How to choose quilting designs
Updated: Sep 26
I often see posts on Instagram when people are seeking advice how to quilt a finished top. It is not an easy question to answer. It depends on the skill level, personal preferences, quilt design etc. Some would prefer overall quilting while others would go for a custom one that highlights the design elements and even creates secondary design. If you belong to the second group than this post is for you.
Even though I rarely have a plan for quilting, it is very important to have an idea what you would like to do on your piece. I love that nowadays you can find almost everything on-line. Pinterest is a great source for quilting inspiration. For example, if your top has stars, you can search for "star quilting ideas" or "star quilting", "star quilting designs". I am sure you will see something you like or something inspiring that sparks your imagination.
I always look at the piece first. Sometimes it speaks to you right away what needs to be quilted, but sometimes it takes time for inspiration to come..
What inspires your quilting? My inspiration often comes from the nature. I always have lots of ideas when I simply look around.
For example, quilting on Aerial groove quilt (2018) was inspired by incredible beauty of rice fields I saw on TV. I looked for aerial photos of the fields on Pinterest and sketched variety of designs on a piece of paper. I decided to combine those designs into a circle.
That large circle has 21 segments and each one is quilted differently.
Sometimes fabric in your quilt can be inspiring too - for example, free motion quilting on my Ripple effect quilt (2020) was inspired by beautiful floras of Liberty Tana Lawn.
If you are making a quilt for someone you can also ask the recipient what they want to see there. When I was working on Coral reef quilt (2019), my son wanted seaweed there. So it was a staring point for the quilting design.
Once you got inspired and may be have a plan or partial plan, it is time to start quilting! I will use the table runner with Lucy Boston blocks as an example to show you my process.
2. Outlining piecing
The good place to start quilting is to outline the design elements or piecing. On this table runner I had 3 epp blocks that were appliqued to linen background. I outlined every seam in the block with a small straight edge ruler and then around the applique. Then added 1/4 inch echo line around each block.
I didn´t intend to quilt inside the piecing lines but sometimes you have to improvise, especially if you made a mistake. When I was outlining the orange block in the center the ruler moved and the line wasn´t precisely straight.
I decided not to rip it but simply added 4 petals so you can´t see the mistake unless you know about it😊.
3. Dividing the negative space
Once you outlined the piecing it is time to move onto background. You still can do overall quilting there but it is more fun to conquer all that negative space.
I like to divide it into segments.
On this piece the decision came from the name of the block. It is called Patchwork of crosses, so what could be better than crossing lines on the background? As I am still working on my ruler work skills the lines are not perfect but rather organic😊. Variety of quilting designs always adds visual interest. As you can see I added some free motion circles inside some lines.
A great tool for dividing the space is 8 point Crosshair ruler. It is included into a set of quilting rulers by Ispira (Pfaff). It allows you mark the lines easily.
4. Filling the divided space
This is the fun part where you can use both fmq and ruler work. Choose your favorite free motion quilting design or challenge yourself with something new.
My friend Jean @jkonopacz , a long arm quilter, says that everything looks better with feathers. So following her advice first I subdivided the space with a curved ruler. Then I quilted Sea foam feathers on one side and on the other I challenged myself with close straight lines 1/4 inch apart.
Then I quilted simple 1/2 inch cross hatch design in some areas and filled the rest of the space with my favorite pebbles and some swirls.
This beautiful Lucy Boston table runner was quilted on my domestic sewing machine Pfaff quilt expression 720. I am very thankful to Pfaff Suomi for providing ruler foot and set of rulers that made all that work possible.