Quilt in the hoop with your embroidery machine

Bridget McPhillips

I had heard about quilting in the hoop using the embroidery machine and even watched an episode of Sewing with Nancy about quilting in the hoop. You can view the episode here: Sewing with Nancy Quilting in the Hoop

I never really explored it until I started creating my own designs.  It really is a simple, straight forward process and provides a great way for quilters that are intimidated by free motion quilting to quilt their own quilts.

 Quilting in the hoop

A good friend of mine asked me to help her by quilting a few charity quilts.  I loved the opportunity to help and give back, but I saw another opportunity unfold before me when she said "One of the quilts is circus-themed, I know you will come up with something creative for it."  Always up for a challenge, I started by imagining the circus.  You can go in all sorts of directions with this one, but to me the focal point of the circus, the one thing that make a circus stand out from venues is the Big Top tent. The big tent with three rings where as a child I had the opportunity to be dazzled and scared half to death all at the same time!  The one time my parents took me to the circus, an ape ran up into the audience, right into the section where we were seated.  Being quite small, I of course did not realize that it was just a man dressed up in a costume, ergo the scared half to death.

 Fast forward to today and the circus is not what it used to be, but the idea of a circus will always include the image of the Big Top tent to me.

 digitizing the big top circus tent design

I created the design of the tent to be the basic shape of a circus tent.  When quilting in the hoop, you will want to use designs that are basic outlines.  Designs that are intricate and filled with heavy stitching will not work in this application due to the thickness of the quilt layers the needle and thread are passing through to form each stitch. 

Once I had digitized a tent I was happy with, I decided I needed another design that I could incorporate into the quilting design that would work well for the border areas.  I decided on bunting, or flags.

 image of stiched out bunting design for in the hoop quilting

Before I started quilting, I stitched out the designs on stabilizer and then cut the stabilizer along the mark left from the hoop.  This provided me with an accurate template to use to determine the hoop placement on the quilt to get adequate coverage with the stitches.  Through this process I determined that the three flag bunting I had created was not going to work all the way around the edges of the quilt, so I created two additional designs for the bunting, giving me a one flag, two flag and three flag option to work with.

With the designs selected and the placement plan developed, it's now time to quilt.

Be sure that you are using the same thread color in the needle and bobbin.   The embroidery machine naturally forms the stitch on the underside of the fabric. This is caused by the tension setting of the embroidery machine.  There are some people who say you need to readjust your tension settings to cause the stitch to form in the middle of the quilt sandwich.  It's really a matter of personal preference.  Both ways work, so if you are not comfortable messing around with your machine's tension settings, just be sure to use the same color thread for the needle and bobbin threads.

 determine the placement of the top hoop on the quilt

This is next part is the easiest part of the whole process.  At each place you would like the design to stitch out, you simply hoop the quilt sandwich in that space.  I picked up a great tip from watching the Sewing With Nancy episode about quilting in the hoop.  She used wash away basting tape to attach the top hoop to the quilt sandwich exactly where she wanted the design to stitch out.  The tape holds the hoop in place and prevents it from shifting as you are pressing the top hoop into the bottom hoop to hoop the quilt sandwich.  If you embroider, you will know that getting the hoop in exactly the right spot can be challenging.  I am going to apply this tip to other embroidery projects, it really takes the frustration out of getting your project hooped correctly.  I found that the tape would stay sticky enough to re-hoop about three times.  After the third hooping, just peel the tape off of the hoop and apply new tape.

 basting tape used to secure the top hoop to the quilt sandwichapply the basting tape to the underside of the top embroidery hooppeel back the covering on the double sided basing tape once it is on the hoop

Once you have applied the tape to your top hoop, press the top hoop in place on the quilt sandwich.  Next loosen the hoop tension screw.  The quilt sandwich is three layers thick, that is quite a bit of material to get squeezed between the hoops.  After you have the quilt hooped you can tighten the screw a bit if you need to.

 Stick the top hoop on the quilt sandwich where you would like the design to be stitchedSlide the bottom hoop under the quilt sandwichquilt sandwich hooped, ready to embroider the design

Once the quilt sandwich is hooped, attach the hoop to your embroidery machine, load your design and start embroidering.  As the machine is stitching out the design you will need to facilitate the movement of the rest of the quilt to ensure that it is not pulling against the machine causing drag, which will distort the way the design stitches out.

 quilt sanwich is being quilted in the hoop on the embroidery machine

When the design has finished stitching, the machine will stop.  Remove the hoop from the machine, remove the quilt sandwich from the hoop, and repeat the process until you have finished quilting the quilt.

At the same time I was quilting the circus-themed quilt, I was also quilting a dragonfly themed quilt.  I created the quilting design for the dragon fly quilt in the same way.

 Dragonfly quilt in the hoop embroidery designDargonfly quilt with close up detail of the finished quilting stitches

A few words on quilting and quilting in the hoop design patterns. 

There are many design options available for quilting in the hoop.  Many of the designs are based on traditional quilt blocks and quilt block sizes.  My designs are more free form and meant to be used all over, not constrained by the size of the block.

I make quite a few t-shirt/memory quilts.  I found that when I have tried to embroider the t-shirt quilts in the hoop I experienced a great deal of thread breaks.  I experimented with different thread and different needles and found that a ball point needle worked best for me on these quilts.  I also found that t-shirts that are heavily screen printed will not work well for quilting in the hoop with the embroidery machine.

Quilting in the hoop works great for finishing quilting a quilt, but it also works great to quilt fabric that you would use in other projects, like bags, pillows, plush dolls, basically anything.  If you have not seen it yet, take a look at my post about making a sleep mask in the hoop.  The sleep mask is an example of using the quilting in the hoop for project other than a quilt.  In The Hoop Sleep Mask Project

Use quilting in the hoop for all kinds of projects not just quilts, like this sleep mask in the hoop project

You can incorporate all kinds of fun stitching into your quilting projects by using the embroidery machine to quilt in the hoop.  Try incorporating typography, or the outline of block letters into your quilting designs to add a personal touch or messages.

If you are intimidated with the idea of trying free motion quilting, this might just be the perfect option for you.  Another fun way to make use of the tools you already have.

I have a short YouTube video that shows the entire process of quilting in the hoop from start to finish.  You can see that video here:

If you like the designs I created to quilt the charity quilts shown in this post, they can be purchased here:

Dragonfly Quilting Design

Circus Quilting Design



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