A sewing machine is an essential part of the quilting process, so you’ll need to know the types of things to look for when purchasing a sewing machine as well as how to thread it and wind a bobbin properly. But the important thing to know as it relates to quilting is how to sew a perfect ¼” seam. Sewing a consistent ¼” seam is the most critical element in making sure your quilt top comes together nicely because if that seam is off, your entire quilt will be crooked.
First, you should ensure that your sewing machine is a good fit for you. You’ll be spending a number of hours sitting in front of your sewing machine, so make sure it’s comfortable to sew at and that it fits in your space nicely. You don’t want to feel cramped. You should also read the instruction manual that comes with your machine. Sewing machines don’t all work the exact same way, so you’ll need to learn how to use your machine properly as well as how to care for it.
Perhaps you think you need a really expensive sewing machine. The truth of the matter is you don’t unless you just want to splurge on one. You can get a perfectly good sewing machine for around $100, maybe even slightly less. A machine with all the bells and whistles and other perks is not likely to get used and is not essential to quilting, especially if you’re a beginner quilter. A basic sewing machine that sews a straight, uniform stitch without pulling the fabric or making it pucker can do the job. However, if you want to machine quilt you should consider a machine with adjustable feed dogs so you can disengage the needle when necessary. You can disengage or cover the feed dogs and use a free-motion quilting foot if you want to start doing free-motion quilting, a technique where quilting stitches are added by sewing in any direction on the surface of the quilt. There are a variety of stitches when it comes to sewing. For instance, if you want to do appliqué you will want a machine that does a decorative stitch such as zigzag or a blanket stitch.
Additionally, although most sewing machines work similarly when it comes to threading the machine and winding a bobbin, you’ll save yourself from unwanted stress if you first read how to do this properly on your machine. See the pictures below for guidance on threading your machine and winding a bobbin. You can also do a search online and find countless helpful videos showing you how to do it step by step.
So that all of your pieces fit together properly you’ll need to ensure that you have an accurate seam guide, as the guide lines on the throat plate are not always reliable. Some quilters will purchase a machine that already has a ¼” presser foot or they choose a standard presser foot and make the necessary adjustments to it. You can also just change the needle position. However, even with all of these options, you should still do a test to make sure your ¼” seam is accurate. If your presser foot doesn’t give you the perfect quarter-inch seam and you cannot reposition your needle, then you can make your own ¼” seam using masking tape on your throat plate. Just use graph paper as a measuring tool and carefully trim the paper along the grid line. Then place the graph paper under the needle and slowly lower the needle into the grid one line from the newly trimmed edge. Use masking tape to mark the new seam guide’s location ahead of the needle. Let’s say you unknowingly sew two seams together and you’re off by a mere one-tenth inch. Unfortunately, by the time you finish sewing all the seams on your pieces you’ll likely be off by at least one inch. This will not bode well for your quilt top.
Make sure your sewing machine is always in good working condition. Your quilt depends on it. This means having it serviced at least once per year. Also, some quilters are adamant about changing their needles often, some after four hours of sewing. A good rule of thumb is to change your needle after eight hours of sewing. Your needle will stitch through your fabric thousands of times, so it can get dull or even bend. As you can imagine, this will cause stitches to skip or break and that will cause all sorts of problems in your project. Your sewing goes much more smoothly when you replace your needles regularly and when you’re using the correct size needle for the fabric you’re working with. It’s important to recognize what type of needle you need to use for the thread you have. Using an appropriate high-quality 100% cotton thread is essential because if you use low quality thread in your quilts the threads are likely to break and fray.
Once you master sewing your quilt top together properly, you have graduated out of the quilting for beginners category, and now you are ready for the more advanced parts of quilting. Congratulations!