Friday, November 6, 2015

10 Tips for Spiral Quilting Success

After sharing my Scrap Vortex quilt and mentioning that I spiral-quilted it, a few people expressed interest in learning more about spiral quilting, so today's post is about that.

I'll admit that before spiral quilting for myself my thought was, "How hard can it be?" Well, it was trickier than I expect, so I'll give you the advantage of my experiences and share a few tips.

Tip 1: Approach spiral quilting with a positive attitude. No matter what size project you're quilting, expect that quilting will be v-e-r-y slow-going. At first, it will be!

Tip 2: Expect that your shoulders will get a little workout. All the cramming, shoving and quilt repositioning - especially for a large quilt - might give you enough of a workout that you'll it feel later! My arms ached a little and I'm in pretty good shape.

Tip 3: The walking foot you choose to use makes a difference! Here you see two walking feet. On the left is the foot for my Pfaff Grand Quilter; on the right is the foot for my Bernina 440. Notice that the widths of each foot are different? I intentionally chose to quilt on my Bernina so I could use the wider foot as a guide for the distance between spirals.

Tip 4: If your walking foot has the option of different feet, choose the open-toe foot for better visibility as you're quilting.

Tip 5: If your walking foot has a repositionable guide bar, use it. The guide is the best way to ensure consistent spacing. Since I spiral-quilted in a clockwise direction, I positioned the guide to the left of the walking foot. Conversely, if you plan to quilt in a counter-clockwise direction, use a guide bar on the right side of the walking foot.

For the quilting example that follows, I set the distance between spirals at 3/4".

Tip 6: A machine adjustment you might like to make is to the pressure put on the quilt sandwich. On my Bernina, the dial at the end of the machine controls pressure. I turned the dial downward to increase pressure to help control bobbled stitches that sometime occur between stops and starts.

On older sewing machines, the pressure adjustment can usually be made by "dialing down" the silver screw-like knob on top of the machine, above the presser foot area. Whatever you do, don't forget to return the pressure back to normal when you're finished quilting.

Tip 7: My Bernina's default stitch length is 2.4. For quilting, I like to set it at 2.6. I can't suggest a length for your machine, as each brand is set differently, but I definitely prefer to have a slightly longer stitch length than what I use for piecing.

Tip 8: Use the "needle down" option on your machine. When you're repositioning the quilt, like you need to do about a ga-jillion times, it helps that the needle stays in place.

Find the middle of your quilt, and draw around a circle. I used a quarter as my center, but you should choose a circle size that's in proportion to the amount of quilting that will cover the piece. For my 88" X 92" Spiral Vortex quilt, I started with a two-inch diameter circle.

Trace the circle with a blue wash-out marker, or disappearing ink pen.

Tip 9: I found it extremely helpful to also draw the tail that would lead me out to the 3/4" distance I chose for this piece. I recommend you do the same for whatever spacing you choose for your quilt.

Insert the needle at the point where the circle meets the beginning of the tail you've drawn. In the photo above, I've marked that point with an arrow. Draw the bobbin thread to the top. You're ready to begin quilting.

Stitch. One stitch at a time to quilt the drawn circle in a clockwise direction. Seriously. Take one stitch: up/down. Move the quilt. Take one stitch - up/down. Move the quilt. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This is the S-L-O-W part, and that's the only way to begin to quilt around the circle.

Tip 10: If your sewing machine has a knee lift, use it! You'll develop a sort of rhythm:

Stitch (up/down)
Raise foot
Move quilt
Lower foot
Stitch (up/down).... and so on. Eventually, you'll make it around the drawn circle.

When you've completed the circle, continue following the drawn tail until you reach the desired distance between spirals. Once you've hit that mark with your guide bar, or the side of your walking foot (or, if you prefer, eyeball a space slightly wider than the side of your walking foot, as I have also been known to do), continue quilting one stitch at a time.

Don't rush! Quilting one stitch at a time may seem to go on forever, but remind yourself that the number of stitches you take at one time will eventually increase. In the photo below, I've continued to stitch one stitch at a time.

When I reached this point, I was up to two stitches at a time.

And even while stitching this slowly, and turning the quilt every time, the slightest bobble can be seen just to the left of the guide bar tip.

