Saturday, July 11, 2009


Faster than a speeding locomotive…. Is that how fast I should machine quilt? I get asked this so frequently and usually say “quilt as fast as you can, yet still feel comfortable and in control, and maintain quality in your work.” This is not a race!

We all have different standards in our work, so what is “in control” for one seems totally ridiculous for someone else. Some quilters quilt slowly at one consistent speed on the machine, pacing hand movements to keep stitches consistent and even, working at a smaller scale. Others do the “pedal to the metal” method and may have mild anxiety attacks keeping up with their speeding machines, and tend to quilt in a larger scale. Speed is a very individual thing, no right or wrong.

Your friend or everyone on your quilting forum might tell you to speed up and you’ll be better! Another friend will say slow down, you’ll be better! Actually, you have to listen to your own needs, personality, and quilting style, and then, you’ll be better.

I use all speeds in my quilting. I learned to quilt by applying the same kind of operating methods with my sewing machine that I used for sewing garments, or for piecing quilts. If it was a long smooth seam, I pressed that pedal and went fast, guiding the fabric with my hands, letting the feed dogs make the even stitches.

Sometimes I would back off on the foot control, when I needed to sew carefully, stitch by stitch. Inserting a collar, setting in a sleeve, sewing on a patch pocket—all techniques I did much more slowly. In piecing, just the same. Some long strips could be sewn together at a fast speed, yet setting in a “Y” seam needed a more cautious approach.

Naturally when I began to do free motion machine quilting I used these same sewing machine operating techniques and still do. I quilt faster now, because it is second nature to me, and repetition makes everything easier after awhile. But I still slow down when I get into tricky places, have to really nail a difficult design, or when I’m doing particular designs that might need more care to get them right.

And that means slowing down both the speed of the machine, and my hands. Many quilters slow their hands, that’s natural when there is a tricky spot or you can’t quite see, but fail to slow the machine as well. Larger galloping stitches are the result. Hands and foot must work together to create beautiful stitches.

Some designs I still do at one even speed, like “Diane-shiko,” a background fill done on a marked 1/2" grid, below, that I use in place of traditional cross-hatch grids. Even with this one-speed design, after I’ve quilted it for awhile at a session, I find that I am quilting faster than when I began. You get comfortable, into a rhythm, and learn where to look to allow you to go a bit faster---and maintain the same quality.

Most of my students tend to move their hands too fast, and run the machine too slowly. Learn to run the machine a bit faster, and slow down your hands for beautiful, even stitches.

Some are very, very fast quilters indeed. If you experience a sense of glee at your fast speed, and look at your finished quilting and like the results, then you are in the right speed zone.

Never apologize or worry about the speed YOU use. Do what is comfortable for you. The quality of a quilt is not based on how long it took you to quilt it, but the final outcome. Enjoy the journey.

News! My little red silk "quiltlet" pictured at the top of the post is now available for purchase with a bid now. Proceeds go to support the "Sew Red" campaign by Bernina, for the American Heart Association. It is about 9" x 12" on red silk dupioni, quilted freehand in red silk thread. The central motif is one of the original designs I did for the Bernina 830, only this one was done free motion with a little artistic license. If you are interested in more information, contact Bigsby's Sewing Center, 262-785-1177 or by email: We all thank you for your support. It's a beautiful little quilt.

Information on "Diane-shiko" is in my book, Quilt Savvy - Gaudynski's Machine Quilting Guidebook.

Happy quilting,


Victoria Findlay Wolfe said...

Very helpful information. thanks so much! Tobad I can't order some "Patience" to go along with your book! But I am guessing that will grow along iwth my experience with machien quilting... ;-)

Sunshine said...

Okay, take what I say next as a compliment: I can't believe you do the quilting you show in this blog by hand, i.e. free-motion and not with a machine where you pick a pattern, press start and go away while the computer does the work.
I know I'm still a beginner, playing around with stippling, loops and spirals, but never ever did I think this kind of quilting could be done by hand on a normal sewing machine (i.e. not huge machine-quilting machine).
I also must have stared at the Diane-shiko quilting for 5 minutes, trying to find an uneven stitch. I eventually gave and decided it cannot have been done by free-motion.
But since I have to believe your word, may I just say that you have my greatest respect for the amazing quilting work you do. I'm sure to keep checking back often to be awed and to a degree also humbled :)


Diane Gaudynski said...

Christine - I shall take that as a compliment indeed, and thank you so much! Of course, I see the flaws and mistakes, we all do that, but I do it free motion, much of it without marking, like the feathers. I've been quilting for years, and it becomes such a part of you that you don't have to think about the stitches anymore, just the smooth flow of the quilting.

Margo said...

I wish I had remembered your tip about doing Diane-shiko on the bias. I tried it recently in a quilt but it was on the grain. Yours is ever so much prettier! I still need to practice, practice, practice!!

Sunshine said...

That's good to hear, I won't give up hope yet! I feel like I'm taking your class through this blog and your comments about practicing on a big quilt and doing the same style until comfortable with are really valuable advice!


Diane Gaudynski said...

I am really glad the blog is helpful - new info for some, and a refresher for those who have taking my class or read my books. No giving up hope......keep trying!