Spring Quilt-a-Long: The All-Important Stabilizing Step

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Good Morning, Quilters!

Titanium Needles–The jury is still out!

Thank you to all who participated in yesterday’s conversation about Titanium Needles…

The  water is a little murky for me now–Is there a difference between Titanium Needles and Titanium-coated needles? Does one break and the other bend?  Do technicians see more damage? Maybe it’s better if a needle doesn’t shatter–just bends or breaks?  Does Titanium need to be capitalized?  Does the coating make FMQ easier?

These are pressing matters…

We need to get to the bottom of this!

I will check my sources and do some research.

Full report to follow…


In the mean time, YOU have work to do!

We are studying the effects of machine quilting on Half Square Triangles, and Borders with our Spring Quilt-a-Long!




The next step is to stabilize the quilt by stitching along the long axes of the quilt.

This step is very important whether your quilt is a small table runner like ours, our a king size bed quilt.  Stabilizing helps keep the quilt square and prevents shifting of the layers.  Once the quilt is stabilized, you can free motion quilt it in any order.


Choose lightweight thread (50 wt or finer)  in a color that matches either the strip or the triangles. When in doubt, choose a thread that is slightly darker rather than slightly lighter–it hides itself better if it’s darker.

Use lightweight thread in the bobbin, too.

I am trying Aurifil’s new 80 wt cotton on top and in the bobbin.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Use a walking foot or the dual feed on newer BERNINA’s for this step.  It helps prevent the layers from shifting while stitching.

Also, check the presser foot pressure and adjust it if necessary.  Not all machines have this option, but it is a nice feature when stabilizing a quilt.  It helps prevent the bulky layers from shifting.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

If you are using a BERNINA “D” foot -be sure to engage the Dual Feed behind the foot!

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL


Start at the top of one of the middle rows–between the top border and the row.  While constructing the top, we pressed the seam allowances toward the sashing strip–that creates a well–a depression between the two rows.

Stitch in the well–on the triangles.

Try a stitch length of 2.5 or slightly larger.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Stitch from top to bottom.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Stop at the bottom border and backstitch to knot.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Do not turn the quilt and keep stitching.–Doing so will cause the layers to twist.

Return to the top of the quilt and stitch the next row to the right in the same direction.

Gently smooth the layers as you go.

Stitch all the rows to the right of the center from top to bottom.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Stitch the right edge.

Turn the entire quilt–so the bottom is now the top…

Stitch the remaining rows from (the new)top to bottom.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Stitch the top and bottom borders.

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Perfectly stabilized!

At this point your quilt is stabilized and you can quilt it in any order without fear of twisting the layers.


On larger quilts, the method is the same–it just takes more time.  I recently stitched a queen quilt and the stabilization step took fifteen hours.

Take your time and enjoy yourself.  This is the perfect time for a glass of wine and loud music–or time to think, scheme, plan, daydream…

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL


I like to experiment with new materials and methods on every quilt I make.  I decided to try a technique taught by Cindy Needham.  She calls it ESS–“Every Stinking Seam”

In her Craftsy Class, Design It, Quilt It (25% off HERE)— a class I highly recommend…she recommends stitching in the ditch “every stinking seam” before adding any free motion quilting?

Every single seam? Hmmm….?


I decided to give this technique a try on this little quilt.  Join me, if you like.  If you don’t have time…that’s great, too!


With your walking foot on, switch to lightweight thread in the lighter color and stitch in the ditch on the light triangles.


Even though this quilt is small, this method requires a lot of twisting and turning…now I remember why I hadn’t adopted the “every stinking seam” method!

If this quilt were large–the twisting and turning  would take all the joy out of quilting for me…


Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

I’ll admit–the ditch-quilted row does look nice!

It’s hard to see in the image below–the right HST row is stitched in the ditch and the left side is not…

If you are making a competition quilt…maybe???

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL


While I liked the look, the walking foot method was painstaking.

So I tried my luck with free motion quilting in the ditch.  I lowered my feed dogs and attached my free motion foot….and off I went!

Because the lines are so short, it was easy to stay in the ditch and a lot faster!

This is a method I would consider!

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Below is an image of the quilt fully stabilized and stitched in the ditch of “every stinking seam”

You could bind this little quilt and be finished…

Stabilizing Spring Sampler, Lori Kennedy, QAL

Or return next week–when we get to use our myriad of motifs to add a personal touch to this sweet little quilt!

What about YOU?

Are you ready for a new challenge?

Are YOU using this quilt to try something new?  A new thread?  A new batting?  A new method?

Learn something new every day!


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 lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!

67 thoughts on “Spring Quilt-a-Long: The All-Important Stabilizing Step

  1. Just after I read your blog yesterday I received my email from WeAllSew, the Bernina blog. Interestingly the archive item NeedlenTip For Fusers, May 27, 2015 by Laura Wasilowski was on using titanium needles. You may find it interesting.

