How to: Stitch in the Ditch Quilting

Today I wanted to do a How To on Stitch in the Ditch Quilting.  What is stitch in the ditch quilting you may ask?  It is a way to really let your block shine in the quilting phase.  The stitching is between the pieces, hiding the quilting seam “in the ditch.”  It is best on blocks with angles.

I made this wall hanging flimsy last year with a charm pack from American Made Brand in Americana colors.  I added about 1/2 yard each of cream and white for the borders and extra 5″ squares.  I then made 4 HST (half square triangles) from 2 charms but will blog about that in the future – today is all about the stitch in the ditch quilting.

I had already made the quilt sandwich and stitched in the ditch quilted around each of the blocks.  It is always best to start in the center and work your way out when quilting on a domestic machine.  With these blocks outlined I removed many of the pins and only left the centers of each block pin basted.  More on making a quilt sandwich and pin basting on another blog.American Stars Quilt - unfinished.JPGHere are a couple photos of when I was making the quilt sandwich.  Tiger, my cat, needed to do some inspecting to make sure all was correct.

How to Stitch in the Ditch:

First step is to install your Stitch in the Ditch foot, if you have one.  If not – you & your machine can still do this!  The “ditch marker” (red on my foot) needs to be adjusted be right in front of your needle.  There is an adjustment screw on the side for that, if your foot does not have this then adjust your needle to match where the “ditch marker” is located.Stitch in the ditch footNext step, bring the thread to the top of the sandwich.  Pick your location to begin and hold onto the end of the thread with your fingers.  Still holding on, plunge the needle down then back up in a full sewing revolution.  Do not let go and pull the foot back until the bobbin thread pops up through the sandwich, then you can let go of the top thread.  Pull the bobbin thread all the way out.  Locate the stitch in the ditch foot to where you will begin sewing.

Next is to begin sewing!  I do a few back stitches (usually 3) and then let the ditch marker ride along the edge of the pieced block.  Let the feed dogs do their work and don’t force it.  You may want to start off a little slow to get the hang of it.  Let the ditch marker do it’s job too.  It will guide where you will go, but could go haywire if you force it or don’t sew straight.  It may take a little practice.

What do you do when you get to a corner?  Sew right to the edge, the ditch marker with be beyond the edge.  Stop with the needle down, it is right in the junction of the blocks.  Lift the foot.  Rotate the quilt sandwich and line up the ditch marker on the new seam you plan to sew on.  Put the foot down and sew away!

Problems you may encounter:

There is sometimes LOTS of quilt sandwich to maneuver through the throat of your machine.  It is helpful to have plenty of space around your machine to move this.  quilting with sandwich in throat.JPGWhen I do this type of quilting I look at my block and decide where exactly I want to quilt.  Then I have to think about how to stitch in the ditch with the least amount of stops and starts of the thread – meaning a continuous, sewn strand.  Sometimes that means a little bit of back stitching.  You can see that I am back stitching (actually re-stitching) this seam.  Some blocks are easier to do this than others.

stitch in the ditch step 8Sometimes the piecing is not quite perfect – how to deal with that?  Both of these below show the points that are not perfect.  The one on the left I moved my needle over before I was ready to sew after adjusting the sandwich.  See how the thread is longer there on top of the blue compared to the other stitches?  This not ideal but sometimes I cheat, .when it is close.  The photo on the left I just sewed from where I pivoted the needle and it isn’t too noticeable that it is not right in the ditch.  

When you run out of bobbin thread – what then?  I just cut my top thread and start again a few stitches back and back stitch, after changing the bobbin of course.  I wish there was a “bobbin low” flashing light, or a beeping noise when you run out.stitch in the ditch bobbin runs outDepending on how your seams rest is which side the ditch seam with most likely be.  I press to the dark side and do not press my seams open.  In this photo the quilting seam is on the maroon fabric in the left triangle and on the white/cream fabric in the top and right triangles.  If right in the ditch and the seam practically disappears no matter the color it is sewn on.  When I nested my seams when I assembled this block the seam was pressed to the bottom row.stitch in the ditch on different colorsHere is an example of stitching around the pieced blocks.  Not every seam needs to be sewn, just those you want to accentuate.  stitch in the ditch working aroundOn the example below the piecing does not line up.  Both white seams line up perfectly but the blue seams are just a little off.  I sewed  across from one blue ditch to the other and only missed a few stitches from not being in the ditch.  It will hardly be noticeable.

How do I move from place to place?  Sometimes, if close enough, I just leave the threads and move to a new spot, beginning with back stitching.  How close is close enough – you decide.  On this each of the HST inside the block were 2″ wide.  I thought it was close enough, across the 12″ block – not close enough for me.  This method leaves the bobbin thread underneath the sandwich.stitch in the ditch moving places

What to do with threads at the end of a row of quilting?  I cut my tails, after I back stitch.  Cut tails or pull them – your choice but I think cutting them is just fine and it will get done.  For me – finished is better than perfect.stitch in the ditch cutting threads


Below are a few examples of my mistakes.  Not perfect ditch sewing in any of these.  None of these need to be redone.

Another example of a mistake but a small pucker this time.  I still plan on leaving it.  (Granted, this is an extreme close up.)stitch in the ditch mistake 5Finally a pucker than I removed (in the top left corner of the block), the before and after.  I decided to remove this because it made the corner not square and would have affected the binding.  After fixing it the block and corner were square again.

Finished with the stitch in the ditch quilting.  It really worked out great!  stitch in the ditch quilting finishedOn tomorrows post I will include the details of each block and where I quilted each.  I will also show it finished with the binding.

I am calling the wall hanging: Red, White and Blue Stars.



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