Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a “Help! How Do I Quilt it?” class at my shop. It’s fun seeing everyone’s beautiful quilt tops and giving suggestions for quilting designs. Since I don’t have to actually do any of the machine quilting, I can suggest anything……how about micro-stippling around trapunto feathers? Just kidding, there were no crazy complex or difficult suggestions. In fact, one thing that I said over and over was that quilting doesn’t have to be difficult to be effective.

To illustrate my point, I took the class on a field trip to the front of the quilt shop and pointed out the quilt that I feel illustrates that point so very well.

quilt with tula and angela

Tumbler Quilt Designed by Tula Pink

The Tumbler quilt is one of the 17 quilts featured in the book I wrote with Tula Pink, “Quilt with Tula & Angela”. It showcases the one thing that most of us already know, Tula Pink is genius with colors. The colors in this vibrant quilt give it a 3D illusion. My only job as the machine quilter was to not mess it up! I am sure some of you feel like that sometimes, so here are three steps for interesting quilting (without making it difficult!):

  1. Use contrast to highlight portions of the blocks.

contrast in machine quilting

Contrast just means using different quilting designs next to each other. They could have different densities, different directions or different shapes.

For instance, let’s look at the quiting in the “red” blocks. Since they are darker, I used designs with different densities and different directions to highlight the 3D illusion.

(When I talk about the density of quilting, I am only talking about the space between the lines of quilting. The closer the lines are, the more dense the quilting design is, and visa versa. It doesn’t matter what type of quilting design you use, it can be quilted more or less densely.)

In the darkest portion of the block, the lines are at most 1/4” apart. I quilted the lines just under 1/2” apart in the medium color and about 1/2” apart in the lightest color.

The contrast helps illusion of depth. The lines don’t just have different densities, they have contrast in directions; horizontal, vertical and diagonally

2.  When you are bored with Step #1, start quiting an allover design.

wavy line quilting designs

If I could give you just one quilting motto, it would be, “You don’t have to do hard stuff on the whole quilt.”  Sometimes quilters (myself included) can get into the mindset that the quilting on the whole quilt needs to complex and time-consuming. No wonder machine quilting gets such a bad rap! Instead of getting bored, try switching to a different, quicker allover quilting design.

In the orange and green blocks I quilted the Wavy, Wavy allover design from Shape By Shape Quilting. It was so much quicker to quilt and a nice break from the ruler work. (When quilting on a longarm I use rulers to quilt diagonal lines. The lines look great but it slows me down.)

If I don’t want to admit that I was being lazy, I just give an artistic reason. Something like, “I just love the juxtaposition of the wavy lines with the angular lines in the red blocks. It speaks to me on a cellular level.”  (Hint: If I use the word “juxtapose” I am completely joking. It’s my “sound like I went to art school” word.)

It doesn’t matter which allover design you use. Pick one you want to practice or one that you are super comfortable with…especially if you are listening to a good part in an audiobook and you don’t want miss any details. (How interested I am in an audiobook has been known to affect the designs I decide to use in a quilt. Just saying!)

3. To keep from getting bored in Step #2, quilt random blocks differently.

machine quilting star shapes

This is the secret to fun quilting! If you get bored while quilting, it means that you might not be using enough quilting designs. Try quilting random blocks differently from the rest of the quilt. It let’s you practice new techniques without committing to doing it over a whole quilt.

In the Tumbler quilt, I combined some of the blocks to make a star-shaped block. Creating secondary designs with quilting designs is one of my favorite ways to amuse myself while quilting.

dot to dot quilting

Try playing around with variations of designs you have already used. This Dot to Dot design requires no marking and just uses the corners of the tumbler as reference points. It’s one of my favorite ways to quilt blocks. (I’m starting to notice that every design is my “favorite” one to use……hmmm)

In other blocks, I would quilt them as if they were red blocks. Why? I don’t know, it just sounded fun.

Let me point out that I can get away with using so many different designs because I use thread colors that match the quilt. Doing so allows the texture of quilting to show without overwhelming the quilt top. But remember, thread color, as with everything else in quilting, is completely a personal preference!

Did I use groundbreaking and completely original quilting designs? Definitely not. Was it still effective? I like to think so. I love how it used simple shapes to create interesting textures and I didn’t get bored in the process. To me, that is the definition of effective quilting.

Here’s the thing, no matter what quilting designs you pick or which thread color you prefer, the most important thing is that you finish the quilt. A finished quilt is always better than a perfect quilt top. So the next time you are stumped on how to quilt your quilts, just get started!