Is that the quilt stitch look I want? Auditioning quilt stitch designs

Posted by on June 26, 2017

Some quilt tops speak to us and it’s easy to see a stitch design.  Then there are those that have us stumped.  We want to have our design pretty well set when we start stitching – if we don’t, we may be picking out stitches.  And I haven’t had anyone tell me that their favor part of quilting is ripping things out!  So, what are some ways to ensure the stitch design you’re thinking about is going to give the look we want without redoing?

Here are some of the techniques that I utilize.

Graph paper, pencils, erasers, and a copy machine.

  • My husband and I travel quite often so I have ‘ride time’ to create.  I sketch out the quilt top piecing/design onto graph paper and make several photocopies of my sketch.  The photocopies are the standard 8.5”x11” paper.  They travel easily in a folder for this type of create time.  I use a sharp pencil and begin drawing out a possible stitch design.  I only erase if I need to move a design element over – I don’t erase the entire design.  I set it aside and start a new sheet for moving forward with the designing.  Saving a previous design is helpful because sometimes I end up with elements from each trial design sketch in my final stitch out.  Just remember that the designs you are sketching are not exactly to scale and may need some adjustment when actually stitching on the quilt top.

Tracing paper, pencils, erasers, and a copy machine.

  • To sketch a design closer to scale, I take a black and white or gray scale picture of a section of the quilt top.  I use a computer program that allows me to print the picture in sections.  (I import the picture into a spreadsheet program, size it to the final print dimension that I want it, set the print margins to the smallest the program will allow, print the pages with the picture on it, remove the excess margins, and tape the picture pages together to have one, to scale, picture.)  Depending on your area, there are printing sources that will make large scale paper copies of a picture for you also.
  • I tape the picture to a flat surface and then tape tracing paper over the picture.  I note on the tracing paper reference marks and top, sides, etc.  I then start sketching my stitch designs.  Again, I don’t erase everything, I tape down another piece of tracing paper and start again.  These designs usually translate to the quilt top as closer to scale and don’t require much adjustment.

Plexiglass, dry erase markers, dry eraser, tape, digital camera

  • This is my go to sketch option when I already have the quilt loaded on the machine and I’ve spent some time removing stitching.  My plexiglass is sized to fit between my take-up rollers and is as long as I could find at my local hardware supply store.  I have a taped ½” border around the entire piece of plexiglass – this keeps me from accidently running off the edge with markers onto the quilt top.  I place the plexiglass on the quilt top where I want to design my stitching.  I draw my stitching design on the plexiglass and take a digital picture of it.  If I want to try another design I erase and start again, but always have the digital picture to refer back to if I want to go back to a previous design.

Heavy clear plastic, dry erase markers, dry eraser, tape, digital camera

  • This works well when you can lay the quilt top out on a flat surface.  I have a roll of heavy clear plastic that I taped over the edges on – to prevent the markers from going over the edge onto the quilt top.  I secure the plastic over the quilt top and use dry erase markers to create a stitch design.  Depending on the size of the roll of plastic you can move to a clean section and create another stitch design or you may need to take a digital picture, erase the design, and then begin your next design.

I know there are other tricks and tips to determine if your quilting stitch design will give you the look you want.  And not every technique will work in every situation. I hope the techniques I use will help you the next time you look at a quilt top and think, ‘I wonder….’


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What Should I Quilt Where?

Posted by on May 31, 2017


Here are some helpful tips to help you make those all-important decisions!

What did I create the quilt for?

  1. Heavy use
  2. Display
  3. Heirloom
  4. Quilt show

Do I want the stitching to be the focus?

Do I want the piecing to be the focus?

Shall I enhance the block piecing?

  1. Does the block need to be divided into smaller sections?
  2. Shall I soften the geometric design with curves?
  3. Shall I repeat a design with quilting that was created with piecing?

Is there applique in the block?

  1. Does the applique need texture or outlining?
  2. Shall I quilt densely around the applique to make it “pop.”
  3. Shall I stitch over the applique?

Does my quilt have rows?  Do I want to quilt to emphasize the rows in my quilt?

Is my quilt too busy for custom quilting?  Will the quilting get lost?

Do I have negative space in my quilt?

  1. Shall I divide the negative space into smaller areas?
  2. Shall I repeat elements already in my quilt or something completely different?

Shall I match the thread so it doesn’t stand out, or use contrast thread to create another element in the quilt and show off the stitches?

Design Methods:

Graph paper, clear gridded plastic, Plexiglas the size of the block, white board pen, chalk, fabric pen, etc.

Don’t be afraid to make registration marks to help you make design elements.


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