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Stitching in the Ditch

Houses quilt 3

On my sewing machine today: a Houses quilt I’m machine quilting to send to my aunt as a thank-you for hosting me and a friend last summer.

This quilt will be used in Vermont, which has a chilly climate, so I backed it with white polyester fleece. I laid the fleece out on my cutting table with the right side down, then put down the quilt top, right side up, and spray basted the whole thing with 505 Spray and Fix temporary glue. I will wash out the glue when I finish quilting  and binding. (Learn more about spray basting and backing a quilt with polyester fleece.)

Then it was on to the machine quilting. For me, the first step in machine quilting is to stitch the quilt “in the ditch,” which means sewing the quilt layers together in the little depressions that run along the seam lines where the quilt top was pieced together. The red arrow in the photo shows one seam line I stitched in a Coins quilt I made last fall.

Stitch in Ditch 2

I start with the major seam lines between blocks. I work my way from the center seams out to one edge, then turn the quilt and work from the center to the other edge. Once the whole quilt is stitched in the ditch, I can add any fancy stitching I decide to do without worrying about getting puckers on the back of the quilt.

To make the job a little easier, I use a special sewing machine foot called a “stitch in the ditch” foot. As you can see, the foot has a little projecting fin that rides right in the depression along the seam line and helps me guide my stitches. Instead of trying to watch where the needle is going, I just watch that little front fin. You can buy this kind of foot for most sewing machines for about $15 U.S.

Houses quilt 1

If you are really good at stitching in the ditch, you can make your quilting lines just about invisible. (I’m not usually that good, but I try to use a thread color that fades into the background and then call it good enough, however my stitching turns out.)

For this quilt, I used a white, 60-weight polyester thread from Superior Threads and Superior’s super-lightweight Bottom Line thread in the bobbin. I like Bottom Line because I can wind so much more of it on my bobbin than I can if I use a heavier bobbin thread. The fewer bobbins I have to change, the better!

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • karen January 26, 2015, 12:47 pm

    Thanks ! I would like to try backing with it so I searched out your tutorial….very helpful

    • cdmwriter January 26, 2015, 1:59 pm

      Karen, I’ve found that the main challenges with polyester fleece are (1) it’s stretchy. Spray basting your quilt helps fix the fleece to the top so the stretching doesn’t cause puckers. And (2) fleece can drag against the sewing machine bed when you are sewing it. For this, the best solution I’ve found is to work in smaller sections, rather than trying to quilt a whole big quilt at once. Good luck with your quilting!

  • Lily January 26, 2015, 12:49 pm

    60 wt holds? I’ve been taught that 40 wt was for quilting, 50 for piecing and 60 wt for applique and where ever you don’t want the thread to show. I have lots of 60 wt that I would love to use but always thought it would break after time.

    • Felicity Walker January 26, 2015, 2:07 pm

      Lily, according to Superior Threads, Bottom Line is suitable for “any kind of sewing.” I haven’t been using it long enough to tell you from personal experience how well it wears. But it was developed by Libby Lehman, who is a really experienced and well-respected quilting teacher. My sewing machine dealer recommends 40 weight Aurifil cotton thread for piecing. I was machine quilting, so I used Superior’s So Fine 50-weight polyester on the top, and Bottom Line 60-weight on the bottom. For anyone who is puzzled by all these numbers, the higher the number, the finer the thread. 60- weight is thinner than 40-weight. 30-weight is a pretty hefty thread for quilting. I use it when I want to give a hand-quilted look.

  • Suelaroo August 25, 2015, 10:17 am

    Have you posted the way you finish the quilt as you go blocks yet? I do like the way you have quilted as you went along. As you are really quilting when you sew each new strip to the block and batting (and backing), I have usually just done some swoopy curvy quilting to finish blocks like these. But I like your way as well or better because after everything is sewn onto the block, it is also already quilted!

    • Felicity Walker September 2, 2015, 4:41 pm

      Sorry, Suelaroo, I haven’t put that quilt together yet. One of the many things on my to-do list!

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