Getting Started with Machine Quilting – Tips from Christa Watson

Hi friends. I am so excited to have guest poster, Christa Watson sharing her tips for machine quilting with your own sewing machine! I am the first to admit, I don’t trust myself when it comes to machine quilting my own quilts on my machine at home. I’ve done a few and I’m definitely more confident with straight lines than I am with free-motion, but I am so impressed by what I’ve seen others be able to with quilting on their machines at home.

Machine Quilting

Christa is one of those people. She’s even written two popular books on the subject Machine Quilting with Style and the Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting with Angela Walters. She regularly teaches classes locally (Las Vegas) as well as traveling to venues such as QuiltCon. Since she’s a pro (and I’m in need of plenty of help myself) I asked if she’d be willing to share some of her favorite tips with all of us. Here she is:

Hi all! It’s Christa Watson here and I’m so excited to be guest posting here on Amy’s blog. I’m sure you all know by now what a great cheerleader she is for helping you get more done in less time. I love using Amy’s tips and tricks to speed through the piecing part so I can get to what I think is the most fun part of making a quilt – machine quilting!!

Christa Watson Books

I’ve recently written two books on the subject: Machine Quilting with Style, and The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting, so today I’d love to share five tips that can help you get started with machine quilting, if you’d been to afraid to try.

Tip 1 – Let Go of Perfection

Unfortunately, too many people think machine quilting has to be computer perfect to be functional and beautiful. Please, repeat after me, “no, it doesn’t!”


In fact, my co-author Angela Walters and I recently collaborated with Patchwork Threads to create T-Shirts that embrace our philosophies of imperfection. Angela believes that Finished is Better Than Perfect. And I proudly proclaim to be a Perfectly Imperfect Quilter.

Tip 2 – More is More When it Comes to Machine Quilting

When it comes to machine quilting, just remember that more is more. Contrary to popular belief, quilting the heck out of your quilts does not make them stiff. Just remember these simple tricks to keep your quilts soft and supple: use thin cotton thread for piecing and quilting (such as Aurifil 50 weight), and choose a natural fiber batting such as cotton or wool. Then be sure to use and wash your quilts – they will soften up in no time!


Quilting detail of “Cornered” from The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting

Want to know my secret for hiding less than perfect stitches? Just add more quilting!! When your quilting wobbles and bobbles, just add more quilting to what you’ve already done, and no one but you will notice your “mistakes” (and I bet you’ll be hard pressed to find them!!)

Tip 3 – Embrace the Hand Crafted Look

I used to spend hours and hours marking my quilts, only to get frustrated when my lines wouldn’t stay straight, or my feathers and swirls weren’t all the same size. The day I ditched my stencils and embraced the beauty of “hand-crafted” quilting was such a liberating day for me! Now I can spend time adding wonderful texture to my quilts and no two motifs ever look the same. I love it when you can see the hand of the maker in their work. 🙂


Quilting Detail of “Facets” from Machine Quilting with Style

My quilt Facets, above, was the first one I designed for my first book. It went on to win a ribbon at the AQS quilt show in Paducah this year, imperfections and all! When you look closely, you can see that the motifs aren’t perfectly spaced and the stitches aren’t totally uniform, but when you step back and view the quilt as a whole, all you see is bold color and beautiful texture.

Tip 4 – Choose Blending Threads and fabrics

I rarely use contrasting threads in my work. When you quilt with dark thread on light fabric, or vice versa, every last detail shows up. So make it easy on yourself and choose a thread color that matches most of the fabrics in your quilt, or switch threads if you have stark color changes in your quilt.


Christa’s version of “Choosing Colors”

In our book The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting, Angela and I each made the same 10 quilts showing different fabrics and quilting motifs. For our Choosing Colors quilt, I used one color of thread for each rainbow colored “paintbrush” block, while Angela chose a soft gray that blended into the dusty colors of her version.


