To Ditch or Not?


My recent cartoon on this subject led me to consider the issue of  to “ditch” a quilt or not. Whether you are a die-hard “SIDer” or “SID adverse,” I hope you will read my post below and share your opinion.  Thanks, Carla

Stitch in the Ditch: to stitch carefully in the seam on the top side of a quilt.  In the quilting world, there are many machine quilter’s who strongly believe in  Stitch-in-the-Ditch (SID).  However, there are also just as many non-SID quilters, too.  This has been an age old debate among stand-up machine quilters, but I would like to take a closer look at both sides of this issue:

Pro-SID: Many machine quilters are- and were taught that you SID to stabilize your quilt sandwich.  It is how they learned, it looks very crisp and clean, and every quilt needs this.  To not SID a quilt on a custom quilt is something they would never do.  Period.

Con-SID: For machine quilters with stand up systems, SID takes time, is laborious, and takes practice to acheive a crisp, clean look.  If you are a fraction out of the seam, it shows, and not in a nice way.  If you are in business, SID adds time, and your profit margin is bound to be affected.

Pro-Non SID:  Many modern stand-up machine quilters were taught that SID is actually not needed to control your quilt sandwich, and that a good machine quilter can control a quilt sandwich without SID.  SID is a holdover from hand and sit down quilting, and frankly, not needed.  To not SID is better for your bottom line if you are in business.

Con-Non SID: If the quilt is being shown, will it be marked down for not SID?  Questions over conforming to a historical belief.


I actually see both sides of the debate, and so, several years I ago taught myself how to SID on my longarm machine. In case anyone is curious, I use Madiera’s monofiliment (light or dark grey) for most of my SID.   My decision to ditch or not ditch is made quilt by quilt.  Thus said, many quilts I have shown were not ditched.  My quilts hang perfectly straight on quilts that came to me square- all achieved with no SID work.  This holds true for King plus sized quilts.  I have never had a comment from a judge saying one of my quilted quilts needed SID.

Let’s hear from you!

Do you feel strongly one way or another?  I would love to hear your opinion on the subject.  Do you SID or not?  If so, why or why not?  Have you ever had a judge write that your quilt needed SID if placed in a show without it?  Judges, do you have an opinion on this- or does it depend on the individual show rules?

Take care, Carla


19 thoughts on “To Ditch or Not?

  1. Nice Post up for the usual debate! I wrestle with the correct answer. I am PRO SID, and yes, it disturbs my profit margin. I find that when I try to get away without SIDing, I feel in less control, which causes me stress, that leads to down time, which ALSO disturbs my profit margin! LOL So… I do it.
    Judges? I have had both compliments on, and caution on. You are correct, one slip out of the ditch, someones gonna ding ya. I swear those judges use magnifying glasses!
    Love the cartoon:)

  2. I’m very pro-SID. I think it dramatically enhances the piecing. That said, I don’t qult for hire. If I did I would not SID unless the client paid for it, no matter how much it would improve the quilt. I actually enjoy doing SID (and all ruler work) but I’m weird that way!

  3. I think Vicki touched on a very good point- the professional machine quilter doing it only if they were being paid to do so. I’m sure some quilters are very fast at SID, but I’m slower and take my time. I don’t think liking SID is weird, either… we all have our areas which we like to do. My favorite thing to do is freehand since it is my comfort bubble.

  4. I am in the sorta/sometimes camp. I do SID if the quilt and the client’s budget calls for it. I have and will continue to skip SID if my professional opinion deems it unneeded.

    It does depend alot on the type of quilting I am doing – eg, if I do CC or motifs close to the seam lines, then often I don’t SID. If the quilt is more traditional and has less quilting overall, then I am more likely to SID. There are so many variables.

    Many times, I will SID only the seam between borders. The inner body of the quilt may not need it, but often the borders do. Again, many variables are at play.

    And, of course, there is NO RIGHT OR WRONG here!


  5. Count me in the pro ditch…Any client quilts that are for show get it…and they pay. Regular client quilts, most choose to pay for it.

    I always SID my own quilts, I think it give the final product a nice clean finished look. And I don’t mind doing it either, in fact I kind of like it.

  6. I don’t like to SID. I’m very slow at it, and I usually get out of the ditch because the seams aren’t perfect. The quilt I’ve got on my machine right now needs SID, but the seams are going every-which-way. I tried, but ended up taking it out. I’ll have to do an all-over fill. I do think it looks better to have a custom quilt “ditched”.

  7. I didn’t know ‘in the ditch’ was traditional! I always thought that quilting a quarter inch away from the seam line was the traditional quilting line to avoid stitching through seam allowances!

    I don’t machine quilt a lot, but learned my quilting preferences along with learning hand quilting. I also do mostly applique, which means there are not many ditches to stitch in. (I know, ‘in the ditch’ around an applique piece is on the seam line but outside the applique.)

