TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How To Machine-Quilt A Large Bed Quilt On A Home Sewing Machine by Donna Hussain

After seventeen years of use and abuse, the bedspread in our master bedroom, one of the first quilts I made as a novice quilter, was worn out. The fabric was beginning to tear weakened by cuddling, washings, sunlight and age. Even my husband, who was fond of the quilt, agreed it was time for a new quilt on our matrimonial bed.

Most of the quilts I sew are baby quilts or art quilts. I own a domestic sewing machine that serves me well when sewing small projects, but cannot handle the bulk and weight of a large quilt. I find it almost impossible to quilt by machine in the center of a large bed quilt since my sewing machine does not reach more than twenty-four inches from the quilt edge with ease.

My Limits on Machine Quilting

That is why I decided to adopt a quilt-as-you-go strategy for making our new queen-size bed quilt.

Donna’s New Quilt-As-You-Go Bed Quilt

I explain this process in the paragraphs that follow. I am introducing a methodology for machine-quilting, not giving directions on sewing a quilt with a particular block size or pattern. You customize the details. You choose the block design, the size of your quilt blocks, your color palette, and the dimensions of your finished quilt. The advantage of the quilt-as-you-go method is that it enables you to machine-quilt a large quilt on a domestic sewing machine.

Directions for Quilt-As-You-Go

  • Sew quilt blocks together to make a small quilt top measuring no larger than 48 inches x 48 inches.

  • Add batting and back fabric to this small quilt top and do the quilting by machine in a pattern of your choice. But leave unquilted a seam allowance of one half inch on all four sides of the quilt top. You will need this seam allowance when you later add blocks to enlarge the quilt.

  • Trim the batting one inch larger than the quilt top. Trim the back three inches larger than the quilt top. Trimming the batting and back will stagger the seams when you add more batting and back fabric to enlarge the quilt top.

  • The next phase is to add a section of quilt blocks rows, batting, and back fabric to the quilted top. This new section should not extend the measurement of the quilt top by more than 24 inches. Remember, it is hard to machine-quilt more than 24 inches from the quilt edge when using a home sewing machine.
Adding a Section to the Quilt Top

  • First sew the new block rows to the quilt top. Be sure to fold under the margins of the batting and back before the stitching begins so that they will not be caught in the seam.

  • Then add a new section of batting that is slightly larger that the block rows you are adding. To do so, first fold back the added blocks so that the batting of the quilt top is exposed. Fold back the small margin of back fabric as well. Then butt the new batting against the edge of the batting in the quilted top. Be sure both sections of batting lie flat. Baste together these batting sections by hand using the stitch illustrated below.
Basting Pattern for Joining Batting Sections

  • Add an additional section of back fabric. The back fabric should be slightly larger than the added block rows.

  • Then trim the batting (one inch larger than the new block rows), and back fabric (three inches larger) as you did when making the original small quilt top.

  • Machine-quilt next. To avoid puckers while machine-quilting I suggest that you first lay your quilt top on a bed. Place an ironing board at the foot of the bed and lower the board to bed level. Pull the new patchwork section and new batting onto the surface of the ironing board, but allow the back fabric to drop to the floor between the bed and ironing board. The bed will support the already quilted portion of the quilt.

  • Smooth the added section of blocks and the added batting to remove puckers. Iron the two layers together. The ironing will create enough friction to hold the two layers together while you turn over the quilt. (The new blocks are now face down with the batting on top.)

  • Now pull the back fabric onto the ironing board to cover the batting. Pull the back tight and smooth the fabric with the iron. Pin-baste the new section, then machine-quilt the layers together using the pattern of your choice.
Repeat these quilt-as-you-go directions each time you add a section to enlarge your quilt top.

Enlarging a Quilt Top

When your new quilt has been enlarged and machine-quilted to the size of your choice, finish by adding a binding. The queen-size quilt I made for our master bedroom using the quilt-as-you-go strategy is huge (102 inches x 141 inches) because I wanted the sides to reach only a few inches above the floor and a pillow tuck. I just kept enlarging and enlarging the quilt top with new 24” sections until finally satisfied with the look of the quilt when placed on my bed.

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.



  1. Sewing these large quilts certainly is a challenge! I wrote a post about three queen size panels I did (http://fiberfocus.blogspot.com/2008/06/inter-american-quilt-project-by-allison.html) and have a photo posted about how hard it was to quilt it on my Bernina. I did use thin cotton batting that had adhesive on it, which really helped. I had basted it and worked on sections, but it was physically hard to control the bulk. Some people suspend the quilt up with pulleys to make it easier to quilt. Thanks for the tips in this post, Donna!

  2. I love this! If only I had thought of staggering the seams in my own attempts to make quilt-as-you-go units. I had given up on machine quilting my own big quilts and have been sending them out for longarm quilting. Thanks for sharing your technique!


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“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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