Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Spiral Quilting Tutorial

As a result of Monday's post, some of my readers asked me how I do spiral quilting, and asked me to reply on the blog for everyone's benefit, so here goes. Tutorial copyright 2017 Jan Ochterbeck; please do not pin without attribution.
Spiral Quilting

I quilt on a domestic machine, so all the advice I can give is only for a home sit-down machine.

If you've never tried this before, I recommend starting with a baby quilt or a table topper first, before spiral quilting a twin size quilt.

Machine set up:
  • Use a walking foot, also known as an even-feed foot or dual-feed foot.
  • Insert a guide into your machine's walking foot to the left of the needle, spaced as far from the needle as you want your stitching rows to be apart, 1-1/4" here. (Note: you may have to insert the guide upside down, as I do, since my guide is supposed to go to the right but I need it on the left.) 
  • Reduce the presser foot pressure as needed to work with your walking foot and the thickness of your quilt sandwich. Less pressure is better than too much. 
  • Insert a new needle. I'm using a Universal 80/12 but use what works well for you. 
  • Use the Needle Down option if you have it. Otherwise, whenever you pause, always move your needle down into the quilt to keep the stitching as bobble-free as possible. 
  • Wind several bobbins.
  • I'm currently using 50 weight thread (large cone from Connecting Threads, no affiliation). I've also used 40 weight thread with good results. 
  • At the center of my spiral my stitch length was 2.5; as I got a few rows out from the center I increased it to my usual 3.0 for quilting.
Walking Foot with Guide.
Guide is inserted upside down so it rides to the left of the needle.

Quilt prep:
  • Mark the center of the spiral. (More about the spiral later)
  • Pin baste the quilt sandwich about twice as closely as you would for ordinary Stitch-in-the-Ditch quilting. (I use straight pins and I definitely do get scratched a lot during the quilting, but since I move the pins a lot as I'm working, it's not worth it to cap the pins with foam stoppers.)
  • DO NOT baste around the edge of the quilt prior to quilting. 
    • Always sew clockwise. This will move your work closer to the edge of the quilt with each round, thus becoming easier as you go. 
    • Start near but a few rounds out from the center of the spiral. Align your guide on your markings and slowly and carefully stitch, keeping the guide aligned with your markings or on the previous line of stitching. Don't worry that the first couple of rounds are wobbly and not spaced evenly. They'll look awful. We'll fix this later.
    • Just keep going around and around. As you complete a round, move the pins out to the next round, keeping the pins about 2" apart to minimize puckers and pleats.  
    • Let the machine feed do the work. Do not push the quilt through; in fact, it's better to hold back a little on it to help avoid puckers. 
    • Don't worry about perfection. It's impossible. There will be some wobbly stitching and some puckers, for sure. 
    • When you get to the point where your stitching goes off the edge, this is a good time to check and replace the bobbin. 
    • If you started your spiral off-center, you'll get to one corner sooner than the others. From here on out you'll be stitching partial rounds, and the going will get easier.
    • In the corners, just continue the arcs using the walking foot guide, repeating the arcs all the way out to the corner. 
    • Pause, spread the quilt flat, and move pins after each couple of rounds. Keep pins spaced about 2" apart by moving pins from interior rows out to where you need them.
    Densely Pinned for Quilting
    Tip: As you're stitching around and around, keep your eyes focused on where the guide touches the previous line of stitching, not on the needle. The closely spaced pins will help avoid puckers, and focusing on the guide line will help avoid wiggles in the current row of stitching.
    Focal Point

    Spiral center:

    • Make a template using an illustration app's spiral or using drafting circles. Print out on paper, glue it to template plastic, and cut along the spiral line. 
    • To use drafting circles, start with 3/4", then 1-1/2", then 3", then 4-1/4" touching at opposite sides, then erase the lines you don't need. (You can also use shapes in Word for this.)
    Drafting Circles; Template Made from an Illustration App

    How to Draft a Spiral Center

    Quilting the spiral center: 

    • The first couple of rounds stitched with the walking foot will be very wobbly with bad spacing. Unpick them and bury the thread tails.
    • Reset your machine for free motion quilting. 
    • Using removable marker, carefully trace your spiral template onto the quilt top with the center of the spiral placed in the center of your previous quilting. 
    • Add additional freehand markings to your spiral center to evenly connect it to your stitching. 
    • Carefully FMQ the inner rounds starting from the end of your previous stitching and follow the markings to the center. I've done this very slowly, one or two stitches at a time, to get good results.
    Center of current project showing wobbly starter rounds 
    with bad spacing, not unpicked yet. 

    Center of an Earlier Quilt, 5/8" Spacing, 1/4" Center Circle

    Spiral quilting isn't really difficult, just tedious. I like the modern vibe it gives to certain quilts, but it's not for everything. Here are the others I've spiral quilted: 

    Broken Chevron

    Tyler's Baby Quilt

    Antler Dance

    If you have any questions, please leave a comment. 

    Linking up with Let's Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts


    1. Thank you! I have a baby panel that I will try this on! I love the look of the spiral!

    2. This is a great tutorial! I hope you consider linking up with Tips and Tutorials Tuesday next Tuesday (since I completely spaced to host the linkup this week). :)

    3. Thanks for spelling this technique out, Jan. It's great - and inspiring. I will have to give it a try. I've often wondered if folks were just eyeballing the spirals or had a method. Thanks for sharing!

    4. Nice tutorial, Jan. You're so good at listing everything out which I know takes time!

    5. A great tutorial. The spiral quilting really works on those quilts.

    6. Jan, your method sounds easy enough. Not sure I could handle the straight pin basting though. lol I free motioned my first one and it was a bear. Next time I WILL find my quilting guide to ride in the previous stitching for sure. I love the look on the QOV quilt too.

    7. This is THE best tutorial on spiral quilting I ever seen! I have tried numerous times to do this but give up too soon because I can't get the centre right! Unpicking those wobbly and larger stitches at the start is a great solution! I am excited to try this out soon!

    8. I really like this idea but I don't understand how you make the circle pattern. Do you draw it on & then follow it?