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Guest Tutorial With Heather Jones: Straight Line Quilting

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One of the very first people we profiled in our Creative People We Love series was Ms. Heather Jones. Ours is a long lasting love! When we originally met Heather, we knew her as the beauty and brains behind Olive & Ollie, a site specializing in some of the most adorable children's clothing we'd ever seen. And although O&O is still a creative outlet for Heather, most recently, she has been making quite a name for herself in the world of Modern Quilting: winning numerous contests, getting ready to debut her own line of Modern Quilting patterns, becoming a member of the Riley Blake Design Team, and just last week, doing another guest appearance on Quilting Arts TV. We feel very, very special and lucky that Heather found the time to create today's awesome Guest Tutorial on one of her specialties: Straight Line Quilting. Enjoy... and be watching this woman; there are certainly more amazing things to come!

Follow Heather on her blog.

Straight line quilting is my favorite type of quilting. I love the clean, modern feeling it gives to a quilt design, and I especially love dense quilting, with lots and lots of lines. I'm excited to share some of my tips on straight line quilting with you today.

To get started, you'll need a quilt top, a quilt back, your choice of batting (I prefer cotton), thread, safety pins, blue painters tape, and a walking foot for your sewing machine. Straight line quilting can be done without a walking foot, but in my experience, things go a lot more smoothly with one. It has built-in feed dogs that help move the top layers of fabric through your machine, while your machine's own feed dogs move the bottom layers through. This helps ensure the layers don't shift while you are quilting.

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We'll start by making a quilt sandwich, which consists of three layers: the quilt back, the batting, and the quilt top.

First, lay the quilt BACK on a flat surface, right side down. Use the blue painter's tape around the perimeter to hold the edges in place. Smooth out any wrinkles or air bubbles that may occur with your hand, pull the fabric taut, and secure with pieces of tape.

NOTE: Your backing piece should be a few inches bigger than the size of your quilt front, just in case there is some shifting of fabric during the quilting process.

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Next, place the batting on top of the quilt back. Again, smooth out any wrinkles or air bubbles with your hand.

Finally, lay the quilt top on the batting, right side up. Once again, use your hand to smooth out any wrinkles or air bubbles in the fabric. This diligence to remove air bubbles and wrinkles from each layer reduces the amount of puckering that may occur in the quilting process.

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Pin baste all three layers together.

NOTE: You can use regular safety pins, but I prefer to use special quilter's pins, which have a bend in the part of the pin that pushes through the fabric. This little bend in the metal makes pinning through all of the layers much easier.


Once you have pin basted the quilt sandwich, carefully remove the painter's tape that is holding down the quilt backing.

We're almost ready to begin quilting! I say, "almost," because before I start to quilt, I always use a scrap of fabric and a scrap of batting to make a swatch to test my stitching. By testing the stitching on a swatch, I can see if I need to adjust the tension of my sewing machine, the stitch length, etc.

Simply place a piece of batting between two pieces of fabric (the same fabrics and batting that you are working with) to make a mini quilt sandwich. If you're using cotton batting, you don't really need to pin baste this together because the fabric will stick to the batting.

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Before you even start stitching on the swatch, change your sewing machine needle! I always like to start with a new needle on every project, especially when I am going to be quilting. I've seen my friends here at Sew4Home make this recommendation as well, and I want to emphasize its importance.

Below is a picture of the machine I use to do most of my sewing and quilting on. It's an older Janome; it's not computerized, and it's not fancy at all, but I love it. It's a real workhorse and makes beautiful stitches.

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When I am straight-line quilting, I always increase my stitch length and decrease the pressure of my presser foot. Not all machines can make these adjustments, but if yours can, I highly recommend you do both before you start to quilt. By decreasing the pressure of the presser foot, there will be less chance of the layers puckering during the quilting process.

With your new needle in place and your machine settings adjusted, it's time to start quilting on your swatch. Run a few lines of test stitching, then look at the stitches both on the front and back of the swatch. Make any adjustments needed to the tension and stitch length, and keep re-testing until you are satisfied with the quality of your stitches.

