Edge-to-Edge Quilting With an Embroidery Machine (How To!)
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When I first purchased my embroidery machine, I had NO idea all it could do.
For example, I soon learned I could stitch in-the-hoop designs, make free-standing lace, and even quilt with my embroidery machine.
In terms of quilting, my machine can piece blocks, create applique blocks, make crazy quilt blocks, and even add quilting stitches to finish projects.
One of my favorite techniques is edge-to-edge quilting with an embroidery machine.
Knowing how to machine embroider a quilt by yourself means you don’t have to free-motion quilt with a sewing machine, stand all day at a long-arm quilting machine, or send out your quilts for someone else to finish them.
Want to learn more?
Follow along in this tutorial to learn everything you need to know about finishing quilts with your embroidery machine!
What are edge-to-edge embroidery designs?
The defining characteristic of edge-to-edge embroidery designs is that they start at one side of the hoop and end at the opposite side.
All stitching is continuous with no backtracking (unless you choose a triple stitch), and designs connect seamlessly with each other.
For example, above is an edge-to-edge stippling embroidery design I quickly freehanded with my mouse.
FYI, many different terms (some trademarked, some not) also exist for the process of edge-to-edge quilting. Continuous quilting, end-to-end quilting, E2E quilting, quilting in-the-hoop, and all-over quilting are largely interchangeable terms.
Creating or Finding Edge-to-Edge Embroidery Designs
If you have embroidery digitizing software, E2E designs are easy to create.
I like to doodle designs by hand, grab pantographs from the library Maker Space, or replicate designs from books I’ve purchased on free-motion quilting.
I add the scanned picture to my embroidery software, scale it to the desired size, and quickly digitize the lines.
If you have design capabilities on your embroidery machine (or use the Brother Artspira app or similar app for other machine brands), you may also be able to create continuous quilting designs without software.
The big things I consider when creating continuous embroidery designs are:
- The stitching line must begin and end at the exact symmetric location to allow for block connection.
- The design must be continuous with no trims.
- Motif spacing must be compatible with my batting’s minimum required quilting space.
Now, creating designs sometimes takes longer than I care to spend.
Thus, here are four places I love to buy machine embroidery designs for quilting:
- Etsy (My favorite shop is JLdizains.)
- Amelie Scott Designs
- Designs by Juju
- Anita Goodesign
Supplies for Quilting With An Embroidery Machine
Here’s some boring need-to-know before we get to the fun part of using the embroidery machine.
1. Choosing a Needle
A 75/11 embroidery needle is my go-to for quilting on my embroidery machine.
However, adjust the needle size for thicker threads or specialty threads (like metallics).
2. Selecting Thread Fiber Type and Weight
Machine embroidering quilts is one of those times when I prefer to match (identically or closest neutral color) the top and bobbin threads on my embroidery machine. (Well, as long as it won’t look odd on my backing fabric.)
When matching, it won’t be noticeable if the bobbin thread pulls through to the top of the quilt or the top thread sinks to the back. Thus, less fiddling with perfect tension.
While most designs are digitized for 40wt machine embroidery thread, I often substitute 30wt cotton embroidery thread when I want more noticeable quilting.
Remember to start your quilting with a full bobbin. The thread goes fast with longer stitch designs.
And, if you start running low on bobbin thread, always switch bobbins before starting a new section. I’ve found that the top of my magnetic hoop can slide and shift the quilt when removing it from the machine.
3. Batting Choice
Most battings will provide adequate support for a quilting project, but here are three things to consider.
1. First, if the foot of your embroidery machine does not raise, don’t use high-loft batting.
2. Second, if you don’t have a magnetic hoop, check that your quilt sandwich will fit within your two hoop frames. If not, use thinner batting.
3. Lastly, as mentioned earlier, check the fine print on your batting back for the minimum quilting distance required and make sure it jives with your embroidery design motif spacing.
My go-to batting for lap-size or larger quilts is 80/20 cotton/poly batting. I prefer lightweight polyester batting for baby quilts.
