1. Basting is the most important step. I find basting is the least enjoyable part of making a quilt, but it pays off in the end. All three layers should be as smooth and flat as possible. Spray basters can press the quilt on both sides to set the glue; pin basters should double the amount of pins they normally use.
2. Maximize your workspace. Having enough room to work is one of the keys to successfully quilting. A table that allows your machine to sit flush with the work surface is ideal.
3. Match thread weight to the proper needle size. With so many choices for threads and needles, here’s a general rule: use a size 80 needle with size 40-50wt thread, and a size 90 needle with a 28-30wt thread. Choose needles labeled as sharps, topstitch, or quilting over universal. These needles have sharp tips and will more easily pierce through all three layers of a quilt.
4. Use the same color on top and in the bobbin. With perfect tension, you should be able to use any combination of colors for the top and bobbin threads, but in reality, this is not always the case. If the two threads have high contrast, you may see little dots of thread either on the front or back of your quilt.
5. Learn to love the walking foot. Although free-motion quilting allows you to quilt beautiful, intricate designs while stitching in any direction, don’t forget about the designs you can quilt with your walking foot. Instead of stitching in the ditch, try continuous spirals, organic shapes, and gentle wavy lines.
6. Warm up before you quilt by sketching your quilting design on a piece of paper or on a photograph or printout of the quilt top. If you understand the flow of the thread path, you can mimic that motion on your actual quilt.
7. Practice free-motion quilting daily. Since I can’t stand practice for practice sake, I always have a ‘cheater’ panel quilt basted and ready for stitching.
8. Quilt on real quilts, then give them away. Practice makes progress. What better way to learn by practicing on a quilt for someone who will love it and won’t notice the imperfections?
9. Press seams open for a flatter quilt top and back. And skipped stitches won’t become a problem.
10. Develop a can-do attitude. This is the last–but most important–tip. You only need to work with one-fourth of the quilt under the machine at any one time. Take your time with the process and remember–this is supposed to be fun!