How Do You Make Designs on a Quilt?

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Quilts often become family heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next.
Quilts often become family heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Quilting designs, stitched by hand or by machine, add texture and interest to provide the right finishing touch for your creation. After all the pieces are sewn to make a quilt top, quilters layer the top with batting and backing fabric and hold the whole quilt "sandwich" together by stitching through the three layers. Some quilters like a random, all-over design, called stippling, while others prefer elements such as feathers, flowers or other motifs. You can also follow the shapes of the quilt pieces, either by quilting along seam lines -- called "stitching in the ditch" -- or by quilting inside the shape, 1/4 inch from the seam.

Things You'll Need

  • Finished quilt top
  • Quilt batting, your choice of cotton, wool or poly blend
  • Backing fabric
  • Hand- or machine-quilting thread
  • Quilters' chalk or disappearing-ink pen
  • Quilt stencil (optional)

Prepare for Quilting

Piece backing fabric, as needed, so you have a whole piece of cloth that is about 3 inches longer on each side than your quilt top.

Spread out the backing fabric on a large, flat surface, with the right side (print side) of the fabric touching the surface and the wrong side facing you. On top of that, spread the layer of quilt batting. Finish the quilt sandwich by placing your finished quilt top on the batting. You now have a three-layer quilt "sandwich."

Use contrasting thread and large stitches to baste together the quilt layers. This prevents the layers from slipping when you quilt your design. Some quilters prefer to hold layers together with an adhesive spray made just for this purpose. The spray is available at most quilt shops and crafts supply stores.

Stitching in a quilt adds a design element and holds the quilt layers together.
Stitching in a quilt adds a design element and holds the quilt layers together. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Mark the Design

Use a quilters' stencil and quilters' chalk to mark the design if you wish. Or, use the quilters' pen to mark with the stencil or draw freehand. Stencils are available with a wide variety of motifs, even stippling. You won't need to mark the quilt if you "stitch in the ditch" or quilt 1/4 inch from the seam.

Use the registration marks on the stencil to ensure design repeats are spaced accurately.

Use the quilters' pen instead of chalk, if you like. The ink is made to disappear after the first washing, but test the fabric with scraps ahead of time to make sure.

Quilt the Design

Hand-quilt using a short quilters' needle and thread made specifically for hand-quilting. Quilt through all layers with tiny stitches along the marked lines, if you have them. Or, if you prefer to machine-quilt, use thread made specifically for machine-quilting. If you're using a regular sewing machine instead of a long-arm quilting machine, be sure to drop the feed dog and use a walking foot as directed by the manufacturer.

Trim the batting and backing after the design is completely quilted.

Add binding using your favorite method. Remove basting stitches.

Tips & Warnings

  • Create the look of a well-loved antique by machine-washing and drying the finished quilt. If you've used 100 percent cotton fabric that was not prewashed, it will shrink slightly during the washing and drying process. The fabric will pull a bit at the quilted design, creating a wonderful soft, slightly bumpy texture.

References

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