When working on the domestic, it’s easy to put a piecing or walking foot on to keep a steady route for accurate ditch stitching, but on the longarm, where the machine can move in all directions so easily, staying steady in the ditch can be a bit of a task. Let’s take a look at how to get smooth, clean stitching in the ditch.
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Technically, I suppose, you could free hand stitching in the ditch with the longarm, but it would be very difficult to keep the lines smooth, especially on diagonal seams. Also, if you have a computerized longarm, you could potentially program the machine to stitch in the ditch for you. But, for most of us, some basic equipment a little practice will be the best way to secure our quilt.
Why Stitch In the Ditch
Stitch in the ditch is commonly done on the longarm to secure the quilt before taking the time to custom quilt it. When done well, ditch stitch holds the quilt top tight across the backing, so the quilter can roll the quilt back and forth and work on different sections without fear of puckers or shifting. Generally speaking, stitching in the ditch on a longarm is not done as the final quilting because it is a bit more tedious than working on a domestic. Stitching in the ditch is also a way to make the edges of blocks or sections nice and crisp. For what it’s worth, I do not always stitch in the ditch when I’m custom quilting, but I am also finding myself drawn to it more and more because of the clean effect it creates.
Ruler Foot (required): A round metal foot with high walls. It is designed to keep the ruler and needle away from each other while making it easy to guide the machine along the ruler edge.
Ruler (required): Quilting rulers are 1/4” thick acrylic designed to safely guide the machine without slipping under the needle (do NOT use your rotary cutting rulers). My favorite ruler is Natalia Bonner’s 4-in-1 ruler. It’s a great size for fitting in my hand and has a straight edge and two curves. If you have just one ruler, have this one!
Ruler table (optional): This acrylic table attaches to your longarm like a quilting table attaches to your domestic. It provides a flat surface to press down onto when using your ruler. For ruler work, I love my table. For stitching in the ditch, I often just hold my ruler and use the corner of the longarm to brace it. You may find that you prefer the stability of the ruler table.
Take it slow. For the longest time I never, ever stitched in the ditch because it felt so much harder than stitching in the ditch on the domestic. Using the ruler on the longarm is a skill, so be patient with yourself to practice and take the time to learn.
Watch your fingers. Even though you’ve got a foot and a ruler deigned to keep the needle away from both the ruler and your fingers, it can still slip. Pay attention to what you’re doing and keep your fingers back on the ruler away from the foot and needle.
Progress is better than perfection. The first step is getting a smooth line with the ruler. The second step is staying all the way in the ditch (as opposed to right next to the ditch). Both are skills to learn. Don’t get hung up on perfection, just keep practicing.
Bring your machine to a pause/ stop before you move your ruler. Only move either the machine or the ruler to keep your lines smooth and your fingers safe.