Beginner’s Guide to Building Quilt Designs for any Top


How do you know what to quilt on that quilt top? If you’ve ever asked this question, this guide is for you!

When considering quilting, there are many options you can choose from such as sending that top to a quilter, folding it and adding it to the quilt top stack hiding in the back of the closet, or even quilting lines from one end to the other and calling it good. All of these are fine options. But sometimes this unexplainable compulsion strikes – to quilt that top right then and there.

The top is spread on the design wall (or floor) with care (meaning the cat helps!) and the staring battle begins to see who will blink first: quilt or quilter?

Next time you find yourself in this predicament, consider the following beginning guidelines to get you quilting pronto – whether you are hand or machine quilting!

To begin, stabilize the quilt.

Using this week’s free pattern, take a look at the red lines on the quilt diagram below. 

Make the quilt sandwich, baste, and get to work stabilizing.

As you may notice, select ditches (seams) are marked to quilt first. If you are screaming – “WAIT I DON’T DO DITCHES” at your screen, quilt beside the ditch, near the ditch, or pick a strategic line nowhere near a ditch. The goal is to secure the general areas of the quilt, often a couple locations in each quadrant.

Notice the narrow borders are grouped together rather than ditching all of them. If you prefer to ditch all the main seam lines, you can.

Helpful Hint: Once you’ve decided which seams you will ditch to stabilize, make sure your seam allowances are all going one direction so your ditch won’t flip from side to side.

Pick a Focal Point

Take a look at the quilt top and decide where you want the viewer’s eye to go. Does the piecing lend to a specific focal point? Perhaps the colors give a clue? 

In the sample below, the focal point is marked with a yellow circle. 

Keep the focal point in mind for building the rest of the quilting design.

Artistic License – An enabling permission for an artist to do something completely different. Yes, you have an artistic license to use as liberally as needed! Nothing says you have to follow the piecing or coloring of a quilt to create a focal point. For example, in the quilt above, the focal point could be effectively pulled off in the center of any of the four quadrants instead.

Use the Piecing Intersections to Create Sections

Look at the points, corners, and seam intersections for clues to start creating divisions. 

The green triangle frame in this quilt has a cool squaring effect at the corners that is repeated in the center piecing and black border. Is there a way to use the existing points created by the seams to mark the quilt?

Take a look at the lines added below.

With a ruler and water-soluble marker, in no time, you are able to create an overall effect using nothing more than the quilt’s piecing as a guide. No measuring, no fussing, just match intersection to intersection. Let the quilt do the work for you.

Now you are ready to play. There are areas of color, shapes, and lines to fill with lines, curves, designs, or any combination.

With these basics building blocks you can conquer any quilt top. From here you can keep things simple or get as fancy as you want.

If you are cracking your knuckles and ready to get to work, but want more of a challenge, take a look at these iquilt online classes to increase your quilting vocabulary.

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Roberta Jones

This seems to presume that I have access to the entire quilt to stabilize regions. If I have a quilt loaded on my long arm machine, would I have to wind the quilt forward and back multiple times to follow an entire section top to bottom? Is that something that is OK to do?