You can transform your quilt from a Plain-Jane to an Exciting Quilt with simple design elements in your quilting design. Although books are getting better about this, often a book demonstrating a beautiful quilt top design falls short when it comes to suggesting quilting designs. Many of the books have small pictures of the whole finished quilt top, leaving you guessing how it was quilted. Others have close up pictures of the quilting design for part of the quilt top, but don't show how that part connects with the rest of the top. Effective quilting designs don't need to be intricate and detailed to be effective. A quilter might choose a pattern that simply echoes the pieced or appliqué design, outlines an individual design feature, or creates a grid or series of parallel quilting lines. In deciding how to quilt your quilt, you should first look at some of the overall design elements of the quilt top, and ask some basic questions, like: Are there design features I would like to emphasize? Are there elements I would like to have recede into the background? Are there large, open areas where a quilted design, such as a feathered wreath, could be effective? Does the quilt have movement that I would like to enhance (i.e. are there curves and waves vs. straight seams)? Is there interesting fabric I would like to highlight or create a contrast Once you have some of those basic questions answered, it's time to look at some specifics. A quilting design that echoes the basic design of the quilt is probably the easiest to accomplish, yet choosing which design elements of your quilt you echo can, indeed, affect the overall look of your quilt. For example, if you take a simple Irish Chain quilt, by quilting parallel lines of quilting through the diagonal lines of squares creates a kind of channel affect, making the center squares stand out. The square in the center can be quilting in a completely different way, creating a new design element. If your quilt is green and white, how about quilting a shamrock in each square? Quilting a heart in each square delivers yet a different message. Or, mix them up, a shamrock in every other square, alternating with a heart.
Another method of enhancing the pieced pattern of the quilt is to quilt additional shapes of the main design. For example, you can turn an eight pointed star into a 16 pointed star by simply quilting points in the background between each of the 8 pieced points. By varying the size of the quilted points, you can give the star even more dimension and interest. Quilting designs in large and open areas can be used to repeat curves or angles appearing in other places on the quilt. Going back to our Irish Chain, you could carry the shamrocks or hearts into the border by quilting them in one of the borders. On a quilt using plaid fabric, you can create a plaid design with your quilting stitches, even in areas where you have placed solid fabric. Although some quilters may advise you differently, there are really very few rules when it comes to designing the quilting pattern for your top. However, understanding a few things about quilting does help. Quilting in the ditch anchors and sharpens the seam line so the seam looks as straight as it did when the top was pressed. In the ditch stitches also cause the adjacent pieces to puff up. Because your quilting stitches cause the fabric to recede, a line of quilting can create the illusion of a seam where there is none. Quilting across a seam line distorts that seam line and may soften the contrast between two pieces, thus easing the transition between areas on your top. Quilting through a fabric design will distort the design. If the fabric design element is something you want to keep, consider quilting around it. For example, if your fabric has flowers, then quilting around the outside of the flowers will make them puff up in your quilt top. Adding more background quilting - whether it is stippling or quilting a grid - will make the flowers puff up even more. The good news / bad news about quilting designs is that there are really no rules - only things that happen when you put quilting stitches in your quilt. Therefore, designing your quilting pattern, much like designing your quilt top, is very much an issue of personal taste and your idea of your final quilt. So, take those unfinished quilts out of the closet, and plan a quilting design, knowing that it cannot be wrong! And that however it is quilting, it is better to have the quilt being used on a couch or bed or viewed hanging on a wall than it is to have it hiding in your closet.
Penny Halgren http://www.How-to-Quilt.com Penny has been a quilter for more than 26 years and enjoys sharing her quilting knowledge with beginner quilters so they can avoid the mistakes she made as she was learning to quilt.