Today we’re going to talk about something I am surprisingly earnest about; stitch in the ditch quilting.
For those of you who already know what this is, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph if you’re in a hurry. If not, read on. Once you have a quilt top finished, a back set up and the batting (wadding for the grey-coloured anglophiles in the centre), then created your sandwich of those three, you are ready for quilting. This is done by stitching through all three layers in various designs, patterns or plans, whether by machine, by hand or some combination or variation. Stitch in the ditch quilting means that the stitching is to be fit IN the seams of the top pieces. Where two pieces of fabric meet, the seam is the ‘ditch’ and the stitches are supposed to fall there. It seems (PUN!) that the stitches are meant to remain unseen, sunk between the seams like that (although most physical evidence is to the contrary). The reality is that the stitches don’t like to funnel themselves into the seam easily.
[Very occasionally, rarely, you will find a definition of stitch in the ditch quilting as BESIDE the joined seams, parallel to the seam and generally to the non-seam folded bulk side. This is not what I or most people consider stitch in the ditch and not at all what I’m talking about.]
So, stitch in the ditch quilting might seem like an easy design and execution choice. You don’t have to measure, there are no lines to draw or mark in any way, minimal spacing decisions are needed and the color of thread merely needs to be roughly similar to your top, as the idea is to hide them. It is simple – and it looks it. Plus, no one can work themselves into too much of a tizzy about whether you hand quilted it or not, as the whole point is to hide the machine stitches in the seams anyhow. Maybe you think that another type of quilting would take away from your top piecing or design. You lovely baker’s dozen of readers understand by now how very lazy I am, but I assure you that this is laziness at an unreasonable cost.
Let me show you this example I saw recently at the quilt show in Loveland.
Pretty, right? I took this shot because I loved the metallic thread and the way it sparkled against the top colors. Once I got this close to it, I saw it had a combination of proper quilting and stitch in the ditch quilting.
See the swirls and designs – they’re nice.
Now, see the right side, the barest edge of yellow with the thread right next to the edge. See the circle design, where the patchwork wedge edges meet the outer fabric. Some of the patchwork wedges even have it. The kicker is that this quilter is really good. Her stitches in the ditch are mostly in the ditch. But where they aren’t, they simply don’t look good. They look mislaid.
Well, hell. I find I have no other pictures of how ugly stitch in the ditch can be, so just keep in mind that the photo above is a well done sample. This is the best it would ever look.
And here’s a valid question: if you’re so eager to hide your stitches in a seam, why are you making a quilt? The quilting is one of the beloved characteristics of a quilt. It is the thread evidence of the creator’s hand, a signature over the fabric pieced together.
Besides looking sloppy, the worst part is that stitching the ditch has a chance of stitching through your seam stitches. That needle could hit your thread between the seams, breaking it and unstitching your patchwork seams. You are potentially destroying your own work for no reason.
[Yes, there are a few times you need to actually stitch in the ditch for things like facings, bindings, linings, generally on clothing, but that is not the discussion here.]
In summary, don’t stitch in the ditch. Put on your big girl panties (yes, male quilters, too) and do some real quilting. It will look better and you can feel better about yourself.
I said so.