And, sometimes, I catch a deal on batting at Hobby Lobby’s 75% off clearance, as I did for this tutorial, and I’ll make do with it, too!
4. Stabilizing a Quilt for Embroidery
The good news is if you’re using batting and two layers of woven fabric, you don’t need stabilizer.
If you’re anxious about forgoing stabilizer, are using poor-quality batting or fabric, or are experiencing issues with your quilting, try using Battilizer (stabilizer batting) in your quilt sandwich.
5. Picking a Hoop Size and Type
When quilting a sizeable project, I always select the largest hoop for my embroidery machine.
This makes the project go SO MUCH faster (fewer hoopings as more area is quilted each time).
I also prefer to use my magnetic embroidery hoops, as this makes rehooping section by section so much easier. (I don’t even have to remove the quilt from the machine to rehoop it. Just lift and slide!)
I have two DIME Snap Monsters (check your machine’s compatibility here) and a Brother-branded magnetic hoop.
While the Brother hoop is arguably easier to use and more stable, it’s only 7″x14″ (rather than the 10 5/8″ x 16″ of my DIME hoop), and it decreases the max embroidery speed I can use on my machine.
Don’t have a magnetic hoop?
Don’t worry; you can still quilt with your embroidery machine’s regular hoop!
The difficulty here is mastering hooping thick projects straight and making minor adjustments. Laser alignment can help, though.
How to Quilt With an Embroidery Machine
Now, here’s the process step-by-step, along with tips and tool recommendations for creating machine-embroidered quilts.
1. Create Your Quilt Sandwich.
Before attaching your quilt layers, press the quilt top and backing fabric to remove wrinkles; I love Best Press for this task.
It’s impossible to do a good job lining up and quilting a wrinkly quilt.
Next, place your backing fabric right side down on a large flat surface.
The backing needs to be several inches larger than the batting, which needs to be larger than the quilt top.
I like taping my backing to the floor with painter’s tape so it doesn’t move, and I can make sure it’s straight and squared up. (For once, the lines of my outdated wood floors come in handy!)
Then, layer the batting on top.
Finally, place the quilt top right side up on top of the backing to complete the sandwich.
I always use quilt basting spray or Odif 505 temporary fabric adhesive on the batting to hold my pieces together while lining up layers.
I then sparsely safety pin baste the outside of larger quilts–it’s helpful having that slight adhesion first, though.
If you pin or baste, do NOT forget to remove the pins once you start stitching.
To finish up, after you’ve basted, look at the back of the quilt to ensure no wrinkles, creases, or areas of excess fabric. If you find any, smooth them out and repin.
2. Make a Plan for the Quilting Process
A. Measure the Sides of Your Quilt
To get an idea of the number of required hoopings, measure the height and width of your quilt top. (My example measures 35″x43″.)
I recommend measuring both tops and sides and comparing the numbers to ensure your quilt is even. If not, trim before starting to embroider.
Only measure the area to be quilted.
For example, if you plan to quilt a border with a different continuous design later, do not add this space to the total.
B. Choose Design Orientation and Make Edits
If you purchased or created a continuous machine embroidery design and it’s too small, or there’s too much space between motifs, you can edit multiple designs together for a different effect.
For example, the freehand stippling motif I created earlier?
I can place two side by side to create a larger motif. (You can do this in software or onscreen on most machines.)
And hey, you can even add four motifs to make a larger design.
There are many possibilities, but this shows the flexibility you have when editing designs!
Also, don’t forget that you can flip or rotate continuous quilting designs to create a different look. Flipping every other design can be fun, too.
C. Choose Design Size
First, never choose a continuous embroidery design size that’s the exact size of your hoop.
For example, if I use a 10 5/8″ x 16″ E2E machine embroidery quilting design with my 10 5/8″ x 16″ hoop, I have to be PERFECT each time I hoop.
Having an inch or two of wiggle room when hooping is so essential.
Thus, I like using 9.5″ x 14″ or similarish embroidery designs for my large hoop, which means if I’m 1/2″ off when hooping, it’s no problem to make adjustments onscreen rather than having to unhoop and rehoop.
