Batiks – Lessons in Free Motion Quilting

I don’t see a lot of modern quilts being made with batik fabrics (patterned, dyed fabric where parts of the fabric not intended to be dyed are covered with removable wax).   It’s too bad because they are crazy beautiful.   Take a look at just a couple from Robert Kaufman’s line of artisan batiks:

Anyway – I love batiks.  I incorporated a couple of batik fabrics in my Project Modern Challenge 2 quilt, and I’m so happy to tell you that I machine quilted it this weekend.

Everything was going great until it wasn’t.   Randomly I’d reach a region in my quilt where I’d skip a billion stitches, over and over again.  Why?!  Then all of a sudden I realized what was the matter.  My machine hated this one batik fabric!  (I actually yelled “he hates these cans!” during my eureka moment).

BLERG!  One thing I did NOT know about batiks is that they sometimes get sad when you machine quilt them.  The fabrics are incredibly tightly woven.  If you use a regular universal needle, chances are you may experience skipped stitches, especially when free-motion quilting.  The needle is too dull/big and it’s being forced to break the batik threads rather than scootch them aside for quilting. I have not had this experience on previous projects, but boy was there one batik fabric that gave me the business this weekend.

Instead of stopping everything and researching the problem, I first practiced avoidance and quilted around the evil fabric.  Then when it could no longer be postponed I went back to the region, set my needle, and absolutely floored it – reducing the stitch length dramatically until the area was reasonably quilted.   It looks fine.

Now that it’s done and everything looks good, I’ve taken a couple of deep breaths and researched the matter.  So, if you are ever experiencing trouble free-motion quilting on batik fabrics (and your machine is clean and you’ve tried re-threading your bobbin and monkeying with your tension) the Internet says that these tricks might help:

1. Use a brand-new top-stitching grade needle.

2. Use Sewer’s Aid on your thread.

3. Lift up your feed dogs (gasp!), but continue free-motioning.

Also – always pre-wash batiks.  I pre-washed all of my fabrics, but it wasn’t enough to help with this one particular swatch.  That being said, if I hadn’t pre-washed all of them maybe I would have experienced even MORE trouble!

I hope that helps someone out there who was smart enough to stop what they were doing and research solutions before resorting to aggressive guerilla quilting tactics… although they did work fine for me in the end  ; P


Filed under Challenges, Quilting, Techniques

5 responses to “Batiks – Lessons in Free Motion Quilting

  1. Mary Claire

    I would have never known that about the batiks!

    Good luck on the monochromatic challenge! I’ve found it to be a definate challenge!!

    • Don’t let this scare you away from using batiks. I’ve never had problems with them until this once incident.
      I’m not sure I *LOVE* the quilt I’ve made for the challenge, but I appreciate the opportunity for stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ll post pictures soon! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. It is very interesting and thanks for your information about tricks in free-motion quilting on batik fabrics

  3. I have spent a weekend trying to quilt pebbles in the center of a Dresden plate block made of batik fabrics, & last night finally ended in tears! I should have done some research first! Shredded thread, skipped stitches etc.! increased needle size, rethreaded, changed thread etc. etc. Trying to use up some left over batiks from a layer cake so they haven’t been pre-washed. I will finish this block if it kills me, but the rest of the block will include very little batiks. Thanks for the hints & reassuring me that I really wasn’t going crazy this weekend! lol

    • You’re not crazy! Sorry you’re having troubles. I bet there’s some information about pre-washing or otherwise pre-treating batiks but I haven’t experimented further. Best of luck!

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