The Free Motion Quilting Project: Quilting a Real Quilt #1

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Quilting a Real Quilt #1

A few days ago, I received this question on the blog from Maresan:

I wondered when doing this on a real quilt where do you start and stop and does this depend on the size of the quilt?

I decided to not include this with Question Thursday #1 simply because I'd like the chance to go into more detail and ask for input from you as well. We all quilt differently, and so long as it works, these are all viable methods for getting the quilting stitches on a quilt.

I'd say my most general rule for quilting a real quilt is this:

I always start quilting in the middle of the quilt.

I do this largely out of habit. I was taught to baste my quilts from the middle, then quilt from the middle because the fabrics would evenly smooth out. Any extra fabric or batting would be pushed to the edges and not create puddles or pleats on the back.

I also like quilting from the middle because it knocks out the hardest part of the quilt first. Once the middle is complete, you'll have less bulk to squish under the arm of your machine and it's much easier to quilt.

Keep in mind that Wednesday's Quilt Along wasn't a real quilt. I was quilting on a practice sandwich, in which case you can start wherever you like. I worked from edge to edge along the narrow side so I could show each version of stippling in a row.
free motion quilting | Leah DayBut now I'm going to get annoyingly vague: I don't plan to follow my "quilt from the middle" rule when it comes to modern quilts.

Why? Because I figure if I'm not following any set rule with piecing a modern quilt, why should I quilt it following any set rule either?

Modern Quilting, for me at least, is an act of total freedom of creation. Nothing is wrong. Anything goes. The piecing and the quilting should both reflect this idea, so for these quilts at least, I'm going to quilt them however I feel like it.

Which leads to a simple, rather overwhelming fact:

There are a million ways to quilt a quilt.

Way back when I created the How Do I Quilt This? Series, I began to realize just how many options you have with quilting a quilt. Part of the reason why I didn't finish that series is because it's scope was so embarrassingly limited from the beginning. I couldn't possibly show or teach even a quarter of what I wanted to with those 4 little quilts.

But now that we're a bit unfettered from the bonds of posting tons of new designs and I can start focusing more on this issue with detail.

These posts will be called "Quilting a Real Quilt" and we probably won't have them on any set day of the week, just whenever the mood strikes. Mostly this will give me a chance to look at quilt tops and share the options I see when it comes to designs and quilting order (where to start, where to go next, etc).

Keep in mind that with any particular quilt top, there's probably a million options when it comes to quilting it! I can't possibly show you ALL the ways you can quilt a quilt, but I can at least start to demystify this part of the quilting process.

If you remember WAY back to the very beginning of the project, you might remember a series of posts with the same goal. Again, my scope was a bit limited at the time, but they're still good posts for understanding how to quilt a real quilt.

Here's the links to all of these older posts all in one place so you can easily read each article:

free motion quilting | Leah DayHow to Quilt a Sampler Quilt | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Sampler quilt created by Randi L and designed and taught by Annie Smith

How to Quilt a Log Cabin Quilt | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Log Cabin Quilt created by Meredith K.

How to Quilt Patchwork Quilts
Quilt created by Guilitta, designed by Bonnie Hunter

Enjoy these old articles dug up from the past, and remember with Wednesday's Quilt Along - whether it's in a real quilt or a practice sandwich, quilt your rows of simple stippling designs however it feels right for YOU!

I'm going to shut up and quilt now!

Leah Day


  1. You are right when you say there are a million ways to quilt! Each quilter has her/his own style, but it's fascinating to peek over your virtual shoulder as you go through the design process. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I learned to quilt from you at first, so I began to quilt from the center outwards. This worked well for all the reasons you mentioned, i.e., excess fabric gets pushed out, it gets easier as you go, etc.
    However I recently made a quilt and decided to use a large scale foundational design over the entire surface. Now, unless you want an end in the middle, this has to be done starting and stopping on the edge.
    I found that if I took more time getting the back of my quilt really flat and taped down before basting, that there was no extra fabric in the middle and it really wasn't any harder. I just had to turn my quilt under the machine to which ever "quadrant", as you call it, I was working on.

    Time to shut up and quilt eh? :)

  3. Thank you so much Leah for referring to my question about quilting and where to start, etc. Boy, my thinking is so rigid and black and white at times that your comments, suggestions and thoughts are such a big relief to me. I am beginning to go easier on myself in the way I approach quilting and how to "do" things and not to do them a certain way or even think about perfection. You are such an inspiration to me and I want to thank you for all you share.
    You are indeed a very special young woman.


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