A Note About Resizing Continous Designs
If you need to resize a purchased continuous embroidery design, be careful how much you do so.
Resizing square designs into rectangles and vice versa can leave your motifs squished.
And, resizing more than ~10-20% can also affect the stitch spacing and result in too loose or too dense of stitching. (Resizing EMB or other native file formats shouldn’t be an issue, though. So, check for native file formats if you buy designs!)
D. Calculate How Many Hoopings and The Direction of Stitching
First, consider the progression order for your continuous quilting process.
I like to quilt left to right in rows from top to bottom, meaning I start at the top left corner. This is what Brother recommends with their Quiltbroidery software, also.
You can also quilt from top to bottom, moving left to right in columns.
Some embroiderers start in the center of the blank or on a middle row, but I find this causes more problems for me.
You also have two options when deciding how to quilt your project.
- Use the design in the size it came in from the digitizer, and get creative when you get to the edges and can only stitch a partial design. (I have tips for this later.)
- Resize your design to ensure you get complete hoopings for the entire quilt and no partial designs on the edges. (This involves math and isn’t always possible.)
To calculate how many hoopings you’ll need, you can use the vertical and horizontal dimensions of your quilt and the vertical and horizontal dimensions of your chosen designs.
My machine calculates hoopings for me when using built-in designs (awesome!), but I have to calculate things myself when using other designs.
3. Consider Marking, Templates, or Alignment Tools
There are several methods and tools to make quilting on an embroidery machine easier.
For example, if you want to use a washable fabric pen to mark vertical and horizontal lines for each hooping, you can do this before starting as a map of sorts.
If your machine has a camera, projector, or other quilting technologies built in, you don’t have to put quite as much effort upfront.
However, if quilting with a more entry-level machine (like my Brother SE1900), here are three valuable ways to make embroidery machine quilting easier and more accurate.
1. Print a Template
Sometimes the digitizer of your continuous design will provide printable template files you can use to line up designs and preview stitching.
If you don’t have a template, you can print one using embroidery software. (There are many free embroidery program options).
One caveat is that if the design is larger than 8.5″x11″, you must print it in pieces and tape them together.
You can use printer paper, but I like printable freezer paper as it’s slightly transparent and can be fused temporarily with an iron.
If you don’t have a printer, one other option is to hoop a layer of cut-away or no-show mesh stabilizer and stitch the design in a contrasting thread color.
Then, mark the center of the design on the stabilizer and the design borders to help with alignment. Trim to size and use this as a template.
2. Use Template Sticker Paper
Designs in Machine Embroidery sells template sticker paper that you can use to help with placement.
It’s slightly transparent, and each sticker sheet will last an entire quilt’s worth of alignment.
3. Kimberbell Clear Blue Tiles
Clear Blue Tiles are light blue transparent plastic rectangles and squares of different sizes with cut-outs for marking quilt sections.
Each tile template makes it easy to mark vertical and horizontal crosshairs and the block’s center dot with a washable fabric pen.
Then, you can use Kimberbell all-over quilting designs (or block-by-block designs) while lining the designs up perfectly.
Drawbacks of this method include the high price and having to add the Expansion Set if you want larger hoop sizes.
Also, you must mark your quilt, so if you don’t plan to wash after quilting, steer clear.
4. Hoop Your Quilt and Set Up for Success
Next, hoop the first section of your quilt, and remove any basting pins.
As mentioned, I like to make my backing and batting wider on the sides because it gives the hoop something to catch onto.
If you can’t hoop the sides, you can use a piece of wash-away or tear-away stabilizer underneath the quilt or sew a scrap piece of fabric into the seam allowance for the binding. (Remove it after the embroidery is finished.)
Then, load the quilt into your machine.
Now, arrange your unhooped fabric so it will be out of the way of the hoop.
You can use something like the DIME Jumbo Hoop Guard, painter’s tape, metal longarm quilt holders (put something soft on the bottom to prevent scratches), or really any method that works for you.
