Monday, November 9, 2015

Spiral Quilting Tutorial and Tips

This weekend I completed some crazy spiral quilting on the green scrap quilt. I say "crazy" because it's quite massive for this kind of quilt maneuvering (though not as massive as a queen or king - but it's 56" x 65"). I hopped on Periscope mid-process to discuss some tips and tricks for this kind of quilting, which you can view here if you'd like. I thought it would be helpful to explain them in "hard copy form," too.

Spiral quilting is a beautiful way to compliment any quilt. In my opinion, it especially resonates on minimalist modern quilts (because you can see so much of the texture) and on scrappy quilts (because the spiral brings all the elements together in a large circle).

Set Up for Spiral Quilting:
1. Pre-wind several bobbins - prevents more stopping later on. This motif uses a ton of thread so be prepared!

2. Try this on a small quilt before you "go big." A mini quilt or baby quilt is perfect (it was much easier to quilt Autumn Wind, which was 40x40, as compared to this green quilt).

3. Have your free motion/darning foot at the ready, and possibly your walking foot (see below for more info).

4. Use an extension table, knee lift, quilting gloves, and Supreme Slider if you can, though you can absolutely do this without these tools.

My Janome Memory Craft 6300, which is a professional domestic machine, came with the extension table and knee lift (which will change your life if you've never used it - push it to the right with your knee, and the presser foot goes up - you never have to take your hands off your quilt to lift the pf!). I purchased Machinger's quilting gloves three years ago and I'm still using the same pair. I love my Supreme Slider, which is a teflon sheet that covers the feed dogs for free motion quilting and makes the sewing machine surface much more slippery. All of these things make quilting on a domestic machine much, much easier! You can find any and all of these tools at your local quilt shop or machine dealer.

5. Use two tables. Almost every time I quilt something larger than a baby quilt, I set up a large portable table in front of my normal sewing table. This helps keep the bulk of the quilt elevated and allows me move the quilt with ease.

6. Spray baste your quilt. As I mentioned on my scope on Periscope, people use different kinds of basting methods and there's no right or wrong way, really - whatever works for you. I despise safety pins so I use spray. It keeps my quilt together much better than I've ever had otherwise, and it's much quicker. I use the large 10.93 oz. can of 505 spray, which goes a long way! Here's a great tutorial from Film in the Fridge for spray basting your quilts.

7. Decide how far apart your lines will be. If you want them to be equal, you'll want to use a walking foot and guide (or trace all your lines beforehand with disappearing marker, which would take forever!). If you don't mind them being a little off, use free motion the whole way. Some of my spaces were purposefully larger than others.

During Spiral Quilting:
1. Start in the middle of the quilt. To find the middle, fold your quilt in half top to bottom and mark the middle on the backing with a safety pin. You can take the safety pin out once you are all set up to begin.
2. Use your free motion foot for the first 10 circles or so. Then, it might be easier to use a walking foot. I have done both, and I like using the free motion foot all the way through because I can quilt longer before adjusting my quilt. Plus, I personally feel like I have more control over my FMQ foot. However, the quilting lines are sometimes not as smooth as using a walking foot. You have to experiment and use what's best for you.

On this quilt, I switched to a walking foot after about 9 circles around.

3. Every 5-8 circles around, check your backing to make sure your fabric didn't fold over on itself. You move your quilt constantly with spiral quilting, so it could happen to even the best basted quilt. If you stop and take the whole quilt off the machine, make sure you stay stitch (or stitch in place 3 or 4 times) to anchor your stitches before cutting the thread. Then you can start quilting again from a few stitches before you stopped.

4. Take breaks and drink a lot of water. Spiral quilting a large quilt is not for the faint-hearted (you'll likely have sore arms and shoulders), but it truly is a gorgeous quilting motif.

5. Many quilts are rectangle, so once you've quilted all the way out in a circle, you'll have to go back and fill in the top, bottom, and four corners of your quilt (see above in red). This part is much easier because you don't have to move the whole quilt in a circle!

6. Have fun! Spiral quilting can also therapeutic - I can attest to that!

Halfway through writing this post, I happened across 10 Tips for Spiral Quilting over at Flourishing Palms. Linda showcases the walking foot in a very detailed and helpful manner, so before you start quilting, I suggest you check out her post, too!

With my free motion foot only, I quilted this quilt with several spirals radiating from different sides. It's an experiment that went swimmingly well. More about that when I share the finished quilt!


  1. Great tips! I may have to try this soon!

  2. This is a really useful post. Thank you. x

  3. Hydrate and stretch! Important for anyone in the depths of quilting (and something I often neglect in my excitement o_O).

  4. Key points...drink water and take breaks. The quilt looks great.

  5. Looks great! And I am glad I read your post

  6. Thanks for the tips! I need to someday try something other than straight line quilting!

  7. Looking great! Ironically I am doing the same thing this week!

  8. Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I've only done spiral quilting on mini quilts. I'm impressed seeing it on larger quilts. You are right - it's not for the faint at heart!

  9. I love your spiral quilting. And thank you for the tips. Will be pinning.

  10. so beautiful! you know I've never done a spiral!

    :) Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

  11. I totally agree with what you've said here. The first quilt I decided to spiral quilt was maybe my 5th quilt ever, and luckily I had seen on someone's blog to start with the fmq foot and then switch to the walking foot. But something I figured out the hard way was that if a spiral goes one way it adds more and more quilt into the throat of the machine, but if the spiral goes the other way it has less and less fabric into the throat of the machine (I blogged about it here: ). That first quilt was the more and more way and it was like a full size bed quilt, so I ended up flipping it upside down to finish...and did end up sewing over some needles, so a yes to spray basting, haha.


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