Until recently, the largest quilt I have quilted on my personal sewing machine was a queen-size. However, my brother-in-law is about to get married, and I really wanted to make them a quilt to use on their bed. Of course, they had to pick a king size bed. I was so nervous because my sewing machine is just the normal smaller size. When I say I have a standard machine, I do mean standard. The distance between my needle and the right side of my machine is only seven inches. The next machine I buy will be larger, but for now, I have to work with what I’ve got.
I was really nervous to attempt the quilting on such a large quilt (120″ square) on my machine, but I dove right in and hoped for the best. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I chose to do a simple stipple pattern since I’m the most comfortable with that, and I didn’t want to tackle a more difficult quilting pattern in addition to tackling the largest quilt I’ve made to date. I discovered a couple of things in the process.
First, the key is in the setup. You need plenty of table space to hold the weight of such a large quilt, and you need a good plan of attack before you begin. In order to make quilting easier, I moved from my craft room down to the dining room where I could use two tables plus my little sewing desk . You need a table in the back as well as one to the side to hold the weight of the quilt. If the quilt hangs off the table at all, you’ll have a lot of drag, which will make the quilt impossible to move around freely.
Here is the quilt spread over my dining room table, a library desk, and my little sewing table (and my messy house in the background– keepin’ it real):
Even with all the table space, I had to bunch it up to keep it from falling off the tables. Something that also helps is to place your back table against a wall (or in my case a dresser), so it can’t fall off the back. If you have a corner you can work in so it won’t fall off the side, that’s even better. There are lots of other tips that make free motion quilting easier, but for now I’ll stick with what’s helpful for working with larger quilts.
In addition to a good table setup, you also need a good plan in place for where you’ll start and stop your quilting. I’ve seen two major prevailing methods for where to begin and end the quilting. One method is this:
You start at one end in the middle, and basically divide your quilt in half, so you’re never working on more than one half at once. However, when you get all the way to the left side, you have a ton of quilt bunched up, and even if you turn it halfway as I do, you’re still working side to side, which can be a bit difficult. This method works well for smaller quilts, and I always use it for baby size, but it’s definitely not the way to go for larger ones because you end up with way too much fabric bunched in your machine when you get about halfway through.
On a king size, I had much better luck with this method:
Here you divide your quilt into quadrants and work on one quadrant at a time before completely stopping and moving on to the next. I first read about this method on the free motion quilting project blog. There is a ton of helpful information to be found here, but one thing I love about this blog is that the author herself, whose skills are WAY beyond my own, uses a domestic machine. I love that although she’s a semi-professional/professional, she adamantly states that you do not have to have a long-arm, a $3,000+ machine, or a dedicated sewing studio to create beautiful quilts and/or large quilts.
Anyhow, I digress. Her road map for quilting a large quilt is to divide it into quarters and do one quarter at a time, sewing from the outside to the center, and then back down to the outside. You then go back to the center and back out, and at the end of your quarter, you’re down to a very small area. The hardest part, is of course the first pass, but you will never have more fabric bunched in your machine than you have when you get to the center of your quilt at that very first pass.
I found this method the easiest, not only because it prevents a lot of fabric bunching in your machine, but also because I found I had fewer missed spots or spots where I left a hole and had to work my way in to fill. It’s a very organized method to quilting, and I plan to use it from now on, even for my baby quilts. I don’t know why I put off trying this method for so long, but I’m glad the king-size finally forced me to try it out.
The ONLY downside, in my opinion, to this method is that it requires you to stop and “break” your thread after every quadrant. This takes a tad bit more time (we’re talking a minute or two, max), so on a very small quilt where bunching isn’t an issue, you might prefer to use the first method in the interest of quilting continuously. However, on a bed size quilt, that extra time is well worth it.
This quilt, surprisingly, only took me about five hours to machine quilt. I was shocked at how quickly it came together. Although I don’t plan to make many king-size quilts in the future (the largest bed in our house is a queen), if I do need to make one again, I won’t be nearly as intimidated as I was this time.