Stand 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.
Which 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.
Extended 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 my 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.
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.
Another 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