Radiant Star part 16: giving the quilt “bones”

After 2 days of quilting, the quilt doesn’t look any different, but this first step of stitch in the ditch is pretty important (in my opinion) for giving a quilt like this the bones and stability it needs before I start adding in the decorative stitching.

Not everyone will probably agree with that, and not everyone likes or does stitch in the ditch on their longarms.  Heck, I don’t actually LIKE it, necessarily, but after 8 years and a ridiculous number of quilts, I can tell you that I’ve come to be reasonably skilled at it.  Perfection, no, but decent enough to make me happy.

For those of you that don’t know, straight line stitching is actually one of the hardest things a longarmer does.  On domestic sewing machines, the very nature of the feed dogs and the presser foot action is intended to make the stitching of beautiful straight lines effortless.  On a longarm, however, which is mounted on wheels that give you completely freedom of motion:  a straight line requires you to get creative.  On my machine, I can pretty accurately stitching horizontal and vertical straight lines freehand, though I don’t often rely on my ability to actually do that…one sneeze and whoosh…I’d be zig-zagging away.

Diagonal lines, however, are a completely different story.  Oh sure, I can make a diagonal line that looks pretty close to being accurate, but not well enough to stand up to scrutiny, or if I’m actually trying to follow the edge of a diagonal pieced line.

Thus the need for rulers (and extended base plates to rest those rulers on…).   Longarmers all have their favorite rulers for doing stitch in the ditch, and many swear by their particular choice (to the point of an almost religious fervor at times…).  I’m not quite so attached to a specific ruler:  if it’s a straight edge, I can use it.

My current ruler of choice is a 9 inch straight edge from Off the Edge Quilting Supplies.  It has notches at each end, which are designed to help you line up the ruler with the line you are stitching on (the hopping foot on a longarm generally makes things such that the edge of the foot is a 1/4 to 3/8 inch from the needle, so your ruler doesn’t get lined up with the line you are stitching, it gets lined up a 1/4 of an inch AWAY from the line.  After all this time, I can pretty reasonably plop my ruler down the correct distance from a line without even trying very hard…).  The notches of the newer rulers are helpful if you can’t eyeball the 1/4 inch, but they are only helpful if you remember to look at them.  Sometimes I forget.  Also, some of the lines I’ve been stitching on this week are so short (1 inch…) that even if I were using a shorter notched ruler, the notches wouldn’t do me any good, as they’d be too far away from the line I’m trying to line up with.

I had a point when I started that paragraph.  What was it???

Oh yes:  my choice of tools:


The extended base plate that I use is a Ruler Mate from Love To Quilt.  When I got my longarm, it did NOT come with an extended base plate. Many (most? all?) longarms seem to come with base plates now.  I do like mine, though, particularly with the slight beveling of the edges.  It goes on and off pretty easily, and I only put mine on if I’m using a ruler.

As I mentioned above, the ruler is this one from Off The Edge Quilting.  The iPod Touch (not an iPhone, I live in the boondocks…) is loaded with music from my new favorite show (Glee) and with audiobooks.

Because of the way I pieced the stars, some of the seams are pressed open, so sometimes I don’t technically have a “ditch” to stitch in.  And sometimes, I am (gasp) not stitching in the actual ditch, but am choosing to stitch on the “high” side — because I want all of this straight line stitching on the cream fabric.


Technically, I suppose you could say that I’m outlining the colored patches, rather than actually stitching in the ditch.

So, that’s where I’m at.  All but…4 of the 20 stars are done, and I’ve stitched in the ditches around all of the borders.  There are a few fullness issues in some spots, but I knew they were there and I will be able “quilt out” my problem spots.  (Shhh, don’t tell anyone that us longarmers really can quilt out a fair bit of the problems piecers create.  We really prefer not to have to do so, but it can be done…)

And now…I’m off to the grocery store.

One comment

  1. Judy B says:

    Love where you do ‘stitch in the ditch’ – it is exactly where I hand quilt, and love the way it makes the shapes pop up.
    Judy B

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