There’s nothing quite like having a beautiful quilt to snuggle under for these cold months of the year. And not only that but one becomes a precious family treasure that lasts for years.
Creating your own quilt is incredibly rewarding, especially when using your own favorite colors and designs.
While many people make beautiful quilts by hand, this post is all about how to choose a special sewing machine for quilting––a machine that covers different technical aspects than a regular sewing machine––and speeding up the creative process in time for the cold months ahead.
What is a quilt?
Quilts are made by sewing two pieces of fabric together with filling––known as wadding, kapok or batting––in between the layers. The most visible layer is the decorative top of the quilt.
Quilting is not only about putting different pieces of fabric together; it also involves stitching designs over the quilt. This serves both as decoration, and fixing for the filling between the two fabric layers.
The most popular types of quilts are:
Where quilting originated
The term “quilt” comes from the Latin word culcita meaning ‘stuffed sack’.
Quilting has been around for many years, even thousands of years, with the earliest depiction of one being found on a carved ivory figure representing one of the first Pharaohs from around 3400 BC.
It is believed that quilting was introduced to Europe from the Middle East by the Crusaders late in the 11th century. And later to America as the settlers from Europe arrived, bringing the art of quilting with them.
Fabrics were imported to America from Europe resulting in a lack of variety and high prices. This made quilting very popular because it allowed women to mix and match different fabrics, making endless combinations, transforming plain fabrics into “cutting edge designs”.
Quilting underwent something of an evolution from bed coverings to decorative pieces created for home decoration, clothing, and even as a form of artistic expression.
Let’s start with the facts and basic supplies you’ll need to create your own design. And then I’ll look at some reviews and recommendations for finding the best sewing machines for quilting.
- Rotary or circular cutter: these come in several sizes, but the 45mm diameter is the most versatile to start with. The cutter will help you create a professional looking symmetrical quilt by helping you to cut equal pieces of fabric. If you don’t have the budget to buy these tools, you can use regular scissors but they may make it more tricky and time-consuming.
- Acrylic ruler for patchwork: these come in various shapes and sizes. They are specifically designed for use on fabrics so as not to slip while cutting, and are safer to use than regular rulers for this purpose.
- Cutting mat: made of a material that withstands the cuts from the rotary cutter. Do not use a common cutter because it could ruin the mat.
- Scissors: it’s important to use good quality scissors to cut fabrics, and small tip scissors to cut threads. Never use these scissors to cut anything other than fabric and threads because it will dull them.
- Seam ripper, straight pins, and safety pins.
- Patchwork presser for the sewing machine: this tool facilitates the sewing of a ¼ inch seam, which is narrower than the standard stitching used when making garments. You can work the seam by taping it to the desired width as a guide, but having the presser makes life easier. For quilting, a double drag presser is very useful. There are other types for free-motion quilting, but you don’t need these to start with. Note: every presser is specific to the machine brand, and sometimes even to a model, so bear this in mind when buying one.
- Fabrics: you can make your quilt using 100% cotton, polyester, or blends of these two materials. You will need several different fabrics for the top, for the back, and the border of your quilt. My advice is to stick to simple fabrics to start with.
- The filling: known as wadding, kapok, or batting, adds warmth to your quilt, and is sandwiched between the two layers of fabric.
- Threads: come in many different materials and colors. It’s best to avoid cheap ones which are more likely to break while you are working with them, and when the quilt is washed. Use higher quality threads and your quilt will last longer.
- Iron: you will need to press your quilt several times during the sewing process.
What’s the best sewing machine for quilting?
This isn’t a simple question to answer, but it’s fun to explore.
The best sewing machines for quilting can be very expensive, so cost may be a factor in your decision. When investing money in a sewing machine, consider factors like its reliability, price, how easy it is to use, durability, and whether you need it to be portable.
You will have different needs according to your style. If you’re a beginner, a simple model should be enough to get started, but you’ll probably want one which does both straight and zigzag stitches.
Useful resources to help choose the best sewing machine for quilting
Finding the best brand takes time and research. What follows are some tips about doing that research, and what I found while doing mine for this post:
First of all, it’s really helpful to read the blogs of professional quilters and see what they are saying and recommend.
I’ve noticed that the brand everyone is raving about is the Bernina (830LE, 1080, 1008, 820, 380, 770). Quilters generally say that these are fantastic machines.
They are expensive though. Prices vary, but the cost is in excess of $5000 for some models. Even second hand ones can be expensive.
There are a few other brands, like Husqvarna and Babylock, that have reasonably good reviews, and are less expensive.
I also love checking out customer reviews. They’re another great way to discover what other quilters think about the machines, without the company’s promotional bias.
When you are comparing models and brands I recommend you consider the following:
- Number of built-in stitches
- Bobbin system
- Stop/Start button
- Display screen
- Sewing speed
- Special features
- Price range
Online Videos Showing Sewing Machines in Action
This is a perfect way to see the machine in action.
Read forums about quilting
I love forums! They can be really helpful sources of unbiased advice.
Go to as many shops as you can
If possible, try out the machines, and ask lots of questions, including questions about warranties and the cost of accessories.
Other things to consider:
- Does it have an automatic thread cutter?
- The size of the throat
- The ability to run the machine without using the foot pedal
Some quilters comment on the difficulty of keeping the threads consistent. Having the ability to control the start and stop, apart from the foot pedal, is helpful.
Being able to control the speed is important. It allows you (to a certain extent) to set the “sensitivity” of the foot pressure, so you can be more relaxed while sewing.
Another helpful feature is to be able to control where the needle lands. This is important for free-motion quilting because you need to be able to stop and move your quilt during the stitching.
Changing the thread can be very tricky on some machines because of the need to access the bobbin. Ideally, try to find a sewing machine with a bigger bobbin size, or one where you can adjust the tension separately.
Choosing the best sewing machine for quilting based on reviews
After finding the top recommended best sewing machine for quilting, I went to Amazon.com to check the features and the prices.
Here is my Top 5 list based on my forum and customer review research:
Brother CS6000i – Price: $137.99
Janome Magnolia 7318 – Price: $249.00
Juki TL-2010Q – Price: approximately $999
Janome New Home Memory Craft 7700QCP – Price: $2,500
At the end of the day the best sewing machine for your quilting projects will be the one you’re most comfortable working with.
I hope this post helps you find the perfect machine for you. I’d love to hear how you get on- let me know in the comments below.