Six Ways to Ruin a Quilt with Machine Quilting


Six Ways to Ruin A Quilt, Lori KennedyGood Morning, Quilters!

Today we begin a new weekly series…

Let’s face it…the number one reason quilters hand their quilt tops over to professional long-armers is FEAR.

We fear we’ll ruin our quilts with our quilting.

For some reason, we are never afraid that a professional will ruin our quilts with their quilting. They are professionals–we are amateurs!

Hmmm….how did the professionals become professionals? They practiced!

Now I’m not opposed to professional quilting.  

I recommend professional quilting:

  • For deadline quilts
  • For group quilts
  • For very large quilts
  • Or if you find quilting too physically demandingPoor Quality Quilting, Tension Issues

What I am against, is avoiding machine quilting out of FEAR of ruining a quilt.

Let’s look at the best ways to ruin a quilt with machine quilting…

6. Improper tension– A perfectly stitched motif will look awful if the tension is wrong.  Learn how to adjust your machine tension and make samples–every time you begin quilting.

Poor Quality Quilting, Tension Issues
5. Wrong thread-Every thread is designed to do a job.  Some thread is for construction, other thread is decorative.  Some thread creates texture, other thread shows off the design.  Use decorative threads for best results when quilting.


4. Unbalanced quilt density-The density of the quilting should be balanced throughout the quilt.  Some areas of the quilt may be less quilted than others, as long as it is evenly spaced throughout the quilt–otherwise the quilt may become distorted and the composition will be less pleasant.

Machine Quilting, Flowers, Lori Kennedy

3. Wrong Scale-Once you’ve chosen a motif, it is important to doodle and stitch samples to test the look of a motif.  Try a sample of the motif with echo stitching which improves the look of most motifs.

Machine Quilting, Flowers, Lori Kennedy

2. Allover Meandering or Stippling-I know that many of you will disagree with me, but whenever I see a quilt with all over meandering, I want to send them a link to The Tuesday Tutorials.    I’ve written about meandering and stippling many times including HERE .  We will re-visit my opinion of meandering and I will offer easier alternatives in the next few weeks…

Stipple, Meander


1. Allowing the quilt top to languish (neatly folded) in a Sterlite box in the basement…out of fear of “ruining” it.

A quilt top will never be a quilt without overcoming the fear…

Basket Quilt, Lori Kennedy

Unprison those quilt tops!!!

We will discuss each of the quilt “ruin-ators” in more depth over the next six weeks.

Stay tuned!


PS…Woo HOO!!!!  My Craftsy video got a TEN STAR review–out of a possible five stars!  (50% Off my Classes HERE)

Craftsy Review of Lori Kennedy's Class

Craftsy Title Card

PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at  Thanks!

64 thoughts on “Six Ways to Ruin a Quilt with Machine Quilting

  1. Wise words and true particularly the fear part and I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard. Indecision is also part of my problem in getting started.

  2. This post hit home. I have learned to dread the quilting phase of producing a quilt. I love my walking foot, and anything in a straight line – I’m queen of cross-hatching, but I can never quite get the nerve up to attach my darning foot, drop the dogs and just get going with a bit of FMQ. Having recently produced a collaborative quilt with donated blocks, I’ve learned to love QAYG, which of course is the perfect opportunity to practice, so I’ll be revisiting some of your tutorials. I look at some of them wistfully, knowing it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to accomplish such perfection. But at least I’ll now try…

  3. So on point and concise! I am sharing with my small quilt group in which are some newbies who would benefit. Cant wait for follow-up blogs.

  4. Thank you, thank you, Lori, you’ve described me and my languishing quilt tops perfectly! I’ve had a quilt ruined by a new-ish longarm quilter who didn’t have proper tension on her machine, so I know there are levels of professional. When I do machine quilt my quilts – the biggest I’ve tackled is twin sized – I’m always so pleased I did it myself. I look forward to this series!

  5. I am so glad I signed up for your emails about new posts. I would have been so mad at myself if I had missed this one and the ones to follow. I feel as though you are speaking directly to me. Often I freeze up after piecing a top because not only do I not know what design to quilt but I am afraid to even get started with the actual quilting. It does seem such a shame to go to all the trouble and fun of piecing a quilt top that you love and then stick it in the drawer to never see daylight again. Why do we do that to ourselves? Ah yes, we are afraid we will ruin the beautiful quilt. Cannot wait for your next installment. Thank you, thank you for taking on this subject!

  6. You hit the nail on the head, repeatedly in this post! Someone must have sent you a photo of all my N2BQ’s!!! (Need to be quilted) I’m not afraid to quilt on my domestic machine, I struggle with planning design & scale on large quilts. Minis look great densely quilted. I don’t want to straight line or stipple larger projects out of ‘fear’ of ruining the whole quilt. Looking forward to more in this series.

  7. Thank you for writing this blog. Even though I am a professional, I encourage everyone to take the plunge and throw fear out the window. Your tutorials are so clear and well done that I have recommended them to my customers who show any interest in giving quilting a try. You are one of the best bloggers on this subject. Keep up the great work of encouraging all levels of quilters to give up the “fear” of ruining a quilt by quilting it.

