6 Tips for Straight Line Machine Quilting (a.k.a. Matchstick Quilting)

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!

Straight line machine quilting is a clean, modern style that is incredibly satisfying… when done well. If you dive in with all of the knowledge and tools you need, there’s no chance your next project won’t be fabulous! You supply the tools. I’ll supply the knowledge. (And the knowledge of the tools. I’m doing double duty over here.)

If you're an incredibly visual person, here's a fun little infographic I whipped up for a quick reference. The quilt featured in this post and infographic is the Rocksteady quilt pattern.

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting
Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!

1. Begin with a Good Baste

Before you ever sit down at your sewing machine, quilt sandwich in hand, make sure you begin with a good baste. You may be a pro quilter with perfect speed and accuracy, but your quilt can still bunch up and get puckered if your basting isn’t up to snuff.

Want more details on basting a quilt? Check out this blog post: How to Baste a Quilt. 

Take your time, and make sure you don’t skip any steps when it comes to basting your quilt. Start with ironing your quilt top, as well as your quilt backing. This might not come as a surprise. BUT. You may even want to iron your BATTING. Batting sometimes gets wrinkled from being crammed into its packaging, and needs some smoothing love, too.

One little trick I only tell my favorite friends (you), is if I'm dealing with some pretty harsh wrinkles in my batting, and I've already got the backing and batting spread out, I'll take my spray water bottle and mist the batting. I'll then smooth it out and allow the wrinkles to relax as they dry. It won't get the wrinkles out completely – but well enough for it to be smooth for quilting.

When each layer of your quilt sandwich is nice, flat, and wrinkle-free, baste it, and baste it good. I prefer to pin baste, so I place a safety pin at least every 4 inches all around my entire quilt. Is it a lot of pins? Yes. Yes it is. But it’s worth it. 

For those who prefer to use basting spray, be sure to spray the backing to the batting, as well as the quilt top to the batting. Don’t skimp on the spray here, quilters! I know that stuff can be expensive (part of the reason I usually opt out.)

Finish with ironing the sandwich to heat set the basting spray. If you sense any lumps or bumps, do not hesitate to take out pins or peel away layers to fix the problems. This is where you set yourself up for quilting success!

2. Ask Your Batting What It Needs

When you’re feeling pretty good about this basting business, go ahead and get to know your batting. Start your relationship off right, and ask your batting what it needs. When you purchase batting, it comes with a set of instructions on the package. Usually, these instructions will tell you whether or not you need to pre-wash it, whether or not it has scrim, and also how closely you need to quilt so that the batting doesn’t shift.

Get more batting info here:

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!

Most batting requires quilting at least 8 or 10 inches, but I’m going to recommend you overachieve a little bit: quilt every 4 inches. I know it sounds crazy, but when I spend so much time piecing a quilt, I want it to last through many many washes and cuddles. When I quilt lines at 4 inches apart at the most, I know my quilt sandwich is safe and secure and I sleep better at night. So will you.

But… what if you want to quilt closer than 4 inches? You can! Dense quilting can look beautiful and give your quilt lots of beautiful texture!

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!

3. Walk with Your Walking Foot

To set up your sewing machine, strap on that walking foot. When I first learned straight line quilting, I was so excited that I slammed my foot on the pedal and raced from top to bottom. You better believe that after my sprinted quilt job I was very sad and confused to see that my fabric was pulling in multiple directions and stitches were skipping.

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting

When quilting with a walking foot, don’t sew at maximum speed. WALK that walking foot. You’re working with thicker layers than when you’re piecing blocks, so even with a walking foot, you want to sew about half as fast as you would when piecing.

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting

Let me show you an example of a Fishing Net quilt I made years ago before learning to walk my walking foot. Do you see the wave-like tension issue? It's baaaaad. I always cringe a little when I see this quilt because I know how easily that could have been avoided.

Learn the 6 easy steps for perfect straight line machine quilting. This Fishing Net quilt is an example of why you should sew in the same direction – to avoid wave-like pulling
Learn the 6 easy steps for perfect straight line machine quilting. This Fishing Net quilt is an example of why you should sew in the same direction – to avoid wave-like pulling

4. Quilt in the Same Direction

About the time I learned to slow my sprint to a walk, I also learned how much better your finished quilt will look if you quilt your straight lines in the same direction. The infographic above shows a diagram of what I thought you were supposed to do.

Since speed was my number one goal, I assumed that once you sewed to the edge of your quilt you pivoted and then sewed back up going the opposite direction. Let me tell you why this is not a great idea. Actually, let me show you...

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! This is what happens when you don't quilt in the same direction – ugly tension waves in the fabric.

You get ugly tension waves in your fabric! How heartbreaking! You spend all that time piecing and planning only to end up with sea sickness due to choppy waters and horrendous waves.

If you're wondering, I ripped out ALL of that quilting. By the time I'd ripped the final stitch I was so sick of looking at it I shipped it to my longarm quilter. She did a fabulous job. Take a look!

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!
Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!