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I always quilt using gloves, which are readily available at your local fabric store or online. They are cotton quilting gloves with small rubber dots all along the palm side. The rubber dots help grasp the fabric, making it easier to move all of the layers through the machine. If you're in a pinch, rubber kitchen gloves or clean gardening gloves can also be used.

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Let's start quilting!

On small quilts, I always start on one side of the quilt and work across the width of it, until I have quilted the entire piece. Also, I always backstitch at the beginning of each line of quilting to lock the stitches. When I start quilting, I use the edge of the fabric as a guide, keeping my walking foot placed along it as I stitch.

Go slowly as you begin to move the fabric through the machine. Be sure to remove the safety pins as needed. This should be done when your machine is stopped with the needle in the down position so the fabric doesn't shift.

Keep quilting in a straight line until you get to the end of the quilt top. Lock your stitches at this end as you did at the beginning.

Remove the quilt from the machine and clip the thread tails close to the fabric at the beginning and end of the stitching. This will keep them from getting caught in the next line of quilting.

I use the previous line of quilting as my guide for the next line, keeping the edge of my walking foot against it while I work on the next line of quilting.

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NOTE: If you want to do straight line quilting, but not as dense as my example, you can mark lines on the quilt front with a marking pen to use as a guide. If this is your choice, use a water soluble marker to draw on the quilt front, marking out your quilting design before you create your quilt sandwich. You can also use a quilt bar attachment for your walking foot, which is like an "outboard ruler" that runs along the previous line as a spacing guide for the current line of stitching.

Straight line quilting, especially the dense variety I love, takes a lot of thread! If you run out of bobbin thread in the middle of a line of quilting, don't worry.

Just fill the bobbin with thread and replace it, re-thread your machine, and drop your needle back into the quilt, a few stitches above where the quilting stopped (ie. where you ran out of thread).

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Make two to three stitches there, and then backstitch to lock the stitches. Then, continue quilting as before. After you finish that line of quilting, take your scissors and snip the tails of the thread.

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Another tip that helps with both straight line quilting, as well as other types of quilting, is to use quilt clips to roll up the quilt sandwich as you work.

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Quilts can be kind of bulky to move through your machine and these plastic clips can really help reduce that bulk. Just roll up your quilt, slide the clips on, and place your quilt on the machine. Much easier to handle! Adjust the clips as necessary to unroll as you quilt.

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Straight line quilting is seldom perfect, and if you're not happy with a line of stitches, don't be afraid to rip it out. Just use your favorite seam ripper and carefully remove both the top and bottom stitching.

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I use a lint roller to pick up all of the excess threads before I begin to quilt again. Quick and slick!

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Before you know it, your beautiful quilt will be done!

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I'm putting a bit of a positive spin on things. In all actuality, straight line quilting, especially as dense as I prefer to work, takes a lot of time. Be sure to take as many breaks as you need. Get up, stretch your arms and your neck, and remember... you don't have to finish the quilting all in one session.

Even though heavy, straight line quilting does take a lot of time, I certainly think it's worth the effort! I love the look of it, and it is honestly my very favorite type of quilting. You'll see there are little imperfections in the lines, and most are not perfectly straight, but I think that adds to the character of the quilt. It's one of the things I love most.

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When you are finished quilting, trim off any excess batting and fabric from the back, and bind the quilt as desired.

Follow Heather on her blog.

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Comments (45)

Darlene R said:
Darlene R's picture

Heather. Can't thank you enough for this tutorial. I have been battling with a large queen size quilt and straight line quilting. I was getting puckers no matter how carefully I pinned and sewed. The tip you gave to lesson the tension on the presser foot really helped. I was getting so frustrated but now can imagine my beautiful quilt actually being finsihed.Thanks!

