Ready or Not …

I wish I had a nickle for every quilting book or pattern I’ve read that says, once the top is constructed, “Quilt as desired”. For new quilters this is a daunting task! Here are some basic guidelines for how to get started.

Once your quilt is basted, use a walking foot or dual feed to baste along all the edges of your quilt sandwich. I like to turn any extra backing over to the front and sew it down as well to protect the raw edge of the batting during the quilting process. This is not a very fun process, but it really helps to further stabilize the quilt sandwich and keep your quilt in square. Using a walking foot or dual feed foot ensures that the layers are feeding evenly and prevents puckers on the back. I try to remember to do this even on relatively small wall quilts as it avoids trouble down the road.

dual feed
Here I’ve turned the backing to the front of a quilt and am stabilizing the edge using a dual feed foot.

Now what? Basically, begin quilting major construction lines. If your quilt is pieced this might include the edges of borders, sashing, or blocks. Once again the walking/dual feed feet come in handy here.

If your quilt is a whole cloth or appliquéd, quilt around major design elements.

At this point your quilt should be fairly well stabilized, and there’s probably a relatively even amount of quilting over the whole quilt. Time to divide and conquer more! If there are any motifs you’re using, such as feathers or wreaths, now is the time to quilt them.

Finally, come back in and quilt any background fills.

The illustration below is from an article I wrote for the premiere edition of our sister magazine, Modern Quilts Unlimited. In this case, I wouldn’t quilt around each block, as shown by the gray lines that indicate where the blocks are pieced. Instead, I’d begin by quilting around the edges of the quilt, then quilt the edge of each zigzag, as highlighted in red in the second diagram. At that point I’d add whatever additional quilting I wanted in the gray areas, then the zigzags.

zigzag zigzag with outline BLOG

In the compass quilt illustrated here, I’d outline quilt the borders, sashing, and the components of each star, then add motifs or relatively large fills to the white areas. Next I’d quilt the borders, and then any smaller background fills.

compass with sashing fixed BLOG

For this small art quilt, I began by outline quilting all the areas that are black, i.e. the bird and the fence. I then came back in and outlined the radial design behind the bird. That was really all that this piece needed.

stellarjayatnepenthe shadow blog
Stellar Jay at Nepenthe, ©2013 Diane Rusin Doran

I don’t know the order in which Pam Hill quilted this beauty, a noteworthy from our July/August 2013 issue called Peppermint Twist. However, if I were quilting it I’d stabilize the edges, then quilt the largest elements. That would include the flower and leaf shapes in the center, the swags, the inner and outer circle, and the outside of the border elements. Next would be the circles, feathers, and scrollwork, then, lastly, the fillers.

Pam Hill full
Peppermint Twist ©Pam Hill

Lois Podolny’s lovely My Journey to Baltimore, shown in our November/December 2013 issue, was made with both piecing and appliqué. After stabilizing the edges, the next step would be to outline the sashing and nine patches, then outline the largest appliqués. As in previous examples, I’d then move on to the largest quilting motifs, then follow up with the remaining appliqué and fill work.

lois podolny my journey to baltimore nov dec 2013
My Journey to Baltimore ©Lois Podolny

These are not hard and steadfast rules, but guidelines you might consider when tackling the challenge of an unquilted expanse. Occasionally I’ve been known to not follow any of these suggestions and still not end up with a disaster, so don’t worry if this isn’t how you go about it. The more quilts you make, the more comfortable you’ll feel determining the order of quilting that works best for you and your situation.

7 Responses to Ready or Not …

  1. Thanks. I never thought to stabilize the edges of my quilts prior to quilting. I will from now on.
    Thanks again.

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