This is the Indian Summer quilt pattern, if you're interested.

Matchstick Grid Quilting

After going on and on about quilting in the same direction, I'm going to break my own rule ever so slightly to tell you how I straight line quilt a vertical and horizontal grid – like in this Rocksteady baby quilt seen here.

  1. Sew your straight line quilting just like normal – going slowly and sewing in the same direction.
  2. Once you are finished quilting ALL of your vertical (or horizontal, whichever way you're looking at it) lines, rotate the quilt 90º and do the same thing. Start from one end and sew slowly to the other, stopping and backstitching with the completion of every line.

I used the seams of my blocks as guides for my quilting. The order of my sewing looked a little something like this:

  1. Sew along one seam from top to bottom.
  2. Jump to the middle of the block (seen below) and eyeball a vertical stitch down the row.
  3. Jump to the next seam and sew from top to bottom.
  4. Jump to the middle of the next block (are you seeing the pattern?)
  5. Once I finished quilting down all of the seams and center of each block, I went back and quilted lines between my original quilting lines.
Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting

When quilting in the same direction, you have a couple options, mostly based on how large your machine's throat space is (the area between the needle and the base of the machine). I like to start in the middle of the quilt and sew one entire side the same direction. I then rotate the quilt 180º and repeat the process on the unquilted portion of the quilt.

Technically, that means the two halves of my quilt are quilted in opposite directions. Even though that is the case, I haven't found it to cause waving tension issues.

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting

Another option is to start at one side and fully quilt in the same direction. This will 100% ensure that you don't have waves. If you quilt this way, you will need to get pretty good at tightly rolling your quilt so that it can fit into your machine.

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting

5. Get a Fresh Needle

After I change my patchwork foot to my walking foot, I also replace my needle. I have found that a new 80/12 Universal needle and 40 wt. thread work great together when quilting. They’re basically the straight-line quilting power couple. Get ready to see magic in the making. 

6. Pick a Complementary Thread Color

When picking a thread color, go with your heart… but also maybe ask yourself a couple questions first:

  1. Do I want the quilting to be a subtle texture or a bold design?
  2. Do I want the patchwork piecing to be the central focus, or do I want the quilting to be the star?

These questions will guide you to the perfect thread color. I typically pick thread that matches the lightest color of fabric in my quilt. However, if your goal is for those stitches to stand out, go for gold… or another color with plenty of contrast. It’s really up to you! Take a few spools of different colored thread and lay them out on the quilt top. This will help you visualize what they will look like.

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial! | Suzy Quilts - https://suzyquilts.com/6-tips-for-straight-line-machine-quilting-a-k-a-matchstick-quilting

In this quilt example I actually picked two different colors: chartreuse for my bobbin to blend with the backing fabric and cream for the top thread. If you're going to pick different colors, run a couple tests on a scrap quilt sandwich to make sure your tension is perfect. If your tension is off, you'll be able to see the secondary thread color on the wrong side.

Just remember: slow and steady wins the quilting race. Once you master that, your quilts will be even more satisfying! Do you have any tips for us? Or have you experienced the dreaded tension waves? Let us know in the comments and what you did to fix them!

Check out some of my favorite notions!

Learn the 6 simple steps to straight line quilting, or as some call it, matchstick quilting. This is a great beginner quilter tutorial!

140 thoughts on “6 Tips for Straight Line Machine Quilting (a.k.a. Matchstick Quilting)

  1. Mary says:

    This is awesome! Thank you. The thing I struggle with the most is actually keeping my stitches in a straight line. I’ve tried tape, using the walking foot guide, “eye balling” it, and I still can’t seem to get a really good straight line. I picked up a Hera marker for my next quilt…hoping that + slooooooowing down will do the trick!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      The Hera marker should help, but may feel tedious if you have to mark every. single. line. I bet slowing down will be your best bet. If you need a reminder, change the speed on your machine so even if you press down on the pedal, you’ll still sew extra slowly.

      • Linda D says:

        The green quilt in this pattern on your blog- could you ask your friend the exact fabrics she used – brand and color names? Please!! I would like those exact colors and where you can get the materials. Thanks

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Hi Linda, the quilt featured in this post uses a variety of fabrics I got from Cottoneer. They include a couple double gauze Nani Iro fabrics, a stripe from Rifle Paper Co. and the green woven fabric is by Anna Maria Horner. If you email Cottoneer at [email protected] I bet they would even make a bundle for you if the fabrics are available.

      • Caroll says:

        I have pin basted my 40″ x 48″ throw 4 ” apart. I had secured the backing, batting and quilt top to my large craft table. All was good. When I sew straight lines down from the top using a walking foot the top fabric seems to shift so when I get to my next pin there is excess fabric that increases as I go along. I know fabric moves, but, I don’t hear other’s saying they experience the same thing. Am I doing something wrong?

