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  • Irina

How to choose quilting designs. Part 2

Rainbow on black... This is my current quilting project. I pieced the top in 2018. It measures 94 x 108 inches. At that time I didn´t have enough skills or courage to quilt that size myself and intended to send it for longarm quilting. The circumstances changed and the beautiful quilt top spent three years in the closet and became an UFO. This year I am determined to finish it. In this blog post I share my quilting process and decisions.


I often make pieced backings for my quilts. But this time I wanted to challenge myself and make a reversible quilt. My inspiration came from the beautiful Norah quilt made by Jenni @sewlavenderstitches. I have many off cuts of Marimekko fabrics from different projects in my stash that are 4-6 inches wide x full length of fabric, so it was a perfect pattern. I cut 3 inches wide strips from red, blue, green and neutral fabrics, found an inspirational piece for the center and started piecing. This is what I came up with.

Piecing the backing was fun. I am happy to see that I can finally close my scrap box that holds the strips.


The choice of batting depends on personal preferences and what effect you would like to achieve. If you like texture, then choose high loft batting.

High loft cotton batting (for example, Quilter´s Dream Cotton Deluxe) is usually very heavy and perhaps, not the best choice for a large quilt.

On smaller quilts, I used double layer of thin cotton batting (for example, Kathadin cotton batting) or combined 2 different battings to enhance the texture.

Personally, I don´t like 100% polyester batting even it has a nice loft.

Dream Wool is one of my favorites. It is light and quilts beautifully. I used it on several projects and I have never been disappointed. This time I decided to double the batting for a higher loft and layered it with bamboo batting by Moda.


Large quilts are challenging to baste. You really need space to lay everything flat and in our small apartment we had to move all the furniture to free space.

My pieced backing was a pain to straighten on the floor and it took 2 hours to get it right. For basting I tape the backing to the floor with scotch tape.

Then I layer batting, then the quilt top and pin baste.

It was one of the hardest basting jobs I have ever done. Now I understand why people don´t often make reversible quilts.

Choosing Thread

Originally I thought of quilting the circles in matching thread color. Then I gave up that idea because it wouldn´t look nice at the back and so I decided to use just one color that fits with both sides and background. Since the background is quite dark I chose white thread to lighten it a bit up.

I used Glide polyester trilobal thread on many of my quilts. I really like the slight sheen and the way it stitches but I also found that sometimes even if you secure the ends of thread by knot and bury them, the knot somehow unties and stitching unravels.

So this time I use my trusted Mettler polyester thread. For some reason my sewing machine doesn´t like Aurifil and it keeps breaking no matter what tension adjustments I do.

I use Organ top stitch Titanium needle 90/14. It lasts longer and remains sharp even after 1 large project. I use it for quilting only.

Sometimes it happens that the thread gets shredded and breaks so it would be better to use a thinner needle 80/12 with smaller eye but I didn´t have that particular size and had to go with what I had.

Choosing quilting designs

Last year I wrote a blog post about choosing quilting designs (you can find it here ). I received many messages asking to show the process on one project. So this quilt is a perfect opportunity to do that.

1. Outlining center shape

When I start quilting, I don´t necessarily have a plan. I always start quilting from outlining the center shape.

So, I started quilting the flying geese first. Then I added some coil quilting around the geese to make them pop. It is a simple rule - whatever you want to pop, just outline it, then add dense quilting around.

Then I quilted some pebbles in the middle and decided to leave the rainbow strips unquilted, because I really like that rainbow puff around the center.

2. Background filler

Since the quilt is supposed to be reversible I needed a quilting design for the background that would look nice both on the front and back. The black/white pieced background is quite busy, so it did not make any sense to do custom quilting there but rather overall quilting. Since the back is a log cabin design, then straight line quilting wouldn´t be an option either - because what is straight at the top is not necessarily straight at the back. So I thought of pebbles of varying sizes and shapes, one of my favorite quilting designs. I think it was the right choice. Here is how it looks at the back.

3. Quilting colored shapes

I started with blue circles. Blue color represents water for me - the sea, bubbles, mist in the air, raindrops... This is where the inspiration for quilting blue circles came from. Small circles have just one or two bubbles quilted with a ruler with addition of hand quilting.

The piecing on the circles was not perfect (my piecing skills improved tremendously during these 3 years), so I decided to quilt slightly larger circles to hide piecing imperfections. These type of circles were quilted with a rotating ruler. It is not easy to use rulers on a large quilt on a domestic machine. You need flat surface large enough to place the ruler and that it not always possible, especially around the center. Also it is hard to move the quilt evenly, so it affects the quality of your stitching. But we are human beings but not computers, therefore imperfections are normal and they add certain character to your quilt. Only you know about them, others see the overall beauty of the quilting. Once the quilt is washed all those imperfections will be almost invisible.

Then I moved to green. When I think of green I think of greenery - leaves, flowers, flower wreaths. So I decided to quilt a leaf in the small circle and wreaths in the large circles.

Sometimes fabric itself inspires quilting design - in one of the circles there was a piece of fabric with rose, so I simply outlined it and added some pebbles.

I am very pleased how quilting looks from the back.

Next color was purple. My association was grapes, blueberries, summer, forest and Marimekko fabric Mustikkamaa (Blueberry land).

Not all ideas work well. Here I will show you an example. I wanted to quilt a blueberry but the design is rather small and hard to see on that busy background unless you are very close.

It looks better from the back as by accident it happened to be quilted on solid green.

At this point I am not sure if I leave or rip it. I have another idea for blueberry design which I will try next.

4. Border

There is a white border on the quilt. In the beginning I was thinking to quilt it differently. Then I changed my mind. I went for pebbles with some infills that add visual interest. It is interesting to see that the same quilting design looks different on black and white depending on the background.

I hope to have 1/2 quilted soon and I am learning a lot with this heavy quilt. My quilting is not perfect but I am proud of what I am doing. I can see improvement in my stitching along the way. Ruler work is very hard, especially close to the center. But it is very rewarding to see the results of all that hard work.

I would like to encourage those who are not very confident in their free motion skills.

Practice is the only thing that can make a difference to your free motion quilting. Don´t worry about ruining your quilts! It is better to get them finished rather than having another UFO. Choose a design you can manage or challenge yourself, practice doodling on paper and on a practice quilt sandwich. I usually have one of those for a warm up before I start quilting. You might be surprised how imperfectly perfect your quilt turns out. Be proud of your courage and work!

Happy Quilting!

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