Your Basic Quilting Questions Answered: Part I

A beginner quilting blog series answering basic quilting questions. Like how to square up a quilt and get perfectly matching seams!

Here at SQ HQ we get a lot of wonderful emails from you filled with a wide range of basic quilting questions. After answering these one at a time, it’s finally occurred to me that I could compile these FAQs into a blog series for you to skim and use as a resource. Honestly, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize this, but now that I have, let’s waste no more time!

(And when you're finished, don't forget to check out the second part of this series here.)

A fun blog series answering all of your basic quilting questions from how to square up a quilt to how to get perfectly matching seams.

Basic Quilting Questions finally Answered!

Q: I’ve just finished machine quilting my quilt and the edges are all wavy. Did I do something wrong? Can I prevent this?

A: Wavy quilt edges can happen for a few reasons – some preventable, and some...well, you can decide. Let’s start with something preventable you can do.

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Pin. Yes, glue basting works too, but you get the idea. When you pin your fabric together the top and bottom fabric will feed through your machine equally. If you do not pin, chances are the tension of your feed dogs and your presser foot are different and they will feed the top and bottom fabric through the machine with different amounts of pressure. This will cause your seams to create that wavy effect due to uneven tension.

A beginner quilting blog series that answers all of your basic sewing questions. Have you wondered how to pin so your seams always match? Let me show you!

Borders - yep, pin those too. I’ve finally finished the quilt top and now it’s time to sew a couple borders, like in the Minimal Triangles quilt pattern. It is ever so tempting to slap that strip on and speed through the sewing sans pins. RESIST. Uneven tension in borders is a major culprit of waving edges.

Press, don’t iron. This sounds like fancy wordplay, but really all I’m saying is – don’t use the side of your iron to open up a seam and iron it flat. Doing that with a lot of pressure stretches the seam...causing distortion...causing, you guessed it, wavy edges. Instead, open up the seam and gently press it open with your fingers, THEN lay the iron down and press is flat. Now’s a great time to use a clapper too!

Square up your quilt. There are different theories on how to do this, but I’ve always thought that the simplest way is the best way. I’ve finished machine quilting and now it’s time to trim the excess batting and backing fabric.

I move my cutting mat to the floor so the quilt doesn’t hang off my cutting table. I find that sometimes the added weight of part of the quilt hanging can cause distortion. I then smooth out the corner of the quilt onto the cutting mat. With my 6” x 24” ruler, I line up the corner of the ruler with the corner of the quilt top. If it’s not square, fake it! Maybe that means a little bit of batting will be peeping out or maybe I need to slice off a bit of my quilt top. That’s fine! Binding will cover it. If you need to slice off or let hang ¼” or more, remember to add a ¼” or more to your binding so that you can cover it up when binding your quilt.

A fun blog series answering all of your basic quilting questions. Have you wondered how to square up a quilt? Let me show you!

We’ve covered the preventable basics, but what about some of that “unpreventable” waving? If you choose to densely machine quilt your quilt, like the one below, it’s likely that you will experience a small amount of waving. This is just a side effect of adding lots of texture to your now very 3-dimensional work of art. I say, embrace it!

Q: I can’t get my seams to line up! What do I do?

A: Let me preface this with, I know I’m going to get grief over my answer in the comments. 😉 You ready for my bad girl, rebel response? It’s all about your initial pinning and then sewing over those pins – SLOWLY. See the pictures below on how I pin.

  • Nest the seams by ironing them in opposite directions. (When possible. Sometimes things get confusing and this isn’t possible. No worries. Happens to the best of us.)
  • I start from the top right side, pin through the seam, and finish on the bottom left side. That way I have completely secured the seam from all angles. I primarily use these pins.
  • Sew SO SLOWLY over that pin. Slow enough that you can see your machine’s needle go up and down. When you sew slowly, your machine’s needle will find its way around the pin rather than smash into it causing a broken needle or worse, a piece of needle breaking and hitting you in the eye. I’ve had needles break and hit me in the cheek and that is FREAKY. Waaaaay too close for comfort. So sew slowly. (Say that 5 times fast to really get it in your head)
  • Practice. Did you just do all of the above, but it still didn’t turn out perfectly? That’s OK, boo. Move on. Keep practicing. I still have yet to make a quilt that included only perfectly matching seams.
A beginner quilting blog series that answers all of your basic sewing questions. Have you wondered how to pin so your seams always match? Let me show you!

This pinning demo pic is from making the FREE Cincinnati quilt pattern. Get it here!