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          This is a common experience and one with a work around. It sounds like you may need to do a few things:
          1. Pin even closer together. 4″ apart is the minimum. Even though it’s obnoxious, trying pinning closer together.
          2. Can you raise your foot slightly so that it creates less pressure on your sewing machine? If sew, this will eliminate some of the drag you are experiencing.
          3. Sew at half speed. You’re probably already doing this, but it will help.

          Some pulling is inevitable, which is why it’s best to sew in one direction as much as possible so you don’t get the waves. I hope those suggestions help!

        • Tammy Howell says:

          When I straight stitch I lengthen the stitches. This reduces the drag and pushing on my quilt and I don’t have extra material at each pin or intersection.

    • Janie Alderete says:

      I find myself with the same problem but I seem to get a mind fog with eyes on the foot and stitch line getting glazed over. When I get back into control, my stitch line has taken an alternative route! I’m not go with long straight lines🤣🤣🤣

  2. islandspindler says:

    I put my batting in the dryer for a few minutes before I baste, takes the wrinkles out. And if the batting has poly in or is poly, direct ironing could melt it😉

      • Mary says:

        When using a walking foot quilting I sometimes get uneven stitched. Sometimes they are really small. What am I doing wrong?

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Hi Mary, uneven stitches are really frustrating! It sounds like your quilt sandwich may be getting snagged in some spots, causing the needle to make tighter looking stitches. I would first try sewing slower and see if that helps. Then I would try lifting the pressure on your foot. You can probably find how to do that in your sewing machine manual. If those two things don’t work, try a new needle and rethreading your machine. Finally, if nothing seems to help, it might be time to bring your machine in to get serviced. There could be something wrong under the hood that only a professional can fix.

          • Ann says:

            In addition try switching out your thread. I once had horrible tension problems and skipped stitches that completely resolved with higher quality thread.

          • Larry says:

            Hi, becuase of low vision I use a vintage Singer 301A (slant shank) and it’s easier to see. I tried one walking foot for slant shank, but the 301s are just a degree off so the needle barely would rub the opening. No good. So I did a quilt without a walking foot and got the wavy lines (insert sad trupmpet sound here). The quilt is finished and it’ll just have to do. I do have a walking foot ordered that’s guarnteed to work with 301s. Thank you for you article, I thought I was doing something wrong. No walking foot, going too fast, poor basting. It all makes sense now. Maybe this is the opportunity to get that Bernina B570 I’ve been wanting…hmm.

      • Cate cruver says:

        I sew a line across the top of the quilt at a little less than 1/4” before I start heading down the quilt. This secures the quilt at the beginning of each row.

    • Pamela Weston says:

      Me too! Sometimes I find the batting a little misshapen when I unfold it, but running it through the dryer for a bit helps flatten it out.

  3. chris says:

    One of my problems with straight stitching is that frequently I get an inch or so of little tiny stitches as my walking foot struggles to go over an area that is thick (like a bunch of seams are meeting in one spot). I use a clapper in an effort to get flatter seams, but still finding this change in stitch length. The other is that despite my superhuman efforts at basting I still get fabric that wants to pleat as the walking foot goes over it. Also, do you change the pressure setting on the presser foot? I know i’m not slowing down enough too, so there’s that. Ugh. So many variables. Anyway, this was very helpful and for me the struggle lives on!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Oh Chris, you’re cracking me up. The struggle lives on! haha! OK, let’s attack this struggle.

      Problem 1: bulky seams. I love to hear that you’re using your clapper. Are you also nesting seams so they are facing different directions? If the answer to that is also yes, what about fanning seams? This is an interesting technique that distributes seam bulk so you don’t have one big hard spot in the middle of a block. I found this video to demonstrate. I don’t find this to be necessary very often, but if bulk is a real issue, try it. I bet it will help.

      Problem 2: basting. Is the backing or quilt top doing the pleating? If backing, it could be that you aren’t stretching the fabric tight enough during the basting process. If quilt top, it might be that even with a walking foot, the pressure of your foot needs to lessen and be raised a touch. I also think slowing down will help more than you realize. I used to make table runners and even though I had a great baste, I’d zip through my quilting. At the edge of each one I’d have at least a 1/4″ of extra top fabric that I’d fold over the backing. It looked pretty janky, but at age 24 I didn’t care and just thought that was the best it could get. Now I KNOW! 😉

      • Chris says:

        Thanks! I’ll experiment w foot pressure. I also think I’m not so good at managing the weight of the quilt. I do nest my seams. I’ll look into fanning too. I feel like with each quilt I get better so onward! I loved hand quilting my Indian summer and triangle jitters quilts. Your blog post on hand quilting was so helpful. You are right tho I need to slow down! I’ve got fly away next in my que so excited to begin after holidays.

    • Dolly says:

      You brought up my biggest problem, Chris….fabric pushing ahead of the walking foot and causing a tuck when I come to a line of basting thread. Or, if I avoid the tucks by easing with a stiletto, I still sometimes wind up with ‘dips’ where seams cross. No matter what walking foot I use, it seems to push the top fabric ahead .


    Suzy, your information and how you present it is awesome! I’m new to quilting and can’t wait to read all of your blogs, etc. And my husband and I both LOVE Scrappy!

