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17. Top Quilting Methods and When and Why to Choose Each

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Hi there. I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the stop scrolling and start selling podcast. Are you new to selling and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday, Join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need, or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin, this is the podcast for you.

Hey folks, Nicole here. Welcome to episode 17 of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Today’s episode is all about quilting styles. We’re talking about free motion, stitch in the ditch, quilt as you go, I’m breaking them down.

But first, a quick listener shout out.

So over on my Facebook page, The Modern Quilters Circle, Lisa Baldez writes:

I’ve been sewing and quilting for many years. So I wasn’t expecting to learn a lot from Nicole, but I’ve learned so much already from just a few of the podcasts. I knew nothing about thread. It had never occurred to me to change the stitch length for piecing. And now I know what makes fat quarters fat I’m hooked.

Okay. Thank you so much for your kind words, Lisa, like Holy cow, I love that you’re an experienced quilter and that you’re are still learning things. That’s what I love about the concept of quilting circles. They’re this way for women with common skill sets to come together, to share ideas and skills, um, and learn from one another. So that I think is just amazing. Thank you so much. Your kind words mean so much to me.

So if you want to be featured in an upcoming episode, head on over to wherever you listen to podcasts or to my Facebook page, the modern quilter circle and leave me a review. I read every single one and they mean the world to me. They also allow me to reach more listeners every week. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Okay guys, let’s get sewing.

Okay. So quilting techniques. So quilt as you go stitch in the ditch free motion. And what I call stitch by the ditch. Those are like the big ones. There’s a million of techniques and different ways to go about each one. But those are like the overall categories. I want to first start by breaking down exactly what each of these types of quote methods are. So first up stitch in the ditch, this I think is probably the simplest type of quilting out there. And it’s also the one that most of you are going to be the most familiar with. And it’s also where I suggest new quilters to start. Um, because while there’s a lot of reasons, because I’m not going to go there yet, I’m getting ahead of myself as per usual. So what stitch in the ditch is, is let me break this down first.

Let’s talk about the ditch itself. The ditch is the seam that is created between two of your patchwork pieces. So anywhere that you have sewn two pieces together, that seem that’s been created, that’s a ditch. So when you were stitching in the ditch, we are actually placing our quilt stitches in the seam that you have created. So it is great because it can, for two reasons, one, if you’re not really creative or you are super stoked about the patchwork piecing that you’ve done, and you want to accentuate that your quilt pattern is set because you’ve already done the patchwork piecing. So however your patchwork lays, that’s where you’re going to stitch. It will accentuate your patchwork piecing. So like if you’ve done something that’s like really cool or really complicated, or you really want to just show off the piecing that you’ve done stitching the ditch is definitely the way to go.

Um, and also of course it is the, like I said before, it’s the easiest method you put on your walking foot, you line up your ditch to your needle and you stitch right in it. Now there’s two methods of doing so you can stitch directly into the ditch, meaning you were needle hits spot on in the seam. Um, you cannot do that. If you’re somebody who presses your seams open, you can only do that. If you press your seams to the side side note, or you can then also choose to stitch just off the ditch. And when I say like, just off the ditch, I mean like a hair’s breath away from the ditch. So you’re basically in the ditch to the naked eye, but you are stitching on the actual Patrick piece and not directly directly in the ditch, but for all intensive purposes, you’re stitching in the ditch.

So that stitch in the ditch next up is stitched by the ditch. And I’ve got to say stitch by the ditches, kind of my favorite, it’s kind of my jam. Um, I don’t even, I’m sure there’s probably another more technical term to call this, but when I say stitched by the ditch, everyone kind of knows what I’m talking about. And um, I’m just going to keep that going. So stitch by the ditch. So stitch by the ditch is just like stitch in the ditch, except that you are stitching a measured amount away from your ditch. So you’re still following your ditch lines. However, with stitch by the ditch, you are going to be a quarter of an inch or an eighth of an inch, or really however, whatever distance works for the Patrick piecing that you’ve done, that’s the distance that you’re going to do.

