Straight Line Quilting

When I first started making quilts a long (long) time ago, I never did the actual quilting–I always sent my quilts to someone with a long arm machine because quilting was a complete mystery to me, and way too intimidating. Last year all that changed when I forced myself to go outside of my comfort zone and quilt the mountain quilt I was making for my son. I was super pregnant when I quilted it, which made the process much more difficult. I spent the whole time wrestling the quilt through the tiny throat of my sewing machine, sweating like crazy (both due to being pregnant, and the impending deadline) and worrying that I was completely messing up an important quilt (spoiler alert: I wasn’t). In the end, quilting was not nearly as intimidating as I expected, and I was so glad I gave it a shot, because it gave me the confidence to keep doing it. Now I almost always quilt my own quilts, with one caveat: I’ve only ever done straight lines! Curves and zigzags and designs are a little out of reach for me right now, mostly thanks to my sewing machine, but I’m totally fine with that, because I love straight line quilting. It’s easy to do once you get the hang of it, and it always looks amazing. There’s a few crucial steps to ensuring beautiful straight lines, and I’ll discuss each one in-depth. But first, a list!

Straight Line Quilting Steps

  • Proper Basting
  • Marking the Lines
  • Go Slow
  • Crinkle That Quilt!

That’s it! See, I told you it was easy to do. As with most things in life, quality preparation will be the key to your success. This will be a wordier post than usual, but I hope you’ll find it worth it to read through. I’m writing this assuming you know the basics of piecing and quilting. If not, there is lots of great info out there. Check out quilters like Suzy Quilts or Modern Handcraft for quilty tutorial goodness.

Proper Basting

Let me start out by saying that basting is the worst. It’s my least favorite step in the entire quilting process, and the reason that I sometimes leave finished quilt tops languishing. It’s tedious, stressful (for me at least!), and painful–crawling around on the ground is not my idea of a good time. But it’s one of the most important building blocks to beautiful quilting, so it has to be done! I personally spray baste, and shared a few of my top basting tips in a recent post. There are tons of super thorough tutorials out there. One of my favorites is from Emily Dennis, a quilter I really admire. She also spray bastes and has a saved Instagram story series all about spray basting. Check it out if you’re new to the basting world! My biggest spray basting tip is to IRON the quilt after basting (do the back first). This helps you locate any puckers in the fabric and make sure that everything is laying nice and flat. Check out the backing is this picture–it’s half ironed, half not. You can see why I iron after basting! I do this immediately since the spray I use (the popular 505 spray) sticks extremely well and if you wait too long, you probably won’t be able to move the fabric if you find that you need to. Once your quilt is basted, you’re ready to start quilting!

Marking the Lines

A caveat before I share this one: I imagine a lot of quilters will disagree with me here, and that’s totally fine! There’s no one right way to do anything, especially quilting. This step can add a fair amount of time to the process, but I think it’s well worth it. I do not use a guide on my walking foot when I quilt, which means I mark each and every line I quilt. I prefer this for many reasons. It gives me an obvious path to follow when I quilt. It forces me to stop quilting and take a look at my progress. And most importantly, it means I’m not potentially following crooked lines due to an earlier error. I use a hera marker which is a very simple little tool–and a very handy one. There’s no ink involved, but when you run it across fabric, it leaves an indentation in the fabric, perfect for quilting! I use my ruler to ensure the lines are super straight, and enough pressure to leave a decent mark. It will come out when you wash the quilt, so don’t worry! Alternatively you can use a disappearing ink pen which also comes out when you wash the fabric–in theory. PLEASE be sure to confirm this before drawing all over your fabric! I’ve never had an issue with it not coming out, but you never know.

I typically mark about 8-10 lines at a time, measuring them based on whatever pattern I decided on ahead of time. I frequently quilt 1/2 inch apart because I love the look of closely spaced quilting, and the extra crinkle it gives quilts. After I mark the lines, I quilt right away since it can be hard to see them after a while. (As a note, I set my stitch length to 3.0 and use a walking foot to help feed the quilt through more smoothly.) Then I mark the next set and quilt, and repeat until the quilt is done. If I need to take a break, I just stop marking lines, and pick back up when it’s time to quilt again. This method is great because I can start quilting again after a gap of several hours (or days) and my lines are always straight.

Go Slow

Straight line quilting is so straightforward (ha) that it can be really tempting to zoom through your lines at lightning speed, but this almost always causes problems. You certainly don’t have to go super slow, but a steady speed will ensure nice stitches and straight lines. Often times you will need to adjust your quilt a bit as you push it through the throat of your machine, and if you rush, you risk pushing the quilt out of alignment and throwing off your lines. Similarly, if you don’t take the time to mark your lines carefully, you can start slowly throwing off the slant of your lines–and not realize it until you reach the end of the quilt and discover your last lines of quilting aren’t parallel with the edge of your quilt! This is why I never mark more than about 10 lines at a time. Having to stop and mark more lines gives me a chance to inspect the quilting I’ve already completed and make sure it’s not slowly becoming crooked. Most of my quilts have a seam that I use as my starting point, and I will refer back to that seam throughout quilting to ensure that my lines are nice and straight. This sounds a bit time consuming, and it is, but not forever. My first few quilts were a slooow process but the longer I do this, the faster I get (while still going slow, of course). I’ve become pretty adept at marking lines, quilting (without messing up the lines as the quilt moves through the machine), doing a quick straightness check, and marking the next set of lines. If you decide to do this method, you’ll be getting through your quilts in no time too!

Crinkle That Quilt!

This is the easiest and most fun part of quilting. While your quilt no doubt looks great after your quilting and binding, giving it a quick wash in the washing machine will allow the fabric and batting to pucker a bit between your (super straight) lines of quilting, giving it that “crinkle” that quilters love. I used to be anti-crinkle which is a bit silly, since quilts will eventually need washed, so you might as well crinkle it up front and relish that beautiful quilty texture. Another big plus of washing? The crinkle hides any small errors! You heard it here first–when you see a line that’s just not perfect, go ahead and leave it, and know that your quilt will look great once it is washed! 

Look at the difference in this quilt before and after washing! Both are lovely, but that washed version on the right is just so much more inviting and looks ready to snuggle!

I hope these tips were helpful for you. Remember, quilting is supposed to be fun, so don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear…give quilting a shot and you’ll get better and better every time. Quilts are warm and snuggly even with lines that aren’t 100% straight. My mom always says that if a man on a galloping horse won’t see your “mistake”, then it doesn’t matter. I think that’s the best quilting advice of all!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please be aware that I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. 

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