Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Machine Quilting 101:Picking a Pattern

We are up to week 6 in the Machine Quilting 101 Series! I'm very excited about today's post!
If you'd like to check out the previous posts, I've added the links for easy access:

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Pre-basting Prep
Week 3: Basting
Week 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
Week 5: Working your way around the quilt

Today we will be talking about how to pick a quilting pattern for your quilt. You've probably heard the phrase "quilting makes the quilt". No pressure at all, huh? I've been machine quilting for over 11 years and I have to admit that I STILL get nervous when I begin quilting a new quilt. Yes, every single time, because I don't want to mess it up!

The main thing to consider when picking a pattern is what is your comfort level vs. the risk. If you are trying a new-to-you technique, it's best to practice on a quilt that will be for one of your kids/grand kids, maybe a picnic quilt, or a quilt that will live on the back of your couch. Something low risk. If you are entering your quilt into the fair, submitting it to a book or magazine, the risk is a higher, so you probably want to stick with a pattern that is within your comfort level.

Not to sound like a broken record, but don't underestimate the power of practice. Start small and work your way up to a larger quilt. For example, when I was learning how to machine bind quilts, I started by binding doll quilts and I worked my way up to a lap quilt. The first quilt that I bound completely by machine was for my son, who didn't really care if the top stitching was crooked in places and a little wonky around the corners. (And it was.) Eventually, I machine bound a quilt that ended up on the cover of Quilty Magazine, and I wasn't nervous at all about the quality of my stitches. Practice really does help!

When picking a quilting pattern for a quilt, there isn't one right answer. I'll show some examples of what I've quilted and try to break down why I chose that pattern for that quilt. Hopefully I can convey my thought process a little bit.

All Over Quilting:
Sometimes all you need is something to hold all the layers together. A stipple or loop-de-loop is a good solution for so many quilts. I've done a lot of this in my day, and I love how it adds texture to a quilt. A lot of my quilts are simple designs that celebrate pretty fabric, so a meander of some sort works beautifully on this type of quilt.
On this patchwork quilt, I quilted loops down the center of each row, eyeballing the line of stitching down the middle. The squares finish at 2.5", so one line of stitching is enough. I chose this pattern because I knew it would be quick and easy, plus it was a nice alternative to my usual stippling or loops.
This quilt has larger patchwork, with squares that finish at 4", so I did two lines of loopy stitching down each line of patchwork. I like how the stitching shows up more in some squares-like the solids- and how it is camouflaged in some of the printed squares. I was still able to eyeball the placement, so no marking was required. That's always a bonus!
On my trees! quilt, I did an all over loop-de-loop pattern because it reminded me of tangled Christmas lights....to go along with the Christmas tree theme. Since the trees are so linear, I wanted the quilting to soften the hard lines of the piecing. Contrast is good!
On my plain spoken quilt, the quilting is a major component of the overall design of the quilt. (Pattern is Plain Spoken from the book The Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.) The elongated stippling is curvy, which again contrasts nicely with the hard lines of the patchwork.
On the Up, Up and Away quilt (pattern in Sunday Morning Quilts) the squares finish at 2" and I was afraid stippling would feel kind of chaotic. I quilted it with straight lines to keep things simple and clean. The patchwork acted as a guide for quilting and I chose to only quilt through every other block. It seems to be a nice compliment to the tiny patchwork.
I chose to quilt a diagonal grid on my round and round quilt, mainly because of the size of patchwork (another 2" square) and the amount of white in the quilt. No extra marking was required. Yes, it's a running theme because it's so important! All the negative space shows off the classic grid quite well.
In these two quilts (running in circles above and crop circles below) I used the same quilting treatment....spirals for the circles and stippling for the background. This helps define the patchwork and highlights the curved piecing. If you are going to go through the work of piecing curves, why not show it off?
(Just a little disclaimer....piecing curves isn't hard...it's actually quite fun! I have a detailed tutorial here if you'd like to try your hand at them.) 
 
Thread Color Changes:
Choosing a thread color is a whole other topic that I plan to dig into deeper on another day, but I will touch very briefly on it today. Sometimes it's hard to pick a quilting design that works with just one color of thread, so occasionally two thread colors (or more) is the answer.
For my candy cane quilt, I quilted lines of loops that follow the patchwork. I wasn't very confident in my quilting abilities at the time, so I was nervous to quilt with red thread on the white patchwork and vice versa. Matching the color of thread to the color of patchwork was a great solution.
 It formed a really cool design on the solid backing! This was a happy accident.
I had a hard time deciding how to quilt my rolling stones quilt, mainly because of the stark color contrast between the blocks and the background color. I finally settled on a pebble quilting design and two different colors of thread. It was a boatload of work to pebble quilt this thing (it's a large twin size) but I definitely made the right decisions all around. Pebble quilting....rolling stone pattern. It was a pairing that was just too good to pass up!

