Machine Quilting with a Serpentine Stitch

This is a slightly expanded version of a post previously published on the Cotton Cuts blog in September 2021.

I’ll say one thing about the global pandemic: I think I’ve done more sewing and quilting in the past year and a half than in the previous 10 years! Seriously, my sewing machine has been a lifeline, and the connections I’ve made through sharing my work – and enjoying everyone else’s work – on Instagram has made this time of isolation also one of creative joy and inspiration.

But one of the things I’m finding is that finishing all these quilt tops I’m making is easier said than done! I love to free-motion quilt, but I find it very taxing on my body (I have a domestic sewing machine – not a mid-arm or long-arm quilting machine); so I like to switch it up with walking foot quilting – which for me, is usually faster, too.

I’ve spent some serious time experimenting with different ways to go beyond “stitch-in-the ditch” and simple straight-line grids and jazz up my machine quilting. (Not that they aren’t perfectly great ways to quilt – I was just ready to play with some new-to-me techniques.)

The serpentine stitch (one of the built-in decorative stitches in my sewing machine) has become one of my very favorite ways to quilt with a walking foot – simple, fast, and lots of lovely texture.

Close-up of samples of machine quilting with a serpentine stitch by Beth Ann Williams

This is what the serpentine stitch setting looks like on my machine:

Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree & My Top 4 Favorite Patterns of Summer 2021

Since I like to work on multiple projects at a time, I occasionally experience a bottleneck of quilts that are all at the same stage. Such has been the case this month, when I ended up sewing bindings on 8 different quilts in a little over a week. Wow! My arms are ready for a break, but it’s so much fun to see each quilt finally completed. And it has given me chance to reflect on my favorite patterns of the summer.

But before I go any further, I’d like to elaborate on what I look for when I buy a commercial pattern rather than designing a quilt myself (which I also like to do).

What I Look for When I Buy a Pattern:

(listed in no particular order, recognizing that no pattern ticks ALL of the boxes – which is just fine!)

–A design that I haven’t seen before, or an clever twist on an old favorite

–A technique I haven’t tried before or don’t use very often

–Multiple size options (this isn’t a deal breaker if it’s only one size – as long as I feel confident that I can change the size if I wish to do so)

–Well-written (and tested) instructions with clear diagrams, cutting charts, and (bonus points) coloring sheets

–An opportunity to use a favorite fabric or collection of fabrics I’ve been saving for “just the right project”

And the most important factor:

Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree! Quick Bindings That Mimic the Look of Hand-Sewn

I like to have lots of different projects going at different stages at the same time, so I always have something interesting to work on. But sometimes there’s a bottleneck, and I have a bunch of projects that are all at the same step. That’s what has been happening to me lately – a pile-up of quilts just waiting to be bound.

Butterfly Bouquet quilt (pattern by Simone Quilts), made by Beth Ann Williams and quilted by Terri Watson of ThreadTales Quiltworks

For years and years, I bound all of my quilts with a double-fold binding machine-sewn first to the front of the quilt, and then wrapped around and hand-sewn to the back of the quilt. I love the beautiful, clean finish this method provides, but it does take time! Over the past couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with alternatives. (I know I could always just straight-stitch the binding; but I find it can be tricky to keep absolutely perfectly lined up with the edge of the binding, and I’m not especially crazy about how it looks.)

One of my favorite alternatives has been a Flange Binding (or faux piped binding) – I even wrote a tutorial here on the blog.

Church Window quilt made and quilted by Beth Ann Williams (pattern by Lo & Behold Stitchery), finished with a flange binding.

But not every quilt needs a piped binding (faux or otherwise), and my collection of quilts waiting for bindings was piling up. So I returned to another technique I’ve experimented with before – sewing the double-fold binding first to the BACK of the quilt, and then wrapping the binding around the the front, and stitching it down with my favorite “invisible” machine applique technique.

Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree! Finish with a Facing

A quick note before we dive into facings – I have 3 more Zoom classes coming up soon:

Easy & Effective Machine Quilting with a Walking Foot – Sat., April 17 & 24, 2021; 10 am – 1 pm

It’s All About the Thread – Thurs., April 29, 2021; 6 – 8 pm

Color Tools & Color Confidence – Thurs., May 6 & 13, 2021; 6 – 8 pm

Registration is through the Wyoming, Michigan Lakeshore Sewing store – 616-531-5561.

