How I machine-quilt . . .

In case you’re just joining my story in progress, my latest project is machine-quilting a satin Log Cabin quilt top hand-stitched and hand-embroidered by a woman in the 1920s while she was dying of cancer.

Satin Log Cabin quilt top
Satin Log Cabin quilt top

“Pissing off the purists” is my response to those who insist I must hand-quilt the top as well. It took me four years to hand-quilt my first quilt (from the summer of 1976 to Christmas 1980 (or was it really ’81??)). I have no desire to repeat the experience.

In order to leave as small a footprint as possible, I am stitching-in-the-ditch ALL embroidered seams (though I have found one short unembroidered seam that must have slipped by).

Some of the Log Cabin blocks are larger than their neighbors, resulting in uneven sashing between the blocks and zig-zag borders. I decided to stitch the sashing rows first, locking the blocks in place. Then, on a block-by-block basis, I will quilt each Log Cabin block from the outer “logs” inward, so the excess fabric falls to the center of the block.

(I have an idea of what to do with the excess fabric, but you probably won’t like it, so I’m not gonna tell you.)

Since it does no good to show you the quilt as I progress (you can’t see the stitching in any event), I’ve drawn a representation of the quilt, using bold lines to indicate what’s been quilted. Here’s where I am currently:

Vertical sashing and center horizontal sashing stitched
Vertical sashing and center horizontal sashing stitched

Today, I want to show you the steps I take to stitch these seams.

First, I pin along the seam I intend to stitch with safety pins parallel to both sides of the seam, and straight pins perpendicular to the seam:

Pinning the seam prior to stitching
Pinning the seam prior to stitching

Next, I roll the quilt to the right of the seam. This roll fits in the throat of the sewing machine. I hold the roll in place with bicycle clamps (which are normally used to keep pants legs clear of the bicycle chain):

Rolling the quilt
Rolling the quilt

I am sewing on a 30-year-old White sewing machine that sits within a cabinet for a sewing machine I threw away years ago. Behind and to the left of the cabinet are two plastic folding tables, set at right angles:

Machine-quilting setup
Machine-quilting setup

The bulk of the quilt rests on the table to the left, and the entire quilt slides along the table to the back as it is sewn:

Preparing to stitch
Preparing to stitch

I insert the quilt roll into the throat of the sewing machine, and line-up the seam I’m stitching. I lower my presser foot, and pull the bobbin thread to the top. I use my right hand to guide the quilt roll and I run my left hand along the seam in front of the presser foot (to prevent embroidery stitches catching on the presser foot toes). I take several short stitches to lock them in place, then lengthen the stitches (my left hand is missing from the photo below because it is holding the camera, right??).

Stitching a seam
Stitching a seam

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed back to the studio. There are plenty more seams to stitch. I’ll be back to show how I handle the Log Cabin blocks once they’re locked into place.

Thank you for reading; please leave a comment below.

8 thoughts on “How I machine-quilt . . .

  1. Was interesting seeing how you pinned it with straight pins one direction and quilting pins perpendicular!! I will have to try this! Looks way more stable!!! 🙂 watching from the sidelines, has been a great game so far. To bad we can’t hear the audibles from the field, LOL!!! Or maybe it’s a good thing!!

    1. Speaking of audibles . . .

      I started listening to “Under the Dome” by Stephen King while quilting this piece . . . thirty-four and a half hours. We’ll see which one I finish first.

  2. Raymond,
    I read an article in a July 2004 issue of Big Block Quilts about you and your quilting gallery. I was especially interested as my maiden name is HOUSTON!!!! I am not Mexican either. Rather, I am white Anglo-saxon Protestant, or some such thing. Mostly English and Irish. I checked out your site to see if we may be related; and have come to the conclusion that we are probably distant – very distant – cousins, once I saw your photo. I love your work! You express my opinion so graciously! I don’t make mistakes when I quilt, each one is a creative original … sometimes more original than I planned! Thanks for the confidence to speak out on my ways, while I avoid the quilt police. I am at my girlfriend’s place, and using her email address … we have a quilting weekend planned, quilting for charity. Thanks for sharing. This is a great site to visit.
    Eileen Liddle, nee Houston
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  3. Mr. Houston:

    I am recent arrival in the world of quilting and just discovered your website. Your method of machine quilting is similar to the one I used to complete the quilt sandwich for my first and second quilts. I, too, use a “vintage” sewing machine. From what I have seen of your quilt top thus far, this is shaping up to be a beautiful quilt. Best of luck with the remainder of the process.

    1. Ed, “Mr. Houston” is my father, lol!! Please call me Raymond!!

      I’m always pleased to meet a fellow quilting fellow . . . thank you for the compliment and good will.

      I’m nearly done with this project, and eager to start the next.

  4. Hi Raymond, I’m just catching up on some posts I missed in January. I saw this post and I have to say it made me laugh out loud. “Pissing off the purists”… Ha! that’s priceless ! 🙂 BTW, your Log Cabin is looking beautiful. Best wishes from Marina & Daryl at Q.I.

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