Angela’s version of “Choosing Colors”

Choose busy prints if you want to hide your quilting, or solid fabrics if you want your machine quilting to really show. Most of my early quilts were made from busy prints while my newer quilts have incorporated more solids as my skills have improved. It’s also a good idea to use a busy back so that your bobbins will blend in, too. (And yes, I always match my bobbin color to my needle thread.)

Tip 5 – Practice Makes Progress

The best way to learn is really just to dive in there and start quilting on real quilts. There’s nothing wrong with making quilts and then giving them away to friends and family. They will think it’s the best thing ever and you won’t have to keep your practice pieces around as a reminder of how far you’ve come (unless you want to of course). And remember, just have fun with what you are doing! You are making your best work right now and that’s really exciting!!


This is my happy place – quilting while listening to a fun podcast or audio book.

In both books I include the complete instructions on how to piece each quilt, and I show step by step where to start quilting and what motifs to use. Whether you like to quilt by hand, by machine, or by “check,” just know it’s ok to experiment and try new things. After all, it’s just as important to learn what you like as well as what you don’t. 🙂

Happy quilting, new friends!!

Thanks SO much Christa!


If you’re ready to learn more details or see video of these tips plus a lot more information, check out Christa’s Machine Quilting class on Craftsy. I’ve taken the class myself and it’s full of SO many great tips and techniques. This link will give you a 25% discount on the class. 😉


If you’re interested in more Quilting Tips and Tricks check out this post or my Quilting Tips pinterest board!

If you’re looking for other classes, check out Craftsy where you can see my own class and a new favorite class Quilt Faster, Accurate Streamlined Piecing by my friend Lee Monroe (aka May Chappell).

 *this post contains affiliate links

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  • Reply
    Sarah Elliott
    June 10, 2016 at 6:02 am

    These are such useful tips! Thanks to Christa and you as well, Amy, for having her guest host!

  • Reply
    tisha @ quiltytherapy
    June 10, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Great tips. Just what I needed as I’m attempting FMQ here and there.

  • Reply
    Tracy H
    June 10, 2016 at 9:25 am

    So helpful, especially “let go of perfection”! Thank you!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, Amy!! 🙂 I have a Bernina 750QE and do my own quilting and have to say that with practice, I’m actually getting better! The key is just to “let go” … get in a groove and go for it. The tip about washing the quilt is SO valuable; I can’t wait to throw it in my washing machine and drier after I’m finished – it gives it such a beautiful “antique” look and it’s so soft. My “first quilts” are sitting folded up nicely on a bench in my backyard and are used for those of us who get cold in front of our fire pit or want to lay on the grass or whatever!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    I’m a believer in the Finished is Better than Perfect phrase! My favorite hint is more is more! I’m going to remember that one.

  • Reply
    Sandy (Yoho) Trachsel
    June 11, 2016 at 4:14 am

    These were great tips, and very encouraging for a new machine quilter like me! Thanks!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Great tips, thanks!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    I always love Christa’s approach to things. No pressure–just lots of encouragement and fun!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    I love this encouragement. I really do need to practice more.
    I am just really grateful that there are so many smart generous girls out there to help me along the way. Thanks loads

  • Reply
    June 12, 2016 at 1:28 am

    Thank you I’ve just spent 14 days quilting a very large quilt and feeling that it was not worth the effort I feel so much better after reading this.

  • Reply
    Jo Avery
    June 12, 2016 at 5:21 am

    Thank you so much for this wonderful advice Christa (and for hosting Amy), I agree with everything you say and so feel I must be going in the right direction with my quilting! People always seem so amazed that I quilt all of my quilts on my home machine (Pfaff QE4.0) and aren’t interested in a long arm, but I feel I can still get better and better at quilting with my Pfaff and there is no where I can’t take it with enough practice. I am looking forward to taking a class with you in Savannah!

    • Reply
      June 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      Jo – I’m the same way – I prefer quilting on a domestic to a longarm any day!!

  • Reply
    June 14, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    This is so timely! I heard Christa on the Modern Sewciety podcast and then wrote my latest blog post about imperfect quilting! Thanks for this great post – very inspiring for us beginner FMQ’ers!

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