‘Quilting (or Stitching) in the Ditch’ is a quilting technique often used to secure sections of a quilt together, or when decorative or obvious quilting is not required e.g. in sashing or border seams.
The ‘ditch’ refers to the seam, and because you keep the needle right in the seam as you quilt, it is a very discreet and almost invisible technique. However, you will still achieve a ‘quilted look’ to your work with ditch quilting.
While most commonly applied to quilts, ditch quilting can also be used on a wide variety of projects where layers need secured e.g. cushions, handbags, table runners, placemats etc. Once the seams have been quilted, additional and decorative machine or hand quilting can be added.
How to Quilt in the Ditch:
Set up your machine in the normal way for quilting e.g. size 90 needle in the central needle position, feed dogs up, stitch length increased to 3+. Again for normal quilting, start at the top of the seam, preferably on the wadding (outside edge). When quilting several seams, restart at the same edge each time.
How you have pressed the seams to be quilted will make a slight difference in how you ditch quilt them. Some projects require seams to be pressed to one side, in others the seams are pressed open.
If your seams are pressed to one side, from the right side there will be a slight rise on one side of the seam.
In this instance you will be ditch quilting on the lower side, with the needle butting right up to the raised side.
If you accidentally stitch out of the ditch and onto the raised side of the seam however, it will be obvious and noticeably inconsistent with the rest of the quilting. The stitch ripper may be required!!
If your seams are pressed open, the fabric is even on both sides of the seam. Try to stay right in the middle of the seam when ditch quilting open seams.
As you sew down the seam, your job is to keep the fabric straight ensuring the needle remains in the ditch.
‘Stitch in the Ditch’ Foot – yes there is such a thing! This is a really helpful guide when ditch quilting. Align the central metal guide with the ‘ditch’ and as you sew, the needle behind will stitch in the ditch. When first using a ditch foot, you may need to train your eye to watch the metal guide instead of the needle!
If you don’t have a Ditch foot, try using an applique or open foot, to give you the best view of the needle and the seam. You can also ditch quilt with a walking foot.
The type of wadding you use dictates how wide apart your quilting should be e.g. Hobbs Premium heirloom 80/20 requires gaps of no more than 4” to be left unquilted. Unquilted gaps in your work can lead to ‘bagging’ between the layers after washing or repeated use. If your decorative quilting doesn’t fill up all of the space required by the wadding, then ditch quilting over your quilt will be required first. (Always check the manufacturer’s instructions for quilting area allowance.)
Which thread colour?
Because ditch quilting should be as invisible as possible, choose a complimentary coloured thread rather than a contrasting coloured thread. Where you have a variety of colours in your work, choose a neutral grey/taupe or invisible nylon thread. Where possible, keep the bobbin thread the same as the top thread (do not use invisible thread in the bobbin).