SID For Stand Up Quilters

sidimageStand Up Machine Quilters seem to be divided into 2 camps- those who love to stitch-in-the-ditch  ( SID), and those who dislike it.  My theory about this relates to careful precision work.  Either you are a detail person and do not mind slowing down to quilt exactly in the ditch between two seams, or you feel that life is way too short to be so anal.

When I first bought my longarm machine back in 2004, I tried SIDing a few times and decided I hated it.  If a client was set on having their quilt seams ditched, I would refer them to someone who loved it.  This worked just fine for me, at least until I started doing higher end custom work.  I discovered you really needed to SID, otherwise, the machine quilting judges would correctly point out that the seams needed to lay down crisp and clean when the major seam lines are ditched.  At a large major show, the points lost could cost you the difference between placing or not, if the rest of the quilt is beautifully quilted, pieced and bound.

judge2Which brings me to this cartoon I drew that is on topic.  A well known talented quilter once created a masterful whole cloth quilt for a show competition.  Her constructive feedback comment from the judge is reflected in this cartoon below:

So I forced myself to learn how to SID.  While it is still not my favorite thing to do, I have learned to appreciate how it looks when done correctly.  Because I taught myself this skill, I approach it differently than many other machine quilters.  Here is SID, Carla style.

Supplies: Thread, extended base, rulers.

Thread: Madiera Monolon is my favorite light monofilament thread,  they used to manufacture a smoke colored mono that was wonderful, but it is no longer available.  Superior’s Monopoly is my 2nd favorite brand of mono- both Smoke and Clear.  Both brands are strong to run through large commercial machines and are not “plasticy” looking.

Color of Thread:  Since most monofilament thread comes in two colors- Smoke and Clear.  Be sure to use the clear mono on lighter fabric seams and Smoke mono on darker fabric seams.

Bobbin Thread:  I choose the color of the bobbin thread to match the area I am ditching.  Why?  If you are ditching and you change directions, there is a strong likelihood of the top tension to pull on the bottom thread, making it slightly visible. Since I am sharing what works for me, this is the lesson I learned the hard way on my machine system.  My favorite brand of thread is Superior Thread.

rulermate_a1_upper_front3Extended Metal Ruler Base- This is an add-on metal ruler base that I purchased years ago  is called a Ruler Mate.  This metal base plate really changed my SID life because it does not wobble like my old plastic extended base that shipped with my machine system.  Unfortunately, they are no longer being manufactured, however, look for them on the secondary market.

Ruler- I have a variety of rulers I use for SID, but straightmy favorite one is by Accent in Design called Fine Line Rulers.  They have wonderful pegs on top of the ruler which allow you to have maximum control.  If you happen to have arthritis, or similar issues,  the Fine Line Rulers help you to hold it in place without pain.

By the way, no one paid me to write the above product endorsements, I just love their products. 🙂

How I SID and When– I happen to SID last, after I have quilted the entire quilt.  This is just how I taught myself, and it works for me.  Feel free to SID when you like, so long as you do not quilt pleats or lose control of your quilt sandwich.  (Note: If you are a sit down quilter, then you would SID first to stabilize your quilt sandwich)

Thread Tension: I loosen the top tension considerably, and then test stitch off to the side to ensure that my tension is perfect, both top and bottom.

Slow Down:  I put on my metal extended base, too, and then slow my machine’s “cruise control” on its stitch regulator way down.  I retest the tension, grab my Fine Line Ruler, then I am ready to ditch.

The goal to ditching a quilt is to have it not be seen.  If it is noticeable or wobbly, then I would remove the wayward stitching and start again.  If you slow your machine down, you will gain control and can place the stitch where you want it.

SID example by Carla Barrett

SID example by Carla Barrett

When starting out, you may experience that SID work seems easier when done either vertically or horizontally. With time and practice, you will find you can easily SID in all directions. Here is an example of a well done ditch ( see left image).

SID the Low Side of Seam: Next tip is to carefully pick what side of the ditch you are going to stitch on.  You always want to SID the low side. Look at the photo shown on the left.  On the red/black seam, which I have ditched, the red side is the low side.  In the gold/red seam, the gold section is where I will be stitching as it is the low side of the seam.  I also will use gold thread in the bobbin and monofilament thread on top.

