The Free Motion Quilting Project: 5 Tips for Echo Stitching

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

5 Tips for Echo Stitching

Last week we learned 5 Tips for Travel Stitching. I hope that has helped you master this first fundamental step to free motion quilting.

The good thing is if you haven't mastered traveling, that certainly doesn't mean you will never be able to free motion quilt.

In fact, there are many designs that don't use any traveling at all.

Instead of traveling, many designs use Echo Quilting or Echoing to maintain a set distance between the lines of quilting.

Echoing creates a very different texture and effect than travel stitching. Rather than building up thread and intentionally making an area darker, echoing simply outlines a shape a set distance away. It adds ripples of stitching that enhance the angles and curves of the shape without actually making it stand out more on the surface of the quilt.

The best way to see the effect Echo Quilting can have is to look at a Hawaiian Quilt. This is Elaine Zinn's beautiful Hawaiian Quilt I fell in love with last year. The quilting simply echoes the central shape repeatedly until the entire space is filled.

So how do you master Echoing? How can this fundamental technique of free motion quilting become easier for you to stitch?

Here's a few tips to get you started:

1. Visibility is #1 - Just like with Travel Stitching, visibility is absolutely essential for Echoing. If you can't see where your first line of stitches is, how in the world are you going to be able to echo quilt it accurately?

For Echoing, I find it harder to estimate the quilting space if the quilt isn't positioned properly. If the angle feels weird, chances are your echo is going to look weird.

Rotate the quilt, squish the bulk around, and get it into another position so you can see what you're doing and move the quilt smoothly and naturally.

free motion quilting | Leah Day2. Use those edges - The edges of your free motion foot can be helpful guides for echoing. Try stitching a straight line, then use the left side of your foot as a guide and echo that straight line down a practice square.

Then stitch another straight line and use the right side of your foot as a guide. This helps to keep the lines a consistent distance apart, and will start training your body and eyes to see and estimate the space more easily.

Note - Once you get used to echo quilting, you may find that using the edges of your quilting foot can actually create more mistakes. This is a sign to stop focusing on the edge of your foot and instead simply eyeball the space you're quilting into and the distance between your needle and the last line of quilting.

3. Draw it until you can see it - Using the edges of your foot works great when you're echoing, but when you need to echo all the way around an object, the back and front of the foot won't work as guides anymore. In these cases, it helps to simply mark the echoes on your fabric and stitch on the line.

free motion quilting | Leah DayMost of echoing is about training your eyes to see the space, and your hands to know how and where to move to maintain it. Until you can visualize the echo easily, marking a line will work great to not only make the echo perfect, but also help you see where that line goes and how to move at all times.

free motion quilting | Leah Day4. Mistakes can be beautiful - For this heart, I intentionally made my echo weave in and out, coming closer to and farther away from the shape. Because I stitched it consistently bad, it actually ended up looking pretty good!

Stopping to rip out every single mistake really is a waste of time and energy. Spend a bit of time practicing on squares so if you mess up you can just throw it in the trash rather than taking the time to rip it all out.

5. Start with some simple Echoing Designs - We have two design types that are entirely dependent on echo stitching - Echoing Designs and Foundational Designs.

Pick any of these following designs and stitch it over a large quilt. Even if it's just a baby quilt, any amount of stitching is good practice and will help you build this skill quickly.

Keep in mind that Traveling and Echoing are simply skills, just like brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, and piecing a quilt block.

Chances are you weren't perfect at any of those things the first couple times you tried it. But the more you do it, the better you get! Here's a good practice idea for learning how to Echo Stitch:

Take a 10" square of fabric and fuse a simple applique shape into the center.

Sandwich this block and then start quilting around the heart, echoing the shape around and around until the entire block is filled:

free motion quilting | Leah DayNow do it again! And again and again until you an echo quilt in your sleep. Notice how my echoes are really wide this time - about 1/2" apart throughout. This keeps the block soft and cuddly because the quilting isn't dense. The closer your lines of quilting, the more dense and stiff your quilt will be.

Put all the blocks together and turn this into a simple baby quilt for charity or a new baby in your family.

Once you get bored just echo quilting around a shape, try Echo Shell, Brain Coral, Trippy Triangles, Desert Sand, Ocean Current, or Jagged Plain. All of these designs require loads of echoing and are a great way to practice and get the hang of this technique.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm ready to jump on the machine and stitch the day away!

Let's go quilt!



  1. Nothing to do with echo quilting, but just seen the 2011 Knoxville winners list - congratulations from the UK

    "Best Home Machine Workmanship Award
    #408 WINTER WONDERLAND, Leah Day, Shelby, NC"

  2. You are such an encourager. I love your work!

  3. Leah, you have been such an inspiration and source of excellent instruction on free motion quilting! I'm quite behind the times here reading this, I know lol, but I'm just wondering if anyone could explain to me please what a "echo-stitching foot" is? I recently bought a free motion foot set for my Janome, and although they listed the name of the feet, there's nothing on exactly what this odd looking foots function actually is! (It is rather reminiscent of a target bull's eye actually!).
    Thank you for all you give so much to all of us newbie free-motion quilters out here, and I cannot begin to tell you how appreciated all your hard work actually is!

    1. Hi Wendy - An echo stitching foot is a darning foot usually with a wider base that is used to visually guide you as you echo stitch. However, it's absolutely possible to echo quilt without this foot! I personally don't like them much because the foot is usually closed which blocks my view of the needle. Practice is always the key, not really the foot!


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