Quilting Design from Easy to Hard

So, you’ve finally done it. It only took days, weeks, months (years?) but your quilt top has come together. You forget about your cramping hand and sore back from rotary cutting. The frustration that simmered as your sewed and re-sewed your points sizzles out as you look at it again. You made that. And it’s killer. But then you realize: it’s not done yet. You still need to choose a quilting design.


Quilting–the very step this hobby is named after–has always been the most daunting part for me and many others. What design you choose? How do others make it look so good? What if you ruin your quilt top? Why is my tension off? Why is my fabric wrinkling? And then I dig for the seam ripper again. But over the years, I’ve learned that the quilting doesn’t need to be scary or complicated. You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t need to start with crazy designs. All of my quilts, from baby quilts to 80″ x 80″ honkers have all been pieced and quilted on my small domestic machines (mostly a Singer Talent). Below I detail 6 different quilting designs you can try  from the very easiest to hardest.


Stitch in the Ditch: To stitch in the ditch, you use your normal presser foot and literally just sew over the seams of your piecing. This essentially makes your quilting invisible. This is a great choice if you want the focus of your quilt to be on the piecing. I also like this design because having a lot of quilting can make your quilt stiffer and less soft. For this reason, I like to use this quilting design for cuddly baby blankets. If you have trouble keeping your quilting ‘in the ditch’, try sewing slower or using a walking foot (it helps pull fabric though the machine). But I never worry about going out of bounds. No one will notice if you do. If you don’t believe me, put your quilt down and take 10 steps back. I bet you won’t be able to see anything either.


A Milk Carton from my Milk and Juice quilt. I quilted only through the seams to make a soft, pliable baby blanket.

Wavy Line Quilting: For this quilting design, you sew across your quilt, gently shifting the fabric back and forth to make a wave. This quilting design is great for newbies looking to get use to free motion quilting. It’s also perfect for domestic sewing machine users, because the quilt doesn’t need to move much in the machine’s limited throat space. You can use your regular presser foot or a walking foot. I used it to make a water effect for my Into the Blue mermaid quilt. If you stagger the waves you can also make the quilting look like wood grains.


A fish from my Into the Blue quilt. If you look in the center of the picture you can see the wavy line quilting. At the top and bottom of the picture, I added some staggered waves to break up the movement.

Straight Line Quilting: This is deceptively difficult. I know, you’re thinking: how hard is it to sew in a straight line? But let me tell you: it is very hard! You might not notice at first, but sew three or four lines across your quilt. You’ll see they’re a bit wavy, yet not wavy enough to be wavy line quilting. All said and done, this type of quilting can look really good if done right. Go slow and use a walking foot, especially if you have a big heavy quilt. This type of quilting works well with quilt designs that have frequent lines in the piecing that follow your direction of sewing. The important thing to remember is that you may second-guess yourself after a line or two. You just need to keep going and trust that even if your lines aren’t perfectly straight, it’ll still look great.


Straight line quilting from my Space Travel quilt. The quilting followed the lines on the piecing, but I also shifted their direction to give the quilt more movement.


Echoing: Echoing is quilting around a piecing design or other quilting you’ve already done again and again, giving the quilt a ripple effect. I’ve used it with great success as a water design, but to also highlight and show movement in my quilts. It is also a great filler if you have a smaller section of your quilt that you’re not sure how to fill.


I used echoing around the Whale Sharks in my Whale Shark Love quilt to highlight them and make it look like they were swimming in water.

Pro Tip: For the free motion quilting designs below, I highly recommend practicing first. Quilting is an unfamiliar motion, because instead drawing by moving a pencil around a piece of paper, you are moving the piece of paper (the quilt) under the pencil (the needle). To practice, you should make a scrap quilt sandwich (top fabric, batting, and bottom fabric) and try it out! For more complicated designs, you can remove the top and bobbin threads from your machine and practice the motions on a piece of paper. The needle will punch holes in the paper so you can check your design, but also make sure to check the spacing between the holes. Very good free motion quilting will maintain even spacing between stitches.


All Over Free Motion Quilting: As I mentioned above, free motion quilting is where you draw with you sewing machine. All over free motion quilting is where you ‘draw’ the same pattern all over the quilt. There are so many designs to chose from or for your to make up on your own. The most common all over designs you’ll see is stippling. But other simple designs are loops, spirals, and geometric. I must mention that a lot of people will have tensions problems when they start to free motion quilt. You need to be careful about how fast you’re pulling your quilt through the machine and the type of thread and needle you’re using. You may also need to adjust your tension.


All over free motion quilting examples as seen from the back of my Harry Potter Quidditch quilt.

Free Motion Quilting: And let the games begin! Just like drawing on a piece of paper, the sky is the limit for what you can create. There are big fancy machines called long arms that make free motion quilting easier, but you can definitely do it on your domestic machine, too.  If you’re just beginning, there are plenty of simple designs that you can sprinkle here or there over your quilt to make a completely unique design that really highlights your quilt. Ribbon candy, pebbles, scallops–you can even just make lines and triangles, clouds or stars. It’s your art.


This is a section of my out of this world quilt. You can see that I’ve used a whorl over the star, swirls all over the black night sky, and various other techniques over the Earth.
A rose a free motioned quilted on a quilt for my grandmother

Remember! The quilting is there to hold all the layers of fabric together. It can help embellish a design, but in the end, people will see the pattern of the quilt first. Only you will notice your mistakes. Have fun and you’ll only get better!

Sew on!

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