Tips for Precision: I quilt right handed, so another trick is to use your non-dominant hand to open the seam up as you carefully stitch.  Another tip is to use a clamp on magnifying glass to assist that you can easily see the seam.

Not all Quilts Need to Have SID:  Note that there may be a couple of reasons to NOT SID a quilt.  Obviously, if you are doing an Edge-to-Edge design or a pantograph, there is no need to SID.  Also, the quilt top maker’s pressing technique will certainly affect your decision to SID or not. If the seam flips from one side to another while pressing, then this will cause your SID to wobble to the low side.

toniquiltsAnother reason to not SID a quilt is when the pieced seams are not straight and/or if the corners/intersections do not match up.  SID would bring unwelcome attention to the quilt’s imperfections, so best to pick a quilting plan that will draw the eye away from the quilt’s flaws.

In the quilt, shown right,  I intentionally chose to not SID because the quilt was not straight.  Instead, I quilted it freehand style to draw the eye away from the imperfections.  It worked, this quilt won “Best of Show” at the County Fair.  The owner of the quilt was very happy.

To recap, my main tips are to 1) have the right thread and tools at your disposal.  2) if you SID, then take the time to slow down and 3) Do a good job or else remove it and redo, and last, Always SID on the low side of the ditch. 4) Some quilts may not need SID.

Hope you enjoy this post on SID for Stand Up Quilting.  If you would like to see more informative posts, please write and let me know.  :-)  Carla


32 thoughts on “SID For Stand Up Quilters

  1. I hated SID when I first did it, but the more comfortable I became with my rulers, the easier it became. I don’t use monopoly, but use So Fine or Bottom Line in a matching color to the fabric. Great advice!

    • Hi Carol, at first, I had to force myself to learn. Remember, too, you can load a practice sandwich on your table, draw straight lines, and practice hitting the lines exactly. Then move onto ditching a pieced utility quilt. By the end, you will be a SID master! 🙂 Carla

  2. Thanks my awesome “mentor!” I have slowed way down when doing sid. Many of my customers do not like mono threads so I have to try and match at least one of the fabrics on either side of the seam.

    • Hi Laura, good to hear from you! Be sure to match the low side fabric, and look at the quilt top before loading to double check pressing technique.

      Some of the mono thread being sold have a plastic look about them, so if you use mono, use Madiera’s clear mono or Superior’s Monopoly smoke color. Madiera used to manufacture their mono in both smoke and clear, but have discontinued the smoke color.

      For you customers who do not like mono, I suggest the 60 weight Bottom Line from Superior. They also have a So-Fine 50 weight thread, too.

      Happy Quilting! Carla

  3. Unless it’s a client’s edge to edge stitched quilt, I always SID. I have a Sweet 16 so I complete this before I launch into the all over design. I had to get past the notion that it was just something I HAD to get accomplished to stabilize a quilt….rather, it beautifully ‘anchors’ the quilt so the final stitching motif(s) are enhanced a lot. As with much of the quilting ‘thing’ it is a ‘head’ attitude adjustment. For me, it isn’t merely a preliminary to the “real” quilting but a part of the “whole” quilting process. Great post and so much valuable info!!!!

    • 🙂 You fall into the “Love to SID” category. By any chance, were you a sit down machine quilter before moving to stand up quilting? I find I like the crispness that SID provides to an area. Always love hearing from you! Hugs, Carla

      • To rephrase…….I’m still a “sit-down” quilter with the Sweet Sixteen (purchased 1& 1/2 yrs ago). Before that I used a Juki (DSM) TL2010Q (sit-down). I LOVE moving the fabric rather than the machine and my goal now is to encourage others (who don’t have the space, $$$$ or desire for a frame-mounted long arm) to quilt their quilts!!!!! I do have to say I love “micro-stippling”, too!!!!!

  4. Thank you for that post. It covered a subject I was often questioning myself – to do or not to do.
    Your post really answered that for me.
    Love to see more.


  5. Excellent advice, thank you. I also have a Sweet 16 and SID most of my quilts, the “caution” about matching seams drives me to improve my piecing. I have been reading lately about “wash away” thread for SID. Do you have any experience with using it?

