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Machine quilting out from the center or from side to side. Which is it?

by Ming Cartridge

Ming writes...

(I am sorry that I can't find what your name is.)

I was reading your Beginning Machine Quilting 101. There was a note in the walking foot quilting section. You said that each line is stitched from one side to the other. Do not quilt these lines out from the center as that would distort your quilt.

This is the opposite to what other "experienced" quilters told me what I am supposed to do.

They say that I should "always" quilt from the center out. Could you be so kind to explain to me your reasons.


Julie replies...

Happy to, Ming!

In my description of machine quilting a quilt, starting first with a cross or 'X' of stitching through the center most seam lines to stabilize the quilt and then quilting always to the right of center, a quilter is able to work with only half the quilt under her needle. That reduces bulk under the arm or harp of your machine which is desirable.

Quilting out from the center, as other quilters suggest, you still only have half the quilt under the arm, so in that respect both methods are equal.

The opportunity for problems arises in several areas.

Repositioning your quilt sandwich

Every time you reposition your quilt under the needle, you invite a chance for a tuck in your top or backing. Especially at the beginning when the only thing holding the layers together is safety pins.

Multiply that by four since you'll reposition the quilt that many times just to complete the first two lines of quilting.

After that, at what point do you stop quilting out from the center? Three seams right of center. Four?

In my humble opinion, that defeats the original purpose of that method of machine quilting.

Tying Off

Each time you start and stop a line of quilting, the stitches need to be secured by either hand knotting and burying the thread tails or by microstitching. That means either double the tie-offs or double the amount of tiny stitches—all in the center of your quilt—where the eye falls first.

A quarter inch of microstitches in a seamline, by itself, isn't going to distort your quilt. In quilting out from the center a minimum of four times, now you've got an inch of those stitches within a half inch diameter cirle in the center.

I prefer to not do that.

It's my experience that there's much less distortion with two continuous lines crossing in the center than four lines meeting in the center.

The Birthday Quilt, pieced and quilted by Julie Baird

In a quilt like the Birthday quilt (above) there are four continuous lines of quilting through the center. Each nine-patch and each cut square is quilted:
  • In the ditch, completely around its outside edge, and...
  • Diagonally twice through the center
Working out from the center would have meant 8 lines meeting there.

Warming Up

I've quilted for many years now. Rarely do I warm-up for ditch quilting, other than the stitching on a practice sandwich to make tension adjustments and confirm thread selections.

It takes awhile to settle into a groove for my quilting time. I'd prefer to have that beginning quilting closer to the edge of my quilt, away from the first gaze of someone looking at my work. That's just me I guess, but it is what it is.

And finally...

It works for me...

...every time. I am happy with the end result of my quilt. My stitches are nice and even. The quilt is stabilized with as little 'quilt wrestling' as possible. There aren't puckers or tucks in my backing.

I am satisfied and have no reason to change my methods.

So what's the verdict...

I stand by my recommendation because it is what my experience has proved works best for me.

Does that mean you can't go about your quilting differently?

No. Absolutely not!

There are no Quilt Police (much as some would like to perpetuate the myth). No one will come to your sewing room and give you the 'what for!' if you quilt differently than I do or anyone else. (And if anyone does, go ahead and send them to me.)

What you ABSOLUTELY NEED TO DO is do WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU! Capital letters on purpose! :)

Learning the how's and why's of quilting is best done through your own experience.

For those that suggest quilting out from the center, I expect that is exactly what THEY do and are happy with.

Apply what you know from your quilting experience so far, add in the information you get from others, try different techniques—giving them a good try following instructions from those with experience to the letter.

Then don't hesitate to change things a bit to make the technique work BEST FOR YOU and your circumstances. That's what learning is all about.

Readers, as always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and ask you to share your experiences using the 'Comments' link found just below.

Great question, Ming! Good luck to you.


Julie Baird

Comments for Machine quilting out from the center or from side to side. Which is it?

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Will try side to side next time
by: Jen

I stitched out from the middle on my first quilt and it was a huge headache. I had no issues with finding the middle but was unsure as to where to stop on the edges because of different borders that were not on the straight lines. I also had issues with wrestling the quilt way too many times and ways on a very small necked machine. All the stitch stabilization needed for starting and stopping was another issues. I ended up with tucks in the front of the quilt once I started to stitch more to the sides. I think this was because I forgot which direction I had stitched some of the other lines and when the lines met, the fabric crimped. At any rate, I will try Julie's way next time and see if I have less headache and less crimps.

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