Machine Quilting Makes Me Talk Like a Pirate (Maybe even a sailor)

Arrrgh, me hearties — I’ve been at it once again — I’m talking about machine quilting !!?#*&&!!!

My new (to me) Bernina Virtuoso 153 Quilter’s Edition, wonderful and steady as she blows, cannot (apparently) save me from my own mistakes.

I’m determined to machine quilt my pix-elated sugar skull wall hanging. So I decided to use my walking foot and quilt it on the diagonal — easy as begging for candy from neighbors, right?


Just before the real “fun” began.

As I began quilting, I was struggling with the pins and I was having trouble keeping the stitches even. Despite the walking foot, the weight of the quilt kept slowing the stitches down and making them very uneven. It was bothering me, but I was trying to learn to live with it. Then I turned the quilt over to take a peek at the back side….

ARRRgh (more pirate talk) (even more sailor talk *&$#@@!!!).


This bulge is so large it was mistaken for a space/time ripple from observers on the International Space Station.

For this failed attempt at machine quilting, I was using a new “jeans” needle, my walking foot, safety pins to secure the sandwich and my usual piecing thread in both the top and in the bobbin. The stitch length was set to 3.

After I stopped with my pirate soliloquy, I picked out every one of those stitches and then threw the backing and the top into the wash in an effort to remove all of the tiny bits of thread clinging to my quilt like barnacles on a sea cow.

Here are the steps I’ve taken before beginning my second attempt:

I went to Joann to buy some machine quilting thread (all my quilting shops are closed on Sunday). I purchased a Sulky 12 weight thread, hoping to make the stitches more distinct.  Next, I found a great blog post on from Jennifer Houldon on using this thread to machine quilt. I also purchased a can of quilt basting spray. I switched out my walking foot for a free-motion foot, guessing/hoping that I can begin in the center and make a tight stipple pattern that will reduce fabric bunching.

Finally, I am trying to figure out where and how I can protect my floors from the basting spray. I thought I had a large sheet of new drywall in my storage shed to use as a base, but I do not. This isn’t supposed to be this hard, is it?

Any and all advice welcome on any and all of the above! I don’t want to have to keep the eye patch I have on order.


The dude in red and I speak the same language!

16 thoughts on “Machine Quilting Makes Me Talk Like a Pirate (Maybe even a sailor)

  1. Meg our-house-quilts says:

    Like you, I struggle with machine quilting, though I’m pleased to say I have improved over the year or two (!) that I have been really trying. For me the big breakthrough was switching from pins to spray baste. The trick with the spray is to use it SPARINGLY. I had tried it years ago and hated it, but I had used too much. I do like straight stitching with the walking foot for many patchwork designs, especially when you want the patchwork to shine. Good luck with this one. It’s a great design and well worth persisting to get the quilting right.

      • Meg our-house-quilts says:

        I’m a bit casual about it. I sandwich my quilt on my design wall, a vertical surface. The first time, I followed all the rules (paper around the quilt, drop sheets on the floor, all windows open) and it worked fine. But it was a lot of work. Now I work directly on the design wall with an old sheet on the floor. I spray in big sweeping arcs and hold my breath. I leave the room for about five minutes and then put up the wadding. The glue is still sticky and I can reposition it if a need too, though the wadding tends to come apart if lifted more than once. Then I repeat the process spraying the wadding and attach the top, working from the centre to the edges. When I’m done, I use pins around the edges, each pin about 2″ apart. When I quilt, there is hardly any movement of the layers, though by the time I get to near the edges, there can be a bit of a bump which I smooth out by removing the pins.
        My tips are: pre-measure and pre-cut the backing and wadding to the right size and see how they fit on the space on the wall; don’t stretch the backing tightly, just rest it and pin it in place; don’t spray the entire surface – zig-zag arcs with the spray can about 18 to 24″ from the surface.
        I hope this helps.

  2. Nscny says:

    Help in protecting your floors from spray baste. Try the Dollar store for cheap shower curtain liners. Painters tape them together if one is to small. These can be washed and as good as new for the next time. Hope this helps.

  3. Lori says:

    I usually hear “Are you talking to me” when I am quilting because am talking to my quilt (AKA myself). Sometimes referred to as Rage quilting. I have never quilted with my walking foot, but I will try that at some point. I do have basting spray but the jury is still out for me on big quilts. I like it for small stuff, but the big stiff, getting the wrinkles out causes me stress. While you can undo it, I find myself doing that a lot. Best of luck.

  4. tierneycreates says:

    I saw a post somewhere that said you should actually use basting spray outside and they had a whole method with a sheet (and I think a mask for your face or something). I throw caution to the wind and use my basting spray inside, hopefully I am not developing some basting-spray-itis lung disease! Arrgggh on your quilting boo boo, I have had the same thing happen! Yes on small projects basting spray has been a life saver on machine quilting (even if 1/2 of one of lungs is adhered together from breathing it in…) 🙂

    • sandradny says:

      T: I always obsess about the lung thing after I have used a can of spray paint in a garage with the door closed and no ventilation. Thanks for the mask reminder!

  5. Gray Barn Designs says:

    I am getting anxious just thinking about machine quilting anything larger than a pillow or table runner. You are all so brave and I am not. Alas, I will remain on shore while you all drift away with fate undetermined!

  6. Sparkle On with Abbie says:

    Ahoy Matey! You are so brave in sharing your FMQ woes. I feel your pirate pain and have been driven to drinking rum to cope with it myself…haha! I dont have any experience with spray baste but do recommend pinning the heck out of a quilt like every two inches. Arrrrgghhh it is a pain, but helps with the back bunches. I also recommend quilting gloves, they really help you hold the fabric flat and give you a grip for that extra push for thicker stuff. Im still learning too so I am in the same “pirate ship” as you!”
    I love your humor Sandy! And I love your sugar skull quilt, it looks incredible.

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