Quilting the Elements Separately:
This is my Splash quilt (pattern in Sunday Morning Quilts). I couldn't settle on just one type of quilting, so I chose to quilt the elements separately using 3 different thread colors. I did some channel (straight line) quilting on the orange block to help unify the patchwork. I pebble quilted the white border because it was a small section and I wanted it to highlight it a bit more. I quilted a wavy grid on the aqua background because it mimicked waves of water and because it was easy. It required a lot of stopping and starting, but I liked the quilting treatment enough to quilt a second version in the same manner.
On my Gumdrops quilt (also from Sunday Morning Quilts) I quilted over the gumdrops to help secure them in place. (I used fusible web, but I didn't trust it completely, so I quilted them individually, just to be sure.) Once I had the gumdrops quilted, the background puffed out in an unattractive manner, so I filled in the background with teeny tiny loops and meandering. I wasn't planning on it, but the quilt needed it! That happens sometimes.
 
Highlighting Negative Space:
On my migration quilt the applique is quite minimal, so the negative space required some special treatment. I chose the swirls because they reminded me of a windy day...fall....migration. It's all a part of the theme. I wasn't very confident in my swirls when I started but I got a lot of practice and was quite proficient by the end!
My rainbow log cabin quilt is another good example of the importance of quilting the negative space. I quilted a petal shape in the gray areas and it adds a lot to the overall finished quilt. It contrasts the linear quilting in the center blocks and makes the borders pop.

I hope that you've found this post helpful. If nothing else, I hope that it gives you a few new ideas for quilting your quilts. If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them in the comments. If you've found something particularly helpful, I'd love to hear that, too!


40 comments:

Jenny said...

Thank you so much for a very helpful and interesting post.

I try hard at FMQ with sometimes quite mixed results. Guess I need to practice more!

Nine Kids and Not Counting :) said...

This is a great post for those of us just starting to go beyond basic quilting. Your examples of the different types and why you chose to do what you did are easy to see and understand. I swear I will free motion quilt any day now! Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement!

Emma Robertson said...

I love reading your blog and seeing your fab quilts. I'm new to sewing and decided just last week to attempt my first ever quilt! I've only got to the cutting stage and am just placing my strips in a design pattern. The whole quilting part is more than a little mind boggling to me right now!! You can see my pieces coming together on Instagram at @myhandmadehome1 I'd love your feedback.

Lucy @ Charm About You said...

A great post and such beautiful pictures! I adore the petal quilting on the rainbow log cabin!

saltygirl said...

Very, very helpful. Thank you for this!

Lorna McMahon said...

Each of these samples are so suited to the individual quilt. Showing just how much quilting is an integral part of the overall design. Thanks for sharing so many wonderful examples!

FlourishingPalms said...

It's always picking a quilting pattern and getting started that has me looking for all kinds of excuses to be doing something else! There's never any easy way to start quilting. Even drawing a rough "road map" doesn't help because I find that I improvise as I go anyway. It seems I never trust myself enough to get started (I usually begin on the side of the quilt), but once I get my toes wet, I generally find I'm off and running. Feathers are my go-to design, which isn't very often appropriate for modern quilts, so I find myself digging deep to come up with original quilting designs - trying not to copy all the celeb quilters... like you! This is a great post, and I'm sure you've helped a lot of quilters. Good job!

angelina said...

pebbble quilting is amazing !!
i got a book years ago now, and with my
new husqvarna i got last year for christmas - or was it year before last? anyway i saw i needed a free motion needle for this. is that what you used for the pebbles? beautiful work .x

Kristen Jones said...

I have so enjoyed and appreciated this series. Thank you so much! I've just finished my very first quilt top. I made a queen sized (go big or go home) top using moda honeysweet fabric. I'm so afraid to attempt to quilt this huge thing. Lol. I have been practicing on making throw pillows to match with my leftover scraps. Gotta say quilting is harder than it looks!! Lol

Pieces of Cotton said...

Every time you said "I wasn't confident", it encourages me. Your quilting always looks so great, so if I'm not confident now, it doesn't mean I can never be skillful.if you weren't confident once, it's just a normal stage in the quilter's development.

Linda Kay said...

Thank you for doing this series - it is really helpful. I will echo what "Pieces of Cotton" said above - I am trying to build up my confidence and FMQ skills and it helps to hear that it does get easier!

Susan said...

thanks so much for addressing!I find a lot of patterns, when you get to the quilting part, will say "quilt as desired", and I am left hanging! this is very helpful. I do have one question, will you be talking about when you start and stop several colors on a quilt? that would be very helpful! thanks so much, read your blog faithfully.

Lynn said...

This series is wonderful! What do you do with the threads at each end when your bobbin runs out or you change colors, etc.? I hope you can address this in a future post.

CapitolaQuilter said...

Really enjoying the series - thanks for all the examples, explanations and close up photos.

laura black said...

I have said it before but I will repeat, how in the world do u get so much done, I am fascinated! How ever u do it, thank you so much for all the good info. Your's is my favorite blog, and you quilts are my favorite too!

