A Quick Tip for Quilting Straight Lines

quilted vest Admittedly, I’m notorious for beginning a project and then realizing, “I really didn’t think this through.” For example, I saw a beautiful vest in a catalog and thought, “I can copy that vest right down to the quilting patterns.” I noted that the quilted lines on the catalog vest were perfectly straight, matched at the shoulders, and were spaced flawlessly. As an expert seamstress, I was confident this was not going to be a problem. Yeah, right! Once again, my over confidence got the best of me.

Like so many other young women, my grandmother taught me how to quilt. My Grandma Katie never quilted alone. Grandma Katie had the ultimate work force: the German-speaking blue haired ladies. As a little girl, I thought having blue hair was a prerequisite to being a good quilter. I vividly remember the smell of sauerkraut in the air. In addition, none of the blue haired ladies wore any type of deodorant. Needless to say, I will never forget the overwhelming orders associated with quilting at Grandma’s house. Despite the funny smells and German conversation, I soaked up the knowledge these ladies so graciously shared with me.

Now was the time for total recall of the lessons I learned in the living room of my Grandma Katie’s home.

Quilting Straight Lines

Carefully cutting out the pattern pieces and fleece for the vest, I was thinking, “Okay, how am I going to do this? How am I going to get these quilting lines perfectly straight?” Grandma Katie used an eight-foot-long two-by-four as a straight edge to mark the stitching lines on her giant quilts. That two-by-four was a prized possession of my Grandma, however, the two-by-four method was not going to work on the vest.

I didn’t want to use a ruler and draw the lines on the vest because the pencil lines would show up after stitching. I needed a brilliant solution. Generally, in these situations I walk out of the sewing room to clear my head. (“Clearing my head” is code for “eating chocolate,” and usually works like a charm.)

Out of the blue, (pun intended) a brilliant idea came to me… blue painter’s tape! I’d use that wonderful smurf blue tape as a guide. I dug through our stash of painting supplies until I found a roll of the tape. I laid the tape on the fabric and it stuck just enough to stay in place. Then by lining up the pressure foot on the edge of the tape, and following the edge of the tape from the top to the bottom of the vest, stitching perfect lines was a breeze. The vest turned out just as I hoped it would.

I would like to take credit for my amazing idea, but the truth is Grandma Katie and the little blue haired ladies were the source of my inspiration and perspiration. I wonder what the little blue haired ladies would think of my quilting methods? I love the vest, even though sometimes I could swear it has the faint smell of sauerkraut.

Wendy Haight Scribner is a quilter, designer, inventor, and entrepreneur living in Hidden Springs, Idaho. She began sewing when she was just eight years old. Her passion for all things fabric has and will always be the central focus of her life. You can connect with Wendy on Facebook or visit her Etsy shop, Wendy Haight Create, to see her hand-painted apron kits and other one-of-a-kind treasures.

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45 Responses to “A Quick Tip for Quilting Straight Lines”

  1. Linda Camp

    I truly enjoyed reading your story. While my German grandmother did not quilt, she learned to sew and do all sorts of needlework when she was a school child. I have wonderful memories of her teaching me to crochet, but all of the stitches were taught to me in German since she didn’t know the English words. When my third grade teacher wanted each of her students to crochet a square for a quilt, my fellow classmates learned the German names since I was the only one (including the teacher) that knew how to crochet.

  2. Susie in the country

    I love this story! recalling the memory of your grandmother, so special. Thanks for sharing it and the painter’s tape is brillant!

  3. Helen

    I love learning new tricks about quilting I’m a new quilter so I want to learn as much as possible

  4. Valerie Waddell

    Great idea. I’ve used the tape on my machine to try to sew only I/4 inch seam but never thought about putting it on the fabric itself. Thanks.

  5. Jill

    Fabulous item about quilting straight lines. I can be disappointed in my finished patchwork when I don’t get the straight line quilting correct. Thank you

  6. Emily Keele

    I mark my quilting lines with the thin edge of an almost used up bar of soap. It makes a fine line which easy to see and remains till I finish stitching. By then it is almost gone and smells good!

  7. Shelagh

    I use the pens that you remove by the iron, you can get a whole batch of the refills on Anaxin. They gave three it four colours and are get.