    • Hi Sheila, to answer your terrific question, wash away thread is used in quilting (and applique or piecing) situations where you want the stitching to be temporary.

      I have used it in traditional (cut away) trapunto, and I could see it used as a temporary basting, but have not heard of it used as a SID thread, since it would wash out and you would lose the crisp visual definition between the pieced seams.

      May I ask what the person using it was doing- or what effect they were after to use temporary thread? Now I am curious! 🙂 Carla

  6. Oh Carla, I am not a lover of doing SID, but I love the look, a bit like I don’t love to cook, but I love to eat!! It sure makes a huge difference to the overall look of the quilt. Did you know YLI make a mono filament? I find it very good. I use to use Sew Art invisible nylon, but it is sadly no longer in production, it was one Harriet Hargrave recommended. Some of my customers don’t like the invisible threads, in those cases I use a bobbin fill such as Bottom Line.
    I use my domestic machine for all my quilts, both personal & professional ones, so I use a walking foot for my SID.

    • Hi Leeanne, LOL! I totally understand and love the analogy of cooking to SID.

      Yes, all mono is not created equal- I do not like the plastic look of some of them. Haven’t tried the YLI brand mono as yet. A few years ago, Janet-Lee went to the Madiera factory and bought me the super duper large spools that should last me a lifetime. LOL

      I didn’t know you quilted on your DSM? Well done! Btw, while I was on my South Pacific sailing trip, I met a wonderful couple from NZ, they live in Wellington. One day, I plan to visit your country and spend some quality time there!

  7. Great to see this discussion about sid; I agree, I think it does really help give a sharp finish. I’m trying to master it with the darning foot on my new sweet 16 – maybe a ruler will help. I think I need to change my attitude to it as well- rather than a necessary evil I need to use it as a chance to get to know my quilt better and spend some quality time with it!!!

    • Hi Raewyn, thanks for you comments, I can certainly relate about it being a “necessary evil!” Over time, I felt better about SID and now don’t mind it. Do you have the extended base for your Sweet 16? Even though it is plastic, it would help you with any ruler work. There are many great rulers on the market, the one I mentioned just happened to be my personal favorite and the easiest to hold and control.

      Hope you will come back for a visit again! 🙂 Carla

      • HI Carla, I hadn’t heard of the extended base for my sw16 but have just googled it. It would be a great help – thanks!!!

      • I wish I did. I’m getting used to a Gammill Charm and haven’t discovered the magic tension settings that allow me to run multiple thread types. My domestic allows me to run a wider range of threads. So, basically, I’m still playing to find what works.

        I’ve also played a bit lately with using quilting rulers as guides. A bit tricky with a sitdown machine, but I have liked the results.

        I was surprised how few results came up from searches for the quilting rulers. I finally bought from and was pleased with the service.

  8. Carla, Really enjoyed reading about your SID recommendations. Some of these tips I had heard before, but it is always good to remind “old” brains again. I’ve always liked to SID, but haven’t done it much lately. I changed from doing custom work to only E2E so I could keep up with demand. I’m about ready to stop customer quilts and work exclusively on my own. One doesn’t get any younger, you know. I have always admired your work and approach to quilting and look forward to your emails. I miss the former Quilt Whisperer chat room.

  9. Thank-you for the information about SIDing. Could you tell me what you recommend for numbers of stitches per inch for SID for a longarm? Does this vary from your regular longarm stitches per inch? Thanks for your reply in advance.

    • Hi Judy, stitch length is a rather subjective topic. I know several show quilters who asked the longarm manufacturer create a super high stitch per inch than the average machine. I once asked one of these quilters why they use such a high stitch per inch (spi) and the reply was that so the judges couldn’t take points off for uneven stitches. LOL

      Now, in the practical world, I want my stitches nice and even, but not so small in case I need to “frog” or remove the stitches. I typically tend to choose 13 or 14 spi, but that is just my preference.

      One mistake I have seen at quilt shows is the use of very large stitches- which then looked like the quilt was basted. Not a good look. 🙂

      Good question, Judy!

  10. Thanks so much Judy for sharing your knowledge. I’m very new to the game and you have helped me immensely,

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