9 Tips For Frustration Free Machine Piecing

QuiltNotes Learning Center

Last Updated March 20, 2018

When we work on our quilt tops we want things to go as smoothly as possible. Some days go smoothly but some are full of frustration. In no particular order, here are 9 Tips for frustration free machine piecing.

1 – Know Your Sewing Machine

I know this sounds obvious but it’s really important. Thousands of us, myself included, never know some things about our sewing machines. If we know all the features of our machines and how they properly function, we’ll have smooth sailing as we sew. Know the proper names of the parts. Instead of saying, “That silver thingy on the flat part of the machine that the needle goes through.” say “The needle plate.” Learn how to properly thread the machine. Learn what all those buttons and dials do and how to adjust them. When my machine is properly maintained and cleaned, any problems I have are most likely operator error.

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2 – Use Quality Thread

For machine piecing, choose a good quality cotton or polyester thread. For cotton thread a 50wt or 40wt is ideal. The 50wt thread is thinner and sort of melts into the fabric. The 40wt thread is slightly thicker and stronger. I have used both of these for machine piecing. However, because the 50wt is thinner, I have problems with it breaking in my high speed machine, Janome 1600. It works fine in my “normal” speed machine, Janome 3160. Use the same type thread in the bobbin as you do in the top. This gives you a smoother seam line. My color choices are natural, tan, eggshell or light grey.

3 – Use The Right Type and Size Needle

A needle is a needle, right? Wrong. Watch this 3 minute video and demonstration of the parts of a needle.

Tip:  Remember the groove on the front of the needle? If you’re using a small needle with thick thread, the thread won’t fit inside the groove. This can cause constant thread breaks as the needle enters the fabric. The needle is too small for the thread you’re using. If you look where the thread broke, you will probably see fraying and a little pigtail. Use a larger needle or thinner thread.

Another 3 minute video has a great explanation of needle points and sizes.

It is suggested that we change our needles for every project. I must confess I don’t do this. When I do change my needle, I notice much better stitches. My suggestion is a universal needle, size 10 or 14.

Further Reading – Want to totally geek out on sewing machine needle information? Check out the Schmetz Learning Center

Schmetz Universal needles


4 – Sew a Consistent Seam

You can merrily sew along for hours and make great progress.. But, if your seam allowance isn’t consistently, you’ll have problems completing the quilt top. There are two “sizes” of seam allowances in quiltmaking: the 1/4″ and the scant 1/4″.

The 1/4″ is close t 1/4″. I use a 1/4″ foot and generally place my fabric right up against the edge.

The scant 1/4″ is slightly smaller than 1/4″. Many quilters find they have more accurate piecing when using this slightly smaller seam allowance. Whichever is best for you, make sure you are consistent with every seam.

5 – Make a Test Block

When I’m ready to try a new block or technique, or if it looks complicated, I will make a test block from scraps. I don’t want to purchase and cut large amounts of fabric, only to find I don’t like making the block. Making a test block lets you understand the process. You can decide if you really want to go ahead with the project.

6 – Do All Your Cutting First

Once you’ve decided to go ahead with the project, cut up all the fabric. Prepare for successful machine piecing sessions by being organized and ready to go.

Learning Center ArticleLessons Learned From Projects Half Done

7 – Plan For Distractions

There will always be distractions so why not plan some of them? Plan short breaks and do something on your to-do list. Start dinner, return a phone call, walk the dog. Planning some of our known distractions gives us a short break to get up and move around. It also let’s us get things done on our own time.

8 – Make Sure Your Chair Is Comfortable

Not only should your chair be comfortable, it should be the right height for sewing. Sit in your chair, bend your elbows at 90 degrees and hold your hands with palms facing down. The base of your sewing machine, where the fabric meets the needle, should be the same level as your palms. It sounds really low but any higher and your shoulders and wrists will feel the pain.

koala sewcomfort chair

Koala Sewcomfort Chair

This is a very comfortable, adjustable chair for the sewing room. I have had mine for many years.

The Sit Upon Chair Pad

A chair pad for more comfortable sewing.  This also raises you up an inch or two foe the height adjustment.  ReviewThe Sit Upon

9 – Get Dressed

Now the last of the 9 tips for frustration free machine quilting is to get dressed. I know lots of quilters like to stay in their pajamas all day and sew if possible. But what happens if your friend calls at lunch time and says “I’ll be there in 15 minutes. Let’s do lunch. Then after, we can check out the new quilt shop!”  Can you be ready? Or will you have to pass?


For for information, see Recommended Quilting Supplies and Basic Quiltmaking Supplies.

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