Owl Quilt-Along with Amy: Week 2

Welcome to the Quilt-Along with Amy!

Week 2 is all about the basics of machine quilting. The quilt has been basted with pins, my personal favorite method. On a quilt like this with blocks and sashing, I like to stabilize my quilt before getting to the free motion fun.

You can see the live video I shot last week for this segment on the Amy's Quilting Adventures Facebook page. I warn you it is a long one. I'm working on editing it down to a more streamlined version for youtube.

What is quilt stabilization?

It's pretty much a permanent, beefed up version of basting. Quilting some of the major lines (or bones) of the quilt keeps things from shifting, breaks the quilt into smaller areas, and helps assure that seams stay straight and don't get distorted with quilting over them in multiple directions.

For the most part, we're talking about Stitch-in-the-Ditch, SID for short.

Those of you who have followed me for a while or taken my Craftsy classes,know that I like to do my SID in free motion with a ruler most of the time, as I don't have to rotate my quilt as often when working in free motion.  But sometimes a walking foot is perfect for smaller quilts like this. Plus I want to leave ruler work for another quilt-along in the future.

What is a walking foot?

A walking foot, sometimes referred to as an even feed foot, has a set of feed dogs that help move the fabric from the top side. This allows layers to be pulled through the machine together without shifting. If you've ever sewn two squares the exact size and the top fabric has "grown" by the time you get to the end, you've seen how the regular feed dogs under the fabric pull the bottom fabric through more effectively than the top.

The basic walking foot has a lever that goes over the needle clamp and it is powered by the action of the needle going up and down. You can get these for just about any sewing machine as long as you match up the right shank type. Some walking feet are a bit lightweight and too cheap in my opinion. Others include options to make using it easier, like a SID guide, open toe options, and most have a guide bar that can be used for parallel lines of stitching.

Some machines have "built-in" or integrated walking feet and these are wonderful. They are powered by the actual machine and are synced with the movement of the lower feed dogs. Unlike the needle bar powered versions whose upper teeth only go forward, some of these systems can be used with decorative stitches too as the upper feed dogs go into reverse. Typically, they work best on simpler stitches without a lot of reverse as there can be a little bit of a lag between the upper and lower sets.

Pfaff machines have had them for quite a long time. Janome rolled out their own versions with the 6600 and 7700 models and then an improved version for their newer, bigger machines, called the Acufeed Flex system. I love the Acufeed Flex feet for my machines. In this case, the Janome 9400. I also have interchangeable feet for the base of the integrated walking foot for SID which makes this pretty easy-peasy. See more about the SD foot above at AmyQuilts.com

How do I Stabilize My Quilt?

Opinions vary, but for the most part, it's a lot like basting. Work from the center to the edges, to keep things nice and even, not creeping in one particular direction. I did my stitching in pairs of lines as shown in the graphic below. Then I went around the outer sashing and the inner edge of the border (not shown).

Once I've done this stitching, I can remove a lot of my pins as well and the layers are less likely to shift, nor is the top likely to warp its main lines.

The Stitch for the Ditch

I used my built-in walking foot, the Acufeed Flex SD foot, which is a foot made for Stitch in the Ditch. There's a guide to keep the foot moving more easily right down the seam line. I keep my guide running on the downhill side of the seam. This is the side that does not have the seam allowance under it. Get things running just right, and the stitches will hide right under the fold of the seam. In the picture of my SD foot above, the downhill side is on the left.

My first thread audition
I used a pretty dark violet colored Glide thread and you can hardly see it, down in the ditch. In fact, when doing the live video of this process, I stitched over and area I had already stitched and it took about 6 inches before I saw my earlier stitching.

The darker violet thread below is what I used and you can see the backing I chose there on the right. This busier back will help the dark thread blend in a little better. If I had not been doing this quilt on camera, I would have used the lighter thread. I may use it for some of the background spaces.

The stitch itself is just a straight stitch with a fairly good length of 2.4mm. I did alter my needle drop position (by adjusting the width setting) so that it was one needle position off of center towards the downhill side, changing it as the downhill side changed.

After stitching the lines represented in the diagram, I went back and stitched between the green and purple sashing strips. With the other lines stitched, I didn't need to do those from the center out, but did it as felt best as I moved from area to area.

One thing I did that seemed to surprise my viewers on the video is that I pulled up my bobbin thread before I started the SID. This just gives a neater look to the back as the bobbin thread tail doesn't get stitched up.

There were several short lines that I would have left until doing the free motion and done with a straight ruler, or possibly even free hand if I hadn't said this was going to be a ruler-free project.

Next: the Free Motion Quilting!

The next segment will be done via live video again on the Amy's Quilting Adventures Facebook page on Wednesday September 26 around 7pm eastern time in the US. I will post the recording on the FB page too, so you can watch it later. We will get started with the free motion around the owls and I'm excited about it. Join us, won't you?

Sew much fun,

PS If you have questions regarding any of the feet or products I show, we likely can fix you up with the right foot or whatever for your machine (or other fun supplies!), even if we don't list it at our online shop. Just shoot me an email at amy@amysquiltingadventures.com


  1. Thanks Amy for doing this quilt along. I'm doing this along with you, only I'm using a quilt I had already made. I wasn't clear on the stitch in the ditch and stabilizing my quilt, your picture with arrows really helps.

  2. thanks Amy . I have a massive quilt to quilt - why did I do it. said i would never do it again. i am going to stabilise with wash away thread before the FMQ, What do you think? The seams are pressed open mainly

    1. Sounds good....unless maybe the quilt needs the stabilization to stay in? Because if it doesn't need to stay in, you're really just giving it an extra basteing. But open seams are not real handy for SID. Your choice.