Our beginner is machine quilting! See her sublime first stitches

Third time’s the charm! Martingale graphic designer Tara is back with a third installment of her “newbie” series, giving us a peek into the mind of a beginning quilter. Help us cheer her on! This time Tara tackles a topic that even longtime quilters can feel anxious about: machine quilting. Leave your good wishes and advice for Tara in the comments!

You can read Tara’s first post here and her second post here.


In my last post, I was nervous about starting the quilting, and with good reason. Behold: my practice wholecloth sandwich! What a mess! It did its job, though—I quickly learned that quilting is nothing to be afraid of (unless you’re this poor sandwich).

Oh my.

For my Rainbow Runner, I started out trying to “stitch in the ditch.” I thought it would anchor the quilt and help me get a feel for sewing through all three layers before committing to anything too noticeable. I had also heard somewhere that it was a good skill for a beginner to start with. In reality, I couldn’t stay in the ditch at all! Not yet, anyway. Even when I could, I noticed that some of the stitches were visible and others disappeared into the seam. I got through two ditches and wanted to start over—so I ripped them out and pretended it never happened.

Awhile back, Martingale’s director of marketing, Karen Johnson, had suggested that I quilt straight lines by sewing along painter’s tape. It worked really well for me (mostly because I dislike measuring things). I started with one set of diagonal lines across the whole quilt—about eight lines, eyeballed to be about the same distance apart.

I started quilting and realized this was quite an undertaking. I noticed that the way I held the fabric while feeding it into the machine made a big difference. It also had to be folded a certain way to move with ease around the machine . . . then it needed somewhere to go on the other side. It required much more concentration and was far more physical than I expected. Every time I finished a set of lines and still thought it needed more, I wondered, “Are you sure?”

Yes, you’re sure. Keep quilting!

At some point—I’m not sure when exactly—probably around the 50th line—I suddenly realized the quilt felt like . . . a quilt! It had changed right under me into this thick, substantial material that was a lot easier to work with. It had stiffened a little so that it rolled up and folded nicely, and now it had this texture that changed the whole look. For some reason it surprised me—I guess forgot I was making a quilt? Or I didn’t expect it to work? I’m not sure, but I couldn’t stop!

Almost done!

After 69 lines, I had this nice diamond pattern that felt amazing and looked pretty cool, but I also thought it should be just a little more stiff and flat. So I did one more round of lines, which turned my diamonds into wonky parallelograms. Between you and me, it’s bugging me that I didn’t get those nice even-looking diamonds, but it feels perfect for a runner, and I’m chalking it up to a learning experience. Now I know how much quilting density I like, and I can plan my next quilt more easily.


Did you read that? My next quilt! I’m definitely hooked and thinking hard about this project:

Wrapped in Love from Peta Peace’s
A Piece of Cake

But first! I need to bind, label, and use this Rainbow Runner to make my first quilt official. I’ve already got a pieced binding strip and label made. I can’t wait!

Thanks for sharing your newbie story with us, Tara—we all remember those “a-ha” moments when everything starts to click!

Next time we’ll find out how Tara fared with binding her pretty little runner—and finishing her first quilt!

What was the first kind of quilting you ever tried?

• Same as Tara—straight lines on my machine.
• Free-motion quilting.
• I haven’t gotten that far yet!
• Hand quilting, all the way.

Tell us in the comments!

38 Comments (leave a comment)

Leave a comment

*Indicates required field