Let’s say you reeeeaally struggle with your seams not matching and the better-luck-next-time approach isn’t cutting it. Try glue basting your seams with a fine-tipped glue bottle. This process takes longer, and you might need to clean your iron afterward, but it will calm the perfectionist voice inside of you. Also, you won't be sewing over any pins either.

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Q: My thread keeps breaking. Am I using the wrong thread?

A: First, let’s double check that you are, indeed, using the right thread. If you are piecing a quilt, I recommend 40 wt. or 50 wt. thread. You can use 100% cotton, 100% poly, or a cotton/poly blend. For more information on cotton and poly thread, check out this post – What’s the Difference Between Cotton and Poly Thread? For more specific thread recommendations, check out this post – The Best Quality Sewing Thread.

A fun blog series answering all of your basic quilting questions. Have you wondered how to square up a quilt? Let me show you!

Now that we know you’re sewing with the good stuff, let’s do a very simple thing that might just fix everything – take your top thread and bobbin completely out. Now place your bobbin back in, making sure you’re doing it correctly, and re-thread your top thread. Many times, there was a kink somewhere in there and a simple re-thread was all you needed to do.

Note: Some fabric substrates have special needs when it comes to thread, needles, and stitch size. Check out my Quilty Adventure series to find the fabric you are using and make sure you’ve packed the proper gear.

That simple trick didn’t actually fix anything? Let’s talk about something you may not have thought about – your needle. If you’re sewing with a dull needle or a needle of the wrong size, chances are your thread is going to break. Read all about what needle you should be using here – Universal Needles...Are They Really Universal?

A fun blog series answering all of your basic quilting questions. Have you wondered how to square up a quilt? Let me show you!

OK, so you have the right thread. You have the right needle, but your thread is still breaking? Let’s dive deep. Like below the throat plate deep. (The throat plate is that metal plate that sits above your feed dogs. I know you knew that. I just wanted to explain for the other people who didn’t.) The next thing on our troubleshooting list is to give your sew-baby a nice clean. Check out this post on Sewing Machine Maintenance.

If you have tried all of these things and your thread is still breaking, it’s time to call in a professional. No, this is not the moment I give you my cell number. It’s time to find the closest sewing machine repair store or sewing machine dealer. Your thread continually breaking could be a sign that there are darker forces at work and a mechanic needs to crack open your machine to fix the problem. May The Force be with you.

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That concludes this round of Q&As, but join me next time for a whole new list of basic quilting questions. Do you have any tricks of the trade you’d like to add? Or maybe a question I should add to this list? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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17 thoughts on “Your Basic Quilting Questions Answered: Part I

  1. Jill says:

    Thanks! Even after quilting for some time, it’s good to read all those tips again. Especially the ironing one! I have a heavy hand with my iron LOL

  2. Pam says:

    I can sew a flat quilt, but sometimes after machine stitching my binding on it waves. I’m sure I’m stretching it too much. Pointers for that? I use my left top stitch foot for a nice even top stitch. I also use a 1/4” foot for sewing onto the back. I use binder clips.

  3. Mandy says:

    Okay I have been nesting my seams and they only line up perfectly about 70% of the time. I’m going to try your pinning and sewing slowly trick! Usually I just hammer right through it.

  4. Pingback: More Beginner Quilting Questions Answered: Part II - Suzy Quilts

  5. Danielle says:

    These are great! Do you have a tutorial on piecing quilt backing?! I just moved up from baby quilts to a larger throw size and need to piece a back for the first time. YouTube tutorials were minimal and the ones I did find we’re not very helpful. I looked through your site but couldn’t find anything.

  6. Jenny says:

    How do you mark quilting lines when the quilt sandwich is covered with basting pins? I’ve watched so many videos and Craftsy classes about quilting, and they always seem to ignore or gloss over this. I get great ideas for quilting patterns, and then have no idea how to dive in and mark it amongst all the pins!

  7. Pingback: Quilting Technique Questions – Answered: Part III - Suzy Quilts

  8. Jill P Davis says:

    I bought one of those seam rollers. Is it ok to open up and press a seam with that or will it create wavy edges just like an iron?

  9. Lois says:

    I’m a beginner quilter and my table runner is 24 squares long by 6 squares wide and made with all 4 inch squares. When you stitch in the ditch, do you have to stitch the rows both vertically and horizontally?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Stitching in the ditch just means you quilt so that your stitches fall right where the seams meet or, “the ditch.” How much you quilt and whether or not you quilt horizontally and vertically is totally up to you.

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