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3 essential tips that takes stitching in the ditch to a professional level

by Elaine Theriault

Time sure flies when you’re having fun and I had loads of fun this week. Hopefully, you’ve picked up some great tips along the way including those from yesterday when we talked about how to improve your free motion work.

The Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 is a great sewing machine and also an embroidery machine. I was very happy to note that the Designer Topaz 50 is a sewing machine that does both, stitches and embroiders, beautifully which isn’t always the case with a dual purpose sewing machine. It executed all purposes with ease, keeping the quality of the stitches for embroidery and free motion quilting, impeccable. I was very, very happy using the Designer Topaz 50!

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 with optional extension table

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 with optional extension table

Today, I’m going to show you a few things that I did with the Designer Topaz 50. I’ll include tips for stitching in the ditch and more free motion work using the WonderFil threads I used earlier this week on the panel from Northcott. Let’s take a look.

Quilting with a decorative stitch

I want to do some stitch in the ditch to highlight that light border on the snowman table runner.

Snowman table runner

Snowman table runner

I contemplated using a decorative stitch on the Designer Topaz 50 down the middle of the light border instead of (or in addition to) the stitch in the ditch.

The first step was to evaluate the stitches in the decorative stitch menus to see if there was something appropriate. I found Stitch Number F:7 which is a snowflake. The second step was to stitch it out on my scrap quilt sandwich. I did that for two reasons. Some decorative stitches are not meant to be stitched through a quilt sandwich and may not look as pretty as we would like them to be on the back and the second reason was to evaluate the size of the stitch.

F:7 - a snowflake stitched on the scrap quilt sandwich

F:7 – a snowflake stitched on the scrap quilt sandwich

This is the underside of the decorative stitch and it looks great!

This is the underside of the decorative stitch and it looks great!

The underside of that stitch looked just fine on the back side of the quilt sandwich. I would have been happy to stitch that out, but I felt that the stitch width was a teeny bit too small. No problem, the border isn’t that wide so if I don’t put any stitching in it, it won’t be a problem. I was just trying to find another way to use a decorative stitch.

Stitch in the ditch

What exactly is stitch in the ditch? When you press your seams to one side, there is a hill (the seam allowance part) and a valley (the side of the seam with no seam allowance). When you stitch in the ditch, you want to stitch on the valley side of the seam allowance. This will help to tuck the stitching line down into the pre-existing seam so no one can see it.

It’s hard to tell in the photo below, but the seams were pressed away from the center so the top horizontal line has the seam allowance towards the white fabric, meaning the quilting stitch has to be on the blue. On the other side of the white border, the seam is pressed to the blue (both seams are pressed in the direction of the bottom of the photo) so this time, the quilting stitch has to be on the white.

That raises the question of what color thread to use. But having used the InvisaFil from WonderFil earlier this week, I don’t think it’ll be hard to find something that I can use in both spots.

The horizontal seams are pressed towards the bottom of the photo

The horizontal seams are pressed towards the bottom of the photo

I bet you’re puzzling about the direction that the seam allowances were pressed in, especially if you’ve been taught to always press to the darker fabric. I tossed that myth out the window years ago. My motto now is press to eliminate bulk and if that means pressing towards the light – then I press towards the light fabric. I also try to press to be consistent and I think that’s what happened here. It doesn’t really matter – you do what you think is best, but just remember some of those myths? Well, they’re just myths!

The other thing you may notice is that I’m using straight pins to baste my project. This is a case of “don’t do what I do!”. I normally do not baste small items. GASP!  I know – it’s true. Partially because I’m lazy, but I do press all the layers well with a steam iron (front and back – very carefully). Then I throw some straight pins in the project to keep things in place and lastly, I check and check and recheck after every seam to ensure that the back is still smooth in the area that I’m quilting. I would advise that you do NOT do this unless you’re comfortable with the process!

1 Choosing the right thread

I set up the sewing machine for the stitch in the ditch. I kept my light blue 50 weight thread for the bobbin, it matches the backing very nicely and I didn’t want to have to change it.

I had some white WonderFil’s InvisaFil in my thread stash so I popped that on the top. Remember this thread is 100 weight which means it’s very, very fine.

I just happened to have a light blue very fine thread as well as the white, so I used the white on the white section and the blue on the blue section. The lines of stitching are pretty much invisible.

2 Using the a sewing foot with a flange

I attached the Dual Feed foot and used one of the Interchangeable Feet. It has a flange right in the center of the foot. This is brilliant for stitching in the ditch. That flange rode along the edge of hill side of the seam allowance (in the photo below, the seam allowance is pressed to the white) and my stitch in the ditch was perfect. That flange allowed me to stitch at a fairly fast pace and little danger of wobbling onto the hill side of the seam allowance.

Using the Dual Feed foot for Stitch in the Ditch

Using the Dual Feed foot for Stitch in the Ditch

The lines of stitching are invisible

The lines of stitching are invisible

3 Do not pivot when stitching in the ditch

I do NOT suggest that you pivot your work when doing stitch in the ditch. However, if the piece is small enough like this table runner, there isn’t a problem. But if you have to push and shove your quilt under the arm of the sewing machine in order to pivot, then don’t pivot. I work those seams in straight lines, stopping and starting at the edges of each section OR I use free motion stitch in the ditch.

