Ditching, or stitching in the ditch (SID), refers to quilting with stitches that are placed precisely in the seam. SID comes from garment sewing where it is used in shoulder and collar seams to strengthen the seam and tame seam allowances. It is a skill which I’ve practiced ever since I began quilting. I started ‘ditching’ as a hand quilter, tried it a few times (not very successfully) on my domestic sewing machine, and I find it a necessary part of my repertoire as a longarm quilter. The wonderful applique quilt on my longarm today has given me lots of practice with stitching in the ditch. The technique is an excellent way to stabilize the quilt, especially between borders or around applique. It also shows off precise piecing and applique.
Good stitching in the ditch should disappear into the quilt. In the photo above, at very high magnification, my stitches with a white thread disappear into the quilt. The only thing that one can see is that the seam has definition and depth.
To SID choose a thread which is thin (I like 50 or 60 weight), with a color that blends well with the colors of the fabrics which are seamed together or a mono-filament thread. Although many quilters love mono-filament for ditching, I prefer a matte thread in a blending color because I don’t like the shine of a polyester thread. Although I have seen a shiny thread ditched in a star block which made the star appear to sparkle–gorgeous.
Notice that the needle goes directly into the little ‘ditch’ next to the seam. Perfect SID starts with piecing the quilt top. It is necessary to make sure that you have a plan for pressing each seam and are consistent. Do not have the seam allowance flip between seam intersections. A top which is paper foundation pieced can be ditched because they are sewn and pressed consistently.
To SID, I draw the seams on my computer with the quilting machine head, then I start the sewing machine. This leaves my hands free to gently pull the seam slightly apart as the machine quilts, making the ‘ditch’ larger and an easier target to hit. If the seams don’t match perfectly at intersections, then my ditching will follow those unmatched ditches. I find that concentrating solely on the needle gives me a version of ‘highway hypnosis’ so I usually focus my eyes on the ditch slightly before it goes under the needle. I need to remind myself to take frequent breaks. Eyes, neck, shoulders, back, and elbows get tired from this type of intense work.
SID quilting is necessarily slow work but it also has a meditative quality which I enjoy and it makes lovely quilts!!!
Please have a lovely and safe 4th of July, celebrate our country, enjoy your family and remember those who have fallen in service so that we may live free.