Quilting Decisions {Discussion}

In 2015 (how can that have been 5 years ago already??), I hosted a series of discussions based on the “Why Quilts Matter“ discussion guide. If you are curious, the previous posts were about:

As I was doing a digital cleanup and backup of my files (psssst: have you backed up your computer lately?), I came across the discussion guide PDF and flipped through it again. Another question caught my attention, and I thought it would be great to open up a discussion topic again. Note that the comments on discussion posts can be full of rich insights, so I hope you take the time to read the replies and come back later to see how the discussion flourishes.

The question that piqued my interest this time is:

How do you determine whether the piecing or the quilting will be the standout factor in a quilt? Should one outweigh the other? Are there different factors that go into your quilt when making one as a gift verses one to be entered into a show?

Perhaps this hit a nerve because this past weekend I sat and stared at the pieced quilt top for my upcoming quilt along trying to come up with my quilting plan. Perhaps it resonates because I just created a series of mini mini quilts that were all quilted just a bit differently and the differences were quite striking. Or perhaps I know that deep down we often all stare at the words “quilt as desired” in a quilt pattern and wonder what the heck that means?!?

So, I thought I’d share a few quilts along with my thought process for each quilt as I made my quilting decisions. Before I jump to the pretty pictures, a few key points that are relevant to know about me and my general quilting style:

  • In general, my attitude is the more quilting, the better. I love a densely quilted quilt! Which is not to say that I dislike a less densely quilted quilt, but more that I am not afraid of dense quilting. I love the texture that dense quilting can create and yes, I happily cuddle with and sleep under densely quilted quilts.
  • My go-to thread for piecing and quilting is 50wt Aurifil. In 2013 I purchased a sewing machine that turned out to be VERY picky (honestly, it was a lemon) and the only thread it would stitch with somewhat consistently was Aurifil’s 50wt thread. I mean, it dropped more stitches than it sewed using any other thread. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate all the colors that Aurifil comes in and I do love exploring their other thread weights, but my go to still remains 50wt. Their 50wt is a 2 ply making it somewhat thinner than some other 50wt threads on the market: many other 50wt threads I have used are 3 ply, and the weight is based on the thickness of each ply. So, the thread I like could be another reason I don’t mind a densely quilted quilt – Aurifil 2 ply 50wt is thinner than 3 ply 50wt thread.
  • I typically work with solids and not prints. And even when I do work with prints, I often use blenders, a lot of negative space, and solids mixed in with prints.
Kaleidoscope Plus

Kaleidoscope Plus

Okay, so with all that said, let’s take a look at one of my densely quilted bed quilts, Kaleidoscope Plus (follow the link to learn more about the quilt). Some key factors about the quilt that I took into consideration as I formulated my quilting plan:

  • Made using Kona Cotton Solids
  • Detailed piecing
  • Going to be a bed quilt for personal use

I planned ahead and had matching thread colors for each of the four solids used in piecing the quilt. I wanted to accentuate and embellish the piecing with my quilting plan. And I wanted the quilt to make me smile every time I walked into my bedroom and saw it on my bed.

The first pieces of my quilting plan to fall into place were the plus signs: I knew that I would quilt them with overlapping horizontal and vertical lines. Ignoring the dark blue background, I also quickly settled on a dot to dot design for the darkest pieced blue triangles. Taking my cue from the dot to dot design, I chose another dot to dot design for the smaller triangles. From there, I took my cue on quilting density for the background based on wanting the piecing to stand out. By more densely quilting the background, it receded away and the piecing popped forward just that bit more.

Sky Full of Stars

Sky Full of Stars

So how about a much different quilting density? For Sky Full of Stars, I really wanted the piecing to shine and stand out more than anything else, so I needed the quilting to compliment the design but not stand out. And I specifically wanted to emphasize that the curve stars are pieced from a single fabric, so I wanted just enough quilting to help them sparkle but not overpower. While this is a quilt that I am likely to submit for consideration to QuiltCon, that was not a consideration at the time I was quilting Sky Full of Stars.

Snail Trail Mini Mini Quilts

Snail Trail Mini Mini Quilts

While I am not afraid of dense quilting, I am sure I am not alone in wondering “what if” when trying to narrow down quilting motif choices sometimes. When I made a series of three snail trail mini mini quilts, I was able to experiment with different quilting motifs and see how the choices changed the outcome of the finishes. While there is more that is different than just the quilting in each mini mini quilt (fabric choices and placement are also quite different), this really brought home the fact to me that the quilting motif choice can have a big impact on the visual outcome of a quilt.

Which brings me to plug making mini mini quilts: if you are ever really concerned or worried about a quilting idea, make a sample block and test out your idea! Mini mini quilts are just that outlet for me and have helped me make these choices many times over the years. If you don’t have time to make a small sample and quilt it, another option to explore are digital tools like Procreate which allows you to draw quilting motif ideas on top of photographs you take of your quilt.

