Thursday, July 8, 2010

Agony Aunt - Dana

Dear Fat Quarterly readers

Hi I'm Dana from

I’ve recently embarked on my very first quilting project, an appliqué quilted pillow.
I'm having a few problems!. I'm using a walking foot but I’m still experiencing puckering. Do you know why this would be? I have spray basted my quilt and used a thick wadding. The project advised that I use this wadding to give a puffy appearance but I think it's too thick for my standard machine in retrospect.

I'm also getting inconsistent stitch lengths. Could this be because the wadding I have used is too thick?

..and whilst I’m on the subject of wadding, I cut the wadding a little larger then I needed it, as I read that it can shrink whilst sewing, but it keeps getting caught in my machine foot. Is there anything I can use instead to avoid this happening in future projects and that still gives a puffy appearance?

Finally, my lovely appliqué which I attached using iron on interfacing is fraying, what with all the tugging I need to do to get it through the machine. I have tried partially rolling it up but it’s a pain trying to get a thick rolled up quilt through the machine as im trying to quilt it. Would I have been better off applying the applique on piece by piece and quilting as I go rather then attaching the whole appliqué on first and then quilting it?

Many Thanks


  1. I find that by basting with pins (no more than 3 finger width apart) results in even (and no puckers) quilting.

    You could try using the spray basting and the pins together.

    Irregular stitch length generally happens to me when I either go too fast or too slow and am pushing the quilt through. I find my going at a fairly even speed, resting my hands firmly on the top of the quilt to guide it but let the walking foot do the feeding.

    Hope this helps.

  2. I made quilts for my girls with lovely thick thick batting and the machine could not cope at all so I hand quilted them.

    I also did something I do on all my quilts which is to bind quite early on in the process - i.e. make a few runs of quilting to hold the whole thing together, bind and then finish the detailed quilting - this way you get rid of all that batting fluff. Alternatively you can trim the batting after a few early quilting runs and run a loose binding stitch around all three layers - top, batting and backing - which keeps the batting out of the machine.

  3. There are a few things i do to help reduce the puckering an this seems to work well whether the batting is puffy or not.

    When you layer up your quilt make sure you smooth every layer as much as possible so that they are as taut as they can be.

    Pin, pin, pin!

    As you've already started quilting i suggest you try increasing your stitch length. I find that the smaller the stitches the more chance i have of getting puckers and a larger stitch length helps enormously.
    Also, if you can see puckers forming, try smoothing the excess fabric out as you are sewing, so that the puckered (excess) fabric is eased in. Hope that helps!

  4. Maybe you could try another batting for your next project...LOL!

    I mostly use Hobbs Tuscany 100% cotton or 80/20 (80% cotton and 20% polyester). It doesn’t pucker at all. Good luck!!

  5. Hi Dana,
    You’ve chosen such pretty fabrics for your project, it’s a shame it’s not going so smoothly, hope the following helps.
    From your description it seems you applied the appliqué shapes after you layered the quilt? I think that would be a mistake for the very reasons you mention. You have to manipulate the whole quilt through the machine just to stitch the appliqué edges, which will fray them.
    A better way is to apply and stitch the appliqué to the quilt top before you layer. That way you can more easily manoeuvre the blocks (or whole quilt) through a machine. I prefer to use a blanket stitch for this type of appliqué as the stitches bisect the edge of the appliqué shapes and prevent the majority of fraying... after a few years you will see a little fraying on a well loved quilt, but in general blanket stitch prevents it. Here’s a link to a bit of my most recent quilt, done with tiny blanket stitch to see what I mean.
    On the batting matter I agree it looks too thick for your machine. I’d use a batting called Dream Puff (from Quilter’s Dream). It’s the same ’weight’ as standard poly batting but it’s considerably ‘loftier’ and makes a perfect compromise between usability and a bit more puff than usual. I think you’d get more even stitch length and your machine would be happier. Linky:
    The puckering problem could well be down to the spray, I’ve never used it and been totally happy with the results, I always end up basting by hand every 4 inches or using a tacking gun. The new Micro tach ones available with tiny tacks are great. I can even hand quilt with those in place (can’t stand the bigger ones as they tickle my arms!)
    For the fluffy foot problem... when you reach the edge of the quilt place a piece of paper over the wadding, you can just stitch onto the paper, problem solved. Just rip the paper away as you go or trim it off when you’re done with the quilting.
    All the best, Ruth

  6. I'm with the others on this. Spray basting is not enough on its own, you need to pin as well, and make sure your backing is taut, but not over-stretched prior to basting. The thick batting is better for hand quilting. Also, are you using a walking foot? If not, it could explain your irregular stitch length - as will pushing or pulling the quilt through the machine.