Expect that perfection is next to impossible. Pretty-darned-good is wonderful! At this point, I'm up to a combination of two stitches (raise foot, adjust quilt, lower foot) and three stitches at a time.

As you continue to stitch, you'll gradually be able to take more stitches at a time, and when you hit four or five stitches at a time, you'll feel good that "the worst is over." Then, by the time you get to the 12th spiral or so, you know you've got it made!

Be aware that eventually your spiral will reach the edge of the quilt. At that point you'll see that the outside corners of the quilt still need quilting. On each of the four corners, keep the distance between each spiral the same and continue to quilt a gentle curve.

Though one spiral on a quilt is impressive, consider the possibilities of a more dramatic effect with several quilted spirals. I plan to pursue this further. How about you? Linda


  1. I've only done this technique once, on my little DWR. I definitely want to try it again. Thanks for all the tips. I need to see how the little metal bar fits my walking foot.

  2. Great tutorial, I now feel like I can handle a big quilt. Well maybe....

  3. My first impression is that you have the patience of a saint!! Tip#9 is a beauty. I am certain I don't have the tenacity to quilt in this style but I really love how your quilt looks!

  4. Great tutorial! I too was wondering how one would approach spiral quilting and you've explained it perfectly.

  5. EXCELLENT! Thank you! It's the best tutorial to date! I've read them all and still had difficulty starting out. Now I feel as though I can do it with lots of confidence! You're the best! XO

  6. This is SO helpful! Thank you Linda!

  7. Thanks so much for your great tips - I've done a lot of spiral quilting, but always have to go back and correct so many mistakes! So I'm bookmarking this for next time...

  8. Great tutorial! Love that quilt.

  9. When you talked of spiral quilting I thought - cool -- I have a dog palette to be quilted and spiral would be cool. After reading your tips I am thinking straight line L's would be more my speed. Your tips are great and I am glad to have read them. Oh, and the pictures fill in the blanks for what needs to be done.

  10. Great post Linda! I especially like the detail you gave us about getting started. Not only is it the foundation for all the quilting, I've seen that it's often the area that can be wonky. Your tips really work to prevent that from happening!

  11. Such great tips on a spiral. Now I can approach it with confidence! I love the caution about patience, and one stitch at a time. There's a metaphor for life in here somewhere!

  12. I haven't tried that yet but know I will at some point. Thank you for the tips. I'm sure they will come in handy.

  13. Super Tutorial. I am not brave enough to do a large quilt, but may try it on something much smaller. Thanks again.

  14. great tutorial and would love to try on a small quilt first. thanks!

  15. Your tutorial is one of the best that I have read. I have wanted to do a spiral, but was unsure how to even begin! Thanks!!

    1. I appreciate your kind remarks, and am happy to know I may have given you the boost you need to get started! I'm replying to you here because you are a "no-reply" commenter.

  16. Thank you so much for this tutorial! It is very helpful!!!!

  17. Yep - this is how I do it in my book ;-) Looks awesome Linda!!

  18. Many thanks for writing this Linda. I have done a spiral on a wall hanging and certainly had a few issues at the time. But I do like the effect and I'd like to try it again sometime so it was good to read your tips.

  19. WOW, thanks Linda! Now I know why first attempts at spirals were unsuccessful. Thank YOU so much for this VERY informative tutorial.

  20. Twice now I've quilted pretty large lap quilts (maybe about 60+ inches) using spiral quilting. It is doable, but I've found that my entry-level Janome leaves a lot to be desired. It does not have a sophisticated walking foot, or adjustable pressure for the foot. Some day after we finish our log home I hope to upgrade my thing at a time.

  21. I've quilted a spiral on 3 quilts. The first two - perfect. The third - a warping disaster of monumental proportions. I'd love to show you a photo, but can't in this venue. I ultimately decided it was all about the walking foot, but I am not positive. I felt there was too much pressure...? Any insight on that? All were done on the same machine, same walking foot, same batting, and all were rectangular quilts. Thanks for all the tips, though!

  22. I just popped over from a link on KaHolly's blog. Great info. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Thanks! That makes it very understandable. I appreciate your taking the time to post this. Yes, KaHally sent me, too. =)

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog! I’m tickled that Karen shared my spiral quilting tutorial as a link from her site. She does great work. Best wishes!

      (You're a no-reply commenter, so I am unable to email my response to you.)



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