Quilting is the process of sewing three layers of fabric together to form a thicker padded material, which is generally nice and warm. The three layers of a quilt are the top layer, the wadding (also called batting) and the backing.
Quilting is a very creative process. There are so many different ways to piece together your top layer, which can be assembled using patchworks of different fabrics (this is also a great way to use scraps of fabric you have lying around), and there are no limits on how to quilt your layers together. You can use straight line quilting, matchstick quilting or even free motion stippling to create incredible effects.
Hand quilting has been done for quite literally thousands of years. Fortunately though these days we having sewing machines and accessories which make the whole process much easier. In this article I will review some of the key things to think about when choosing a sewing machine for quilting, and give you my top 5 recommendations for quilting machines.
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Presser Feet for Machine Quilting
Before we get to discussing sewing machine features, it is worth reviewing the different presser feet and accessories which will come in handy when machine quilting. If you make sure you have the correct presser feet before starting, the whole quilting process will be much smoother, trust me!
Edge Stitching / Quarter Inch Foot
If your quilting projects are likely to involve patchwork, an edge stitching or quarter inch foot will definitely come in handy. These presser feet are used when piecing your patchwork. They have an edge or a guide which you line up with the edge of your fabric to give you a perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance every time.
A walking foot is used during the actual quilting phase of your project, when you sew the three layers of your quilt together. A walking foot feeds fabric from the top in addition to the feed dogs which feed fabric from the bottom.
Although not absolutely essential, using a walking foot will make your life much easier, as your layers will be fed through the machine in a much smoother and more even manner. This will help you avoid issues such as puckering due to relative displacement between the different layers. It will definitely make the process easier and you will probably end up with a better finished product as well. Click here to shop for walking feet on Amazon.co.uk.
Some higher end sewing machines have a system integrated into the machine which works in a similar way to a walking foot. The most well known of these is Pfaff’s IDT system, which gives you a very smooth feed. Bernina’s system is called Dual Feed, and Janome’s is called AcuFeed.
One common technique for quilting is called stitch in the ditch, For more info about this technique I recommend reading this tutorial by Jen from Quilter in the Closet. If you’re not using stitch in the ditch it can be difficult to keep even lines when quilting.
Quilting guides can be used when stitching the three layers of the quilt together, and will help you make sure your parallel lines are sewed perfectly evenly. This is a great time saver as you won’t have to draw all of the lines using chalk – just set the quilting guide to keep perfectly even lines. If you don’t have one already, click here to shop for quilting guides on Amazon.co.uk. They are very inexpensive.
Free Motion Foot
A free motion foot (also known as a meandering or darning foot) will be essential if you are planning on doing stippling/meandering on your quilt.
An open toe foot is similar, but it will provide you with a bit more visibility so you can better see the fabric below the needle.
How to Choose a Sewing Machine for Quilting
There are a couple of sewing machine features which you will definitely need for machine quilting, and others which aren’t essential but will make your life so much easier.
Quilting is all about sewing different layers together, so you will need a sewing machine which is able to get through multiple layers of fabric with ease. All of the machines I recommend below will make light work of sewing through multiple layers, even if your top layer is a thick material like denim!
Too small a working space can be frustrating when working on a medium or large sized quilt. Getting a machine with an extension table will help you manoeuvre the quilt more easily, and will make the quilting process much more enjoyable.
You will also want a machine which has a sufficiently large throat space. Also called harp space, this is the space to the right of the needle. Machines with smaller throat space will make it difficult to seamlessly quilt without having to resort to creatively rolling up the quilt to get it to fit through the machine!
Free Motion Embroidery
If you plan on quilting using free motion stitching, you will need a suitable free motion presser foot, which I mentioned earlier, but also the ability to lower the feed dogs on your machine. Look out for Bernina machines – some are equipped with the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) system, which helps keep a very consistent stitch length when free motion sewing.
If you do a lot of free motion work you may want to look into getting a free motion guide grip, a simple gadget which gives you more control over the movement of the fabric.
Basting, also known as tacking, is the process of temporarily stitching the layers of the quilt together to hold them in place before you properly quilt them together. Basting stitches need to be removed, and so I prefer my sewing machine to have the option of sewing long stitches. The longer the stitches, the easier they are to remove! Don’t worry about this one if you prefer to use basting spray to baste your layers!
My Recommended Quilting Machines
These are the 5 sewing machines I recommend for quilting, and they are all available to buy in the UK.
The FS100WT is perfect for quilting. It is a reasonably priced mid-range computerised sewing machine which has 100 stitches. It comes with an extension table, which is great as it will give you plenty of working space. It also has a bunch of other useful features like a stop/start button, speed control slider and needle threader.
You can lower the feed dogs on this machine, and it even comes with a free motion embroidery foot, so it will be ready for stippling right out of the box.
It doesn’t come with a walking foot though, so I would recommend purchasing one separately.
The Brother FS70WT is the younger sibling of the FS100WT and is of the same high quality, but it lacks some of the additional features and accessories that the FS100WT has. It is the least expensive of the 5 machines on my list, and so it may be a good choice for those who have a smaller budget. It has a total of 70 stitches, which is plenty, and like the FS100WT model it comes with an extension table.
You can lower the feed dogs on this machine, but it doesn’t come with a free motion embroidery foot, so you would have to purchase one separately if you plan on doing stippling work. It also doesn’t come with a walking foot.
The Frister+Rossman QE404 was designed with quilting in mind. It has a wide range of stitches, and comes with an extension table
An unbranded version of this machine called “Sewing Machine 404” is available at the moment on Amazon.co.uk. Apparently the seller has said that selling the unbranded version allows them to provide more accessories. If you’re after a great deal than I would recommend taking a look at this machine, as it is reasonably priced and comes with basically everything you will need to get quilting right away.
It is bundled with a total of 13 presser feet, including a walking foot. It also comes with a crazy number of accessories, including 5 pairs of scissors, and 24 thread spools.
Pfaff Ambition Essential
I am a big fan of the Pfaff Ambition Essential, which is a great looking and very high quality machine. As well as being a good all rounder, it is very well suited for quilting.
One of the main reasons I recommend this machine for quilting is because it is equipped with the famous Pfaff IDT system. The IDT system works much like a walking foot, but is integrated into the sewing machine and can be easily engaged or disengaged.
The Ambition Essential also has a pretty generous throat space.
Bernina 570 QE
The Bernina 570 QE is part of the new Bernina 5 series, which was launched towards the end of 2017. It is a state-of-the art machine, and is really is of excellent quality, but as a result it does have a pretty hefty price tag.
As you might have guessed, the QE in the name stands for Quilter’s Edition. This machine really is well suited for quilting. It has a total of 450 stitches, including 73 quilting stitches. And it has a particularly large throat space, which means that it can more easily deal with large projects.
It comes with a good range of presser feet, including a patchwork foot (Patchwork Foot # 97) and a walking foot.
One stand-out feature this machine has is the Bernina Stitch Regulator system, which helps you keep a consistent stitch length when free motion sewing, and will help you achieve that perfect look when stipppling.