Start Simply With Walking-Foot Quilting
Learn how a walking foot works and the best ways to use it.
Secrets for successful machine quilting with a walking foot.
Most quilters start their machinequilting journeys by using their walking foot to “just” stitch-in-theditch. Sadly, many are unhappy with the results, and their machinequilting journeys are put on hold, sometimes forever.
Walking-foot quilting is more than stitch-in-the- ditch, though, and can be a great choice for beginner machine quilters. A walking foot works with the machine’s feed dogs to feed the layers of the quilt through the machine as it stitches, minimizing the chances of the layers shifting and of quilting puckers and pleats into the project.
The idea of stitch-in-the- ditch is to hide the stitching in the seam lines so that the layers of the quilt are held together without the thread showing, but the trouble comes when quilters actually attempt to keep their stitches inside of the ditch!
Depending upon how the quilt was designed, pieced and pressed, the seam allowances could be pressed in opposite directions on different sides of the block or they could switch directions in the middle of a single seam! Also, quilters might choose light thread to match the light fabric in the quilt, but the thread could contrast boldly on the dark fabric.
I’ve heard many quilters say, “I can’t even stitch-in-the- ditch!” as if they can’t complete the easiest type of machine quilting, when the opposite is true. Stitching in the ditch is harder than you want it to be, but don’t dismay! There are far easier ways to use your walking foot to complete your quilts than stitch-in-the- ditch. When I want to quilt simply with a walking foot, I don’t stitch-in-theditch; I save it as a foundation for more intricate custom quilting.
The simplest stitch-in-the- ditch designs are stitched from edge to edge on the quilt. This makes securing knots easy or even completely unnecessary. Hurray for easy knots! When stitching from one edge to the other edge of the quilt, I begin each line of stitching in the batting/ backing beyond the quilt top, stitch across the quilt top, and then end the
stitching line in the batting/ backing beyond the quilt top.
Some machines have a thread cutter; this is an excellent place to use that feature, if available. When I stitch the binding to the quilt, the quilting stitches will be secured and no one will ever know that I didn’t make knots at each end of each line of stitching.
Where to Start?
When stitching straight lines, I usually start with a line of stitches across the center of the quilt. Even with a well-basted quilt, there is a chance of extra fullness in one of the three layers. When starting to quilt in the center of a quilt and working out on each side of the centerline as shown in Figure 1, any extra fullness can be pushed off the outer edges as quilting progresses.
After I have stitched a line across the center of a quilt, I space the subsequent lines based on the type of batting used, my design preferences, and how soon the quilt needs to be finished! I might mark the quilt top with a marker or chalk pencil. I could place tape on the quilt to mark the distance or quilting lines or I may use the seam-guide attachment on the walking foot to assist in even spacing.
I find it helpful to have both a leftside seam guide and a right-side seam guide to allow spacing for all different types of projects. I learned the hard way that using the opposite seam guide can result in stitching with the entire quilt stuffed onto the bed of the sewing machine. That was no fun, I assure you!
As I stitch from edge to edge of the quilt, I can either quilt all of the lines in the same direction, or I can alternate the stitching direction, like in Figure 2. When line after line are stitched close together, the quilt top could pull away from the batting and backing, and become distorted. In that instance, I would alternate the direction of the stitching. In most other cases, I can successfully stitch in whichever direction is most convenient.
The simplest non-stitch-in-theditch walking-foot pattern is to stitch next to the ditch. I usually choose an easy measurement, like 1/4", 1/2" or the width of the walking foot. I stitch on each side of the ditches and make a plaid pattern with my threads.
Another easy walking-foot pattern is a wiggle. For that, I start in the center of the quilt and either stitch a free-form wiggle, or follow a curve drawn against a flexible curve, or follow a curve drawn against a ruler. I echo that stitching out to each edge of the quilt.
If one wiggle is good, two wiggles must be better. I can stitch the wiggles in the opposite direction and make a wiggly crosshatching design.
For a bit of a workout, try a freeform “follow that curve” design. Start by stitching a wiggly line, but this time change direction by stitching sideways or in the opposite direction. Next, echo that curve several times.
Start stitching in batting/backing.
Walking foot and seam guides.
Button to automatically cut thread.
Marking the wiggle.