  8. I’ll be interested to hear more about your thoughts against meandering and stippling. Right now, I don’t agree that ALL stippling or meandering is bad, and to say that it ruins a quilt……not quite there. I’ll be listening, though.

  9. Yep!! Fear is my problem. When will I overcome it!!! I will be glued for the next 6 weeks to work on this. Fear of the spacing, Fear over the right thread, Fear over the right design for the right space. Thanks for a the “Inbox Jaunt” Lori.

  10. A few years ago I had some memory wall quilts commissioned, when I got them home I thought ” I know I could have done better myself using your tutorials!” Can’t wait for this series!

  11. Fear is definitely my problem. It is so bad that I am still holding on to quilt tops that I made over a year ago. What is worse, these tops are already promised to family members who saw them. I worry that they will no longer like them after I try to quilt them. I am looking forward to reading more on this topic.

    • I am guilty of a similar omission. The quilt tops for my family members were professionally quilted. Expensive and less rewarding than finishing them myself. But several beautiful quilt tops completed for MY living room couch, MY blank wall, and MY bed lay quietly waiting in boxes downstairs. I can’t justify the cost of professional quilting. Fear of failure, lack of regular practice, and uncertainty of exactly what to quilt on each are my biggest challenges. I hope to have at least one done by the end of this series.

  12. Lori…your blog is absolutely THE BEST. From the Tuesday tutes to Open Line Friday to your thoughts on various subjects, especially today’s. As I am a perfectionist, I, too, procrastinate when it comes to quilting my tops. I know the upcoming “fear of quilting” discussion will surely motivate me to “just do it!” Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping us become better, more confident quilters!

  13. thank-you Lori for all your expertise. I am going to try and do a quilt(panel) for a baby. It is an ocean scene(that is what the parents want). There is alot of space in the ocean and I am trying to figure out what to do

  14. I am a professional longarmer, and believe me, I did not practice on anyone else’s quilt before I was ready to go into business. I took classes, practiced on cheater cloths, my own quilt tops, and lots and lots of muslin practice pieces (now serving as bedding at the local animal shelter). I really take offense at your off-handed remark in an effort to be funny.
    And while professional quilting can be good, impozing on a longarmer for a deadline quilt is also unfair ~ if you have a deadline, plan for it. There is no reason a pro should bump your quilt ahead of another customer who has planned for a dealine.
    And you are right about the fear ~ but it can be healthy, too. If I am being paid to contribute the quilting to someone’s creation, I better be afraid and do my very best.
    I guess my point is that all quilters should learn their craft, practice, research, and take lots of classes. PPP ~ practice, practice, practice.
    The more you know, the better you can be.

    • Thank you for your comment, Eileen. I did not intend to imply that the professionals learned to quilt on other’s quilts, but simply that they hone their skill with every quilt they complete. I have altered the post to make that point clearer. As for deadlines–there is no implication in my post that one could ask a professional quilter to bump anyone else’s quilt for their deadline. As for fear–fear may be good if you are a professional working on someone else’s quilt, but this post is addressing quilters who avoid quilting any of their own quilts out of fear. That type of fear is paralyzing and counter productive.
      Thank you again for contribution to this post!

  15. Nice article and I agree completely. I love to FMQ my quilts. I know they are not perfect, but they are entirely my creations and I am proud of that. Practice, practice, practice is the key – both on paper and little quilt sandwiches for each quilt to get the design and feel down then take the plunge.

  16. I’m still troubled with decorative stitches with my machine. I’ve done samples, it goes fine on the quilt top & all of a sudden I get stitches so tight it drives me nuts!!!

  17. Fear??? Did fear keep everyone from piecing a quilt??? No!! Why??? Cuz absolutely nothing is permanent…….if it’s not “perfect”, thread may be removed….right??? And all this after many hours were spent LEARNING HOW TO PIECE!!!! But……the final quilting process is supposed to come without the same diligence??? I know I may be overreacting to this but any process/skill is learned by repetition! C’mon….join the FMQ fun!!!! Doodle and then take it to fabric…..then….take it to your piecing!!!!!! You CAN do it!!!!!!!! 15 minutes of “play” each day will work wonders (but not longer periods of time less often!!!!!!!).

  18. So very true Lori. Haven’t been to Craftsy for so long don’t know why! But made after my splint comes off I will start doing some extra practise too! I’m going to check out your class by the way looks too good to go past! Many thanks Lori you do, do brilliant work!

  19. Such good words for those that quilt. Quilting something that is beyond our comfort zone is all ways a challenge. Thank you for the encouragement.

