2023 Thread Matters: Domestic Straight Line Machine Quilting

Greetings Aurifil family! As Master Educator and Aurifilosophy Program Coordinator I’m thrilled to introduce fellow Aurifilosopher Amy Friend of During Quiet Time. Amy, a former museum curator, is applauded for a modern aesthetic that she folds into amazingly beautiful paper pieced designs. An author, national educator, designer, and award winning quilter, Amy is inspired by nature and I am in awe of the way she enhances her quilts with “just the right” fabric and color combinations. If you are drawn to modern designs, and enjoy gardening or nature, I am certain Amy’s style will inspire you to create something colorful and beautiful!  

In this installment of Thread Matters, Amy shares her tips for the perfect thread-needle-stitch length combination for domestic straight line quilting. Many thanks to Amy for sharing with us today!

Is your shop, group or guild looking for insightful, inspiring and educational information on thread? Consider booking a virtual or in-person program with one of our skilled Aurifilosophers. Learn more about Aurifilosophy and find your favorite Aurifilosopher here.  

Happy Stitching!
— Karen L. Miller

Do you enjoy domestic straight line quilting?  Perhaps it intimidates you? I am here to share some of my top tips and tricks when it comes to machine quilting at home.

Remember that your quilting success actually starts long before you take that first stitch through your quilt sandwich.  It’s important to have a quilt top that is well made, pressed, and then basted thoroughly.  There are so many basting methods, but this is mine. First, I press my quilt backing and quilt top really well.  I place the backing, face down, on the floor and secure the outer edges with painters tape.  Then I layer on the batting and smooth it.  When I place the quilt top, I use my ruler to check the block intersections to make sure that they meet at 90 degree angles, keeping the quilt top nice and square as it is smoothed into place. Then I pin with quilters safety pins, about every 2”-3”.  

This is my least favorite part of making a quilt but taking time during the basting process is worth it.  It sets you up for quilting success. It’s also a good time to consider your quilting options because you have lots of time to look at your quilt and consider what type of quilting plan will work the best.  You can also audition thread colors at this time, laying them over the quilt top as you baste.  

I use Aurifil 50 weight (orange spool) or 40 weight (green spool) thread for most of my quilting (with the matching weight in the bobbin.)  Aurifil 50 weight thread is a little thinner so I use it when I really want my piecing to take center stage and want the quilting to just provide texture.  The thread will blend into the quilt top a bit more than a thicker thread. A 40 weight thread is typically recommended for quilting.  It is more substantial and rests on the surface of the fabric more. I use 40 weight when I am purchasing thread specifically for quilting, after my piecing is done, or if I want it to be more pronounced.  In either case, I like to use a Superior Titanium Coated Topstitch Needle 90/14.  It is a strong needle that stays sharp longer than other needles due to the titanium coating.  It also helps produce really nice, even stitches. I use this needle for my foundation paper piecing, chosen for the reasons already mentioned, as well as the fact that it makes larger punctures in my foundation paper and can stitch through many layers.  Since this needle is already on hand, I tend to use it for my quilting too but a size 80 needle is more often recommended for the 40 and 50 weight threads.  If your machine is giving you trouble with this combination, try a Superior Titanium Coated Topstitch 80/12.  I do sometimes switch out to those needles for quilting.  I hope that this discussion will also help you to realize that it’s ok to test out different needle sizes, thread weights, and applications. While each is recommended for something specific, it doesn’t mean that it’s limited to that use.      

When I am ready to machine quilt, I always try to support the weight of the quilt with the table surrounding my sewing machine and I wear machine quilting gloves.  They make a big difference, allowing me to get a better grip and move the quilt with ease.  

I like to set my stitch length to 3.5mm when quilting.  While teaching, I have observed people who expressed frustration at the appearance of their machine quilting and when I looked, I could tell that they were using a smaller stitch length, similar to a piecing stitch length of 2-2.2 mm.  I think this shorter stitch length sometimes makes the quilt pucker a bit and the stitches are too small to look pretty.  I have also tested longer stitches and when increasing to a length such as 5 mm, I remind myself that it’s close to a basting stitch length that I would use for gathering!  While it can look nice, I worry that the stitches are long enough to get snagged when the quilt is in use.  For me, a 3.5 mm stitch length seems like the sweet spot.  It’s long enough to show up and really show off the pretty, straight stitches that are made with the needle and thread combination and one of my favorite qualities of Aurifil thread, the sheen. 

This image shows how the stitch lengths look next to each other.  

Here’s an example of one of my Semblance Quilt using a 3.5 mm stitch length so you can see it on top of actual piecing. 

And this is a second example, this time of my Enchanted Quilt, also using a 3.5 mm stitch length.  There is dramatic contrast between the deep red background and the very light peach buds.  I didn’t want the thread to be either too light and distracting on the background, or too dark and distracting on the buds. Using a 50 weight thread a few shades lighter than the background for the quilting kept it from being too severe and drawing the eye to the quilting over the piecing.  

I really hope that these examples encourage you to try domestic straight line quilting.  It’s a great feeling to complete a quilt, start to finish, on your own. 

Feeling inspired to dive into a little quilting of your own? Consider joining in on her Satisfaction Quilt Along! Satisfaction is a stash busting, sampler style, foundation paper pieced quilt. Each of the 12 blocks is unique and original. The pattern is available for purchase on Amy’s site via the button below, and that purchase automatically adds you to the QAL with a PDF schedule, regular emails, and access to the Satisfaction Quilt Along Group. This is a great one to sew from your stash!!


  1. Great post by Amy. It definitely “sets the stage” for straight-line domestic machine quilting. I’m looking forward to stitching along with Amy on her “Satisfaction Quilt Along” adventure. My pattern is already printed, my fabrics selected 😊

  2. Thanks, Amy! I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never even considered a different stitch length when quilting a sandwich. What an amazing difference!

  3. Thank you Amy. Great for my notebook. I think the default stitch on my machine is 3.5 but do you use the same length for the bobbin stitch?
    Do you sew the edge around the entire quilt top to the batting?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: