Quilting the Top - A Tutorial

I have received a few questions and comments about my quilting.  I thought I would post a little about my self taught technique in order to answer your questions.

But first, my disclaimer:  I am self taught.  I am by no means an expert (there is proof of that in past quilts).

First…the machinery!  I use a Bernina Aurora 440 Quilters Edition. It is about 7 years old. It does have the stitch regulator.

When I first started quilting my tops, I used the stitch regulator. However, I no longer use the stitch regulator and I use it “old school” style.”   What I found is that the my own foot and hands coordinate better on timing and speed then the stitch regulator. In addition, it is a little more flexible when you are doing detailed stitching.  More on that a little later.  The one thing I did add to my machine was a larger table.  While I would love to have a sewing service where I could recess my machine, I do not.  A larger table does make it easier to sew bigger quilt tops.  One day…I will get a custom table with my machine recessed!!

How did I learn?

I practiced and practiced and practiced. I first started out with meandering quilting / stippling that I did on almost quilt until I felt comfortable. It took about 5 or 6 quilt tops until I felt comfortable and liked the results. The one thing that I found out is that practicing on a small sample quilt sandwich versus using a real quilt is a lot different. I would practice on a small sample, but I think you can’t beat quilting on the real deal…a real quilt top. I find straight line quilting hard because there is a level of perfection that I try to achieve because of the straight lines that seems almost impossible.

My advice…master stippling first. Try it over and over again before you try anything else.

In the quilt below, I used contrasting thread which had a very nice effect.  For more information on the quilt below, you can click on this link.

Quilting Close Up - Contrasting Thread

Also, try different sizes of stippling, different ways to maneuver your entire quilt on your machine while quilting the top, etc. I certainly do not consider myself an expert or even intermediate, but I have improved over time and that is all you can hope for, right? I just like the idea of completing every element of a quilt.  In the quilt below, I used a thread that blended right in and very small stippling.

The more you practice, the more you will understand your machine and the tension settings that you need to adjust when quilting.  Check the front and back of the quilt to make sure the stitches are even and not too tight or too loose.  If you go too fast or the stitches are pulling through the back, you need to slow down and reduce the tension.  This is why you need to practice, practice, practice!  For more details about the quilt below click here.

Applique…for the custom flower quilt below, I actually sewed on the applique pieces as part of the quilting process.  I used very small stippling in the background and then outlined sewed each applique piece into place.  Pretty tedious, but had a great result.  Notice that when you use stippling, the sewing never crosses over itself; that is the key.  Here is the link for more details on the quilt below.

Here is what it looks like to sew a larger quilt on my sewing machine.  This takes some practice and the more you do it, the more you will learn about the best way to sew large quilts on your machine.  Every machine is different…

TIP:  I find that pulling my quilts toward me when quilting is easier than pushing them through.

Quilting the Top

Here is a closeup of some decorative quilting that I did on my Jasmine Quilt.  This is the first quilt that I really branched out of stippling and did some more free form design…none of it was really planned.  I just went for it.  I did some shadow quilting, some meandering, some stippling, etc.

Also, notice the open foot below..I like this foot the best when quilting my tops so that I can see where I am going.

Quilting Close Up

Here is the finished quilt top…for more details on the quilt below, click here.

Jasmine Quilt All Finished

A few other key items:

I use aurifil cotton thread.  It is the best and I use it on everything.  I highly recommend it.


Practice, Practice, Practice

The more you practice, the more you will surprise yourself.  And…..

Share your projects….would love to see your quilting adventures….



  1. Marla @ SewHungry says:

    Thanks for the tips. I am quilting on a basic machine (ergo no throat space to speak of!) but am slowly getting the hang of it. I stumbled onto your blog from the lily’s quilts link party.

    • Wendy Cohen says:

      Practice!!! You will get the hang of it! I am still learning! You will also figure out the best way to work with your machine and different quilt sizes. I just finished quilting a top yesterday…I will post about it later today. Have a great day!

  2. ThreadTime says:

    Loved your post. I recently bought the Bernina 820…I will admit it was primarily for the throat space on the machine. I have also ditched the stitch regulator. I seem to want to go just a shade faster than the regulator does. But I have loved playing with free motion quilting. Totally agree on your recommendation to practice!

    • Wendy Cohen says:

      I was just looking at that Bernina yesterday at my local shop. It does have a ton of throat space! I completely agree with the stitch regulator…cool idea but I think I go faster than it can go as well. Thanks for stopping by and happy quilting! I just finished a quilt top yesterday so stay tuned for a new post!