VeeV said...

awesome, you explain everything so well!!!
thanks
xo
eva

Laura said...

SUPER helpful! Thanks for sharing. I just need to DO FMQ more, instead of just READING about it. Lol.

Needle&Foot said...

Amanda, this post is excellent. I love all of the ideas provided and your explanations of why you did what you did. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this series. It will be of great help to so many of us!!

amandajean said...

Susan and Lynn,

I'm happy to let you know that I have addressed the subject of starting and stopping when quilting. Under my quilt making basics tab there is a tutorial "how to bury knots when machine quilting". That's the technique I use when I run out of bobbin threads or when I change thread colors in the middle of a quilt. Hope that helps!

Amanda Jean

Marg M said...

Thank you so very much for this series. You started just as I have embarked on FMQ so I have loved reading and now to practice more. Thanks

A Quilter's Mission said...

Thank you Amandajean! I appreciate you sharing so much knowledge. Beautiful quilts.

Irena Mangone said...

I stand in awe. You are so great. Thank you for showing us your work. I am only at the stitch in the ditch a a few wavy lines stage. So it was very helpful to see your lovely work

Linda said...

This series has been so helpful to just beginning to quilt me. I have created a special folder just for your posts because I know I will be referring to therm frequently as I create new quilt tops - at this point the easy part. Appreciate then pictures with explanations.

Tina Mills said...

This post was very inspirational! I'm a new long arm quilter still struggling to find my style. You have given me ideas to try and also suggestions of start small and work up to large. I really enjoy your blog. And tutorials.

Julie said...

I've enjoyed your posts on this subject. So many good ideas. I would love to visit one of the Minneapolis MQG meetings, but live in southern Minnesota. Wish Rochester would start a guild.

lalaluu said...

LOVED this post! I like to see what design choices other people make - you never know what you might be inspired to try - but mostly because I have the Sunday Morning Quilts book and, even though they give instructions for quilting, the description of your thought process for each of those quilts was exactly what I wanted to know! I am working on their Scrapper's Delight pattern, using scraps, of course! It is very fun and easy to piece. Hopefully, quilting the finished product will be easier with this post to refer to!

Daytona Damsel said...

Thank you. I am still struggling with free motion quilting. I don't practice enough because I hate wasting the material and batting, So far my stitching is so bad I wouldn't dare using a real quilt, even if it is small.

Cheryl Arkison said...

You are awesome. It makes me yearn for some more free motion quilting, but my machine is still acting up. I did do some long arming yesterday. That feeds the need a bit.

Vicki H said...

Great post, thanks for all the great examples. I have a row quilt basted just waiting for me to decide how to quilt it. The different rows are stars, heart, tree, tulip, churn dash, pinwheel, bow tie, maple leaf, flying geese with a narrow sashing between each row. Do you have any suggestions on how to quilt it?

Cathy Lohwater said...

Thank you so much for this post. I want to try FMQ, but I never know what pattern to try for my quilts. I am afraid I'll choose the wrong pattern and then I'll ruin my quilt top. This gives me lots of ideas to try! Thank you!

Melodee said...

Amazing blog post, so much really valuable information. Glad I read all the other comments before I commented, I too am challenged with the starting and stopping and changing thread colors, getting underneath the middle of a quilt to clip the bobbin thread, tying them off well enough so there are not little tag threads all over. I will read the tutorial you referenced.

Karen said...

Thanks so much for all the detailed photos and decision making info! Just what this newbie needs!

Pracownia pod Aniołem said...

Thanks very much for this post. It inspires me a lot. Regards from Poland
Karolina from Pracownia pod Aniołem

limivadygirl said...

As always, another inspiring post/tutorial! I'm in the midst of quilting a "Fair and Square" and finding the straight lines have gone wonky on me this time, but I'm still too apprehensive to do FMQ. I'm curious what you use for batting. I saw a great price at Joann's on "Soft n Crafty 100% cotton batting in 90"x25yds - wondering how it is to work with.

A Nudge said...

Excellent post, Amanda. The examples made your suggestions very clear and instructive. I like how your quilts are quilted and yet look natural. Too many quilts I see these days are quilted to death.

SeaBreeze Quilts said...

Thank you very much Amanda! It was lovely to follow your thoughts through these lovely quilts. I find it hard to trust my ability (novice) - as my ideas for my quilts always look so good in my mind but I am scared of the reality check when I actually get started! Your ideas have helped me see that I should just go for it! Thanks for your help Amanda - and for squeezing this into your summer!

Judy Cinerari said...

Thanks for this post. It is really helpful to hear your thought processe behind each quilt. I'm just starting out so I need all the help I can find!

Jade Prosser said...

So many beautiful quilts and such great quilting. I can't wait to try some of these quilting ideas on future quilts. :) Thank you for sharing!!

Joyce Lewis said...

Thank you for the awesome pictures of the quilting.

Carrie Wikander said...

I used to really be afraid of quilting, but thanks to tips like these, I now enjoy the process a lot. Thanks for sharing.