  5. Kate says:

    I love this, thank you! One question, which may be out of scope.😅 when you’re working on small pieces of matchstick quilting in a direction different from the whole (like the little triangles in the Indian summer quilt), do you do the same thing? Go all in one direction and then pick up and slide back and do it again? I’m assuming that would leave a lot of ends to weave in? Thank you for making this!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      That’s a great question and also an exception to the rule. In that scenario I would pivot and quilt in different directions, just doing it veery slowly and smoothing the quilt as I pivoted, so the fabric didn’t wave because of pulling and tension.

  6. Pam Landolt says:

    Another excellent post Suzy! I need to remember to slow down like you advised. I get anxious to get done or have waited too long to start a gift quilt then rush the quilting. I also will start sewing my lines in the same direction. Just those two things will hopefully improve the look of my finished quilts. Thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge with the rest of us.

      • Jo says:

        On your Bernina do you ever use the quilting straight stitch? On my 590 it is 1302. I notice it defaults to a stitch length of 3 and tension of 4, whereas the normal straight stitch defaults to a tension of 5.5 when I change the stitch length to 3. Does it make a difference? My problem seems to be I end up with stitches of varying lengths, some tiny, some just right, and some too large.

    • Barbara says:

      Help I have tried every setting on my sewing machine to get a good sewing stitch, and the back puckers,, about ready to give up quilting

      • Laura Hopper says:

        Hi Barbara, don’t give up! Puckers are often the result of basting issues that cause your fabric to shift during quilting. Here’s some information about basting that might help: https://suzyquilts.com/how-to-baste-a-quilt/

        If you do think there is an issue with your sewing machine settings, it’s a great idea to bring your machine in to be checked out by a local quilt shop. But basting well usually helps to reduce or eliminate puckering!

  7. Cindy says:

    Parallelogram? I’ve always heard going all in the same direction pushes it into a parallelogram? Like when you sew several jelly roll strips together for a strata or bargello. I’ve done that and got a nice smiling curved slab of fabric. Know what I mean?

  8. Laurel Richardson says:

    Thanks…But what length stitch do you set on your machine for quilting??? 3.5?? ANd, with a Bernina 770, isn’t a dual feed (D) foot sufficient for quilting? (one of my dealers says “yes” the other says “no.” )

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I quilt with a stitch length of 3 and agree with the second dealer – use a walking foot. The dual feed is awesome and definitely helps with piecing, but I don’t think it’s as powerful as the BERNINA walking foot – which really is awesome.

      • Siri Langfeldt says:

        Thank you for your tutorials, tips, generosity … So good to be guided through this (yet) new world of quilting. I read once someone said “you are going to make a lot of awful quilts”, and that helps me understanding quilting is about a skill, not necessarily a specific product. You have made me see that every detail and skill in the process is important.
        I have a question is about walking foot vs dual feed. Do you recommend a walking foot even though my Bernina 570 QE has dual feed? Why / why not?

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Before answering your question, let me first say that I don’t think you will make a lot of awful quilts. I think with skill, you will continually improve, but I’m sure you will always have a fondness for your early quilts. I do, and some of them are 20 years old now (and kinda ugly! haha!)

          I do recommend a walking foot even though your B570QE has a fantastic dual feed. The dual feed works well for piecing various fabrics, even the thick and unwieldy ones, but it’s not as powerful at pulling the thick layers of a quilt through the machine as the BERNINA walking foot is. If you are able to try the two out side by side, you will see and feel exactly what I mean.

  9. Katherine says:

    Great tips. Thank you.
    I tend to go way too fast!
    The biggest problem I have is getting all the layers tight and flat.
    This year, I made a quilt with lots of small pieces and found that no matter how much I pin basted etc, the top would pucker. So, I flipped the quilt over, drew lines, and quilted it on the back side. The front was perfect with no puckers. Yay!

  10. Mary Holbert says:

    I use a Bernina 790 with a dual feed. Would you recommend that I use a walking foot or the dual feed? I have done the matchstick quilting and love it.

      • Dee Lowe says:

        When I fist discovered the walking foot I had been sewing for a number of years but let me tell you it was like a ahhhhhh moment-what a world of difference . I still need to remind myself to slow down 🙂

        • Susie Miller says:

          I haven’t actually quilted much (3 kids quilts) but I found that starting from the middle (or as close as possible) and alternating to the left and right of that initial line – but always in the same direction – works quite well.

      • Jamie Scheibach says:

        Thanks so much for your tips on machine quilting. Very helpful as were the comments and your responses.

  11. Kirsten Juenke says:

    Light bulb!!!! Walk with the walking foot. thank you!!! And I always thought I had to go back and forth. Now I’m going to give the same direction a try – it makes PERFECT sense.

  12. Carol says:

    Thank you for all the suggestions, both from you and the other quilters! My first time to straight quilt and I appreciate all of the comments. Will let you know how it turns out!

