Machine Quilting In The Ditch

One of the final steps in finishing a quilt is the actual quilting process. This is where the three layers (the quilt top, batting, and backing) are all sewn together. There are countless ways to do this! Narrowing down your options can be a difficult process. If you are looking for a simple yet effective way to quilt your project, machine quilting in the ditch might be for you.


stitch in the ditch
Photo courtesy of Follow the White Bunny

What is quilting in the ditch, or stitch in the ditch? This is a method of quilting that puts the emphasis on the quilt design, not the quilting stitches. The amount of thread that is shown on the top of the quilt is minimized greatly when you quilt this way. The stitches are made in the seam lines of the quilt top between the piecework. This method will work effectively on most quilts. Any design, from basic patchwork to triangles or circles, can sing with this quilting treatment. Plus, this method of quilting takes a lot less time than most.

When machine quilting in the ditch, some like to sew directly in the seams, so that the thread is pretty much invisible from the top. Others like to sew slightly off to the side of the seam, approximately 1/8” – 1/4” away from the actual seam. When the stitching is a little bit away from the seam, it may also be called outline stitching.

stitch in the ditch
Photo courtesy of Amanda Jennings

Choose a thread color that matches your quilt top well. Remember, you want the stitches to blend in to the top! If there are too many colors to choose from, try using an invisible thread. Make sure the thread coordinates nicely with the backing fabric, too.If you are new to this technique, here is a brief overview to get you started:

  1. Attach a walking foot to your machine. This will ensure that that your quilt sandwich will be fed evenly through the machine and help eliminate puckers caused by quilting. You can also use a ditch quilting foot. This specialty foot spreads the seams apart while sewing so that you can easily quilt.
  2. To begin machine quilting in the ditch, manually lower your needle directly into a seam between two pieces of fabric.
  3. Place one hand on either side of the seam, and pull the fabrics apart slightly. This will open the space and the seam up, making it easier to quilt in the right spot.

As with any other type of quilting, take time to practice! Even though this technique is very appropriate for a beginner, machine quilting in the ditch isn’t quite as easy as it might sound. If the stitches aren’t straight and steady, the quilting can look sloppy. It takes concentration and a steady hand to keep those stitches right where you want them, whether it is directly in the ditch or just beside them.

This can be tricky, but don’t give up! The more you practice, the better your quilting will be.

  • (will not be published)

2 Responses to “Machine Quilting In The Ditch”
  1. Sharon Marshall
    Sharon Marshall

    This is a lovely article. As a complete beginner could you recommend whether it’s better to start with central seams and work outwards or vice versus please.


      Sharon — personally, I would start in the center and work my way out. I’m going to start a small placemat today and that is my plan! I was looking here to see if I should use a larger stitch than normal. No advise on that, but I think I’ll use a regular stitch.