How To Quilt – Stitch In The Ditch Quilting

Stitch in the ditch quilting is the name given to stitching along the seam lines of the pieced quilt blocks. As with free motion machine quilting, this is done from the top of the quilt with the pattern of the quilting showing up on the quilt backing.

You will need a walking foot machine foot, a pair of quilting gloves and loads of patience.

There are a few things that you need to think about before you begin quilting:

  • Do you want the stitch in the ditch quilting to stand out or blend in? It is more usual to use a blending colour thread for the top, but you may wish to use a colour that stands out on the quilt backing to showcase the quilt design. It is fine to use a different colour thread in the bobbin.
  • Before you begin quilting, be clear about the pattern that you are going to use: do you want to stitch in the ditch along every seam, just outline a particular pattern in the quilt blocks, or even just outline the quilt block itself?
  • Check your stitch length. The norm is 12 stitches per inch, a little longer than everyday sewing stitch length.
  • Adjust the sewing machine tension. This is probably the single most important factor in helping to achieve good machine quilting results. Because of the thickness of two layers of fabric plus batting, the auto tension on your machine is unlikely to give the best results. Make up a practice block of the three layers used in your quilt and sew a line of stitching. Look at the back of this sample block. Chances are you won’t like what you see as the stitching will be too tight, so loosen the tension and try again. Keep experimenting until you feel that the look of the stitches on your quilt top and backing are giving the look that you want for your quilt.

Machine Quilting with stitch in the ditch

Now you can begin quilting with stitch in the ditch on the quilt itself. Put on your quilting gloves: they really do help to stop your fingers sliding on the fabric. Begin in the middle of the quilt. This will involve rolling the quilt to the right of the middle so that it fits neatly into the space on your sewing machine. Place the quilt so that the needle will come down on the seam line. Begin machine quilting, trying to keep your eye on the seam feeding into the machine rather than on the needle itself. It’s amazing how your eye is drawn to watch the needle going up and down, which doesn’t really help you maintain a straight line at all.

After a few inches of sewing, stop the machine and reach round for the trailing end of thread. Pull gently on the thread so that the bobbin thread begins to pull through to the quilt top. Using a pin, pull the bobbin thread right through and tie a double knot with the top thread. This will secure the threads without having to use back stitching. Do this at the beginning of each line of stitch in the ditch or you will end up with trailing threads all over the place, getting caught up in the next line of stitching.

Continue sewing along the seam lines until you reach the edge of the quilt. Take your quilt out of the machine and tie off the ends of the threads.

Returning to the middle of the quilt, repeat the process with a new line of stitch in the ditch quilting going from the middle to the edge. Try to quilt in the same direction as previous lines to avoid your quilt backing puckering slightly.

Quilting with stitch in the ditch is a marvellous method of quilting in its own right but also a great confidence booster before you attempt free motion machine quilting.