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9 essential tools for successful quilting on your domestic machine

by Elaine Theriault

I’m so excited to be back with the Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 sewing and embroidery machine. I’ve been sewing up a storm and there isn’t anything that this machine can’t handle!

This week, I’m focusing on machine quilting. A quick confession – I’m a long arm quilter, although I teach people to quilt on the domestic machine. I had so much fun quilting on the Designer Topaz 50 and it performed beautifully.

Follow along this week and see how amazingly easy it is to get great machine quilting results. There are loads of tips for all aspects of the quilting process.

Let’s get started!

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50

When I chat with quilters about machine quilting, it’s always about how afraid they are of messing up their quilt. The other thing I notice is that most people think that quilting is all about sitting down at the sewing machine and quilting.

If only it were that easy. While the end result is certainly very dependent on the quality of the sewing machine, there are many other factors and tools that come into play when machine quilting.

Today’s focus is all about some of the tools that are critical to successful machine quilting.

Exploring free motion quilting tools with Elaine Theriault

Free motion quilting fun

1 Extension Table

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 with optional extension table

Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50 with optional extension table

If you’re serious about machine quilting on a domestic sewing machine, the first thing you need (besides getting an awesome sewing machine like the Designer Topaz 50) is to get an extension table.

I’ve been piecing and quilting with this table for several years and I can’t say enough about it. The front edge is curved so there’s zero danger of your work getting caught or being dragged over a sharp edge like on other ‘straighter’ extension tables.

The purpose of an extension table is to give your hands some place to rest while controlling the quilt. Think of the extension table as your steering wheel. You don’t need a huge steering wheel to drive your car – you don’t need a huge extension table to quilt your quilts. You can only control the immediate area surrounding the needle of the sewing machine.

This extension table provides just the right amount of room, particularly the area to the left of the needle. Compare the first and second pictures above. See how little room there is to the left of the needle without the extension table? If you didn’t have the extension table, where would you place your left hand when trying to control your quilt? The quilt would fall off the bed of the sewing machine.

There’s a nice ruler guide on the front as well so if you’re piecing and need a quick measurement, the ruler is very handy.

I NEVER sew or quilt without the extension table. I LOVE it! It’s a must accessory!

2 Straight stitch plate

Straight stitch plate

Straight stitch plate

This Straight Stitch Plate isn’t absolutely necessary to successful machine quilting, but it helps to provide a nicer stitch.

The larger hole in the general purpose stitch plate allows for more movement of the fabric. The larger opening is necessary when doing decorative stitching, zigzag, etc. You know when you start a new line of stitching and the fabric gets sucked into the bobbin case through that large opening? That doesn’t happen when you use the straight stitch plate.

I try to use the straight stitch plate as often as possible for piecing and quilting. Make sure that your needle is 100% centered when you insert it and it’s not a bad idea to manually lower the needle in the event that it’s not positioned quite right. There’s very little space surrounding the needle.

I would also suggest that you go into your settings and engage the Stitch Width Safety. You’ll not be allowed to select any stitch that moves the needle out of the center position. You’ll get a pop-up message when you turn on the sewing machine if you’ve engaged this feature. Saves a lot of worry about what mode you’re in. I use it whenever I have the straight stitch plate on the Designer Topaz 50.

3 Dual Feed Foot (aka walking foot)

Dual feed foot with interchangeable presser feet

Dual feed foot with interchangeable presser feet

This is a must have foot if you’re planning on doing any stitch in the ditch quilting. It also works like a charm for serpentine lines, grid quilting, top stitching and yes – I even use mine when I apply a quilt binding.

The purpose of the Dual Feed Foot is to move the top layer of your project (the quilt top when quilting) at the same rate as the feed teeth (in the sewing machine) move the bottom layer. If they don’t move at the same rate, you may end up with a top that is slightly stretched.

When you’re piecing, it’s easy to control your work as you can pretty much see the edges of both pieces at the same time, but when quilting, it’s impossible to see the bottom. It’s for this reason that pinning long expanses of fabric (like borders) is CRITICAL to a beautiful finished product!

The Husqvarna Viking Dual Feed Foot comes with three different feet that snap into place. I’ll be showing you one of those feet in a post later this week. I mostly use the one on the right with the wide opening so I can see what’s happening when I apply quilt bindings. The openings on either side become great placement guides for the wider than ¼” seam allowance that I use when applying my bindings.

