Echo Quilting

Today let’s look at the first of three stitching techniques that I consider essential for most machine quilters: echo quilting.

Echo quilting can be used to highlight or accentuate motifs or appliqué elements, or serve as a background fill. It is basically tracing around, or echoing, existing shapes or motifs, usually using lines of quilting that are fairly evenly spaced. Sometimes the quilting echoes outward, other times it spirals in to fill the space between design elements. As I quilt outwards around a motif I carefully follow the shape of a design element. Use an open toed presser foot as a guide, quilting successive tracings and gradually tapering the lines outward.

presser foot as guide

If your lines are a little uneven as you echo outward, visually consider the space between the lines as you quilt, rather than looking at the edge of the presser foot. You could also embrace the variations in the width, as they may provide interesting and unexpected results as you move outwards.

As with all quilting, thread color can make a big difference in the overall visual effect.  The photo below shows completed echo quilting using three different thread color variations –thread slightly lighter than the background, light to dark thread, and dark to light. (Note that in the multi-colored examples that I did stop at the end of each echo, so the quilting is slightly more symmetrical.) Changing thread colors as you move outward from your motif can add depth and interest to the design.

thread choices large

Another option is to try using variegated thread. Artists Nancy Cook both use variegated thread frequently in her work to beautiful effect. By using essentially only echo quilting, Nancy creates a lovely flowing and sculptural effect.

spring rhaposdy full
Spring Rhapsody ©Nancy Cook

Echoes tend to become more abstract the further they get from the initial design. You can deliberately abstract them, introduce little bumps, or smooth or add corners to produce a more interesting design. Here I threw in a few spirals and flourishes while echoing around a flower. Note how just a little variation changes the final echo shape.

add some spice

Sue Reno often uses echo quilting to highlight her work. Here she chose a bold contrast between the thread and the background color, creating an eye catching design with the echo quilting itself.

sue reno
Detail from The Organic Landscape  ©Sue Reno

In the detail below from my quilt Return of the Grackle I had fun introducing new pathways as I spiraled away from various design elements.

return of the grackle
Detail from Return of the Grackle, ©Diane Rusin Doran

Try experimenting with your own take on echo quilting, I think you’ll like it!

Interested in more detail on echo quilting? See my article in the July/August 2013 issue of MQU.

4 Responses to Echo Quilting

  1. I need to work on my echo, and appreciate the tips such as changing thread color as you move further from the beginning.

Leave a reply