Quilting Blog

A Beginner’s Guide to Straight Line Quilting

I clearly remember finishing my first queen-size quilt top, Picnic Petals, and then saying “now what?” It was difficult to imagine how I could quilt this huge piece on my tiny domestic sewing machine. After careful thought and research, I decided that straight line quilting was the way to go.

Straight line quilting is great for beginner quilters.

Unlike free motion quilting, you only have to worry about moving your quilt in one direction. Also, you can easily achieve consistent stitches since your machine will help regulate the length. Here are some tips for you to get started:

Step 1: Baste your quilt well, especially if you’re making a large quilt.

Detail of Sun Salutations quilt designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill. Pattern available at shop.wholecirclestudio.com

Photos via Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

If I rush through the basting step, I get lots of puckers and bunching in my quilt.

I prefer to baste my quilts with safety pins and typically place pins every 3″. While it’s tedious, I find this amount of pinning provides better results.

That said, there are many ways to baste a quilt, and you can read about them in this blog post. You can also visit my blog for a video tutorial showing my preferred method for basting. Just remember as you are quilting to stop and remove pins before your presser foot gets to it!

Step 2: Set up your walking foot.

A walking foot replaces the standard pressing foot (what you normally use to piece quilts) on your sewing machine. The design of the walking foot allows for all of the layers of your quilt to move through the machine at the same time, making it easier to quilt and giving you better results.

You’ll also want to consider the design of your walking foot. The toes (or prongs that the needle moves up and down between) on the walking foot that came with my sewing machine are really close together. At times, this makes it difficult to see the area that I’m quilting. A couple of years ago, I invested in a walking foot that was compatible with my machine that has the toes further apart. I found having this extra space to be helpful when quilting most projects.

Step 3: Experiment and test your machine settings. 

I like to keep swatches of basted quilt sandwiches to test my thread tension, presser foot pressure and stitch length before I get started on my actual quilt. As I’m stitching, I can experiment with one or all of these settings until I’m happy with the results.

Thread tension

If your thread is too tight or loose, you’ll want to adjust your thread tension.

Puckering and stitch inconsistencies

If you find your stitches are inconsistent, your presser foot may be too high. If you have puckers in your fabric or indentations near the stitches, your pressure foot may be too low.

Stitch length

Your stitch length is totally up to you! Most quilters quilt somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 (10 to 8 stitches per inch). I prefer the look of longer stitches (closer to a 3.0) but on mini quilts, I sometimes like the look of a shorter stitch (sometimes even closer to a 2.0 or about 12 stitches per inch). Experiment with stitch length and go with what looks good to you!

Step 4: Plan your design and get quilting.

I typically start by using the seams of my quilt top as a guide for my quilting. You can straight stitch quilt right on top of your quilt top seams (also known as stitch in the ditch). In my experience, this can be tricky and difficult to master. I find I have better results stitching to the side of the seam.

I like to use one of the toes on my walking foot as a guide. This helps me achieve straight lines that accentuate the design of my quilt top. I then often use the line I just quilted as a guide for the next line.

Using my quilt top seam and the inside of my walking foot toe as a guide.

Using a quilted line and the outside of my walking foot toe as a guide.

If this results in too dense lines for your taste, you can use another method to mark lines for quilting,  such as painter’s tape or a Hera Marker. To follow the lines marked with painter’s tape, align the edge of the toe on your walking foot to the edge of the tape. Remove the tape when complete (and you can reuse it for a few more times). When I mark my quilt using my Hera Marker, I typically quilt right on the line.

I prefer dense lines (at least 1″ apart) with my quilting. I think it gives the quilt a more finished look and makes the quilt more durable. If you want a more sparse quilting design, check the what the recommended minimum stitch distance is for the batting you are using. This is typically on the packaging.

Detail of Sew Speedy quilt designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill. Pattern available at shop.wholecirclestudio.com

Quilting on a Sew Speedy quilt

Detail of Sew Speedy quilt designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill. Pattern available at shop.wholecirclestudio.com

Quilting on a  Sew Speedy quilt

Step 5: Take your time.

One of the keys to using a walking foot is to go slow. The faster you go, the more challenging it is to control your motion and it will be more difficult to achieve straight lines.

Remember that first quilt, Picnic Petals, I described at the beginning of this blog post? I like showing this quilt to illustrate how easy it is to get started with straight line quilting and achieve beautiful stitches. Not only was it the first queen quilt I ever quilted, but I’m super proud that it was one of three winning submissions to the Modern Quilt Guild/Michael Miller Fabric Challenge. It was also juried into the show at QuiltCon 2016.
Picnic Petals quilt designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill. Pattern available at shop.wholecirclestudio.com Detail of Picnic Petals quilt designed by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill. Pattern available at shop.wholecirclestudio.com

What will you quilt using straight lines? Leave a comment below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill is a designer, pattern writer and award-winning quilter. With the help of books and the Internet, she taught herself how to sew and discovered her love of designing and making quilts. As a trained and practicing graphic designer, her quilts start with a concept and research shapes the design. Her work is inspired by her everyday life and experiences. Sheri strives to make beautiful objects that inspire others to make and learn by providing clear instruction and encouragement. In 2016, she was awarded the first annual Craftsy Quilt Designer Fellowship. Learn more about Sheri and her work at wholecirclestudio.com and on Instagram or Facebook.