I mostly do a quarter of an inch personally. Um, I find it easy to line up because I’ve just cried. I crushed my quarter inch seam allowances at this point. So it’s really easy to maintain. Um, and I just liked the look of it, but what people really like about stitch by the ditch. So the way that stitch in the ditch accentuate your patchwork, piecing stitch by the ditch when placed properly can actually accentuate the overall Patrick piecing pattern. So not your individual pieces, but like let’s say you’ve made a star, your star is made of half score triangles, a four patch, and I’m flying geese, let’s say so now, if you were doing stitch in the ditch, you would see all of those little lines and you’d be like, Oh, look at all those crazy little pieces they put together to make that star cool with stitch by the ditch.

What I would do in that situation is I would actually maintain that quarter inch allowance all the way around the outside perimeter of that star. And maybe I would double it up and do it on both sides of the seam. So it would be just the star itself would be what’s what pops out and what everybody sees. And so that’s the cool thing between stitch in the ditch and stitch by the ditch, very similar methods. Um, you pretty much do the actual stitching the same way, but your placement really changes what will be accentuated on your quilt top. So that’s the difference between the two of them. Now, your next thing. Now, this one is kind of the Motherload of quilting, free motion quilting. There are so many different types of free motion quilting. I mean, you could do floral patterns. You can do swirls and crescents.

You can do, um, stippling or wandering or meandering depending on who you’re talking to. Um, but I mean the sky’s the limit. If you can think it, you can do it. What makes free motion quilting free motion is that you drop your feed dogs, meaning those little metal teeth that come up from your bottom of your machine and grab your fabric and pull them through under your presser foot, they go away and now your fabrics not getting moved, meaning you have to do the movements. Now it can definitely have a learning curve and not all sewing machines are going to be able to allow you to drop the feed dogs. So, um, even depending on the equipment you have at home, even if you want to do free motion quilting, you might not be able to on your given machine, it will really depend. Um, but for most, I would say all of your high end 99% of your mid tier and some of your basic machines, you’ll be able to drop your feed dogs.

Um, and I will go ahead and in the show notes include the symbol for what feed dogs look like. So sometimes you might not have your manual and you know, you’ve got all these different buttons on your machine and you’re just not quite sure what all of the mean for the most part, the feed dog picture is really universal or very similar. So I will post a picture of that feed dog symbol, and that might help you figure out how to drop the dogs on your particular machine. And also if you’ve got questions about your particular machine, I’m kind of a sewing machine nerd. So if you want, you can contact And I would be happy to answer any of your machine specific questions. So there’s that, but getting back to free motion quilting, the sky’s kind of the limit for what you can do. There are awesome rulers that you can use to trace around and create more quote unquote, perfect, um, motifs in your free motion, quilting. I mean, I’m, there’s some beautiful stuff going on out there. So, um, I love free motion quilting personally, but I also, I really like stitched by the ditch, I guess it really D as with everything else, it really depends on the individual cult that I’m doing because some quilts just linking themselves towards one style of quilting over another.

Okay. So now last, but certainly not least, but potentially the most overutilized underutilized. I know. Can it be the same thing? It can, um, method is the quilt as you go method. Now I will go ahead and say it. I’m not a quilt as you go person, but many of you might find this to be exactly what you’re looking for. So keep your ears open. Alright. So quilt as you go is really interesting because you actually quilt your quilt before you piece together, your quilt top. I know mind blown. Um, I didn’t get it for a really long time. So I was quilting for several years and I’d always heard about quilt as you go, but it wasn’t really like on my radar. Cause I was like, okay, well I’m just quilting and it’s working fine. So we’re good. And then by the time I learned about quilt as you go, I don’t know if I had maybe just gotten like into my, my thing, my groove, how I like to quilt.

Um, but it just hasn’t really piqued my interest too much, but I get it. Like I totally get why people would want to do this. So since you’re quilting, as you’re going along, meaning you create your quote blocks and then you quilt the block, not the whole quilt, just the block. It is incredibly attractive method for those on smaller sewing machines. So I don’t know if you have ever quilted a quilt top that, um, you know, is a full size or larger. If you have a coup a sewing machine with a throat space of like five inches or less. Cause some of them I’ve seen them with like four inches of third space to get that much quilt through your machine can be a beast. It can be an arm workout. Um, and I wouldn’t even venture to try to do a queen-size quilt on a machine of that size.

