Monday, January 31, 2011

Grandma Coco Gets the Scoop on… Machine Quilting With Monika Kinner-Whalen

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

Grandma Coco’s been quilting for a long time. Up until now she always been more of an old-school quilter.  However, as life speeds up and time runs out, she’s finally looking to kick it up a notch. She’s ready to machine quilt a whole quilt…. well, she’s starting with a baby quilt….and she’s gone looking for some advice.

Monika Kinner-Whalen
Monika Kinner-Whalen is a fellow Canadian who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with her family of 5. She maintains a visually beautiful and informative blog called My Sweet Prairie and if you click on that link and visit her, you’ll see that she does beautiful machine quilting.  Just like Grandma Coco would like to do. So, our intrepid reporter set out to get the scoop.

GC: First, tell us a little about yourself, Monika, and how you came to quilting.
MK-W:  I am an artist who has always loved to sew.  I began quilting just because I really wanted a quilt and didn't know anyone who made them.  So I'm completely self-taught (by internet and library).  I've never taken a class or had a live teacher.  It's a lot like trying to attain a correspondence degree!  The 'addiction' is my drive.  I've been quilting seriously, daily, for about 3 years, trying to learn as much as I can along the way.  About a year ago I discovered that you can sew art.  I've had two exhibits since that time, and have two upcoming this year as well!  I'm on a roll and loving it!

GC: How do you prepare your quilt top for machine quilting? Do you use spray starch?

MK-W: I press it really well with lots of steam.  I'm a perfectionist and I want NO ripples.  I press the backing too.  I typically use flannelette on the backs and low loft bamboo batt.  I spend a lot of time clipping every little thread, front and back, especially if I have white in my quilt top.  Stray colours show right through.

GC:  Where do you layer your quilt? Do you need to stretch the fabric taut?

MK-W:  I layer my quilt on our huge kitchen table.  I put the quilt top face down on the table first, then the batt, then the flannelette.  Why?  Because no one taught me how to do otherwise.  Lol. You know, books and magazines tell you how to make a quilt top and that's all.  They leave you with "quilt as desired".  From the centre out, I spread the backing flat and smooth with my hands. I go around the table a few times.  Then I grab one side of all layers with both hands, and pull and flip the whole thing over, top up.  I do the same thing to the top: smoothing, smoothing....  I flip again to smooth the back, and  layers seem to cling.  I've never had bunching or buckling on the backs of my quilts, so I'm happy with my technique.  I've done over 75 quilts this way.  

GC: You don’t use pins? or that spray basting glue? 

MK-W: I use quilting pins - they look like bent safety pins.  I bought cheap ones first, and the tips were rough and RIPPED holes in my quilt top AND left black grease stained holes at that!  ***Worst moment of my life.***
I don't spray baste.  We have birds and if they can die from it, then I don't want to breathe it.  I recently purchased fusible batting, but I still pin baste a bit - at least a couple per block.

GC:  How do you handle the bulk of the quilt as you move it through your machine?
MK-W: Haha!  I couldn't handle it.  It drove me crazy.  I now own a machine with an 11 inch throat.  Life is better.  I kind of fold the quilt over as I need to for straight line or ditch quilting.  With free motion, I bunch it out of the way.  I quilt on a big table space so nothing is ever falling off the table and pulling everything down.  That's too frustrating for me.  

GC:  What kind of needle, thread and tension settings? What machine foot do you prefer? Stitch length?

Daisy Daisy (Modern Dresden) 2010
MK-W:  For straight line/ditch quilting, I use the same weight/brand of thread in top and bottom.  I leave the tension as is, on auto unless there's a problem.  I use a quilting or sometimes a jeans needle.  I really prefer the stitch length of 3.5.  Smaller looks too small to me, and bigger looks too simple.  I have an even feed open toe foot.  That's my favourite.  Nothing shifts, and I can see where I'm stitching.  I tried a ditch foot, but didn't trust it.  That's just me.  The accufeed foot is so wide.  I like to use the side of it as a guide for straight line quilting.  Oh!  I also really like to use decorative stitches for straight or circle quilting, especially with variegated threads!!  : )  I did this on Daisy Daisy, and on the quilt that was in Quilter's Connection Magazine.

GC. I know you start with quilting in the ditch. How do you handle the thread tails when you start and stop?

