Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Quilt Diagonal Lines by Machine

At the end of every patchwork pattern, there are the dreaded words:  "quilt as desired" 

One of my money-saving tips in my last post was to do your own quilting.  I try to take my own advice, so I do all my own quilting.  I don't like to spend months on every project hand-quilting, so that leaves me one main option:  quilting on my regular sewing machine.  I've been practicing my free-motion, but it still looks pretty awful.  So, I try to do straight-line quilting with my walking foot.  There are few tutorials and resources available for this technique that I can find.
Here is one of my favorite ways to machine-quilt:  simple diagonal lines.  I love them for several reasons.  One, I can use my walking foot or even a standard presser foot.  Two, they require very minimal marking on the quilt top.  Three, any backstiching is hidden under the binding. Finally, I think this design can compliment almost any quilt top, from traditional patchwork and applique to a more modern look.

What you need:
  • basted quilt sandwich (see How to Baste a Quilt)
  • painter's tape
  • yardstick or tape measure.  I'm showing this for a baby quilt, so I just used a yardstick and eyeballed it.  But, if you're doing a larger quilt I suggest using a tape measure.
  • guide bar
  • walking foot (optional)
  • thread for quilting.  I usually use a 100% cotton thread that matches my quilt top so my stitches blend in. 
Let's get quilting:

1.   Lay out tape measure so that it creates a diagonal line approximately corner to corner.  I don't like my lines to match up exactly with the corners, because then it's obvious when they aren't straight. 

Use 4-5 inch lengths of painters tape to mark a straight line on the quilt top.  I don't use one big piece because it's really hard to get a piece that long to cooperate. 
 That's all the marking I do--I told you, minimal marking.  Now it's on to the sewing machine!

2.  If you have it, attach your walking foot.  It will help to evenly feed your quilt top through the machine and reduce puckers.  If you don't have one, don't sweat it, you can still quilt with a regular old presser foot. 

3.  Find your guide bar--I bet that you have one that came with your machine and didn't know what it was for.  If you need to, refer to your manual to see how to install it.  For  my Singer, I just wedge it in under a little metal flap.  With my Pfaff, there's a little screw to help hold it in place.

Set up your guide bar to the distance you want between the quilting lines.  Measure from the needle to the center of the guide bar.  For this quilt, I've set my guide bar at 2 inches. 

4.  Sew along one side of the painter's tape, backstitching at the beginning and end of each row to secure.  The good news is, your backstich doesn't have to look perfect, because it will probably get trimmed off to put on binding or be hidden by the binding itself.

Remove pins as you come to them--do not sew over a pin, it will break the needle and can damage your machine!
You should have one half of the quilt rolled up under your sewing machine arm and the other half well-supported by your sewing table.  If the quilt is not well supported, especially if you are working on a larger quilt, the weight can cause drag.  That leads to sloppy, uneven stitches.

5.  Remove the painter's tape.  Now, slide your quilt through the machine so that you are starting 2 inches away from the first stitches.  Your guide bar should be resting on your previous row of stitches.
It's important to always start on the same side, it will help your quilt lay smoother.  It seems like it would be easier to go back and forth, starting at opposite ends of the quilt for each row.  But, that causes a lot more puckering.

6. Quilt the 2nd line the same way as the first, using your guide bar as a guide to keep your row straight.  Continue quilting lines 2 inches apart until you have finished half the quilt.  Then, turn the quilt around.  (I know I told you not to switch directions, but you have to switch here so that you won't eventually have the entire quilt rolled up under the arm of your sewing machine.) 

7.   Switch the guide bar so that it points out the the left.  I don't think this is something most people do, but it works really well for me.  Adjust it so that it is the desired length from your needle.  Notice in my picture that the bar is "upside-down" because it's usually oriented to the right.  Don't worry, it will still work.

8.  Continue quilting until the quilt top is completed.



  1. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I am making a baby quilt as a gift and wanted to use diagonal quilting but was ready to measure corner to corner. This makes so much sense. And now know what the quilting bar is for! I got one with my machine and they show how to attach it but I never really understood it's use. You have saved me a lot of time that I would have used marking my quilt when it is so unnecessary for this procedure. Thank you again!

    1. I'm glad I could help--it's always great to teach someone a new skill (and save time, too)!


Join the conversation--your comments make me happy!