “messing with”. At any rate, different threads will require different bobbin case tension adjustments, so you want that to be an easy thing to do. And if a sewing machine salesperson tells you that you’ll never have to do that, don’t be fooled. If you want to get “perfect thread tension” on your quilts, you will most likely need to adjust your bobbin thread tension.

5) Offset Free Motion Foot For Better Visibility When Sewing “Backwards”

offset presser footPresser feet that are offset like this allow for better visibility when stitching backwards, and good visibility is very important! Notice in the photo that I’m ditch quilting in the black fabric. Because the presser foot is offset, I can look ahead to where I want to stitch, enabling me get a straighter, smoother line of quilting.This isn’t mandatory, but I do find it to be quite helpful when I’m stitching backwards. Because my BERNINA’s free motion feet are all “offset”, I can really see well if I’m following marked quilting lines. And with machine quilting, good visibility results in better quilting.

6) A Large Opening To Accommodate Bigger Quilts

I don’t have this on my BERNINA 440, but I wish I did! I’ve quilted king sized quilts on my machine, but they weren’t fun! Now I try to keep my quilts under 90”, but if I had a larger opening, it would be easy to load half of the quilt under the arm. So, my next machine will definitely have a larger space for my quilts.

7) Miscellaneous Items, But Must Haves

  • Needle down option
  • Ability to drop feed dogs
  • Good lighting
  • Single-hole needle plate available

I realize that it may be difficult to find one machine that has all of these features, but at least you have some guidelines now when you’re shopping. Buying a machine is a huge decision, and nobody likes “Buyer’s Remorse”. My goal here is to arm you with some helpful knowledge before you commit because I want you to be happy with your sewing machine, and a better quilter!!

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