Cheryl Mahon said:
Cheryl Mahon's picture

I jsut found this site a couple days ago. I am a quilting newbie and this is a wonderful tutorial. I noticed that many of the comments were made a while back, but thank goodness no one took this down. I am now ready to quilt a baby blanket for my friend. I am so excited. I even liked the hinit about taking a break. I am older and that will help me to a better job. I like it that I don't have to start in the middle--that is what scared me the most about doing this first quilt. Thank you so much for the time it took to put this together.

Sharon N said:
Sharon N's picture

I have always wanted to know, do you always straight line quilt in the same direction?  Or do you go back and forth?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Sharon N - there is no hard-and-fast rule. Many quilters like to alternate directions because it helps even any shifting. But -- we'd suggest doing some additional reading on quilting forums as well as testing to find your personal favorite.

Deborah B. said:
Deborah B.'s picture

You have made my YEAR!!! I've been wanting to try quilting on my machine. My intuition told me it would work but I've always been too afraid to try. Until today, after reading your tutorial I said "What the heck" and gave it a whirl. There is nothing perfect about this baby quilt except the love that went into it and I'm thrilled with the way it came out.

   Thank you Thank you thank you!

anne.adams said:
anne.adams's picture

@Deborah B: Congrats on just going for it. I bet your baby quilt is lovely. Heather Jones, the author of this tutorial, is an award-winning master quilter -- she will be glad to know she inspired you to start quilting on your sewing machine.

Cheryl Theus said:
Cheryl Theus's picture

I have sewn for years AND GO FAR BACK AS HAND SEWING AND QUILTING SMALL BANNER QUILTS. I started patterns, paper piecing and got very dramatic with my style.  I am older now and want to simplify my projects.  This technique will be IDEAL and keep me excited to quilt again.  Thank You for this post that Ginger Kebler took the time to share with her friends and fellow stitchers from Neal's in Muscatine!!  I see making runners and placemates with quilted rings for the napkins as a way to gift for this years Christmas giving.


Deborah N. said:
Deborah N.'s picture

I am new to quilting in rows like this, but am wondering if it is okay to do it on the diagonal, or would I run into bias problems????? I don't know if that even makes sense! I just don't want the stitching to stretch any of the fabric. Thank you for any information you are willing to share!


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Deborah N - by the time you get to the quilting process, your fabric is cut, pieced, layed and basted. The trickiest part of stretching is with pieces cut on the bias, such as triangles. Handling them roughly (pulling them or stretching them) early in the process can cause distortion. Stitching on the diagonal isn't a problem; the machine and the quilt don't know you're going diagonally.... to them,you are still stitching in a straight line.

Janet Kelly said:
Janet Kelly's picture

Just found this and it's really useful.  I'm using a walking foot, but am not able to change the pressure on the foot.  However, I'm having trouble keeping the stitch length constant on a large quilt, particularly towards the end of a long row - the stitches tend to get shorter.  Any tips?



Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Janet Kelly - I'm not an expert when it comes to quilting (that's why my friend, Heather did this article!), but it sounds like the weight of the quilt pulling through at the end of the row might be causing an issue. If you can work on a large table so your quilt is well-supported out the back, it might help you control the stitching. Beyond that, adjusting your Walking Foot pressure sounds like a local dealer issue... although I know that all machines allow you to adjust the presser foot pressure. Finally... searching and asking on a quilting site or forum could yeild more expert advice 

Janet Kelly said:
Janet Kelly's picture

Hi Liz,  Yes, I've looked at some other sites and suspect that you'r right, so I'll give it a go.

Many thanks,


TanRey said:
TanRey's picture

Wow! Thank you so much for an amazing tutorial! The wonderful world of quilting is still new to me and I am yet to finish a quilt.... Your tutorial is just the "nudge" I needed. Thanks again.

Nicci C said:
Nicci C's picture

If I wanted to use this technique for a larger quilt, would I begin in the middle of the quilt?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Nicci C - Heather recommends working from one side to the other, allowing you to roll up the quilt as shown. That's when the quilt clips as well as a machine with a large bed space come in handy. However, if your quilt is quite large, you can certainly start in the middle, quilt to one side, then flip it all around, start back of your center line and go out towards the opposite end. That's what's great about this type of quilting. There are no rules; it's all about what feels right and is easiest to you.

