So today I will be talking about stitching in the ditch. I have to admit I very rarely do this before quilting my quilts - I usually do ditch quilting with my free motion foot as I go along (so I stitch along the seam lines as part of my free motion quilting). I am most definitely not an expert on ditch quilting - but I think it has a lot of benefits, especially with a quilt such as the Giant Chevron where the main design element is set on the diagonal, and the blocks are large, and because we will be using a different motif in each of the coloured stripes. The idea behind stitching in the ditch before free motion quilting is that it will stabilise the main seams, and it also allows you to remove a lot of safety pins (if you're a pin baster!) which means you won't have to start and stop as often when you get to the (fun) free motion quilting part. I'll be honest - the main reason I don't stitch in the ditch as a matter of habit is that it is mind numbingly boring, and time consuming, and I'm too impatient to get to the FMQ part. But it really is beneficial in stabilising your quilt top, and will make it less likely that you'll get issues with folds in your backing fabric while you're FMQing. I'm not sure I'm very convincing here - but it really is worth the effort, and it is something I'm going to do more often.
Technically speaking, stitching in the ditch is quilting right in the seams where your fabric joins, and ideally it should mean your quilting stitches don't show. If the seams have been pressed to the side during the piecing process, ditch stitching will involve sewing slightly off the seam line, on the side with just one layer of fabric. If the seams have been pressed open (which is what I almost always do) the stitches will sit right in the seam line where the fabrics meet. Stitching in the ditch should minimise the amount of stitching that shows on the front of the quilt - but I would still advise choosing a thread that will blend as much as possible into the fabric of the quilt top. On a domestic machine, it is easiest to stitch in the ditch with a walking foot, rather than trying to FMQ in the ditch (where you need to have incredible control of the quilt top to ensure the quilting stitches really do stay in the ditch and not waver off to the side).
Most of the time I ignore all this advice. When I quilted my Marcelle Medallion for example, I started by free motion quilting in the ditch in the centre star block and then FMQed the centre star, before moving on to the first border. I'm not too fussy with my ditch quilting, so if a few of my stitches show it isn't the end of the world. I'm pretty sure it's not the way the experts would do it - but it's what works for me most of the time. The main reason I use my FMQ foot in these circumstances is that I much, much prefer using my FMQ than using a walking foot. Having said that, using an FMQ foot for ditch stitching isn't anywhere near as accurate as using a walking foot, as you are much more likely to wobble the quilt when doing it.
If you look closely in this photo, you can see my ditch stitching around the centre blue star does wobble a bit!!
I have used my walking foot to stitch in the ditch between all the block on my Giant Chevron quilt. I chose to use two different thread colours for my ditch stitching - I initially started out using a light grey Aurifil 50wt thread (Dove grey), but I wasn't happy with how visible the stitches were in the dark charcoal background. This photo isn't the best (the dark grey is much, much darker than this but my point and click camera struggles when photographing dark colours) - but you can probably see that even though these stitches were sitting right in the seam line, the thread shows up a lot against the dark fabric. So I decided to use a charcoal thread in the background, and the light grey through the coloured sections.
Once I was happy with my thread selection, I started quilting in the ditch (just between the blocks) in the coloured stripes. You can see in the photo below, my needle is sitting right in the seam. That's what you want to aim for - and that is why it takes so long. It takes a lot of concentration to keep the seam right where the needle is going, and it isn't something you can rush. When I do this type of quilting with my walking foot, I place my hands either side of the foot, and pull the fabric apart very slightly so that it's easier to get the needle to stitch right in the seam line. Slow and steady! I use a slightly longer stitch length than normal too - I set my machine at about 3.
The stitches are a bit more visible against the navy blue fabric - but I'm confident that once it has FMQ all over it, they will dissolve into the quilt top pretty well.
You can see that in the lighter fabrics, the thread really does dissolve into the seams, and apart from the odd dodgy stitch (where my concentration obviously wavered!) the stitches are almost invisible. I think a good choice for thread colour is a light neutral if you have mostly light/medium coloured fabrics, or a darker neutral if most of your fabrics are medium/dark in colour.
To start and stop between the coloured stripes and the background, I simply did a back stitch at the beginning of each quilting line. I guess I should be good and bury the threads - but in all likelihood I will just snip them like I normally do ;o) You can see here how much better the charcoal thread works on the background fabric.
I hope you find this a helpful post - if I've forgotten to mention something, please leave a comment here and I'll answer as best I can :o) I'll be back in two weeks with the first video FMQ tutorial, and the real fun will begin :oD