A Study of Contrasts

When we discuss contrast and quilts in the same sentence, we’re usually referring to contrast in the design of the top itself – the colors and design of the appliqué, piecing, painting, or other imagery. For many quilts, though, contrast within the quilting design is just as important, particularly for traditional, wholecloth, or other quilts where the quilting is intended to be a major focus of the overall piece.

So how is this accomplished? One way is to use different thread colors for the various aspects of the quilting. Here’s a gorgeous example in this detail from Aurora Borealis by Peggy Marquardt, one of our “noteworthies” from the January/February 2016 issue of the magazine. Note especially how she echo quilted the feathers in a contrasting color, which really makes them stand out.

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©Peggy Marquardt Aurora Borealis


In her numerous articles covering a wide variety of aspects of quilting design and techniques, Margaret Solomon Gunn discusses “popping” the design, or making it come forward. Batting choice is one aspect of creating a more textured end product. Many longarm quilters choose to use two battings at the same time to produce a very full look in the less densely quilted areas of the design. Typically a higher loft batting is placed on top of a flatter batting. When the high loft batting is very closely quilted its “puff” is diminished in those areas, letting the larger motifs shine.

Contrasting the density of the quilting, as well as the style, also impacts the look. This can mean using matchstick quilting  or cross hatching as a complement to more flowing designs. This example, from Margaret’s January/February 2015 article “Making the Most of Your Straight Templates”, illustrates both of these concepts. Look at how the variety of background fills used contrast in very different ways with the feather!

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© Margaret Solomon Gunn

Finally, this detail from Sandra Leichner’s masterful Vivaldi by Moonlight, shown in our November/December 2014 issueillustrates several means of contrast. Her thread contrasts with the fabric. The echo quilting near the grapes is not so much outlining the space as creating a new design. Note how much of the echo quilting is essentially perpendicular to the vine. Additionally, she’s created shadowing by filling in some of the empty spaces in the sashiko design, as well as outlining the motifs in that area several times for emphasis. Amazing!

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Detail of Vivaldi by Moonlight ©Sandra Leichner


Thank you to our contributors for their beautiful quilting, and we look forward to sharing more techniques like these in every issue.

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