MK-W: I start by stitching between all rows and columns in the ditch, between each block.  Then I remove all pins.  The stitching begins and ends at the very edge of the quilt, so the threads get trimmed when I square the quilt and bind it.  When I quilt after this point, I pull up both threads to the top and stitch on the spot before moving on.  Those ends get clipped.  When I'm done that line, I knot off and trim from the back.  

GC:  How much quilting is enough?

MK-W: That's a great question!  I love the look of lots of pretty quilting, but too much makes quilts so stiff and flat.  I prefer those techniques for wall hangings.  I like the quilt I cuddle with to be supple, so I don't overquilt.  I could quilt more on mine.  I stop when I get scared that I'm going to wreck it.  Does that happen to you?  (Oops- here I am asking the questions.  lol)  I also like the quilting to enhance and embellish the quilt top.  People are always surprised how different a quilt looks after it's been quilted.  Personally, I'm tired of seeing flat unquilted tops on the internet!  lol  Quilt it, decorate it, use coloured threads...

St. Niklolaus Quilt 2010
GC: Any other tips?

MK-W: TIP 1 - Sometimes if I'm not sure about how to quilt next, I'll lay out some thread on the top so I can visualize how it would change the quilt.  Lay white thread in lines, or loop a bunch of variegated pink, lay parallel lines of red... Audition first to avoid having to pull out the seam ripper. 

TIP 2 - If you are regretting what you've just quilted, then STOP and take it out.  It's not going to change just because you chose to quilt more.  I learned that one the hard way.  lol

TIP 3 - Clean your machine before quilting, and half way through if you are using flannelette.  The one class I did take was "Machine Maintenance".  Best money I ever spent.  Don't use canned forced air.  Use a vacuum attachment to suck out all the lint.  You can get these at a sewing store.  Your quilting will be so much smoother.

TIP 4 - I always wear my quilting gloves with grippy fingers when I quilt.  They aren't just for free motion.  They give you so much control for precision straight-line or ditch quilting.  I won't quilt without them!

GC: Monika this has been a terrific help. Thank you. You’re always so busy on your blog with lots going on. Care to share what’s coming up for you?

MK-W - My fibre art will be exhibited at the Gardenscapes 2011 Art Show & Sale in Saskatoon and I have 2 quilts with the Saskatoon Quilt Guild on display for sale at McNally Robinson's Booksellers in Saskatoon Feb 23 to mid-May 2011.

My second quilt pattern will be published in the Summer 2011 issue of A Needle Pulling Thread magazine.  That quilt will be displayed at their booth at the Spring CreativFestival in Toronto, Ontario, too!  

My Sweet Prairie Postcard 2010
I have my etsy store as well.  It's very minimal.  I am putting more patterns up for sale there along with a few quilts.  From it, I always seem to have a fibre art commission on the go.  I blog daily though!  My blog is the heart of My Sweet Prairie.  There are links to all my photos, all my work, and some tutorials as well.  A fun feature has been "Tips on Tuesdays" where there is a weekly topic.  People are welcome to chime in and leave their own tips on that topic.  It's become a great learning circle for everyone!

GC: Well, it seems like you’ve come a very long way in 3 years! It will be fun to see where you go from here. Thanks for taking the time to share your machine quilting knowledge with us. I know Grandma Coco is feeling a little more comfortable about tackling that baby quilt.

(All colour photos on this blog post were generously provided by Monika and belong to her.)


  1. Oh Grandma Coco! That was so fun to read! Thanks again - you are a sweetie! : ) I'm laughing now - wait until you see what my disastrous machine did to me this weekend! I WILL become a trained machine repair tech before I'm 50. And I'll be the best in town! ; )

    ~Monika K.

  2. Loved this, and Monika...she's one sweet lady!

  3. I've always thought it would be cool to be able to repair my own computer....and my own car. Maybe I should add sewing machine repair lady to the list. I'm glad you and Gailanne liked the interview. It was fun!

  4. This was so informative. Thank you so much for sharing. You are indeed helping to expand my horizons.

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Nan. Glad, too, that I'm not the only one who needs her horizons expanded.

  6. What a clever post, and so enjoyable to read. I saw Monika's sweet design in the last issue of Quilter's Connection and will watch for her next one in ANPT.

  7. Thanks, Karen. It was fun to do. Just the thing for the last days of January.

  8. Awe thanks Karen. By the way! ANPT is on Facebook and there are sneak peaks of the projects. WOW they have good photographers!! I can't wait for June to get a copy in my hands!

    : )

  9. I will share this with my husband since he is the quilter in the house! He is in the process of making a lap quilt with the log cabin design!


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