And now back to Facings. 🙂

My sewing machine has been getting a workout! I’ve been in full-on production mode with even more projects than usual in-progress at the same time. As I’ve been working, one of the techniques I’ve been exploring is different ways to finish the outer edges of my quilts.

My Sea Breeze table runner, finished with a facing. I also tweaked this foundation pieced pattern by Sharon Holland to better fit the dimensions of my table. I machine quilted it with variable channel quilting to add subtle texture without taking away from the elegant simplicity of the design. The wonderful batik fabrics are Java Batiks from Cotton Cuts. 🙂

I always finish my utility quilts (bed quilts, cuddle quilts, throws, etc.) with a sturdy French Fold Binding, as the binding is often the first area to start to show wear on a quilt that is getting lots of use.

But when it comes to art quilts, wall hangings, table runners, or other smaller items, there are other options. One of these is a facing. Facings are a great alternative when you don’t want to cut off or confine the design with a binding. There are lots of different ways to approach facings for a quilt; but after quite a bit of experimentation, I have found what works best for me. And even better – there’s a link to free printable instructions near the end of this post!

Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree! Fireworks, Curvy Quilting & “Disappearing” Binding

A quick note: my new fall online teaching schedule is up! In addition to repeating a couple of my most-requested classes, I’ve got some brand-new classes to share with you all.

I haven’t been posting much this summer, but I’ve certainly been sewing up a storm! I’m finding it good therapy. 🙂

Due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to enjoy our usual fireworks display downtown this year, but I was inspired by the July Java batiks box from Cotton Cuts to create some fireworks of my own (metaphorically speaking, of course). 😉

Goodies from the July Java Batiks box from Cotton Cuts.

I started by cutting out shapes with my Tri-Recs rulers, and created little four-patches for the corner of each block. (This was a design-as-I-go project – I didn’t have a pattern.)

I used the Tri-Recs rulers to cut out the star block, AKA my fireworks burst.

I turned my blocks on point, and added more four-patches to the setting triangles.

Building my design – I decided to extend the expanding “fireworks” by added four-patches to the areas where the setting triangles would be.

Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree – Flange Binding by Machine

What is a flange binding? It’s a great no-hand-sewing option for finishing quilts with a sturdy double fold binding while adding a fun design element to the outer edges of your quilt.

Church Window quilt by Beth Ann Williams (pattern by Lo & Behold Stitchery), finished with a flange binding.

With only a few exceptions, I’ve always bound my quilts by sewing the binding to the front of the quilt by machine, and then wrapping the binding around to the back of the quilt and sewing it down by hand. I expect that I will always finish my show and “heirloom” quilts this way, but I have been thinking for quite a while about how I can speed up the process for utility quilts. Especially now that I’ve become enthralled with sew-alongs, the number of  quilts in the to-be-finished pile is growing, and I’m finding it challenging to keep up with myself!

I’d done some experimenting, but had not settled on a method I was entirely happy with, when a couple of the ladies at the Muskegon Lakeshore Sewing store told me about the flange binding method demonstrated by Jenny Doan of the Missouri Star Quilt Company.

I was so impressed! The finished binding looks like it has been accented with fine piping – adding a fun design element at the same time as offering a relatively quick machine-sewing finish.

Since then, I’ve done quite a bit of research and found a number of different ways to achieve this effect.  I’m going to share what works for me – but please remember, this is only 1 of the many ways to do this. 🙂

There is quite a bit of preparation for this method, but I find that each step is an important factor in ensuring a hassle-free result at the end.

Ronan “assisting” me with binding prep – he was escorted upstairs shortly after this and remained banished for the rest of the process. 

Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree – Quilting with Decorative Stitches

Now that I’m participating in at least four new sew-alongs over the next few months, my finishing-spree is more important that ever!

This time, I’d like to share yet another machine quilting option – quilting with the decorative stitches that are built into your sewing machine.

Hold Tight Petite quilt, made by Beth Ann Williams, pattern by Sharon Holland.

My observations & recommendations: Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree – Hoops vs. Gloves for Free-Motion Quilting

I hope all of my US friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving! My husband and son couldn’t get away, but my daughter Connor and I had a fabulous road trip together to visit my family in Pennsylvania and New York. We had a wonderful time staying with my parents and then with my sister – including cherished opportunities to connect with many of my cousins and other extended family members. What a treat that was!