    I outline quilt just, about an eighth of an inch, outside the seam of the piece, or shape, I want to ‘stand up’ from the background. It gives a much softer effect than in the ditch, and gives a sort of trapunto effect if the quilt backing is stretched well and the background is more closely quilted than the bit of the design I want to be the feature of the design. I use this outline in both pieced and applique quilts.

    SID looks crisp, clean, neat and tidy on a well made quilt, but draws attention to any inaccuracies. If a quilt is heavily quilted it tends to look firm. and flat. If I had to chose a look for my bed I would prefer something a little less severe, which looks warmer and cuddlier. I also have some concerns about the wearability of SID if threads are not matched in strength and content carefully.

    If I was a judge, which I am not and never want to be, I hope I would be able to judge the quality of the quilting and how well it enhances the design of the quilt top, without becoming the main feature of the whole quilt.

    Judy B

  8. Like you Carla, it depends on the quilt .. I’m not a stand up quilter but a sitting down swearer 😉

    Generally I will do the borders with SID just to create a nice divider between the inner quilt top and the borders ..

    I LOVE doing freemotion quilting – to me it seems to go so much quicker as opposed to stitch, life foot, turn quilt, lock stitches and repeat ..

    But if the quilt says it wants SID or I can’t come up with an overall design I like, then I fall back on SID ..


  9. Interesting subject!
    I am a pro – SID. I will SID inbetween borders and usually only in the quilt if it’s done on point with sashings. I am pretty quick at it but do sometimes get off the ditch.

  10. Judy B, perhaps a quilt historian or a judge with certification will stop by and enlighten us… LOL

    I first started quilting back in the 1980’s and yes, my first class was hand piecing and quilting. However, I am not a historian, I just recall seeing it on quilts shown in history museums. Could be wrong, so better to rely on someone trained in this area.

    So far, the pro-SID crowd is in the majority, I would say. It is an interesting topic. I still remember one gal up in WA (she teaches at Longarm University, she does this wiggle ditch treatment which is very interesting. It looks pretty cool when done over the whole quilt.

    off to quilt…. It is a single block irregular shaped block, so no SID on this one.

  11. My motto: When in doubt, ditch.

    When to ditch (before or after motifs) seems to change from quilt to quilt for me, just depends on the job.

  12. I’m definitely “con” … as a stand-up machine quilter for hire, I simply don’t offer it, and my regular customers don’t request it. I feel that I can stabilize almost any quilt very well without any SID. And in fact, if a quilt is poorly pieced (none of MY customers would do such a thing, LOL!), SID becomes nearly impossible to do well on a stand-up machine. I’m perfectly comfortable with rulers, but simply choose not to add it to my repertoire, because I would have to charge too much for something that adds very little, IMHO.

    An interesting topic, Carla … thanks for “scratching” my brain!

  13. I am in the usually no, sometimes yes group, even when it come to my own quilts i will not do SID work unless i think it need is.

    I do quit for hire, but do to some major are competition I have to keep my prices low, and to be honest when most of my customers find out i will be charging them a good deal more when they insist on SID nine out of ten will say “just forget it”.

    Most quilters in my area do not piece/quilt for show, they quilt for use. And, for the longest time, there main goal was that the quilting is there to hold there quilt sandwich together and nothing more. When i first switched from doing only pantograph quilting to doing more specialty quilting, and raised my prices to reflect that change, my client list shank by more than half. Quilters in this area just do not want to pay the price for the more specialty type quilting, especially when there are 24 other machine quilters that are less than a hours drive away from any local quilt shop, that offer the basic panto quilting for much less than my prices.

    Luckily times are beginning to change, and in the past year my client list has started to go back up a bit. Now my customers look at there quilt and say, “Yes I am going to use it, but it would look nicer with some feathers or some stencil work so I’ll pay the higher price.” instead of “I’m going to be using it, just but a huge ugly old Stipple on it and call it good, is it going to cost less if it doesn’t take as long to quilt as my last one did?” I have never been without work, but there was a time when i did wonder what the next week would bring.
    I have now switch to doing only specialty type quilting, leaving the panto quilts to all the others in the area.

  14. I am a very new longarmer..only got my gammill in Sept. Just started quilting for people in Dec. Simple things mostly.I don’t SID very well, need to practice more..but no place locally..or within many hours drive to take classes. So I putter along and learn as I can. I enjoyed reading the comments…on SID. I think if I knew how to make it look good without the wiggles, i’d be willing to do it more.

  15. I rarely do. I’m with Carla on the freehand side of things. I think the quilt is stabilized as long as it’s quilted evenly.

  16. I think that I consider myself pro-side. I quilt for hire, mostly utility quilts, bed quilts. If piecers take the time & $ to put borders on, I think they should be quilted separately and framed with SID. I have seen 1/4 inch SID used effectively but for me, that is more difficult.

    Quilts look lovely when they come to me. I quilt them and they look lovely. I want them to be just as beautiful when they come out of the dryer. If a seam pops up, it detracts from the beauty of the quilt and in my mind, it will detract from the wear of the quilt where the loose seam rubs. I have seen some quilts that make me think “too bad they didn’t SID that down”.

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