Quilting the Modern Quilt


By Weeks Ringle

When we asked quilters to tell us the hardest part of making a modern quilt, almost all responded that planning and executing the quilting was challenging. Many who send their quilts to longarm quilters admitted to relinquishing the decision making to the longarmer, who might not understand that modern quilts are often quilted differently.

SMALL CHANGE, 48" x 72". Jim White Photography.

Other quilters, at a loss of how to approach the quilting, used echo quilting to reinforce the shapes of the pieces or stitched in the ditch. Never fear, more interesting options abound.

Reinforcing the design

Detail, TREEHOUSE, 84" x 98"

In some cases, the best strategy for quilting is to reinforce the design intention of the quilt through the quilting. For example, our TREEHOUSE quilt was inspired by the branches of a tree outside our bedroom.



The branches are the focal point of the quilt. By leaving them unquilted and quilting densely the area around them, the “branches” in the piecing become more prominent and add a nice texture to the quilt.

We used a similar strategy with the ¼” magenta bands in our NOW BOARDING (shown below) quilt. If the focal element is too large to leave unquilted or would look messy to do so, consider changing thread colors, which would also reinforce the major design element.

NOW BOARDING, 72" x 48"

The yellow elements in our BLOWING IN THE WIND (American Quilter, March 2013, page 28) quilt required a similar approach. For our GOOD FIT (shown below) quilt, we changed threads and scale, using a simple stipple with white thread for the field and a smaller scale version of the same stitch in red for the ovals.

Contrasting quilting to add an additional design layer

SANCTUARY, 97" x 108"

If the quilt is busy, sometimes the focus has to remain on the fabric or the shapes of the pieces, in which case a simple all-over approach is your best bet. Intricate quilting patterns or threads would have competed visually with the extremely complex piecing of our SANCTUARY quilt so we opted for a simple pattern.

Our SMALL CHANGE (first image) quilt shows that a contrasting quilting pattern for hand quilting and contrasting thread color makes a simple collection of squares very modern.

As a rule of thumb, consider a simple quilting pattern for a busy quilt and a busy quilting pattern for a simple quilt and you’ll never need to stitch in the ditch again.

GOOD FIT, 30" x 23"
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