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Decorative stitches for quilting

by Grandma Barb
(Southwestern Michigan)

I have a new quilter machine.

I just started doing decorative stitches, but my stitches look better on the bottom than they do the top....In other is backwards, (bottom on top, top on bottom). (My instruction booklet is of no help.)

What am I doing wrong?


First, I humbly apologize for being so terribly late responding to this question. There was a snafu with my hosting company and a while ago well over 100 questions 'magically' appeared in my dashboard. Yours, unfortunately, was one of them. But let's get to work!

Since your stitches look better on the back than the front I'm inclined to suspect a tension issue. But I'd like to backtrack just a bit...

Stitch length

In garment construction (I come from a long line of seamstresses) if you are stitching on thicker fabric, like the thick the layers of wool for a coat, you increase the stitch length to accomodate the thickness of the fabrics.

If you are using these decorative stitches for quilting through the 3 layers of the quilt sanwich, it seems intuitive to me to increase the stitch length for the decorative stitches, too.

You'll have to test them to make sure that the resulting stitch pattern isn't too big for the opening on your presser foot. Hand walk your machine through a whole pattern of the stitches to make sure the needle doesn't hit the edge of the presser foot...only after I'd done this would I stitch that pattern using my foot control.

How much should you increase the stitch length?

I'd bump it up by 0.5 and then test on a practice quilt sandwich and see how the pattern of the stitches look. Continue in this manner until you are satisfied with the look of the stitching.

Adjusting tension

To get comfortable with using decorative stitches for quilting, I'd start with a 50wt cotton (Aurifil or Masterpiece or Presencia are all good choices) in both the needle and the bobbin. There will be the fewest tension adjustments needed for this combination.

As before, stitch a bit on a practice sandwich and evaluate your stitches.

Is there bobbin thead showing on the top or needle thread showing on the backside of your quilt?

Adjust your sewing machine tension as needed. Then stitch a bit of the pattern again and evaluate your stitches.

Record your tension and stitch length settings for this basic combination. Keep a set of notecards or small notebook at your machine and then write it all down. When you start using different decorative threads and possibly different thread types in the bobbin, you'll have a good place to start. Just know that using different threads in the needle and bobbin will require more tension adjustments...that's just how it works.

Typically, when you're using decorative stitches on garments or craft type items, you're most concerned with the bobbin thread NOT showing on the top. We'll sacrifice the appearance of the back to make the front 'perfect'.

But for quilts, we want that back to look nice, too, because:

  1. People are going to see it, and...

  2. The quilt will be used and we don't want the stitches to get snagged.
It all comes down to tension settings and stitch length to make the designs look good.

The only way to refine your settings is to test and evaluate as outlined above...repeating the process until you are satisfied with your thread and stitch pattern choices.

Readers, have you used decorative stitches to quilt your quilts? What successes or problems have you encountered? Please share your experiences using the 'comment' link found below. Thank you!


Julie Baird

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