But now I’m home and back in finishing mode.

I’ve switched gears from machine-guided quilting with my walking foot to free-motion quilting with my darning or free-motion foot. This allows me to stitch in any direction I please – but also means that I am solely responsible for moving the quilt. The feed dogs of the sewing machine are disengaged so that the needle goes up and down, but doesn’t move the fabric. This means I need to have a careful balance between the speed at which I am running my sewing machine and the speed at which I am moving the fabric – run the machine too fast, and the stitches are too small; move the quilt too quickly, and the stitches are too long.  The goal is to create beautiful patterning (“drawing” with the sewing machine) while still keeping the stitches all approximately the same length.

Batting choice, needle choice, thread choice and tension settings can each make a significant difference in the appearance and quality of the stitching.

I often reach for 40 wt. variegated thread (with 60 wt. poly in the bobbin) when free-motion quilting. I love how the color changes add a subtle sparkle to the quilt.

But one of the main challenges of free-motion quilting is the physicality of moving the quilt. Fabric can get very heavy, and it’s all too easy for one’s hands to slip and lose control. Having a large stable, flat surface to work on really helps; this could be an extension table, a Sew Steady Table, or a cabinet with a surface flush with the surface of your machine. A Supreme Slider can also be a big plus – but you must first make sure it is anchored securely so that it doesn’t slide right into your stitches. Ask me how I know that…

In the past, I have steered away from the various hoops designed to assist with free-motion quilting, feeling that the downsides outweighed the potential pay-off. But I’ve been rethinking that.

I’m currently working on my Snowflake quilt from the sew-along with Nicole from Modern Handcraft

Snowflake quilt made & quilted by Beth Ann Williams, pattern by Nicole from Modern Handcraft.

As I quilt this, I’m considering what I learned from the previous two quilts in my Finishing Spree – my Church Window quilt (pattern by Brittany of Lo & Behold Stitchery) and the Enchanted Carpet bargello quilt made by my friend Ruth DeJager (original design from my book Colorwash Bargello Quilts).  Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree – Quilt-As-You-Go

Ronan contemplating my Talk of the Town quilt (pattern by Amy Ellis) turned Quilt-As-You-Go

Sometimes projects take a turn or two (or more!) along the way and don’t turn out as originally envisioned. I like to reframe these as opportunities for new “design decisions”.   😉

Earlier this fall, I signed up to participate in the Modern Patchwork Quilt Along – Talk of the Town Quilt with Amy Ellis. Little did I know that this was going to turn into quite the series of such decisions…

I read through the pattern carefully and selected the appropriate number of fat quarters specified for the size quilt I wanted to make.

My initial fabric pull for my Talk of the Town Quilt

The pattern was well-written and the diagrams looked very clear. But as soon as I started cutting my fabric, I realized I had a significant problem… the cutting diagrams assumed perfect 18″ x 22″ usable fabric from each fat quarter, and my prewashed fat quarters of fabric didn’t even come close. Most were around 21″, and that’s counting the selvage along one end.  So I didn’t have enough fabric!

I had to improvise.  Continue Reading…

Finishing Spree – Matchstick Quilting

Colorblock Love quilt made by Beth Ann Williams using the pattern by Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio.

Do you know what Matchstitck Quilting is? I didn’t until a few months ago when my friends Ruth and Michele told me about it. Yes, apparently I’ve been hiding under a rock… LOL

I had difficulty wrapping my brain around it at first; quilting lines only the width of a matchstick apart? Why on earth would you quilt so densely? But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. So I did a little research and then let the idea simmer a while.

Meanwhile, my son Jack almost never asks me to make anything for him; so on the rare occasion that he does, I tend to drop everything else and make it.  That was the case for this project. I fell in love with the Colorblock Love pattern by Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio when Mr. Domestic adapted it to make a Pride Pillow and featured it on his Instagram page to promote his fundraiser for the Trevor Project. When I told my family I was planning to make the rainbow version, Jack asked me why I didn’t make a Trans Pride wall hanging instead. So I did!

Although I usually love the extra patterning free-motion quilting brings to a quilt, I felt that it would be more distracting than complementary to the graphic nature of this quilt. Then I remembered Matchstick Quilting!

There are many different approaches to matchstick quilting. Here is what I did for this particular quilt: Continue Reading…