  20. I have to tell you that ever since i started reading your blog, almost a year now, i have been practicing my doodles and FMQ. The other day my husband and friend commented on how good my quilting was and how improved. They actually recognized my doodle designs and it is because of your inspiration. Thanks!
    (I am quilting a quilt i pieced for a niece’s wedding)

  21. I do enjoy reading your blog. Coming to your site is a daily highlight for me. I do like quilts with overall meandering/stippling. It is quick and easy to do. When fabrics are busy and you are looking for an overall soft texture, it is a good choice and does not ruin a quilt. Quilting on busy fabric does not show well and texture might be what you are looking for. With that being said, busy fabric is also a good place to try out a new design as mistakes don’t show as much. Often times though, I find that other designs can get too dense with thread which makes the quilt stiffer. Surprisingly, most of my friends/family love quilts with meandering–it is that overall softness and texture that they love. Many times, I have incorporated motifs into meandering. I am glad that you plan to show some easy alternatives to this meandering.

    • I agree with Alice. Stippling has it’s place, especially when used for function rather than a design element. I tend to use lots of prints in my quilts and typically stipple or meander to fill a border. I’m so used to doing it that I’m pretty satisfied with the results. Sometimes I do a loop-de-loop instead, which I think is a more casual design and better suited to a whimsical theme or a child’s quilt. However, I know it’s time for me to get doodling and practicing some new designs, especially now that I’m going a bit more modern with plainer backgrounds and more negative space to fill. I will divide and conquer, thanks to Lori’s tutelage and encouragement!

  22. For a free motion beginner, stippling IS the answer. It’s the best way to become familiar with free motion and most important, the quilt gets quilted and DONE. I would not discourage this classic, it’s classic for a reason for whatever the design or peacing of a finished top, it looks great. Meandering on, Lesley

  23. Way cool – I subscribe to The Quilt Show e-newsletter, and today’s email featured a link to this page! So glad you are getting attention from Alex and Ricky, Lori! The word is being spread! Quilt on!

  24. Once again, you hit the nail on the head!! I’m with you, I HATE stippling and meandering. Did meander twice on quilts when I first started quilting (at the customer’s request) and I just flatly refuse to do any more!! So boring and ugly, as well as being a cop-out. So many other cool designs to do that are just as easy but look awesome too!! Great new series…fabulous that I got to click through via The Quilt Show!!!

  25. love this post – number 1 is the reason I have 20 tops in the cupboard even though I’ve actually quilted 3 tops – my first was stippled ! I have a wonderful domestic sewing machine and really just need to get these tops quilted – its not like they’re going into a show or will be heirloom quilts !! one thing I do have an issue with is quilt density – I seem to quilt fairly small and it takes a real effort to try and quilt larger and then I find I’m quilting small again – do you have any tips on keep the scale the same across the whole quilt ?

    • Those of us who quilt on a domestic machine tend to quilt more densely because it is very difficult to move the quilt for the long sweeping lines that long armers can create. It is just a different look and can be used to our advantage, but you are right, the key is to be consistent throughout the quilt. Doodling helps, but just being conscious of it will also help. At the end of each session, look at your quilt. If you have areas that are more and less dense make sure they are evenly spaced within the quilt–then it will look like you planned it. I tend to quilt differently each day–some days I feel tighter than other days, so I look at my quilt and the previous density and do a practice sandwich before I get started on my good quilt. Hope that helps!

  26. Pingback: Water and Ice-A Machine Quilting Tutorial | The Inbox Jaunt

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  28. Currently getting very cozy with my seam ripper as I learn to do quilting. I know one day I will get it right, but until then I will keep trying. Great post!

  29. I also disagree. I like a quilt with all over meandering or stippling. I think they look pretty. The great thing about quilts is that their beauty is in eye of the beholder. Many times so many rules discourage people from even trying to machine quilt their own quilts. I agree with other posts, meandering and stippling are classics for a reason. There are other beautiful quilting designs but nothing wrong with meandering and stippling. Sometimes quilting designs can take away from a pattern and a quilt may lend itself to meandering and stippling. Tired of sooo many rules, do whatever you think is pretty on your quilt!!

    • When I have taken classes from professionals, they say to throw out the rules. As for meandering and stippling, I think that if done well, they can add to the beauty of the quilt. It seems to me that with all of the quilting that is being done by home machines and long arm machines, there is a tendency to fill every bit of space on a quilt with so much quilting. Many quilts look over quilted to me, distracting from the fabrics and the piecing which I usually find more interesting and attractive

      • I agree–throw away the rules and do what YOU like–I just wanted to get people thinking–I think stippling is over- used…it is not the right motif for EVERY job–and sometimes it is used that way.

  30. I could completely relate to your fear statement, however for me my fear is well founded. I am horrible at machine quilting and I have messed up numerous quilts trying to force myself to join the machine quilting bandwagon. These days I hire a longarmer for larger quilts and hand quilt the smaller ones. I’ve been hand quilting since I first learned to make quilts in 1993. It’s really my preferred quilting method. I enjoy every stitch and love the result, even if my stitches aren’t perfect, which they rarely are. I also love how hand quilting connects me to quilters of yesteryear when hand stitching was the only way to quilt.

  31. My problem has been “Not enough fear” which has led to some “pretty amazingly strange designs”….lol. My friends, thank goodness, don’t have a clue that I was practicing on the quilts they’ve received. My new goal is to take it more slowly when finishing my quilts. I’m prepping to make table runners for Christmas…

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