The Free Motion Quilting Project: When in Doubt, Hang it Up!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When in Doubt, Hang it Up!

One of the #1 questions I get asked both online via email and comments, and offline at workshops and quilt shows is:

How do I know where to put each design?
How do I know what will look good over my quilt?

The truth is, you really can use any of the designs from the project ANYWHERE on your quilts.

Yes, some designs will work easier in some areas than others, but with trial and error and experience using the designs you can figure out where they will work best for you.

But how do you know where to get started?

Trying the designs sounds easy, until you try to pick just 1 out of all 276 of them! Recently I've started rolling dice to get a number and seeing if I like the design it corresponds with.

Here's a less random idea - take your time and really LOOK at your quilt. Stare at it for a few days or weeks or months until inspiration winks at you and suggests the right design.

Basically this boils down to my favorite advice:

When in doubt, Hang it Up!

This literally means hang your quilt top on a wall, and not just any wall. I think the very best walls to hang troublesome tops on is your living or dining room wall, right in the middle of your house where you will see it first thing in the morning and can eat all your meals staring at it.

Why? Because even if your quilt is a bed quilt, it really helps to LOOK at it, stare at it, focus on it and really see all that is going on.

And I'm not just meaning this for art quilters! Traditionally pieced quilts often are far more complex and have millions of quilt design possibilities, but it's hard to SEE the quilt fully when you just unfold the top and look at it on a table for a few minutes.

On a wall, you will see connections between blocks and finally be able to look beyond your favorite fabrics to see the total quilt design. On the wall you can make decisions about what piecing or applique lines to pay attention to, and which to ignore.

And you can decide what your favorite areas of the quilt are, where you want to focus more attention, and it's just a short step from there to figuring out what type of texture you want in those areas.

I know hanging a quilt works because I do it all the time. Before I jump into quilting, I always hang the quilt on the wall and stare at it for at least two weeks, sometimes longer. I had Eye of the Forest on my wall for a full year until Josh got fed up with it being unfinished.

I hang my tops on the wall with simple thumb tacks in the corners and middle.

Yes, according to the Quilt Police, that is probably illegal and I should be burned at the stake for it, but I do it anyway and it hasn't hurt any of my quilts. (Note - when in doubt cut your borders 2" wider than you're actually going to quilt them and then it won't matter what happens to the edges at all)

Last night I realized something else important - hanging helps at all stages in a quilt.

The quilting is done on Hot Cast and I've been painting the surface for a few weeks now. I had some general plans for how this should go, but one area in the columns has been giving me fits. Usually I would just muscle through an area like this, but when I talked to Josh about it he just asked "Why don't you take a break on it and hang it up for a few days?"

Wonderful advice! Last night I picked her up off the table, pinned a temporary hanging sleeve on the top and hung her in my dining room, where she will stay until I'm sure about the direction I'm going in.

This is also a great way to have several projects going on at once. I needed to use the tables to get 2 quilt tops together quickly, but Hot Cast was taking up all the room. Rather than feel forced to finish her immediately, hanging her up in the dining room has allowed me to take a slight break without her becoming a UFO.

As soon as these two tops are marked and basted, the tables will be clear again and I will probably be ready to take Hot Cast off the wall and finish painting her.

To sum up, hanging a quilt up can achieve so many things:
  • Really SEE the quilt and all the areas of design. Looking at the quilt in this way may allow you to see designs within the quilt top that you never saw before.
  • Make choices on the quilting design - does that area need a big Super Spiral or a simple Pivoting Design? Do you want flowing movement or a definite horizontal texture?
  • Take a break without creating UFOs - When space is at a premium, folding and putting a quilt away may sound like the best option, but you definitely won't get a brain wave on the quilting design with the quilt in the closet!
  • Sample time - While the quilt is on the wall, play with stitching out a few designs from the project on 4" squares. Try using the same fabrics your quilt was made out of. Pin these samples to your quilt and see how the textures look in those areas. This would be a great way to try out different thread colors and different designs to see all the possibilities for your quilts.
Just try it and see what I'm talking it about! Take a bit more time looking at your quilt, enjoy living with it on your wall, and take it down only when you're confident about the quilting designs you've chosen.

I promise this will lead to quilts you're much happier with, quilting designs you feel more confident about using, and a process that feels a lot more natural and easy.

Now let's go quilt!



  1. Leah
    After I've stared at my quilt top on the wall for a while, I often pin tracing paper over it (the kind that comes in a long, wide roll) and sketch quilting designs on the paper. This is particularly useful in figuring out transitions between one design and another across the spaces of the quilt. I annotate the paper with name of design and color of thread for each space. The paper then serves as my roadmap as I quilt.

  2. Gotta love my Design Walls for just that reason. Then spending a few days sleeping on it is always a good thing when in doubt. Thansk for your inspiration to keep going.

  3. to hang quilts easily without damaging the quilt use your old sewing machine needles. i've even used a hammer to secure them into wood walls.

  4. I'd like to note that whilte it is a good idea to hang them so you can look at them easily... don't leave them there long!! I did this with one of mine when trying to decide on borders and quilting and it stretched out of whack so I have a wonky edge. It made the quilting and everything else rather difficult :(


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