  2. I’m ready to start! I easily found enough HST blocks already made to make this little runner. Then I found enough to make a baby quilt with five rows of seven pinwheels! Now I have a whole empty drawer ready to collect more “orphan” blocks. So I’m looking forward to using FMQ on both of them! Fun, fun, fun! Well, after all that stabilizing.

  3. Hi Lori. This is always such a great reminder. I have some HST I was going to use but decided to lay aside. I think I think they’d make a nice runner like yours so I can join the quilt-along.

    So, it’s my birthday today and yesterday I came home late to find your book had arrived! What a great gift–your personal message and little surprise were so sweet. I love the book and can’t wait to sit down and really get into it. Thank you and looking forward to book #2!

  4. Do you ever use “invisible” thread when stitching in the ditch?
    Does anyone else have a hard time staying in the ditch? No matter what, I always have small stitches that stray off the line by a fraction of an inch (I FMQ with a ruler).

    • I took a 3 day class last year and the teacher recommended invisible thread to stitich in the ditch. It worked well and little mishaps are “invisible” and it is easy to use with the free motion foot. I was always a purist using only cotton threads on my quilts, but I am trying to be more open minded. Also the color always matches so I am not out looking for a special color

      • Great tip! What invisible thread do you use? Sometimes my sewing machine doesnt like invisible thread.

    • A lot of quilters love invisible thread. I find it a little cranky-but I will try it again. Yes I veer off course occasionally. I dont worry about that too much. If you have pressed toward the sashing it is easier to stay in the well.

      • I like Superior’s MonoPoly and Sulky’s polyester. Instead of putting the spool on the spool pin I put it in a juice glass beside my Bernina and then thread the machine as I normally would. This, along with lowering the top tension, has been working very well for me for years when I stitch in the ditch.

      • I’ve tried them all – and I really love Harriet Hargrave’s own brand of Invisible thread. It is nylon, and some say it will melt, but I have never had a problem with it. I have machine problems with all others, including MonoPoly and Sulky, but never with Harriet Hargrave’s own brand. She is closing her online store, so I’m not sure it is even available, sigh.

    • I have a Pfaff machine, and bought a ” stitch in the ditch foot” works great. It has a guide in the middle of the foot, which you just place in the ditch, then stitch away.Maybe there’s one available for your machine. .?

      • I think there is now that you mention it. I will have to check the number. Thank you!

  5. Lori, when you say check the pressure on the presser foot – how tight should it be. I can adjust mine and do. Often it seems to be squishing my quilt so tightly when I am SID. Any rule of thumb here that you use?

  6. When I stitch in the ditch I press on my seams open. That is also a huge controversy. But it is much easier to stay in the ditch if the seams are open. And I have never broken a seam by stitching that way. I also like pressing my seams open because it changes the way the quilt looks. There are no shadows / color variations like there are with seams pressed to the side.

    • I often press my seams open but in this case it seemed easier to press toward the sashing strip. I think either way is good.

  7. Titanium is a coating on the needles, applied after the needle is made, (which is also an interesting process). Needles shatter or break depending on what you are sewing when the break happens. A clean break usually comes when the needle hits something hard in the downward stroke, (think sewing over a pin) a shatter usually happens when FMQ and when moving your quilt your needle is not yet clear of the fabric and has flexed (a bit of bow in the needle shaft) when going down through the quilt and again hits something hard (often the bobbin case or the the bobbin race, and sometimes the needle plate or a finger). Titanium is stronger than the hardened chrome plated steel, and gives us a much longer life for the tip of the needle which really does all the work. They are great for piecing, general sewing and FMQ and come in almost all the various types and sizes!!!

  8. I enjoyed your information today. Another blogger recommends stabilizing by using SID as well. When I am ready to get started on FMQ, I think about SID and then I think of how long that will take….I get impatient and just start quilting. But when I get a bubble of fabric that has nowhere to go, I wish I had taken the time to stabilize first. I’m starting to really see the benefits of taking the time to do this.

      • I started FMQing a quilt without SID and it was a mess. Got advise at a LQS to do the SID to fix it. I was skeptical that the quilt could be saved, but did the deed and it really did save the quilt. I’m a believer and won’t quilt another quilt without SID in the major seams. The salvaged quilt was paper pieced and had a ton of seams, so I opted NOT to to ESS. It turned out fine, but it’s also not going into competition.

  9. I’m working on a quilt where the background is Kona overcast strips. I’m going to appliqué on it. What’s the right order? Appliqué, sandwich, stabilize?

  10. Every stinking seam?! That’s a lot! But I do agree, it does make a nice foundation for quilting! I’d love to hear what you think about the Aurifil 80 wt thread. I hope you’ll share your thoughts on how it worked for you. I happen to LOVE Autifil thread, so really, what could be wrong with it? 😉

    • I did have some trouble with the top thread breaking. It could be the needle or the thread is too fine for this job. Still experimenting.

      • Thanks for the great blog post! I started using Aurifil 50wt last year for quilting and it’s made my quilting so much better (that and practice). I’ll be interested to see if you make progress with the 80wt – I would have thought it was best to use for things like needleturn applique and hand piecing but if it would work in the machine that would be wonderful!

      • When I long arm quilt, I use a lighter tension with finer threads. I don’t know if it’s the same with your Bernina, but might be worth trying.

  11. Cindy Needham is a wonderful teacher. I have been lucky enough to take some of her classes in person. Her whole cloth quilts are incredible.
    You and Cindy have completely different takes on machine quilting and I’ve learned so much from both of you. I’m looking for time to complete this project….wish I didn’t work such long days! LOL

      • Cindy didn’t encourage doodling. She is also a big fan of stencils. I have not taken her online classes. Just classes at my local quilt shop which is now closed. 🙁
        She loves doing project on old linens.

      • Thank you for your assessment. I would agree with all three. Just wondering how you saw it.

      • I like both methods. I like that you encourage “art”…not that what Cindy does is not art but you encourage stretching your skills with the doodling and I really think it helps when machine quilting.

    • I would have assumed that SID is permanent, but now that can be another option (a lightbulb moment)! There IS a thread that washes away, if you wanted all that stitching to disappear! Just ensure you don’t forget & start to sew or use that temporary thread for something important!!

  12. I always stitch in the ditch in all the seams, even the intricate blocks. It really makes a difference. I use Wonderfil Invisifil 100 wt thread. It is very strong, comes in lots of colors, and sinks right into the ditch. Even if I go outside the line, you can barely see the mistakes. Really enjoy your blog – it’s the only one I follow regularly. Love your book, but the low contract illustrations can be hard to read without bright reading lights.

    • I LOVE Invisifil thread, especially for applique work. And I had not even thought of using it for ESS, but I will! I loved taking Cindy Needham’s class that Lori mentioned – and I loved her synopsis of Every Stinking Seam – but after a lot of trial and error, it really does make a difference. And also agree with Lori – if it is a large piece, it far too cumbersome to do with the the walking foot or a D foot if you use one; free-motion is much better. GREAT class and GREAT project, Lori!!! Keep up the good work!

  13. Thank you, thank you!!! I so appreciate the specifics on each step that takes me through this whole quilting process. Not too long ago, when you asked for feedback on what to base your next book on, I sent as SOS re basic/beginning steps.This is EXACTLY what I needed; every step is clear and sequential and it has minimized my apprehension. I am looking forward to some free time to sit down and try this now not-so-intimidating process!
    You are a blessing to quilters of all levels on our creative journey.

  14. Lori-
    Have you received your Microquilter invisible thread from Superior? I recommended it a few days ago. It is polyester, #100 wt and comes in colors. It is surprisingly easy to work with and has a nice feel.

  15. I’m puzzled as to why you don’t use the reverse stitching button instead of twisting and turning when stabilizing ESS. It minimizes the twisting and turning. You still have to manipulate but it’s usually not quite as bad if you try to forward stitch ESS. I use my built in drop down dual feed foot on my Bernina 780. Have never had an issue with ripples or bunching either.

    • Seems like a good idea! I would rather stitch in the direction I can see and there is more risk of creating distortion-but if you baste very well. As with all quilting-there is more than one way to do the job. Find what works for you and go with it!

  16. I forgot to add that I use my free motion foot if the quilt is small like the one above to do SID.

  17. Did you mention what kind and size needle you use for machine quilting? I just can’t seem to find the perfect one! Happy Sewing!

  18. Hi Lori, My sweet hubs gave me your book for Mother’s Day. Not that I dropped any hints or anything! 😉 I’m following along to improve my FMQ skills. Thanks for offering this Spring Quilt-a-Long!

  19. I enjoy listening to audio books while I’m stabilizing or doing some stitching that doesn’t require much thought. I get them through my local library in cd’s or digital.
    Makes it even harder to stop quilting.

  20. Hi Lori, I just posted a picture of my sandwich and I am super-excited to start quilting this weekend! Thank you for the QAL!

    I have never tried Titanium!

    • I love it!! Totally different colorway–very cool! Thats what I love about quilting-one pattern can look so different depending on your choice of fabric and thread!

  21. Hi Lori: I am doing the ESS by free motion in the HST,s and having trouble moving horizontally or vertically so I need to keep turning the quilt so I am just stitching straight toward me (hope that’s clear). Do you think that’s simply because I need more practice. I have done a little FMQ, but not much.

    • Really try to do it without moving the quilt. It takes more time but if you were doing a full sized quilt-all of that moving would be very difficult. Keep practicing!

      • That’s what I thought, practice, practice, practice right?
        Also, my HST’s are dark purple and white, just using up scraps, what color thread would you use?

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