  8. Colleen

    I enjoyed the stories of your grandmother!!I also have used tape as a guide.My tape was 3/4″..just yjt right measure for quilting

  9. Shashikant Walimbe

    I found a simple solution. Being an Engineer and locked in due to Covid 19 I purchased a simplest sewing machine to pursue a hobby. I requested my tool maker friend to weld one M4 nut behind the foot and put a M4 50 mm screw in the nut also I put two M4 nuts near the head of the screw, fixed a paper clip between nuts and tightened both the nuts, I formed the clip with a plier to work as guide. I had to draw only one line with a school crayon . The nuts could be adjusted to any margin. I set it 1″ from the needle. I placed my job under the guide of paper clip and stitched the line guided by paper clip. The next line of stitching by taking previously stitched under the paper clip. I finished my shopping carry bag within about one hour. I made a checkered square quilting design. It came very nice even for amateur like me. I have no training or experience of se wing. The whole contraption costed me less than half Dollar.

  10. Lela Chatham

    I have quilted for many years. I pieced all my quilts by machine and then hand quilted them. I can no longer hand quilt and have done very simple straight line quilting. Would like to do learn some closer straight lines. That doesn’t scare me when I compare it with free motion quilting.

  11. Pat

    Fun story and super tip, thanks for sharing. A friends mother taught me to sew at age 9. I sewed clothing from then on. I took up quilting at age 50ish. When my granddaughters were around the same age 9,I taught them to make a quilt. When I got a baby doll one year I asked my French grandma to make some clothes for it. Imagine my awe when she took newspaper , measured the doll, cut out pieces and make the sweetest clothes. I never learned to be that good ever!! Quilting is the the greatest hobby though!

  12. Bev

    When teaching 4-H’ers to sew, I always recommend quarter inch quilters tape. Even after decades of sewing, I still use it for zippers and other critical areas. I had not thought of painter’s tape for larger areas.

  13. Patricia Adams

    I love your story. I learned to sew and crochet on my grandmother’s lap. Those are some of my most cherished memories…the others involved making cookies. I learned how to knit from my great aunt. The wisdom and resourcefulness of past generations was amazing. I can only hope to have made a lasting positive impression with my own adult children and should they ever marry and have children, I hope to be as fondly remembered as my grandparents are.

  14. Shashikant Walimbe

    It is simple. I welded a M3 nut behind the pressure foot and put 100mm M3 bolt in it. I two M3nuts on the screw and put one formed paper clip in between the nuts and tightened in such a way that the loop is 1mm above the machine table top. I drew only one line on the cloth with crayon and stitched one line on the crayon line. The crayon line vanishes during stitches. This helped me as a guide to stitch all the parallel lines, I turned the job 90 degrees and stitched parallel lines to form perfect square quilting.

  15. Laura

    When I tried blue painters tape it popped off when I moved the quilt. Did you use a particular brand?

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  16. Deborah Ofen

    Thanks for the tip.I love the story I could see them sitting and sewing and chatting but the thought of sauerkraut bought the smell back and made me shudder.

  17. Patricia Eatmon

    This was a delightful article and gives me hope to,keep,lines straight on my quilt

  18. Suzanne

    What a delightful memory; odors and all! My mother and grandmother taught me to sew when I was seven years old and I loved it. Neither was a quilter so they didn’t teach me that but I learned a great deal and enjoyed it so much! I didn’t start learning to quilt until over 60 years later and it’s become my passion. Your tip on how to quilt straight lines is genius and I’m going to use it. Thank you so much.

  19. Susie D

    I’m a bit more of a go for it. I just aim for the next patchwork intersection. Lines on the sewing machine come out straight if you stick your elbows out! Try it, it works.

  20. Sally J Becker

    My sister & I were just talking about this for cross hatching-never thought of using painters tape. I had told to make the lines with a slight wave & no 2 the same. I will have to try painters tape for sure.

  21. Sandra

    The Frixion pen marks may come back if exposed to cold. If you are making a quilted vest you will surely be wearing it in the cold. The painter’s tape idea is much better. Also, a chalk marker would likely work.

  22. Dee Lytle

    This is a great idea. I love it and can’t wait to try it. Thanks so much.😆

  23. Barb

    This is interesting! I had this problem a few hours ago and thought, “how would painter’s tape work.” So, I tried it and it was great! Then I read this and discovered that I’m on the right track! 😊

  24. Teresa Unthank

    After reading the problem and felt sorry about you not being able to quilt straight lines on clothing, I have a tip that I use! I draw my lines with a friction pen,all quilt shops and stationers sell them.Once you have quilted the lines you just run a iron over the stitching and the ink vanishes never to be seen again. Now I have found that the best time to apply the lines on your garment is when you have cut the pieces lay them out on a large table and place and place all pieces together where they are sewn
    And the draw you lines so they line up before stitching. Doing it this way you should get good straight lines and always put a pin in the centre line and work from the Middle out! I do hope this helps.
    My father was a tailor and swar by this method of piecing with lines. Kind regards TERESA