If your piece is small enough that you can safely pivot, then be careful. You want your stitching to come right into the corner as shown below. That means that you may have to shift the work forward or back to make that happen.

Whatever you do, make sure that if you shift the project, that you keep the presser foot down whenever you take the needle in or out of the fabric. If you don’t, you’ll get a little blip at the corner or sometimes, you’ll get a rounded corner. It takes a bit of skill and understanding of how the sewing machine works, but remember, in order to keep the tension, the presser foot has to be down when the needle moves up or down.

Stitching right into the corner

Stitching right into the corner

I know that I’m being super picky here, but if you look at the corners below, you’ll see that the one on the left is perfect while the one on the right has a teeny blip in it and it’s rounded. When I raised the needle, the presser foot was up meaning there was zero tension on the thread. That was enough to cause this little blip!

In the big scheme of things, the corner on the right isn’t bad, but it’s details such as these that will take your quilting to the next level giving your quilting project an overall professional look. It’s up to you how you where you want to take it!

One perfect corner, the other has a tiny blip

One perfect corner, the other has a tiny blip

Free motion quilting the panel

But, getting back to the free motion work on the side panels of my tote bag. I’m working with Northcott’s Artisan Spirit Shimmer Flight of Fancy panel in the autumn colorway and this time I used the floating free motion foot. I loaded the WonderFil’s FabuLux thread on the top, used the InvisaFil in the bobbin. I changed the needle to a topstitch size 14, lowered the feed teeth, put on my quilting gloves and away I went.

I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having!

I fused fusible fleece to the wrong side of the panel motif. There’s no backing as the bag will be lined. This is what the design looks like from the underside. I simply followed most of the lines on the motif. No marking! And I did it all in one stop and start so I had to backtrack over some of my stitching.

Take a close look, there are lots of instances where my backtracking wasn’t perfect. Did I worry? Did I rip it out? Nope and I’m going to show you why.

The underside of the free motion work on a quilt panel

The underside of the free motion work on a quilt panel

In the photo below, the left side is the panel that hasn’t been quilted yet, while the right side (folded on top of the other bag panel) has been quilted.

See how that thread blends right in and provides a lot of texture on the right-hand side? I don’t need to see the stitches, I really just want to enhance the panel and do it fast! So while it may be a bit messy for you, the effect is exactly what I was looking for.

This is one of the huge advantages of having a matching thread to your work. It blends right in and you get the texture, but no visible stitches. You can stitch fast and if you wobble a bit, who is going to notice? Matching threads (and this one was variegated as well) are a quilter’s best friend.

The left side is not quilted, while the right side is

The left side is not quilted, while the right side is

I also did some organic straight lines (using the floating free motion foot) as I was too lazy to change to the walking foot and why should I when I can get the effect I wanted with the free motion foot. This almost looks like a practice piece from a class on free motion quilting.

Simple which is good and also fast!

Organic wavy lines of quilting

Organic wavy lines of quilting


I’m going to chat about density another day, but I want to make a brief and important point here, in the photo below, you can see there’s an area that has no quilting in it. If this were a quilt, I wouldn’t be happy with that. But this is a panel for a bag – I’m letting it go!

Density isn't quite as even as it could be, but this is a panel - it's OK

Density isn’t quite as even as it could be, but this is a panel – it’s OK

If you’re going to do free motion along the sides like I did, be very careful. In an ideal world, you’d have 2″ – 3″ of backing or backing extending beyond your top. I had NOTHING to hang onto when I got into the corner and it was a bit tricky to keep a good stitch length. Do yourself a favor – make sure your backing and batting are larger than the top so you have something to hang onto!

Gosh, I’m thinking this post is all about what NOT to do! I do want to show you that once you’ve mastered the basic techniques, then it’s OK to experiment and do what suits you!

Nothing to hold onto when quilting in that corner

Nothing to hold onto when quilting in that corner

Since the thread was already on the Designer Topaz 50, I decided to forge ahead and top stitch the handles. That thread color just blended in beautifully with this fabric. I love the end result. The thread color enhances the fabric, but not enough to detract from the fabric color. A perfect match!

Color of thread is perfect for this fabric

Color of thread is perfect for this fabric

That brings to a close a fabulous week using the Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 for some great quilting techniques. There were loads of tips and hopefully one or two of them were enough to inspire you to pick a small project and give it a whirl.

Use GOOD tools including the sewing machine, needles, thread, and fabric. If you use inferior products, your results will be inferior as well.

Make sure you doodle – I can’t stress that enough. Most important of all, STOP criticizing yourself. Seriously – STOP! Just go with the flow, use matching threads, use busy backings and just do it!

Don’t forget to let us know if there’s something in particular that you’d like to see quilted. A particular type of project, a particular type of thread or whatever. I’ll see if we can work it into a blog post for you.

Have a great day!


This is part 5 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 4: 6 essential tips for perfect free motion quilting

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LINDA March 28, 2018 - 1:16 pm


Dawn F. October 5, 2017 - 7:58 am

These are great tips. Stitching in the ditch is much harder than one would think, so I appreciate your advice for making it better!

Carla A. Canonico October 5, 2017 - 11:23 am

Thank you for sharing this, Dawn! Happy Stitching!


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