Every Machine Quilter Needs to Know This One Essential Stitching Strategy

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You’ve pieced together a killer quilt top (congrats!), picked your bottom fabric and purchased your batting. Now you’re wondering how to stitch that fluffy quilt sandwich with your sewing machine. Fear not! We’re here to help.

First, you’ll need a walking foot. This sewing-machine accessory has built-in feed dogs to evenly guide the backing, batting and quilt top through the machine. And it makes it easy to pull off our fave move, known as stitch in the ditch — stitching in the seams (aka ditches) you created when you stitched your quilt top.

We’ve got all the how-to’s right here. Follow along and you’ll have this project sewn up in no time!

1. Make Your Quilt Sandwich

You'll need your pieced quilt top (with seams pressed to one side ), batting (cut to be at least 2 inches larger than your quilt top on all sides) and backing fabric (cut to be at least 1 inch larger than your quilt top on all sides).

To assemble your sandwich:

  • Lay your quilt backing down, right side down.
  • Lay your batting down on top of the backing. Try to center it on the backing, then smooth out all the wrinkles.
  • Lay the quilt top on top of the batting (right side up). Try to center it on top of the batting, then smooth out all the wrinkles.
  • Secure your sandwich by basting the layers together; you can do this with spray adhesive, safety or basting pins or double-sided fusing material, or by hand-basting. (To learn more about basting, check out this tutorial .)

2. Install the Walking Foot

First, remove the foot already on the sewing machine and replace it with the walking foot. Make sure the walking arm is positioned on the screw holding the needle in place — this is what makes the walking foot work.

3. Check Your Settings

Make sure your machine is set to a straight stitch. You can use the same stitch length you used when piecing your top or, if you prefer, a slightly longer stitch. Then adjust your tension properly.

4. Begin Stitching

Select the seam on your quilt top where you want to begin your stitch-in-the-ditch quilting. Place your quilt sandwich under the presser foot, then lower the foot.

Feel with your fingers to find out which side of the seam the seam allowance has been pressed to. This side will be slightly raised. Right alongside the seam allowance, the piece will be lower, creating a ditch; this is where you want your stitches to go. Adjust your quilt sandwich so your needle is directly above this line. Start stitching, slowly at first.

5. Complete the Row of Stitching

Continue to stitch along the seam line, watching the position of your needle to keep it alongside the seam allowance. When you reach the edge of the quilt top, lift your presser foot, cut your threads and begin again on another row.

6. Add More Stitching if Needed

Once you've quilted along each seam line, you may be finished! But to make sure your quilt will hold up to wear and tear, check the bag your batting came in for the recommended distance between quilting lines. If yours are further apart than that (because you used large pieces), consider adding lines of stitching between each seam for extra strength.

One last thing: The stitch-in-the-ditch technique is ideal for beginner quilters but it's also great for anyone working with very busy or bold prints or intricate piecing. Instead of competing with the design, your stitches will fade into the quilt top. All the more reason to make stitch in the ditch one of your fave quilting moves!

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