Nicci C said:
Nicci C's picture

I am SO HaPpY!   This is THE BEST tutorial I have found on finishing a quilt!  Thank you!!!

CindyP said:
CindyP's picture
This was such an informative tutorial! I do NOT sew at all and just last month I bought a Bernina machine and sewed some fabric strips onto flour cloth dish towels. I took NO lessons and just two days ago made my first lap quilt with a jelly roll. And now with your tutorial I'm ready to straight line quilt it. I hope I haven't messed anything up by putting a 1/4" seam around the edges after squaring and trimming the quilt sandwich up. I thought it made sense to do that. After reading this tutorial it makes sense NOT to do that. I am so excited about starting this. Your information is so easy to understand and inspiring. Thank you.
Roberta T said:
Roberta T's picture
Good little tutorial. I was looking for a more modern way to quilt some of my quilts and I found it here! Thanks.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ linda paiz - Janome is one of our great sponsors, but as a separate company, I don't know all the details about every machine. I know there is a new model available through Hancock Fabrics called the 8050. If this is the machine you are referring to, it looks like a very good model with lots of flexible features. If you are just getting into quilting, it would be great. In the future, you may want to look at some of their models with larger bed spaces and some straight stitch needle plate options. Your best option is always to check with a local Janome dealer and try machines side by side. You can also visit the janome.com website and do some online comparisons.
linda paiz said:
linda paiz's picture
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ stitchappy - I spoke with Heather about your question regarding substituting clothes pins for quilt clips. Here is her response:

As far as the clothes pins go, I think that might work, but it really wouldn't address the center of the quilt as far as I can tell. I can see them working on the ends of the rolled up quilt, but I don't think they would be able to be clipped to the center of the quilt, so she may still have some issues with the bulk of the quilt sandwich in that area.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ mjb - I spoke with Heather, and neither of us have heard about the warning to "never back up with a walking foot." We both use Janome machines and have not run into this prohibition. Both of us have back stitched with our walking foot with no problem. You might want to run this question by a local dealer of your machine sewing for more specific technical advice.
mjb said:
mjb's picture
i thought you should never backstitch with a walking foot as it will ruin the foot?
I do love this idea since I always struggle with quilting design and usually end up just outlining the shapes, instead of actually dense quilting.
Thanks and please address the "backstitching" with my pressure foot.
Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

My Viking machine manual says not to backstitch with a walking foot, but it recommends beginning and ending your stitching with a few tiny stitches, instead (on my machine the tiny stitches are set as "1" which is quite short.) 

quiltcrazeegwen said:
quiltcrazeegwen's picture
I have just re read your tute here as I am ready to straight line quilt a baby blanket...everything is all set to go but will do the sample quilt test first....Thanks Heather!
stitchappy said:
stitchappy's picture
Very attractive project. I used to think you needed a long-arm to quilt (or to hire someone who provided that service.) This really opens some doors for me, thank you.

I do not own quilt clips. On a project like this could I use spring-type clothes pins to hold the ends of the roll?
mary mary said:
mary mary's picture
I did this on the sashing of a lap quilt and the designs look as if they are floating. ihave never thought to do a whole quilt but now can hardly wait to try it
Pam L. said:
Pam L.'s picture
Oh I love this...and here I thought I had to have a special machine to quilt a blanket for my grandchildren. thank you so very much for sharing this!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Teresa G Holley - Scroll down just a bit to see Heather's personal comment that helps explain the quilting - in essence, you start on one side (it could either be the left or the right) and work across, always moving in the same direction.
Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Thank you for mentioning the lines should be stitched always in the same direction.  I'm about to start my first straight line stitching project and have been having a hard time finding the answer to that question.

