Quilting Ideas for a Big Bed Quilt

This post is part of a series:  the Big Bed Quilt-Along.  We're sewing along February - April 2018, but you can use the resources anytime to help you make a large quilt.  Use hashtag #BigBedQAL to share your progress!


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Is the quilting stage your biggest obstacle to finishing a large quilt?  I'm not surprised!  It's difficult to fit such a large quilt through the harp space of a regular sewing machine.  Plus, a large quilt is really quite heavy.  Quilting one is a workout!

I've only quilted two big bed quilts myself and sent a third out for longarm services.  One was made quilt-as-you-go, precisely so I could avoid the end-of-project quilting challenge.  The other I free motion quilted.  Unfortunately the free motion quilting did not last, due to thread quality.  The longarm quilted project is still wearing well on my mother's bed.

Special thanks to Pineapple Fabrics, our February Quilt-Along Sponsor!


Let's talk about some options for quilting a large bed quilt!

Quilt-As-You-Go

Large bed quilts are so much less challenging to complete on your standard sewing machine if made quilt-as-you-go.  Here you quilt each individual block and then join the already-quilted blocks later.  Once the quilt blocks are joined, you add backing and attach it with minimal work to complete the quilt.  

See my tutorials: Quilt-As-You-Go Log Cabins and How to Assemble + Finish Quilt-As-You-Go Blocks.

You can transform any quilt block into quilt-as-you-go by quilting the finished block to a matching square of batting.  Do not attach backing at this time.  Simply quilt to one layer of batting - that's it! An individual quilt block is easy to navigate underneath your standard sewing machine.  Follow my tutorial to join blocks and finish your quilt.

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I made my Bottled Rainbow queen size quilt via quilt-as-you-go.  To join the assembled top/batting to backing, I zigzag stitched over the block-joining seams only.  Minimal zigzag quilting was easy to execute, fast and worked well to hold the top to the backing.  That quilt has held up to lots of use!


Simple Machine Quilting

Do you plan on traditional machine quilting on your home machine?  Well, there's no magic wand to make this easy, but I do have a few tips to help you prepare.

  • Use a lightweight backing, in order to keep your overall quilt lighter and easier to maneuver.  A wideback like these at Pineapple Fabrics works well.  A heavily pieced backing is going to make your project bulkier and heavier.  Avoid!
  • Invest in a high quality thread.  The quilting thread works hard to hold your quilt together through wear and wash.  Some suggestions:  Superior So Fine, Superior Omni, Gutermann.
  • Baste thoroughly and use a walking foot.
  • Set up a large table space that can support your quilt as you pass it through the machine.  Don't allow your quilt to hang off the end of the table.  Gravity will skew your quilting, exhaust your arms and could even damage your machine.  If necessary set up multiple tables.
  • Purchase an extension table (pictured below) for your sewing machine, if possible.  The larger sewing platform eases the process while reducing quilter strain.
  • Roll your quilt tightly, exposing only about 6" of the quilt top at a time. Carefully roll and adjust the quilt between quilting passes so that the roll is tight enough to control and to fit through your machine's harp space. 
  • Place the roll over your shoulder to support the part of the quilt that has yet to run through the machine.  You may need an additional table behind you to help support the weight of the rolled quilt.  
  • Choose a simple quilting pattern.  Straight lines are easiest to execute when you have so little room and so much weight to move.  Resist the temptation to quilt sparsely.  Quilting provides durability.  1" line spacing would be sufficient.
  • Take breaks!  This is going to be a big process.  Set your expectations gently.
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Longarm Quilting

Are you new to quilt-making?  The process of creating a quilt from start to finish can easily be overwhelming.  Even if you typically quilt your own quilts, finishing a big bed quilt is intimidating for good reason.  You can opt to have a longarm quilter finish your project with durable, professional quilting.  It's a great way to ensure a durable outcome, enhance the project and meet a deadline.  

The bottom line is the beauty of something finished and loved, and if it takes a partner to get me there, I’m all the more blessed.
— Janelle Jones

Your longarm quilter will have instructions on how to prep the project for quilting.  It's pretty straightforward.  Typically you finish the quilt top, create (or buy) a backing that is larger than the quilt top and send both large pieces of fabric to the longarmer.  You don't have to baste a quilt when you send it for longarming!  

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Stitched in Color Quilting Services include batting and return UPS Ground shipping.  You can see our prices at a glance on this page.  Here is our process, with details about preparing your quilt top and backing.  Edge to edge quilting is the most affordable.  Let me know if you have any questions!


Hand Quilting or Tying

One last thought.  If none of the above are a good option for you, you might try finishing the quilt by hand quilting or hand tying.  This is a labor of love that can be quite enjoyable, even though it is a long process.  Be sure to do enough quilting or tying to reinforce your patchwork for durability.  Don't skimp!  More quilting/tying is needed for more intricate patchwork.  At minimum shoot for a 6" grid.

Here is my basic Hand Quilting tutorial, for working with chunky 8 wt thread.  For hand tying, make sure you tie square knots.  Avoid using 8 wt pearl thread for tying, since it can sometimes untie itself in time.  10 wt or finer hold better, in my experience.