Also, if you have a larger quilt, you need to worry about drag, which is bad news bears for your machine if not addressed.
There are many ways to keep the weight off your machine, but the one I’m using for this small quilt here is DIME’s Weightless Quilter Tabletop version.
DIME also has its original free-standing Weightless Quilter that’s more robust for bigger quilts.
5. Load Your Design
When you load a design to your embroidery machine, it’s important to pay attention to the needle start and end locations.
If embroidering left to right in rows, ensure the design begins on the left and ends on the right.
If embroidering vertically from the top down, the design must begin stitching on the top and end on the bottom.
Flip any designs that do not start in the correct part of the hoop.
6. Start Stitching (And Avoid Thread Knots)
Finally, it’s time to get going with the actual embroidery part!
To start the quilting, first, line up the top left edge of your design with the top left edge of your quilt.
Then, double-check that the middle and bottom left of the design also align along the left edge of the quilt.
This is one of those times when having a projector on my machine is very helpful.
Preventing Thread Knots and Imperfections
To prevent embroidery designs from unraveling once stitched, embroidery machines start and end with a tie-in and tie-out.
However, unless you intervene during this stitch, the bobbin thread will remain on the bottom of the quilt sandwich and likely get all tangled (see above).
Before you start your machine, thus, pull up the bobbin thread to the top of the quilt to prevent thread nests on the quilt back.
While pulling up the bobbin thread isn’t as crucial on regular embroidery projects with backs that aren’t visible, it’s essential to keep the underside of your quilt pristine.
To pull up the bobbin thread, lower the presser foot and hold the end of the upper thread in your left hand.
Then, use your handwheel or needle down button to put the needle down into the quilt.
Raise the needle the same way while holding onto the upper thread.
When you pull on the upper thread, the bobbin thread should come up through the needle hole to the top of the quilt.
Place the top thread back through the hole in the presser foot and take a few stitches.
Clip the threads with your favorite embroidery scissors, and start your machine again to embroider the entire section! (You can also leave the threads unclipped if you want to hide them later inside the quilt. Just don’t stitch over them.)
Some embroiderers also turn off their automatic thread cutter to monitor for knots at the end of a stitching section. This is optional.
Note: Don’t leave your machine unattended when stitching on quilt sides.
If your presser foot goes off the fabric and catches under the edge when coming back on, you’re in for a heap of trouble.
You can use embroidery tape to secure the fabric to the batting, but I often prefer to monitor and hold down fabric with my That Purple Thang.
7. Rehoop and Align Sections
Once one section of your quilting is done, it’s time to move on to the next section.
Remove the top frame of your hoop, slide your quilt over, and hoop it again.
Then, find the last stitch of your first design. Line up the first stitch of your next design at that location.
Cameras and projectors are helpful but not necessary.
Make sure to preview your design location, as you may also need to rotate the embroidery design several degrees.
Then, start stitching again to continue the stitching line seamlessly.
When it comes time to vertically move the hoop down to a new row, follow the steps in the previous section to align the design with the fabric edge.
8. Ending the Quilt
If you were able to resize your design and only need to quilt the full design on all sections, continue section to section until you finish the quilt.
If not, you’ll need to embroider a complete design on only a tiny part of the quilt.
Here are three solutions for finishing that embroidery:
- Stop stitching, tie off, and cut threads when the machine gets to a fabric edge. Use the machine interface to skip ahead to the next time the needle catches the fabric and start again. Repeat as needed.
- Sew scrap fabric or muslin to the edge of the quilt top, and embroider over that. Remove when finished.
- Add a layer of wash-away or tear-away stabilizer at the bottom of the hooped quilt and stitch on that. Remove later.
Finally, square up the quilt by trimming excess fabric, add your binding with a sewing machine, create a machine embroidered quilt label, and share your finished project with loved ones.
And, that’s all there is to quilting in the hoop on an embroidery machine!
Don’t forget to check out also how to piece embroidered quilt blocks in the hoop, and check out these sewing machines for quilting and embroidery so you can start quilting!