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  • Irina

Quilting denim on domestic sewing machine

When I was getting ready to start quilting on the denim quilt with sashiko embroidery many people commented on my post and asked to share my experience. There was even one comment that someone´s long arm never worked properly after quilting a denim quilt. That sounded pretty scary, but luckily I didn´t encounter that kind of problem. I managed to free motion quilt and do ruler work on the whole quilt and broke only one needle in the process. So in this blog post I would like to share with you how I did it and what I have learnt.

Set up

Never underestimate your set up for quilting on a domestic sewing machine, especially in case if you are going to handle a heavy quilt. To make your experience enjoyable and successful you don´t need much but a few things are essential

- extension table - to have enough room to move the quilt around,

- silicone slider - to be able to move your quilt sandwich freely,

- quilting gloves to have a better grip to your quilt,

- quality needles - I use either Top stitch or Titanium Top stitch 90/14 needles for quilting. Replace them regularly (I went through a whole pack of Titanium needles on this quilt),

- quality thread - It is a matter of personal preference, I like Glide polyester thread that I have been using for a couple of years and have never been disappointed. When it comes to the color choice I prefer using colors that blend nicely with background (and make mistakes less visible). I used the gray Glide thread, color Battleship as upper thread and Aurifil 50 wt in the bobbin.

- ruler foot (if you are planning to do ruler work) and rulers

- don´t forget to clean the bobbin area regularly as lint easily accumulates there (I usually do it after a few bobbins).


Since denim is quite heavy I would recommend considering light weight batting with either medium (Quilters Dream Green (poly)) or high loft (Dream wool or Quilters dream Puff, poly). I wouldn´t use cotton batting as it is heavier and usually doesn't´t give too much definition to quilting in terms of texture unless it is very thick (that would create problems with handling a heavy quilt on your domestic machine).

I always make a small quilt sandwich (approx 8 x 8 inches or slightly bigger) with the same top, bottom fabric and the same batting. I use that piece to check tension and if the threading is correct or to adjust foot height. Every time I change the bobbin or re-thread the upper thread I first do some fmq on that small piece and adjust the parameters if needed , rather than start quilting without checking. Ripping fmq stitches is not fun, trust me!

Adjust the foot height

So depending on the thickness of your quilt sandwich you might need to adjust the height of the foot you are using for fmq. I used Pfaff ruler foot for both ruler work and fmq on this quilt. With your foot attached to the presser bar, lower the foot.

The general rule - the quilt sandwich should move freely under your foot, it shouldn´t be hard.

Since I used a high loft Polyester batting, I had to adjust the height of the foot to maximum number 3 on my Pfaff Quilt Expression 720.

If you are planning to do ruler work, also make sure that the ruler is not slipping under the foot, if you put it against the foot.

Quilting designs

Choice of the quilting designs, of course, depends on your personal preferences, skills and design of your quilt top.

First, look at your quilt top and think what you would like to do - all over design or something more elaborate.

If you choose an all over design then there should be some elements in your quilting that have something in common with the design of your quilt. For example, if your quilt is made of strips then a simple straight or wavy line, or grid quilting would be good.

If your quilt top has some circles, then circular quilting or some other quilted circle elements would be complementary to your design.

If you would like to do something more elaborate, you can always combine quilting designs and emphasize certain elements.

In my denim quilt I had certain parts of the quilt with sashiko embroidery and I wanted to emphasize them without quilting too much. First I tried echo quilting around the large embroidered circles but it didn´t look nice at all. So I came up with the idea that I needed to quilt straight lines that would end very close to the embroidery area - because it would make the embroidery pop up nicely while the background has a great texture.

Here is another example of the same concept, just quilted inside, in between the lines of sashiko embroidery following the pattern.

In the photo below you can see the combination of free motion quilting and ruler work. I outlined the sashiko inside the small circle ,then did some dense fmq around it. After that I quilted some flying geese and made them pop up with some dense quilting.

Marking the quilt

If you are doing ruler work or do a variety of quilting you would need to mark the designs on the quilt. I used water soluble marker for light colored areas and tailors chalk (red or light blue) on darker areas.


The most important thing to remember - whatever quilting design you choose, try to stay away from the bulky seams. I broke a titanium needle in the beginning right at the seam because it was so thick.

I marked with arrows in the photo below so you can see - if you quilt a straight line make sure it is not at the seam, but instead below or above it. If you quilt a circle, then the seams should be inside the circle.

I think stitch in the ditch doesn´t work on denim quilts because of the seam thickness and also due to the fact that denim often has some elastan that makes it stretchy. I tried to outline the sun very close to the seam (see photo below with arrows) but had to rip it several times.

That is the only area on the whole quilt I am not pleased with looking from the back (but luckily nothing shows in the front). So, I wouldn´t recommend doing that.

You have to be careful with fmq on stretchy patches because these areas are prone to puckers. I noticed that while quilting pebbles. As soon as I could see that a pucker is being formed (especially around the thick seems) I would just stop, lift the foot with the needle in and try to flatten the fabric. Several times I had to rip a pebble or two , then quilted the pebble stopping , smoothing the fabric and it worked quite well.

Another problem you might encounter is the stitch length around the thick seams - you might tend to pull the quilt harder to go through this area. It is better to stop, lift the foot with the needle in, try to smooth the seam and only then continue.

I am very pleased how my Pfaff Quilt Expression 720 handled the quilting. It is a hard working heavy duty sewing machine. It has so much power to the needle that even on the thick seams I didn´t get any motor overload message.

I hope my observations will help you to conquer your denim quilts.

Happy quilting!

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