Oh Happy Day

Oh Happy Day

My quilting plan for Oh Happy Day was based on my desire to actually mask how I pieced the quilt top. I wanted the piecing elements to blend together and for the viewer to get to experience the two-color quilt in color blocks and take in the movement. I didn’t want all the piecing lines to distract from the graphic, two tone nature of the design. So by quilting each color in a different uniform manner (the light color with vertical lines and the dark with horizontal), it really helped to blend the piecing elements together into a cohesive whole.

Spiraling Petals - Quilting Detail

Spiraling Petals – Quilting Detail

And finally, no quilting decisions discussion would be complete for me if I didn’t mention Spiraling Petals. My original quilting plan for Spiraling petals was to do an all-over, large, spiral flower motif, but that went out the window when my two lightest value fabrics were too close together in value. Instead, I opted to very densely quilt the lightest value fabric with whit thread to help make it appear lighter in value. And because I micro quilted that area, I had to use much more dense quilting in each of the other sections as well to match.

I am really looking forward to hearing how you work through this stage of the quilting process.

How do you determine whether the piecing or the quilting will be the standout factor in a quilt? Should one outweigh the other? Are there different factors that go into your quilt when making one as a gift verses one to be entered into a show?

15 thoughts on “Quilting Decisions {Discussion}

  1. Carrie wikander says:

    I am the opposite. I appreciate dense quilting, but usually for me, the overall design and the fabric are what I really want to stand out. I see quilting as enhancement, but not the thing I want noticed. Sometimes I know exactly how I’m going to quilt something as I design it, which is nice. But yeah, sometimes it takes a few days, or even longer-to figure it out. Most of the time I’m happy with the quilting but I won’t lie, there have been some times when I haven’t been. Like you I use mostly solids and I think quilting on solids takes more thought. But I gotta be me, so I do what I do. It continues to be a challenge but hey-that’s one of the things I love about making art!

  2. Mrs. Plum says:

    What an interesting discussion! Like you, I love detailed, dense quilting. However, the end use of the quilt is usually what guides me. When I make a comfort quilt, baby or child quilt, that will be get heavy use and many washings, I do minimal amounts of quilting, because I want the quilt to be soft and as puffy as possible. I often use a serpentine stitch on my machine. It’s quick and somewhat decorative. Wall quilts, on the other hand, get very dense, ornate quilting, often with 100 wt. silk thread.

  3. I agree with most of what you said, and thank you for saying that you’ve slept under densely quilted quilts that are soft and snuggly, as have I. I have quilted with many different brands and types of thread from cotton to polyester to rayon and I haven’t found, even with dense quilting, that the difference between Aurifil 2-ply and say Essential 3-ply has made any difference in texture of quilting or weight of the final quilt. I really think it’s the batting that makes the difference as far as weight and drape go. I think that the machine determines to some extent the density: would you have done such dense quilting on the Kaleidoscope Plus (btw nice to see yours again so soon after I posted mine-grin!) had you only had your DSM? I most likely would not, as it was a fairly large quilt and would be quite the workout to maneuver it, not that I haven’t done big ones on my DSM, up to 92″ square for nearly 20 years. I also think that both piecing and quilting can shine within the same quilt without competing with each other; Angela Walters and Tula Pink’s quilt collaborations exemplify this. As for figuring out what to quilt, I am somewhat like Carrie in that some quilts I already know what I will quilt, but the majority of them I have an idea for some parts, and then let the quilt talk as I start to quilt it. Rare it is that I have a total overall plan for a quilt!

    1. I’m glad to hear you say you haven’t seen much difference in 2ply and 3ply. I honestly converted over to Aurifil so quickly (darn machine) that I haven’t used enough other threads to know. I suspect you are very correct that the batting plays a very large role.

      In terms of what machine and density – it’s hard to say. I honestly find that I prefer quilting on my domestic and I have done some really dense matchstick quilting with it that I love. And I’ve done super dense FMQing on my domestic as well.

  4. Suzanne says:

    I’m pretty much a spontaneous quilter, I don’t often know what I’m going to make until I start it. I’m always on the lookout for a pretty quilt top pattern and when I find it, I save it until I find (or dig from my stash) fabrics I’d like to make it with. And I’m not much of a planner, so when it comes to FMQ designs, I regularly poke around the internet and save ideas for that too. When I’m ready to quilt a WIP, I pull up designs that I have and glean my ideas from them. Sometimes my quilt will have a single design and sometimes I mix it up.
    I work mostly with cotton batting and like dense quilting too, except it depends on the piece. For a large quilt, I prefer larger designs, mostly less dense but often do some dense quilting in the “in-between” spaces as I like the effect it gives. Puffier quilting is fun and I like to use a higher loft polyester batting for that. However, I always seem to have a problem with the needle pulling up hair-like “fuzzies” from inside. I’ve experimented with different needle types and sizes, yet can’t seem to overcome this. Maybe I need a better quality batting? Do you have any suggestions?