  13. Pam says:

    I think I finally understand why I have the pleated look on my straight line quilting. Thank you for your explanation. I have a Pfaff machine with the IDT system so I don’t have a walking foot. Will slowing down still help in my case?

    • Bev says:

      Hi I am a new quilter ….have sewn clothes for years. First I wanted to thank you so much for your tutorials. They have helped so much.
      I do have one question and may be dumb. But I have sewn all my straight lines in the seams in order you suggested and no ripples. ( big hug ty)
      Do I sew all along border as well or will that be taken care of when I put the binding on?

      • Suzy Quilts says:

        I think you will find it helpful to sew at least a basting stitch around the perimeter of the quilt. That will tack down the border so you don’t experience any rippling or puckering during the binding process. (A basting stitch is a long stitch that isn’t meant to be secure, but simply hold fabric in place. Usually it’s a stitch length of 5.)

  14. Tiffany says:

    I am trying to figure out how to machine quilt the maypole quilt without creating tension issues. I want to do straight lines down each piece. Would you pivot within each strip or stop at the end (in center of quilt) and have to hand tie off or something? (so you don’t have a bunch of back stitching in the middle). Would love to get your input. Thanks!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Great question. In this case I would baste VERY well and pivot. To avoid tension issues, after sewing one line in one section of the quilt, jump to the opposite side of the quilt and sew another line there. That way you are slowly sewing the entire quilt rather than section by section. Make sense?

      • Amanda Robinson says:

        Hi Suzy! Does this mean backstitching in the middle of the quilt after each line? Or do you pivot within the center strips? I think that would create overlapping lines where we already stitched in the ditch? I am about to start quilting the maypole quilt and I can’t figure out how best to do it!

          • Margot says:

            Just a thought – One class I took recommended anchoring your stitches at the beginning and end if your stitching line by shortening your stitch length – because we all know how hard it is to pick out those little stitches!

  15. Sue Hadfield - Hill says:

    Please can you tell me how many stitches your 3 setting gives per inch when set for quilting? I do not have a Bernina and find that all machines vary – this is my first go at straight quilting for the Rocksteady baby quilt and want to get it right.
    Thank you for your informative and inspiring tutorials!

  16. Debby Jensen says:

    I made a lap quilt using strips and decided to machine quilt it (I usually hand or tie my quilts). I went down one row, then up a second and continued half way across before I realized my backing was bunched up even though I had pinned it. I spent more time ripping it out than I had making the topper, but it was worth it and I followed your instructions the next time sewing slowly and in the same direction on each row and it is now a beautiful quilt. Thank you for your informative post.

  17. Penelope Smith says:

    This is some really good information about quilting. It is good to know that it would be smart to think about using a different type of foot on your sewing machine. Personally, I want to get a professionally made quilt that way I know it will last a long time.

  18. Josh says:

    If sewing lines in only one direction and not pivoting a continuous thread – do you recommend hand tieing the threads of each line at the end (my machine doesn’t auto knot) or will the binding take care of the unfinished threads?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I recommend backstitching to finish the row. Backstitching is when you sew a couple stitches backwards over the stitches you just sewed to lock the stitches into place.

      • Beverly Dewitt says:

        Hi Suzy,this is my first time here .I am a newbie.Im confused about sewing from the top to the bottom of the quilt .everything I have read says to start quilting in the middle and to quilt in sections ,like the bottom section then turn quilt and do the top section.I did that and my lines from back stitching were awful And also quilted from top to bottom and boy did I have a mess my quilt top was shorter then my backing .I love the straight line quilting I just don’t know where to start my quilting line on my quilt top . sure hope this makes since to you .I sure hope you can help me I have two tops ready to quilt and they turned out great .Now I’m scared to machine quilt them for fear of messing them up .

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Hey Beverly! There are times when quilting in the middle or in a corner and working your way out is the right move (for example, free-motion quilting.) With simple straight line quilting, however, you want your fabric to pull in the same direction so you don’t have a wavy mess. Based on how you explained your last quilting experience, it sounds like you didn’t baste your quilt enough. Is that possible? Here’s an article on basting.

          If you basted really well and are still getting messy results, how’s the pressure of your walking foot? First off, a walking food is a nonnegotiable. It makes all the difference. But secondly, it’s possible your walking foot is still creating too much drag on your quilt. The solution would be to lift some of the pressure in your machine settings. You may need to reference your sewing manual to find out how.

          Good luck!