tsetsgee said:
tsetsgee's picture
Wooow, this is creat and clear tutorial. thank you so much.
Lauren Elaine said:
Lauren Elaine's picture
Thank you so much for the simple, yet detailed instructions. I'm not a good quilter but this gives me confidence that I do something like that.
Teresa G Holley said:
Teresa  G Holley's picture
Do you quilt left to right then right to left or always in the same direction? I have a quilt that needs finished and this would be the perfect method. I made it a year ago and need to finish it. I have always loved the piecing but not known what to do with the quilting. Thanks for the tutorial.
Gwen Harlow said:
Gwen Harlow's picture

I'm not an expert quilter yet, but I am very experienced at sewing in general. I would say definitely always go in the same direction, because the fabric will pull ever so slightly, and if you then go the opposite way you'll end up with awful wrinkles. 

I hope this helps.

Cinzia allocca said:
Cinzia allocca's picture
This is a great tutorial! I love the dense quilting. will definitely try it on my next quilt! And I agree that Heather's quilts are stunning!
Jessica Myers said:
Jessica Myers's picture
I'm so excited to try this!!! I agree with you, Heather, the stitching lines would not be so beautiful if they were too perfect. It would look like it was made by a big machine. Yours look beautifully human and richly inviting.
LeslieK said:
LeslieK's picture
Such beautiful quilts. I've been afraid to try quilting, but straight quilting is so lovely. I appreciate the fancy styles with leaves and swirls, but the straight lines are more appealing to my eye. Plus, I believe I can do it. I'm planning it in my head now. Thanks Heather & Sew4Home for the terrific inspiration!!
olive_and_ollie@yahoo.com said:
olive_and_ollie@yahoo.com's picture
Thanks so much for your kind words!

dschreffler, on my machine there is a dial that allows you to increase or decrease the pressure of the presser foot. Not all machine have that feature, but in my experience, it really does help reduce puckering during quilting, especially straight line quilting.

Farmwife, I'm sorry for the confusion! I typically quilt straight lines, all in the same direction. So, if I'm quilting with vertical lines, I'll start on either the left or right side of the quilt, stitch a line of quilting, keeping the edge of my walking foot along the edge of the quilt top as a guide. Then, I'll stitch the second line, using the first quilting line as a guide for my walking foot, and go from there. So, in that instance, I'm making vertical quilting lines that run the length of the quilt, but moving across it's width. Does that make sense? I hope this helps! If it doesn't, please feel free to email me at olive_and_ollie at yahoo.com.

Thanks again!
Purplehaze said:
Purplehaze's picture
So inspiring Heather. Simple and meditative. Concentrating on each stitch line surprises with a beautiful and harmonious result. Thank you for he encouraging tutorial.
farmwife said:
farmwife's picture
"I always start on one side of the quilt and work across the width of it". I am an oldie sewer but a newbie quilter, so bear with me. I need a bit of clarification. Does this mean you always quilt lines along the width (as opposed to quilting lines down the length) or does it mean you always go across each line starting from the same side each time?( I am thinking one way or another may decrease shifting and/or puckering.) Thanks.
dschreffler said:
dschreffler's picture
Since I am new at this quilting, I need some help in the following: I know about stitch length but decreasing pressure of the presser foot, not so much. How do you do that? I have a Janome DC2010 (I believe). "By decreasing the pressure of the presser foot, there will be less chance of the layers puckering during the quilting process" is what I find happens. Thanks for any information you can give me.
DonnaLee226 said:
DonnaLee226's picture
Now this is something that I will have to try out.
Beautiful , Thanks for showing us all
michelemilam said:
michelemilam's picture
I believe me and my 30 year old machine can handle this.smilies/cheesy.gif
RebekahP said:
RebekahP's picture
Great tutorial! I think straight line stitching looks beautiful, and it's definitely something that can be done on your regular sewing machine. And by the way...I have that exact sewing machine. I've had it for almost 10 years now. Although I wouldn't mind upgrading to the Janome Horizon-like my mom has.

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