Left and right guides for the Dual Feed Foot and an instructional manual

Left and right guides for the Dual Feed Foot and an instructional manual

If you want parallel lines of quilting you can use the guides that come with the Dual Feed Foot. There’s one for the left and one for the right depending on the direction that you’re sewing. You can see in the picture above how they slip into the back of the Dual Feed Foot.

And not a bad idea to take a quick peek at the booklet if you’ve never put a walking foot on before.

I’ve found that there’s a LOT of valuable information in these booklets! As always if the Dual Feed Foot isn’t on properly, the sewing machine will not stitch properly.

One thing I should mention. To some, my studio might look a tad messy, but I’m a stickler for keeping things together. My Dual Feed Foot and all the accessories are stored in the original box which is then kept in the drawer with all the other presser feet. There is ZERO excuse for it to go astray.

4 Free motion presser feet

Various styles of free motion presser feet

Various styles of free motion presser feet

There are numerous styles of free motion presser feet that you can purchase for the Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50.

I missed getting a picture of the one that’s included with the Designer Topaz 50 but it does come with one style of free motion/embroidery foot.

You’ll notice that some of the presser feet have a spring and some do not. Some come with a guide as pictured above. There’s a purpose for each of them and it all depends on the kind of quilting that you’re doing.

My two favorites are pictured above – a spring action open toe foot and a floating (non-spring) open toe foot. I like the fact that the foot is metal and there’s an opening at the front of the foot which allows me to see right into the tightest areas that I’m quilting.

I would strongly suggest that you play around with the free motion foot that comes with the Designer Topaz 50 and then book an appointment with your Husqvarna Viking dealer so they can show you what other options are available.

Or you can check out the Husqvarna Viking Accessory Catalogue and look at the quilting presser feet starting on Page 64.

It’s easy to set the Designer Topaz 50 for free motion quilting. See the box in the photo below with the squiggly line? Hit that button and you’ll get a pop-up message asking if you’re using a floating (non-spring action) presser foot or spring-action presser foot.

And what is the difference?  I like to use the floating feet, but I do find that some threads, especially some heavier threads, work best with the spring-action.

Just be aware that there are two options and try both (because you’ll have bought one of each kind of foot!) to see what works best for the quilting/thread that you’re working with.

The box with the squiggly line sets the Designer Topaz 50 for free motion quilting

The box with the squiggly line sets the Designer Topaz 50 for free motion quilting

Pop-up screen to choose between Floating Free Motion or Spring-Action Free Motion

Pop-up screen to choose between Floating Free Motion or Spring-Action Free Motion

5 Machine quilting gloves

Machine quilting gloves

Machine quilting gloves

Some form of machine quilting gloves is essential, especially if you’re working on a larger project. You hands are oily or cold, your cotton quilt fabric is slippery and when you’re trying to move the quilt with your hands, it’s hard to get a grip.  If you don’t have a good grip on the quilt, your quilting will not be smooth. Remember – the ease at which you move the quilt is what dictates how smooth the lines of stitching are.

Some people use gardening gloves. Personally, I find them bulky or hot and sweaty.

This was a new pair of gloves that a friend (designed by the award-winning quilter herself) gave me to try. I used to cut the tips off a couple of the fingers of my own gloves so this felt weird with two fingers missing completely.

I liked the feel of the glove and they certainly helped to move the fabric nicely. I think it’s a question of getting used to them.  But gloves are essential to smooth, even quilting. If you don’t have quilting gloves – buy a pair!

6 Thread

Two spools of Wonderfil thread and pamphlet outlining their thread line-up

Two spools of Wonderfil thread and pamphlet outlining their thread line-up

I could go on for days about different kinds of thread. There are so many options available. Thread weights, colors, styles, glitz or not.

It’s essential that you use GOOD quality thread. Do yourself a favor and do NOT use those old spools of thread that your grandmother left you. Thread has a shelf life. I find the biggest issue that most people have with their quilting is the thread. Good thread equals good quilting.

A quick mention of what type of thread to use. For piecing, I like to use a 50 weight cotton thread. The Designer Topaz 50 loves the thread. For quilting, I use whatever I can get my hands on that works in the sewing machine (haven’t had to give any thread away so far) and it can be anything from cotton to nylon to rayon and many other types.

I can’t say this often enough – use a GOOD quality thread for piecing and a GOOD quality thread for quilting. It’ll show in your end result.

I had two different (WonderFil) threads to play with (in addition to using my own thread stash).

The variegated thread is from the FabuLux thread line which is a 40 weight – 3 ply thread.

