Christa’s Quilt Along 6.5 – String of Pearls Straight Quilting

I am “sew” excited for this week’s lesson! We are finally to my favorite part of the quiltmaking process – machine quilting. Before we jump straight in, please read my intro to FMQ tutorial here. It explains a bunch of beginning basics that I find helpful.

Spiral QuiltingThere are three important things I want you to keep in mind as you are quilting:

  1. First, I am extremely proud of you for making it this far! Machine quilting is not for the faint of heart, but I promise you, if you stick with it, you will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with knowing you did it yourself!
  2. Second, I love to quilt the heck out of my quilts. It usually takes me more time to do the quilting than the piecing, basting and binding combined. With that said, how much time you want to spend quilting is entirely up to you. Make it your own, and be proud of your work!
  3. Third, don’t get hung up on inconsistencies in your quilting, or any wonkiness that may occur. After all, we don’t want our quilts to look like they were made by a computer, right? Embrace the imperfections that come with a hand-made piece of art. :-)

Now, let’s start quilting! It took me a total of 12 hours to do all of the straight quilting for String of Pearls. That’s only about 1/2 the quilting – more to come in the next lesson!

Step 1 – Stitching in the Ditch (6 Hours – ugh!)

Ok, so even though I love quilting, stitching in the ditch is a little boring. However, it’s one of the most necessary steps of good machine quilting. SITD anchors your quilt and provides stability so that your more exciting stitching designs can shine!

Stitch in the DitchUse a walking foot or even feed for straight quilting. (My new Bernina came with built-in even feed). Insert a brand new needle and test your tension on a practice scrap before you start quilting. I recommend using a pair of machingers gloves to help grip your quilt.

Stitching in the DitchI started by stitching the outlines of all of my black “strings”. I took a few minutes to look at the piecing design to figure out how to make as few starts and stops as possible. The lines in red below show my stitching path for each row. I used black thread and quilted on the black fabric side of the ditch.

Ditching DiagramI started quilting one of the middle rows of the quilt first, one row at a time. There were a total of 6 rows to quilt, 2 sides per row. When I got to the end of one side of a row, I rotated the quilt and came back up the other side. It took about an hour per row to quilt.

Hint: put on a nice audio book while quilting and try to only finish 1-2 rows per day, or per quilting session. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish!

Audio Book while Quilting

Quilting and Audio-Reading

It’s ok to stitch over your previous lines of stitching if needed. This is called backtracking and is perfectly fine. Turn the quilt as needed to outline the “strings”.  I used the continuous reverse feature on my sewing machine to stitch backwards at times so that I didn’t have to turn the quilt so much. Just slow down and stitch slowly if you do this. With practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

Stitching in the DitchAbove is a picture of my backing, showing where I got a little off track while following my path. I meant to SITD each row completely, before moving onto the next row. However, I got a little “lost” while turning my quilt. That’s ok, too! As long as you eventually outline all of the blocks, you are good to go.

I only stitched around the outline of the black areas. Stitching around each colored square is part of step 2 below.

Step 2 – Quilting Square Spirals (6 Hours)

I decided it would be fun to quilt a sort of maze or square spiral in each colored block. Before I started on my quilt, I practiced the quilting motion on a few scraps so I could get a feel for how to turn each side of the spiral while quilting. I did NOT try to keep each of the lines a consistent width. More random = more modern!

Spiral QuiltingThere was a lot of stopping and starting and changing thread colors, but it only took about 10 minutes to spiral quilt each block. I used a light grey thread in the bobbin for all of the spiral quilting so I didn’t have to change bobbins each time I switched top thread colors.

Spiral FrontSpiral Back


I like to keep a variety of colored threads on hand to match my fabrics as much as possible. Prewound bobbins are great to use when you only need a small amount of one color. I put them on the top spool pin and they work fine!

Colorful ThreadBecause of the numerous stops and starts, I began quilting each block by stitching 6-8 teeny tiny stitches, slowly increasing or decreasing the stitch length at the beginning and end of each block of quilting.

I quilted all of the same color blocks before switching thread colors. Different shades of the same color can still be quilted with the same thread!

Square Spirals QuiltingFor fun, I mixed it up a little by throwing in a few random blocks with titled spirals. I thought this added a little more interest to the quilt. This will work well with the design I will free motion quilt in the grey background during the next lesson.

Off Center Spirals

Off Center Spirals

Here are a couple of other ideas you can use to quilt your version of String of Pearls:

Quilt straight or wiggly lines over the entire quilt surface using a walking foot.

Straight QuiltingWiggly Quilting

Please continue to share pictures on my flickr group: Christa’s Quilt Along. I enjoy seeing everyone’s beautiful work – I’m sure you’ll be inspired, too!

Quilt Along Schedule – links will be active at the completion of each step:

String of Pearls Quilt Along


Grab my Quilt Along button!

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15 Responses to Christa’s Quilt Along 6.5 – String of Pearls Straight Quilting

  1. lattegirl40 says:

    I’m hoping I will be able to catch up, before you finish….I loaded my quilt top and had finally decided how I would attempt free motion with my long arm (newbie) and the screen is not working!! Just my luck! They are sending a new one, but don’t know how long it will take, and I have no luck quilting on a regular machine. So just in case I don’t get the screen in time… has been a real pleasure doing this quilt along, I loved the pattern, I thought all the tutorial and pictures were clear and spot on to make it easy to follow!! Thanks so much for sharing your talents!!

  2. Becky says:

    Holy Stitch in the Ditching! I love the different FMQ in there though – particularly the string of pearls. I should really start listening to books when I quilt. That’s a great idea.

  3. Kelley says:

    I love the string pearls quilting sample you have shown but being new to machine quilting I can’t seem to figure out how you did it without doubling up one half of the circle. Can you show a close up of how it was done or maybe even a short tutorial? I think I want to give it a try on my quilt.

    • Christa says:

      You are right – I did backtrack and stitch over half of the circle again. A tutorial is a great idea – I will plan on that sometime after the grey version of String of Pearls is officially published :-)

  4. Ronda Trepagnier says:

    Ooh, Christa, your quilting is awesome. I knew it would be good cause that’s your thing but you continue to awe and impress. And I love that string of pearls quilting. I had an absolute idea of how to quilt mine going in but now I wonder… You always have such great ideas. Thanks so much for sharing them.

  5. Georgia says:

    Quilt is basted and awaiting fresh sewing machine needles to arrive. I really found your suggestions very helpful. can’t wait to get started.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Your quilting is absolutely beautiful! I have the same sewing machine as you (Bernina 710) and I have been on the fence on getting a walking foot. Have you found the even feed to be enough when quilting straight lines or do you use a walking foot? Thanks so much!

    • Christa says:

      The even feed has been wonderful! I use it for both piecing and quilting and have not had a need for a walking foot on my new Bernina. In fact, I quilted one of my magazine quilts on the new machine using the even feed and it worked perfectly :-)

  7. Leigh Anne says:

    I’m about to baste and will be doing some serious thinking while I do! I wasn’t planning on doing outline quilting before jumping in but I may have to. I’m planning on three different types of quilting in the section and the extra stability that comes with outline quilting is definitely helpful.

  8. Michele says:

    It looks great. This is going to be one really fantastic finish.

  9. Vicki says:

    Thank you so much for all the tips and advice!

  10. Rachell R says:

    Did you use a walking foot and keep turning your quilt for the square spirals? Or did you FMQ the spirals so you wouldn’t have to turn it?

    • Christa says:

      I quilted the spirals with my walking foot and turned the quilt each time. However, you certainly could use a free-motion foot instead so you don’t have to turn it.

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