        • Robyn in Australia says:

          Hi Beverly

          Once you learn the secrets, you will have a lot of ah ha! moments. I sure know the feeling.
          What you describe is something I found too. And what is important is to adjust the pressure of your foot, whether you are using the walking foot or free motion quilting. Using the right tool for the job and a little knowledge about the features and functions of your machine always help.
          Another thing to look at is just how thick or lofty your batting is. The cotton battings are quite dense and thin and some of the polyester and wool ones can be quite thick and luxurious. This can have an enormous impact on how it behaves under your foot.
          I’ve also found it a good idea to have some scraps of fabric and batting to play with before I commit my quilt to the machine. Big squares are best – about 18 inches will give you a reasonable idea of what you will be up against. Quilt the square as you would intend to with the quilt. Make sure your batting and backing are a couple of inches larger than the square (21 inches would be ideal) The bonus is, if you have a preference for a particular batting brand and weight, you will end up with some nice squares you can use quilt as you go to join together to make a quilt.
          Enjoy the journey. You will look back at your ‘mistakes’ in the future and cringe, but remember this : if you can’t see it when riding past it on a horse at 20 miles an hour, there’s nothing wrong with it. And only God does perfection. XXXXXXX

  19. Susan Ioanou-Silver says:

    I found in my instruction manual to completely reduce the pressure on my walking foot – also look ahead as if you were driving – you will get straighter lines – although it is difficult to trust your brain to do what you expect – slowing down makes a huge difference in more even stitches

  20. Adrienne in Toronto says:

    I have been sewing for years and know that there is a differential between the top and bottom layers but it always just seemed easier to go back and forth. I will not do that again. From now on, I will start back at the top and continue to sew in the same direction. I love your enthusiasm.

  21. Beverley says:

    This is such a great tutorial! Thank you for making it. Question: On your Indian Summer quilt example, do you backstitch on the colored triangles that are not by the edge of the quilt when you begin and end? I do see in a previous comment that you can pivot which avoids lots of backstitching. But I dislike the thicker line of the backstitch at the beginning or end of a line and weaving the tails in would be so time consuming as there are lots of triangles. I am always struggling on what to do in this type of situation.

  22. Amy says:

    I’m a new quilter, working on my second and third quilts. Do you need to quilt both horizontally and vertically? Or if you quilt closely in one direction, could you skip the other? I’m making a quilt with a chevron like pattern using a jelly roll and was thinking I could just stitch in the ditch vertically every two inches but not sure if the batting will then bunch horizontally?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      That’s a great question and fortunately, I have an easy answer for you – single direction quilting is perfectly fine and will hold your layers together well enough that there’s no reason you need to quilt in both directions, as long as your quilting meets the requirements of your batting. Most store-bought batting has instructions on the package that will say something like, “must quilt every 6-8 inches” or “secure batting every 10 inches.”

  23. Robyn in Australia says:

    Hi Suzy
    I am what I would call a confident beginner, having begun my piecing journey about seven years ago. I don’t get to sew anywhere near often as I would like.
    I’m always looking for hints and tips that will help the journey go better.
    I have found for quilting that the specific Quilting machine needles give a superior finish and pierce through the layers better than the universals. I think the quilting ones have a bit more of a point to them. And you are so right about 40 weight thread for quilting – it does make a huge difference. Plus the thread is that much stronger to last many cuddles and washes.
    Another technique I will give a go, which will require being very slow on the walking foot, is to put perle cotton in the bobbin and sew the quilt upside down, using the longest stitch on the machine. Probably won’t work well for free motion, but would give a really interesting finish with straight stitching. I’ve hand quilted with perles before. They give a lovely ‘rustic’ finish to the quilt and are a great thread, particularly with solids and blenders as the fabrics in the quilt, rather than all the rest.

    • Matt Schara says:

      I would love to know more about the type of thread you are using. I am very new and have been trying different things to get a more rustic feel to my straight stitches, have only done straight quilting and love the look but would like to have a thicker more rustic look to the stitching lines that have that feel. I just don’t know mush about different threads and needles etc.. I also have been doing some double needle work to get really nice double lines that are always the same distance apart.

      But really would love to know more about this perle cotton, and how to use it.

  24. Jennifer says:

    I have a question. I’m working on my very first quilt. I am doing straight lines exactly as you said, but at the end of each row, what do I do? Back stitch , cut thread and start again? I’ve watched a lot of quilters pivot, so I’m not sure. I want good habits being new at this.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      With straight line quilting, I have found the most success keeping the fabric ripples away when I sew in the same direction. To do that, yes, you backstitch and cut the thread at the end of each line.

  25. Erika says:

    New to quilting — I have looking for the reason WHY it’s good to do straight lines in all one direction for DAYS. Should have known to come here first 🙂 Thank you!! Your blog is so informative and still so easy to read.

  26. Susan says:

    Dissatisfied with my fourth attempt at machine quilting, I found this page and decided to rip out all the quilting and begin again. Re-reading your blog, it was comforting to know I was not the only one who had ripped out quilting (!); and now I have re-pressed the quilt (baby quilt, thank goodness) and am ready to take advantage of your suggestions and proceed. I will let you know how it goes. Thank you!
    Also – I started the posting on FB for our guild last year. May I put a link to this page for our guild members and others? Although most quilters do not mind, I like to ask. Thanks again. Susan

  27. Carol Johnson says:

    You are saying use 80/12 needles but when I look at those they say they are for overlock serger? Can you use those with just regular quilting?

  28. Robin says:

    I made a twin size quilt for my new grandson. Your website has provided so many great tips to simplify the process. Thank you.

