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Quilting Design Ideas

Do you often find yourself at a loss when it comes time to do the quilting on your quilts? Jean Wells shows several popular ways to approach quilting and design your masterpiece.

Quilt in the ditch — Stitch in the seam line of the quilt block, hiding the quilting in the construction of the block.

Motif quilting — If you have highly printed fabric, you can quilt around a motif, tracing an existing design in thread.

Quarter-inch quilting — One of the most traditional type of quilting. With this method, you quilt one-quarter inch from the seam line.

Echo quilting — Take quarter-inch quilting one step further with echo quilting. To achieve it, quilt 1/4 inch from the seam line then repeat the quilting a quarter-inch from the first quilting. Repeat the echo as desired.

Free-motion machine quilting — When your quilt has the contemporary subject matter, consider free-motion quilting as illustrated here with vines and leaves. Free-motion design can be anything you like. You are essentially "drawing" with thread.

Ideally, you should start thinking about quilting before you create the quilt top, as it can enhance the overall design of the quilt. When quilting, think in terms of the elements on the quilt. For instance, if you decide to motif quilt around a design in the fabric, you might consider repeating that quilting element in other areas of the quilt using free-motion stitching. It doesn't have to be exact: Just a bit of repetition can lend an overall subtle theme.

Traditional Quilting — Many antique quilts were strictly utilitarian, so the quilting was very simple and served the sole purpose of sandwiching the layers together. Decorative quilting in antique quilts is much more rare to see, but these quilts can be real showstoppers and very valuable.

Grid Work — Use a ruler to mark quilt line design. You can mark a grid or straight line to quilt along. This is a great method that can add a lot of definition. It offers a perfect solution when you're unsure how to quilt a project. Often, marking on the quilt isn't necessary if your top features squares or other geometric shapes — refer to your drawn design for reference.

Another solution is to quilt double lines (similar to what you might see in plaid fabric). Try it in a 1-inch grid with 1/4-inch "shadow" line.

Clam Shell — This quilting pattern consists of scalloped shapes that are varied and echoed throughout the quilt to create interest.

Quilting Templates and Marking Tools — Templates can give you a definitive design for your quilt, but also offer the flexibility of allowing you to vary that design. Templates of all shapes and sizes are likely available in your local quilt shop, but you can make you own using cereal box-weight card stock.

When thinking of marking tools, remember this rule: Test the marking tool on a scrap of the fabric from your quilt to make sure it will come out as you expect. Mark on the scrap then follow the manufacturer's directions for clearing away the mark. Some pens and markers are air soluble, while others require washing.

More Quilt Designs — Quilt evenly over the entire quilt. Check the batting directions for the recommended amount of quilting to avoid shrinkage, puckering or bagginess in your finished quilt. If you breeze through this block but stumble on the sashing, try quilting in a traditional design to keep the quilting even.

Another key to quilting design can be found in the units of pieced blocks. For instance, if you are quilting a Saw Tooth Star design, you might mimic the Flying Geese element by quilting triangles designs into the block, or you might choose a simple square (mimicking the center unit of the block), or you could stitch the design that four Flying Geese would make if they were nestled together in a square.

Contemporary Quilting Designs — Photocopy and enlarge (or decrease) shapes that you're interested in putting into a quilt. Here is a black and white copy of a flower that was increased then traced to create a wonderful motif for quilting.

Doodling isn't limited to contemporary designs. It can fit with traditional patterns, too, like the playful swirls planned for this Broken Dishes design.

Quick Quilting Tips:


  • To avoid knots and breakage when hand quilting, never use a thread longer than 18 inches.
  • If someone else is quilting for you, talk to her about your vision for the quilt. A little communication can go a long way toward meeting your expectations.

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