Machine Quilt Large Quilts with Ease on a Home Sewing Machine

The first time a quilter makes a bed-sized quilt, she faces the daunting task of figuring out how to wrestle the quilt sandwich through the throat of her sewing machine. The bigger the quilt is, the more difficult it is to handle the heavy, bulky mass of fabric and batting.

Professional Machine Quilting is Expensive; Quilting Frames Take up Space

Some quilters give up and send their quilts out to be professionally machine quilted, but quilting and binding a large quilt can cost hundreds of dollars. Others buy a quilting frame and a sewing machine with a larger throat and use the frame to finish their quilt tops. But what about ordinary quilters who don’t have the money for long-arm quilting or the space for a quilting frame?

Machine Quilting in Sections Makes Quilt Easier to Handle

The easy answer is to piece the quilt in sections, machine quilt each section separately, and assemble the sections after they have all been quilted, as the last step before binding. Because each section is smaller, it’s much easier to maneuver under the sewing machine needle. Machine quilting a large quilt can be fun again, instead of a dreaded chore.

How to Divide the Quilt into Sections

The time to decide how to break the quilt into sections is before you start piecing. The quilt’s design determines the best way to divide the quilt. The key things to consider are:

  • How big a section can you quilt comfortably? Marti Michell’s book, Machine Quilting in Sections (Michell Marketing, Inc., ASIN # B0016ZY4VO) recommends aiming for a crib quilt size or smaller, between 36” x 45” (92cm x 115cm), and 45” x 60” (115cm x 152cm). The smaller the sections, the easier the machine quilting will be, but the more sections you will need to join after quilting.
  • How easy will it be to assemble the sections after quilting? You’ll need to have straight seams between the sections, so the seams can be covered to disguise the section breaks. The fewer sections you need to join, the less work it takes to cover them.

Simple Ways to Divide a Quilt into Machine Quilted Sections

Here are some of the most common ways to break a quilt into sections:

  • For quilts with borders, divide the quilt so the interior is a single section, and the top borders, side borders, and bottom borders are each a separate section. If the interior is very large, also divide the interior into sections until it each interior section is small enough to quilt easily.
  • For quilts set on point, divide the quilt into diagonal rows and join the sections between the rows.
  • For quilts made from large or complex blocks, try to divide the sections between blocks, not in the middle of a block. This approach minimizes any misalignment between seams when the quilt is assembled.

How to Join the Quilt Sections Together after Machine Quilting

The easiest method of joining the sections together after quilting is to simply sew the sections together and cover the raw edge of the seams with finishing strips of coordinating fabric. If the machine quilting doesn’t come too close to the edges of the sections, the sections can be joined without finishing strips.

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