    I did a straight line diagonal stitch in both directions and now have 2 “ diamond shapes. I could stop now but want to run two small lines next to each diagonal line to add an extra touch. Do you have any tips to help manage the bulky material while I sew those lines? I felt like I was wrestling alligators while feeding the material through the machine for the diagonal lines.

    Thank you,


    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Way to go, Robin! That’s a huge accomplishment. Quilting a twin quilt on a domestic machine is no small feat. Sometimes tightly rolling the quilting and even using clamps to keep it in place can help tame the beast. It does take some upper body strength, though, so frequent breaks are a must.

  29. Mary Van Meter says:

    “Mistakes” that make lemonade: I have to tell you, I absolutely love the rippled texture you got when you quilted in opposite directions (tho you may not want it all the time). It looks like tiny chevrons and I was wondering how you got that complex effect until I looked closer and read your comments.

    • Nancy says:

      I have a terrible time with puckering on the top of my quilt when I quilt vertically and then cross the seam horizontally- it puckers or bunches where the seams meet. I usually pin baste every 4 inches. Please help.

      • Suzy Quilts says:

        I’m sorry to hear that, Nancy! How frustrating! First off, make sure you’re wearing machine quilting gloves. These really do make a difference. Also be sure to sew at half speed in both directions. After that, you could try a couple others things to see if they help. The first one is to baste even closer than 4″. Really stretch out the backing and keep the batting and top incredibly smooth while pinning at least every 3″. If that doesn’t solve your problem, at least you know it’s not your baste – it’s your machine. Raise the pressure on your walking foot so that it doesn’t create any drag on the fabric.

  30. Shazma Khan says:

    Hi Suzy,

    I am making a black/white /red queen size quilt. Borders are black and red and the middle is predominantly white.
    1. What colour thread should I use if I want to do straight line quilting?
    2. From what I understand stitch down the line, backstitch, Skip the next block, Backstitch, restart the line till you get to the end of the quilt, backstitch and cut the thread. So there will be a stretched thread over the skipped quilt block which is then cut and trimmed. Is this correct?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hey Shazma, my typical rule of thumb is to match the thread with the lighted color of fabric in the quilt top. Since black thread can tend to look scary and medicinal (I had a lot of accidents and needs stitches as a kid. haha!) red could be a funky choice or white would be a subtler choice. Depending on the quilt pattern, you could change the thread color to match the fabric.

      When it comes to straight line quilting the most important thing is to sew as much of the quilt in the same direction as possible. So I sew one half of the quilt in one direction, then flip it and sew the other direction. After each line of quilting I backstitch, cut the thread, then start sewing again at the top, repeating this for each line.

      • Shazma Khan says:

        Thank you for your prompt response. What are your thoughts on using Transparent thread. Its 100% polyester. Would using this take away from the beauty of the quilt? Also should both the sides of the quilt use the Same transparent thread or can we use cotton on the bottom and transparent on the top?

        • Suzy Quilts says:

          Transparent thread can definitely work. It’s not something I use since it has a “fishing line” feel (it’s not soft.) However, those who do use it use both cotton and/or poly in the bobbin. I would do some experimenting on a test quilt sandwich to make sure you’re tension is right based on the thread combination you choose.

          • Shazma Khan says:

            Thank you Suzy. I think I will stick to Cotton thread its safer and more beautiful in the long run.

  31. lucie says:

    Hi Suzy – do you think that a beginner could quilt like this? I have some sewing experience but first quilt and love this look!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Definitely! I suggest quilting something small your first time – like a wall hanging or baby quilt. Definitely use a walking foot and sew slowly. You got this!

  32. Kay says:

    Hi Suzy,
    I have a quirky question that I don’t think I’ve seen you answer – I’ve read all your posts multiple times! I never thought about quilting until I found your work and love your modern, graphic style. Samplers of stars just don’t do it for me!!

    So … my question is where should I look when quilting? I tend to look at the edge of the foot when piecing to be sure the fabric stays lined up in the same spot, but I find myself looking at the needle when quilting and then everything is wonky! I tried to stitch in the ditch and it was so bad I ripped it out.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Great question! Sewing is a lot like riding a bike. If you stare at the front wheel while biking you’ll probably end up swerving off the road and into a ditch. Likewise with sewing, you’ll have more success staying on track if you look at the front tip and edge of your presser foot. That foot is your guide even though it’s about 3/4″ in front of the needle.

  33. Lyndsey says:

    Hi Suzy,

    I am new to quilting and just discovered your site. Such a great resource! I spent a lot of time over the last few months endlessly researching free motion quilting, but then while I was looking at quilts one day it suddenly struck me that I much prefer the geometric look of straight lines! So here I am.