So for those of you out there with smaller machines, this might be the method you’ve been looking for because what you do as you create your quilt sandwiches and you create your layers. And typically if you’re quilting an entire quilt, you have your backing, be the L B L the largest, and then your batting sits just inside of those parameters. And then your quilt top is the smallest. So when you’re looking at the it altogether, you can see all three layers, not so much in quilt, as you go in quilt, as you go you’re backing and your quilt block are the exact same size and your batting are smaller and you put your sandwich together and you quilt it and you can choose any of those other methods. You could do free motion. You can do stitch in the ditch. You can do stitch by the ditch.

I mean, the world is your oyster, but you’re only quilting, a quilt block. And most quilt blocks are like between eight to 12 inches square. I mean, there’s some giant ones out there, but for the most part, if you’re doing like rows and columns of quilt blocks, they’re like eight to 12 inches square. So that is super manageable on these smaller machines. Now there’s two methods of attaching all of the finished quilted blocks together. Um, I’ve seen it done with, and without sashing I think with sashing is what is most commonly taught when you look up quilt as you go. However, I also have seen, and I’ve personally tried methods without sashing, cause I’m not just not a huge stashing person. Um, sashing, um, there’s different aesthetics to different types of quilts. And sashing kind of reminds me of like, um, an Amish quilt or some of your more vintage styles, your civil war quilts, things like that.

And they’re cool. They’re beautiful to look at. They’re just not my personal style. Um, so that’s something to kind of think about is, is there is some limitations to the final look when you do quilt, as you go again, you don’t have to use sashing, but even without the sashing, your backing will look a little bit, um, off to save a waste, not okay. I take that back. It won’t say look off. It will just like, I definitely suggest using a solid color and I definitely suggest you being a good hand culture. And so if you’re not a good hand piecer or hand quilter, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest doing it without sashing. Um, because you really want to try to make some like invisible, um, stitches. So I will, I will leave it at that. Now, if you’re not the greatest at hand stitching, I would, I mean, first of all, always try because if it’s a method you really like, um, just try it and it, the first time might suck.

Um, if you’re anything like me, the first time always sucks, but, um, you get practice and you get better and you get better and you get better. And then all of a sudden you’re like, boom, it’s amazing. So all of that to say, cool, does you go is definitely a thing. And if you have a smaller sewing machine, I highly, highly, highly suggest you trying it out. Because I do recall when I was on a smaller sewing machine several moons ago, um, you get disheartened and you’re like, I don’t know if I’m ever going to become a better quilter because I’m limited with some of the things that this machine can do, but there’s always a way where there’s a will. There’s a way. And I think that is why quilt as you go was invented. Whoever did it shout out to you because you opened up a whole new world because many of you may not have been able to do larger quilts in your thinking like, well, I’ve kind of got this free motion thing down and I’ve got, you know, my stitch in the ditch and my stitch private ditch down, but I just can’t picture it on a larger scale quilt.

As you go allows you to do a larger scale quilt without having the room on your machine for a larger scale quilt. It’s actually really cool when you think about it and don’t worry, I will have photograph examples of each of these looks in the show slash episode dash 17. So you’ll be able to kind of see what these things will look like in actual practice, um, in case you’re not familiar with any of them. Uh, so I know I got into a little bit of the why for all of these, but now that you really understand what each of the major type of quote methods actually is, let’s kind of chat about why. So I’m going to lump together, stitch in the ditch and stitch by the ditch, just because they’re so similar.

And there’s many reasons why to go this way first and foremost, is it that they’re easy once you’ve gotten to a point where you are consistently piecing together quality, quilt tops, you have all the skills necessary, plus a walking foot to do excellent stitch in the ditch and stitched by the ditch, um, quilting, um, they’re straight lines. It’s super straightforward. Um, and if your quilt top is done, you already have the pattern. You don’t have to be like super creative. You don’t have to think like, Ooh, well this would look, look great like this. And maybe I should turn that you don’t have to do any of that because you’re following the quilt pattern, the patchwork piece pattern that you have already put together. So that is a great next step to adding your creative layers to your quilts, which is something that I love also, something that I think kind of gets looked over. It adds durability to your quilt. You’ve got solid straight line stitches going right into your steam allowances, pinning together, your seam allowance, your patchwork, you’re batting your backing. You are creating a rock solid quilt when you do stitch in the ditch, um, stitch by the ditch as well, because you’re catching that seam allowance when you’re just off to the side, but you are really

Locking your patchwork piecing in place. So that is really cool. And I think that kind of gets looked over, um, especially when you are thinking about making a quilt, that’s going to be used. If this is going on your son’s bed, your 12 year old son’s bed, we all know we want that thing to be solid. And stitch in the ditch will allow that stitch by the ditch we’ll allow that, um, if this is going to be a quilt that becomes, you know, a picnic blanket or it really just anything that’s going to get used, if it’s going on your couch and you’re actually going to snuggle with it, think of those methods, because these are the methods that hold up really, really well.

Okay. Now free motion. Free motion is all about highlighting your quilting techniques, free motion. I’m going to say it first and foremost. It is not for the faint of heart. It will not be pretty the first time you do it. Like if you are somebody who does does perfect free motion quilting the first time. Oh my gosh, you’re amazing. And I want to meet you because like you deserve a high five. My first free motion looked crazy for lack of a better way to reference it. Like my circles have like flat sides, like, because you really have to really control, roll the fabric and understand how the movement of the needle will affect the movement of the fabric. Because like in your head, you’re like, okay, it’s free. It’s fluid. I’m just going to move it. And then if you’re not moving it at the right tempo, your stitch lengths are going to get all wonky.

Um, your bobbin thread is going to be a little wonky. There’s a lot to you. You could potentially skip stitches. There’s a lot too to keep into account. So, um, it’s, it’s a lot, but if you are using a more simple patchwork pattern or panels, um, or like I’ve seen some gorgeous, solid piece. So like people will just have like a giant plain block of white in the center of their quilt and you do free motion on that. And it’s just gorgeous scalloping and flowers. I mean, it’s a piece of artwork in and of itself. You don’t even care about the Patrick piecing that’s happening in the rest of the quilt. That’s when you do free motion to be like, wow, because free motion quilting can be really beautiful in and of itself a lot of times. And so I call it free motion, quilting, a lot of things when you see them in magazines and whatnot, and you’ll be like, that is the most amazing free motion quilting I’ve ever seen. A lot of that is actually done by a long arm machine. And that’s like a whole different thing. I will talk about that on an upcoming episode of the podcast. Um, but keep that in mind, like some of the things like are not even not that they’re not feasible on your home machine, but there’ll be a heck of a lot easier on alarm. Um, but yeah, so if you are using a more simple Patrick pattern or big blank panels, free motion quilting can really, really jazz it up.

And then of course, finally quilt as you go is all about making your life easier. You can quilt the individual blocks using any of the other methods. So you still get that, like, you know, you want to accentuate the patchwork piecing. We go in the ditch, you want to accentuate the actual larger shapes and forms created by your breaking pieces. You go by the ditch, you want to make beautiful flowers, you go free motion. You can do any of those things with quilt as you go. Um, but you can connect them all together at the end. And it’s super appealing for quilting on a machine with a smaller throat space, because you’re only dealing with 12 inches at a time instead of, you know, a hundred by a hundred, which is a totally different story.


Again, you guys, I feel like I’ve, I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Like, woo. That’s been a lot, but I think that was really good information for you guys to have there. You have it. If you’re interested in seeing how these quilt methods actually look head over to the show notes, you can find forward slash episode dash 17. I’ve also included some links to some really great tutorials that I’ve just kind of collected around the internet, that you should check out on how to do some of these things. So if you are just getting started with any of these quilt methods, I’ve got you covered with some really great tutorials over at the show notes. So you can go ahead also and just head over to the modern quilter for today’s episode and all the past episodes. So you can get caught up and you guys, you have just finished another episode of the stop scrolling start sowing podcast. Thank you so much for hanging out with me. Make sure you never miss an episode by hitting subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Now, stop scrolling and start sewing.

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
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