  7. I agree with what everyone else has said, and would just add--try it without rolling the quilt up. We were all taught to roll it, of course, but nowadays many quilters are finding it works better just to mush it up and work with it that way. Less weight that way, and more flexibility for free-motion quilting. Good luck!

  8. We had an email from Ann:-

    ive had these problems and agree with you that the wadding may be too thick. its also too thick for accurate hand quilting, which i do more than machine quilting. one way i get a reasonable puffy look is to use medium-weight wadding and quilt the top layer and the bottom layer separately then place together, and hold with small areas of extra quilting. applique doesnt fray so much this way , although it does depend on how much handling you need to do and how close your stitches are. hope this helps. good luck

  9. Have you tried lessening the presser foot tension? That might help accommodate the thicker quilt, which could help with the stitch length.

  10. Inconsisent stitch lengths-- be sure that you are loosely holding the quilt to guide and that you have plenty of table space to support your project. When it starts getting heavy on one side, that can make it difficult for the feed dogs, so you will get inconsistent stitches. Also, if you are trying to feed the fabric instead of letting the dogs do their job you will get inconsistent stitch sizes.

    Puckering-- I have noticed that I get a bit of puckering with the spray basting, too. You have to really spray that baby down! Also, your quilting motif may be contributing to the puckering (if you are doing criss crossed lines). Additionally, check your presser foot tension. If there's too much, it's pushing down too hard, and then you are getting puckers.

    Applique-- I think it's probably best to stitch on piece by piece of applique, rather than all at once. I've found that fusible isn't extremely strong, and lots of handling will definitely fray your pieces. At best, fuse them all down and then stitch them down before basting and quilting.

  11. The first question that comes to mind when reading this is: What size needle are you using? I am pretty new to quilting but I would think for a project this thick that you would need a size 16 needle. I would appreciate someone with more experience confirming this.

    The second would be what is your stitch length set to? You want it to be pretty tight when you are piecing/sewing but it needs to be considerably looser for quilting. I usually set mine to 4.

    Third, I agree with the others on the spay adhesive not being the best for basting. One commenter said you really have to spray it on but that seems like it would be a waste. Safety pins are reusable and I feel a good investment. My MIL uses a grapefruit spoon for closing hers.

    Fourth, is your pillow a combination of quilt blocks? If so, you could probably try some "stitch-in-the-ditch" quilting down the rows and/or columns of your pillow and then along the edge of your pillow as close to the edge as you can go. I sometimes do this when my quilt top is smaller than my batting and backing so that I can trim the excess and not have to pull it under my machine.

    Last, I agree with the others about stitching around the applique before you try to quilt it. If you don't have a blanket stitch on your machine you can also use a zigzag stitch.

  12. Make sure you are using a NEW 90/14 quilting needle.

  13. Wow thank you all so much for your detailed responses.

    I will definitely try using pins next time and a different batting. Thank you also for tip on increasing the stitch length I will try this.

    I am using a walking foot, I dread to think how much worse the puckering could have been without one! Im not sure about presser foot tension - my machine has an upper tension control dial to increase or decrease then tension and I've just looked through my machine manual and cant see anything about presser foot tension so perhaps it does not have this feature.

    I did apply the applique pieces before layering the quilt but the project required them to be quilted on for a puffy appearance rather then being attached before I quilted the background.

    The project did state that I should use a blanket stitch for the stems, however my machine couldnt really get the stitches small enough and when I did a trial run the stems looked more like tree trunks!.

    Thank you for the link for the dream puff, I will look that up and see if I can find it in the u.k, great tip about the paper Ruth I hadn't thought of that!

    Finally, my needle is a size 14 and is a needle I bought as part of a set specifically for quilting, its the largest one in the pack. You make a good point about the stitch length for quiulting. It is currently 4.5 so i will try loosening it slightly.

    Ill be sure to remember all this for my next project.

    Thanks again


  14. Hi Dana, you've gotten a lot of good advice in the previous comments. I'll just throw out one more thought. Try starting your quilting lines on opposite sides of the quilt each time--for example the first line of stitches goes from the top of the quilt to the bottom, then for the second line switch it around and stitch from the bottom of the quilt to the top. Even with a walking foot the layers of the quilt tend to "scooch" a bit, especially if it is a thick quilt. Alternating the stitching direction helps to compensate a bit. I know it's a pain to have to flip the quilt around often, but I find it does help.