24 Comments

Ria Favoreel

What kind of safety pins do you use? I find that a lot of them have really blunt tips, which make holes in the fabric – unlike my fine sewing pins (which are obviously useless for basting large surfaces)…

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Ria Favoreel

Thank you! I knew there must be some special safety pin for quilters. Small holes I don’t mind, they do go away with some steaming/pressing – and probably a lot of them will get quilted anyway. And did I say I really love your quilts…

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Melody Hibbitts

Excellent information. Very helpful, clear and concise. Beautiful quilts and quilting. Thank you for sharing

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Melody. Thank you for your kind words! I’ll be posting a follow up blog post to this one next month. Stay tuned!

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CherryGingham

From the Puckering and stitch inconsistencies section, what do these lines mean?

“your presser foot may be too high”?

“your pressure foot may be too low”?

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Cherry. On many sewing machines there is a knob or button that you can adjust how high your pressure foot is. The difference is usually pretty subtle but can make a big difference. Take a look at your manual and see if you can adjust this on your sewing machine.

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Peggy Williams

I will use your ideas because I never seem to be able to get straight lines. And the note about not going too fast also applies to me, since I love to see how fast I can go, I always mess up my straight lines. I plan to use your ideas to straight line quilt a queen size quilt with dresden rings on one side and stripes on the back. Thanks.

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Peggy. Yes—slowing down should definitely help with achieving straighter lines. Another strategy is to purposely make them all look a bit wavy. If everything is a bit imperfect, it often looks intentional! Thanks for reaching the post and responding.

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Terri Blank

I love straight line quilting! I think it’s classic and clean. I would like to start using a stitch that looks more hand sewn. I love the green stitch in the quilt above. Can you tell me what kind of thread you used for that stitch or any techniques you used to get that look? Thanks!

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Terri. I prefer a quality cotton thread and often use a 50 weight or a little thicker 40 weight. I really like Aurifil because it produces beautiful stitches on my machine, is durable and comes in beautiful colors but there are many threads out there. I often recommend trying a couple of brands to see what works best for you.
Next month I’ll be writing a follow up to this blog post with some techniques that I used when straight like quilting. Stay tuned!

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Beverly

Hi Sheri, My question is what type of thread should I use for machine quilting. I have never quilted a whole quilt before and wasn’t sure what weight of thread to use. That is my project to start the New Year. Hope you can help.

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Beverly. I prefer a quality cotton thread and often use a 50 weight or a little thicker 40 weight. I really like Aurifil because it produces beautiful stitches on my machine, is durable and comes in beautiful colors but there are many threads out there. I often recommend trying a couple of brands to see what works best for you.

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Pat Ost

I have a terrible time sewing in a straight line-my hands are shaky and sometimes I “Jump” RIGHT off of the line I’m sewing. any suggestions for an old lady. Pat

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Pat. Try slowing down your machine. Another strategy is to purposely make them all look a bit wavy. If everything is a bit imperfect, it often looks intentional! I have a couple of quilts that I made wavy and they turned out great. Go with what works best for you!

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Barbara F

Thank you I enjoyed this article and am looking forward to next month’s. Going to take your advice and slowdown my stitching. Your quilt is lovely.

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Jennifer

Hi Sheri, this was a very helpful tutorial, thank you. I have been following you on Instagram for a few months and I’m very interested in learning how to “bury thread” like you do. Do you think you could make a tutorial for that techique? Or point me to one an existing one? Thank you!

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Jennifer. Thanks for following me and checking out the blog. A “burying thread” tutorial would be easy to do. Stay tuned on either my blog or Craftsy’s blog for a quick tutorial in the future. Many thanks again, Sheri

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Lori

I love straight line quilting. I was wondering when starting and stopping in the middle of the quilt do you bury your thread or use smaller stitches or something else? I hate the thought of burying all those threads if I am starting and stopping a lot.

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Lori, I do bury my threads (which can be a lot at times)! My preferred style of quilting is fairly exact, so I don’t mind spending the time. I usually do a lot of quilting and then bury the threads while watching television. There may be other ways to stop and start in a middle of a quilt, but I believe that burying the threads is the most durable method, especially if you’re going to be washing and using the quilt.

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Anne Langham

Sheri, Do you use the same thread in your bobbin as through your needle? My singer has a “hand quilt” stitch that says to put your quilting thread in the bobbin and use a transparent thread through the needle. I”m very scared to do this with it being my first time trying to machine quilt.

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Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Anne,
I do always use the same thread in my bobbin and through my needle. I’m not familiar with the hand quilt stitch. I would make a small quilt sandwich (you can use scrap fabric and batting) and test out the thread and quilting stitches on their first before you move on to your quilt! Also, while not ideal, I’ve ripped out a lot of quilting in the past when I was unhappy with the results. The tiny holes in the fabric from the thread will typically close up over time. As Angela Walters says, a finished quilt is better than a perfect quilt top. Sometimes you just have to give it a try! Good luck!

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Anne Langham

Thank you for getting back to me so quickly!

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