    1. In terms of “bearding” (when batting pulls through the quilt top), there can actually be a right side up for a batting if it is needle punched (read about it here: https://suzyquilts.com/right-side-to-quilt-batting/).

  5. What a great discussion topic, Yvonne! I rarely know ahead of time how I’ll quilt something and it’s often only by staring at it that I figure something out. Sometimes it’s only the first bit, so I quilt that and then stare some more 🙂 Quilts that have a deadline often get a quicker all-over type design as do quilts for my husband because that’s what he prefers. Smaller quilts are more likely to get really dense quilting because it’s less of a time investment if they quilt isn’t huge. I don’t usually think about whether the piecing or the quilting should stand out more, I’m usually wanting them to work together to create a cohesive look.

  6. Great discussion! My main two questions I ask myself when trying to decide what quilting design, custom/allover, and density are end use and what I want to highlight (or not) in the quilt. I have also learned that dense quilting is not always worth the time when quilting in busy prints because it can not be seen easily.

  7. Mari says:

    I am all about the piecing, not the quilting. Mostly I would like the quilting to fade into the background and be more of a texture thing than the centerpiece of the quilt, though I do appreciate really detailed and pretty quilting in other people’s quilts. I put a lot of time and thought into the piecing and the fabrics and colors, so I really want the piecing to be the star. Also, I really, really dislike thread colors that don’t blend. Dark thread on light fabric makes me crazy. (Again, in my own quilts, not in other people’s!) Dark thread on a light fabric will mean that that’s all I see when I look at the quilt, and all of my piecing will be for nought. Part of the issue is that walking foot quilting is about all I’m marginally competent with, so that also shapes my thinking. But in the end I really enjoy piecing, so I should focus on what I really enjoy, right? 🙂 Great topic!

  8. allisonwp says:

    Thank you for opening this discussion Yvonne. My quilting choices are more often than not determined by my quilting abilities. Lately I have brought quilts out of my UFO Cupboard of Shame. Nearly all of them stalled at the point of quilting. I was so scared of ‘spoiling’ my piecing with poorly executed quilting that I couldn’t take the project any further! My skills have slowly improved with each quilt I have finished. Walking foot quilting is my go-to so grids, wavy lines and spirals are my main options. I quilted a curved grid over a Bear Tracks quilt and it worked – the Bear Paws didn’t disappear under the quilt pattern and the curvy grid has given the quilt movement. In this case I see the piecing, fabrics, quilting design and thread choice all complimenting each other without any of them being dominant or being dominated.
    I favour Aurifil threads too. I do occasionally use 40wt threads for quilting and I often use several colours across a quilt or use variegated threads which can enhance contrast between fabrics (as you showed in one of your quilts) and add interest to open areas in the piecing.

    1. westernwilson says:

      A great design that works on almost any quilt and does not out-compete the piecing is Baptist Fan. It always looks great and makes the piecing look incredible.

  9. I appreciate that Allison brought quilting abilities into the conversation! I almost always straight-line quilt my projects because I like the look of straight-line quilting and have devoted little time to practicing free-motion quilting. If I want something more elaborate, I send the quilt to a longarmer. In that regard, money enters the equation: Do I think that this project merits the cost of outsourcing the quilting? I’m more likely to spend the money on something I’ll keep for my family to use. : )

  10. Great post Yvonne and super helpful to read all of the comments. I am not terribly proficient with quilting though I am working on it. I dislike the feel of dense quilting if it is for a bed or a couch/cozy quilt. For these, I use loose all over designs or widespread straight line patterns. I do like dense quilting for something I want to hang on the wall though. For now I tend to quilt in light colors because I don’t feel the quality of my quilting is good enough to show it off with darker threads.

  11. I definitely think more about the piecing and colors in a quilt then I do about the quilting. Probably because due to time constraints and the desire to actually see quilts finished, I don’t do my own quilting. That may be the deciding factor on my end. I’m lucky to work with someone who understands what I’m after with the quilting. Most of my projects get an overall design so the quilting takes a back seat to the piecing. Maybe that would be different if I did my own quilting, maybe I’ll find out once I retire.

  12. Jasmine @ Quilt Kisses says:

    Such an interesting discussion. I most often do all over designs which aren’t very dense. I love the process, but am more interested in finishing. 🙂 Yet I love doing some detailed quilting as well. It most often depends on my mood and time constraints.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)