The brown thread is from the InvisaFil thread line which is a 100 weight – 2 ply thread.

As I work with those threads later this week, I’ll be providing a bit more information as to what tension settings I used, and whether I used the thread in the bobbin or on the top or both.

FabuLux (the variegated) and InvisaFil (the brown)

FabuLux (the variegated) and InvisaFil (the brown)

7 Marking tools

Various marking tools

Various marking tools

Like the threads, I could go on and on about the pros and cons of the various marking tools that exist. I’ll show you later this week which one is my favorite.

Let’s just say that you need to be fully aware of the pros and cons of each tool. Some will work perfectly for one application and be lacking in another.

Some things to consider when choosing a marking tool:

  • Can the project be washed after it’s completed to remove the markings?
  • Will the item need to be ironed at some point?
  • What length of time will occur between the marking and the quilting? (don’t laugh as this can be an issue!)
  • Is the fabric dark or light or a combination of both?

That list is not inclusive of all the questions you need to ask, but it’s a starting point. While it’s OK to ask your friends which marking tool(s) they use, I find that it’s essential to do some experimenting on your own.  Buy one of each type – try them out. Do you like it? Does it work for you and your style of quilting?

We each have our own style, so be sure to find a marking tool that YOU like.

I used to do a lot of marking when I first started to quilt and now I try to not mark if I can avoid it. Why? It takes time to mark and takes time to remove the mark (if necessary). I’ll like to use marking tools to create registration lines, but rarely for marking an entire design. More on that later this week.

8- Sewing machine needles

I’m not going to go into great detail on sewing machine needles, but again like the thread – good quality needles equals good quality quilting.

Bigger is better than smaller and make sure that the needle matches the thread weight that you’re using.

When in doubt, buy Quilting needles and use the large ones for thicker threads and the smaller size for the smaller threads.

9 Clipboard, scrap paper and a marker

Scrap paper on a clipboard with a marker

Scrap paper on a clipboard with a marker

The items shown above are ESSENTIAL to good quilting.

Why? Well – here’s the thing and this seems to be one of the hardest for people to understand. People will look at the quilting of someone with more experience than themselves. They seem to think that most of us were born with superior quilting skills. Not so – I’ve come a long way from when I first started to quilt many years ago.

Have you ever tried to pat your head and rub your stomach? Try it! It’s hard – right? Well imagine sitting down at your sewing machine and you’re trying to move the fabric under the needle of the sewing machine AND you’re trying to figure out where to quilt. It’s HARD. Very hard. While we think we can multitask, few of us can do it well. If you become familiar with the many aspects of quilting one at a time, you’ll be much more successful.

That’s why the paper is so essential. Practice your designs on the paper first before you hit the sewing machine. Work out the issues. Do you always work yourself into a corner? Practice on the paper so you can figure out how to not do that!

I was chatting with participants attending a machine quilting class about how useful a tool this was. After we had attended a guild meeting and heard the guest speaker say that she doodled her designs on paper before doing them on her quilts, one of those students turned to me and said, “Oh – she designs her stuff on paper first!”.

I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t work out the logistics of what design you’re going to stitch, you’ll never be successful (unless you happen to be a super gifted artist). For the rest of us, we’ve got to work a bit more at it.

I’ll be going into more detail on this amazing tool tomorrow so be sure to come back and see how useful this is.

There you have it – some of my all-time favorite – NO – those items are must have tools to successful machine quilting. Even if you miss one of them, you’ll run into trouble.

Check around your house – do you have them all? If not, better get shopping!

And while all these extra tools are essential to successful machine quilting, if you don’t have a great sewing machine like the Husqvarna Viking Designer Topaz 50, you’ll still be able to quilt, but you won’t get great stitches. Wait until you see some of the results. This sewing machine shocked me at how easy it was to quilt with and the results are amazing.

Have a great day!


This is part 1 of 5 in this series.

Go to part 2: The power of paper, marker and clipboard for free motion quilting designs

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Jenn Martin October 5, 2017 - 11:09 am

Great advice on quilting on a domestic machine!

Carla A. Canonico October 5, 2017 - 11:26 am

Thank you…we want everyone to enjoy the art of quilting!!!

Cynthia September 18, 2017 - 9:39 am

Thanks, Elaine — I made a set of placemats from a kit “recently”, and I made hot mats out of the leftovers. I’ve wanted to machine quilt the mats, but my first attempts went horribly wrong. I see now I had the wrong foot on my machine.

Oh, and BTW, that is a handsome looking sewing machine!


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