    My current quilt has a lot of flying geese, and I really like the way your Indian Summer quilt is done (with the diagonal lines on the triangles). I realize you sent it out, but do you have any tips on how to approach that pattern on a home machine? Would you only go in one direction on the triangles as well? And would you do the triangles or vertical lines first, or just do them in the order they came as you worked across the quilt? I can see that it will be a lot more work than just doing plain vertical lines, but it seems worth it!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      This can definitely be done on a domestic machine. I did something similar to a couple of my Fly Away quilts…
      Fly Away quilt
      The key is to baste really really well and sew really really slowly. Sew as much in one direction as you can without cutting your thread.

  34. Joyce says:

    I have completed your Bayside quilt in a crib size. As it’s to be used for a baby and will be washed often, & quilted closely by long arm, what type of batting would you recommend?
    Thank you in advance for your recommendations. I’ve enjoyed your quilt pattern and will likely try another one of your patterns soon.
    Stay well

  35. Susie Schroyer says:

    Hi Susy: I am a very new quilter never made a quilt before. I’m planning on retiring in a few months and I want to learn to quilt. I have some old clothes of my mother’s and I want to make a quilt out of them. what kind of pattern would you suggest for this? Also I piece the top together first then make the sandwich?

  36. Mary says:

    Great info. Many thanks Suzie. Someone mentioned using “transparent” thread. Please don’t use it for baby quilts. The “transparent” thread can get under those tiny fingernails and do painful damage.

  37. Robyn Lidstone says:

    My thanks Suzy – all the way from Australia.
    I have not graduated to free motion quilting and these wonderful tips will enhance my ability to do the quilting that best suits my projects.
    I read your posts frequently and respect your abilities and professionalism.
    So happy I found you online.

  38. Mary says:

    Hi Suzy, I am so happy I found you. My question is I have a walking foot but it does not have a bar that I can use to measure my lines. Would you recommend I get a foot with the bar? How do you measure your lines without a bar? thanks

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hi Mary, a bar on your walking foot is one way to keep your straight line quilting even; however, it’s not the only way. Depending on your pieced quilt top pattern, you can also use the seams of the pieced blocks as a guide and eyeball the quilting around that. Using masking tape or a hera marker are a couple other ways. Here’s a blog post on marking your quilt – https://suzyquilts.com/quilt-marking-tools/

  39. Donna Behr says:

    Should you mark the first few lines? I am going to quilt anAdventureland quilt with straight lines and my walking foot, but am concerned about not straying

  40. Jackie Summers says:

    Thank you so much for the tips. I’m a new quilter for charity but I like doing a good job. Some things I have learn by experience.

  41. Kathie says:

    I hope this makes sense and you can help! When I am straight-line quilting and pause to adjust the quilt sandwich (this is with larger quilts, where I’m trying to make sure the quilt sandwich isn’t dragging the top down), my stitching often is off/crooked when I restart stitching. How can I avoid this? Do I increase the foot pressure to hold the quilt sandwich while I’m adjusting?

    Many thanks for all of your tutorials and advice – you are super generous!

    • Suzy Williams says:

      Makes total sense. This is probably happening because you adjusted your quilt sandwich so much the needle is jumping off the previous path and taking the stitches with it. To prevent this, keep your needle down and do your adjusting. Before you begin sewing again look at the needle and make sure it’s inline with the previous stitches. If you’re not sure if you’re inline, use the turning dial on the side of your machine to manual stitch the first stitch or sew really slowly. Hopefully this helps!

  42. Lexi says:

    If doing vertical quilting lines, and the batting is W&W (up to 10” spacing or ties), how far apart do you think the vertical lines can be before I would need to add horizontals? I have never gotten a good answer to this, only opinions. (I have asked the Warm Company, but no answer yet.)
    Also, I love your site, patterns, and humor! I do my straight line walking foot stitching just like you recommend. It also helps that I can set my machine to a variable feed so the top doesn’t push over as much, especially with a Cuddle backing.

  43. Anna says:

    Thanks for the reminder to go slow with the walking foot. I’m not a fast sewer in general, but I always get so frustrated with how my stitches get small and bunched up even with my walking foot. I think it’s because I try to sew at “regular” speed, which isn’t objectively all that fast but is probably still too fast for the walking foot!

  44. Pam says:

    I have one recommendation for helping smooth out wrinkles in the batting. I throw it in the dryer on a medium high temperature setting for about 20-30 minutes. It helps eliminate most of the wrinkles and the rest of the wrinkles can be smoothed out with my hand. If there are really stubborn wrinkles. a little steam pressing can remove those.

    • Catalina Urias says:

      Hi Diane! Suzy used the seams of the pieced blocks as a guide and eyeballed the quilting around that. The tutorial explains a little more on how to do this. You can also use masking tape or a hera marker if you want to be more precise. Here’s a blog post on marking your quilt – https://suzyquilts.com/quilt-marking-tools/ The beauty of matchstick quilting is that the lines don’t have to be perfectly equidistant, especially if you quilt a little more densely. 🙂

    • Suzy Williams says:

      Thank you! These are all older fabrics, so I’m not sure they are still available. The green and the yellow backing are woven fabrics by Anna Maria Horner. The polka dot and the floral are double gauze by Nani Iro. The stripe is by Rifle Paper Company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *