Once you have basted your quilt parts, the next step that you will need to tackle is the actual quilting. This is where all the layers are stitched together to make the final quilt, and can be done in a number of different ways:

Marking Up Your Quilting

Regardless of which method of quilting you choose, you will sometimes need to mark where your quilting will go. While many hand quilters eyeball their stitches, others, along with domestic machine quilters, will use tools such as heat/air/water erasable pens, hera markers or masking/washi/painters tape to indicate where their stitches should go. I tend to use heat erasable pens (and yes, I’ve done that on a competition quilt!) or hera markers. Whatever you use beware of the following:

  • Heat erasable pens can come back in extreme cold (perhaps don’t store your quilts in the arctic ;o) ) j/k, you can always run an iron over them again, but a wash generally takes it all out
  • Air erasable pens can disappear too quickly, and if you touch them with an iron, can set the colour into the top
  • Water erasable pens will also set with an iron, and are not always that easy to wash out without a full washing machine wash.
  • Tapes can be sewn over – while this doesn’t sound like a bad thing, unpicking bits of tape from stitching is annoying (ask me how I know!)

Hand Quilting

This is the most traditional way of quilting, started long before Isaac Singer produced the first domestic sewing machines. As the name suggests, the quilter stitches the layers together by hand, sometimes with decorative thread. A frame or hoop can be used to help to keep everything taut during the quilting process, and traditionally there were quilting frames large enough for entire groups of people to sit around and hand quilt. The stitching used can highlight elements of the quilt top, or be more utilitarian and simply hold the quilt together.

Unfortunately my hands don’t allow me to hand quilt, but my friend Susan made me this lovely pincushion in a swap a few years ago, complete with hand quilting:

Hand Tying

For those that didn’t have the luxury of spending days/weeks/years hand quilting their creations in pre-machine days, or perhaps didn’t have enough friends, tying allowed for a relatively quick finish. This technique, generally used with simple quilt tops, involves using thicker threads such as embroidery thread or yarn along with a tapestry needle to make a couple of short stitches, around 1/4″ in length, on top of each other and through all 3 layers of your quilt, leaving ends of around 2″-3″ for the actual tying. The ends are then tied together in a double knot and the tails trimmed to around 1″ in length.

I was hoping to have an example finished for you today, but I think it might be next week, sorry!

Domestic Machine Quilting

One of the most common ways to quilt these days is to use your home sewing machine. There are a few common types of domestic machine quilting:

Stitch In The Ditch

Whenever I hear this I have visions of people sitting in a mud and water filled channel, wrestling with a sodden quilt, however what ‘Stitch In The Ditch’ actually means is to sew along some or all of the seamlines in the quilt top. From the back you might get an interesting pattern, but from the top it’s meant to be pretty much invisible. It’s a technique often taught to beginners, although I think it’s a little unfair to do so as it really needs you to be able to sew in a straight line, often the entire length or width of a quilt, and shifting the bulk of the quilt around can nudge you off course very easily. Unfortunately it’s not very forgiving if you do go off course, especially if the thread contrasts with the bit of fabric you wobbled onto.

Echo Quilting

Echo quilting is used to highlight a specific shape by adding stitching lines relatively close to, but not on the edge of, the shape itself. Echoes can be done outside or inside a shape, and can be a single row or multiple rows of stitching. I tend to think of it as more forgiving than ‘Stitch In The Ditch’ as it’s a bit less obvious when you wobble!

Straight Line Quilting

This is exactly as it sounds, sewing straight lines, often from edge to edge of the quilt, often in a grid parallel to or at 45 degrees to the edge. More modern interpretations have gone off at wild and wacky angles, but they’re all essentially the same thing, where the sitches are all in a nice straight line.

Matchstick Quilting

This is a more extreme form of straight line quilting where the rows of stitching are very close together, leaving a texture like a row of matchstitcks. This type of dense quilting tends to lead to a stiffer quilt more suited to hanging on the wall than snuggling under.

Free Motion Quilting

In free motion quilting (often just referred to as FMQ) the feed dogs that operate under the foot plate in the sewing machine are generally covered or disengaged in some way, allowing the quilt top to move freely underneath the needle. In effect you use the needle to draw your pattern, and since there are no feed dogs to inhibit you, you can do all sorts of patterns including quite tight curves and swirls.

Ruler Work

This concept is a relatively recent import from the long arm quilting world, but involves holding a template or ruler in place on your quilt top and following the shape with the needle. In the same way as FMQ, the feed dogs are covered or disengaged to allow for free movement along with the ruler.

Domestic Quilting Feet

There are a few feet that are generally used in Domestic Quilting:

Walking/Even Feed Foot

With the exception of free motion quilting, domestic machine quilters tend to use walking or even feed feet which have feed dogs in the foot that match up with the feed dogs in the machine thereby ensuring that the fabric at the top and the bottom is fed through at the same time. They can come with removable guides, often a bar which slides through the back of the foot, and are used to line up with the edge of a seam or a previous line of quilting to help ensure straight and/or specifically spaced lines.  The washi tape on mine below is to stop me accidentally knocking the guide out of position when I turn the quilt, I learned that one the hard way!

Darning/Free Motion Foot

Free motion quilting uses a set of feet which have a small surface area, with either a closed or open, circular or oval ‘toe’ which give you good visibility of your work area. They often have springs built in, but there are some older style ones which only have an arm that goes over the screw that holds the needle in place.

Ruler Foot

Similar to a free motion foot, this ic a special foot which is specifically designed to work with quilting rulers.

Long Arm Quilting

Long arm sewing machines are a bit like your domestic sewing machine, but on steroids. Used along with a frame that holds the quilt sandwich in place on rollers, they have a very large throat/harp space which allows them to go all the way between the rollers on the frame, giving a quilting area of the width of the frame by around 18″ – 26″ (depending on the machine). Unlike a domestic machine, long arms are strictly for quilting, as they are basically giant machines for FMQ. It’s not terribly common to have a long arm in your house though, so people talk about ‘sending their quilts out’ to a longarmer to do for them. Pricing is often done by the square inch, regardless of the style of quilting chosen, so you should be able to estimate how much it might cost you before you start discussions. Common types of long arm quilting are:


These basically use a computer programmed pattern to create the quilting patterns. There are a huge number of options available, and pantograph quilting is generally the cheapest option when sending your quilt out. My giant clamshell quilt went down to Cath of Cumbrian Long Arm Quilting who pantographed my clams with about 20 different patterns, mixed throughout. I chose this because it effectively gave me customisation without stressing the long armer out trying to replicate in freehand that many patterns dotted around the quilt.  I had some issues getting close up photos of this on Saturday as it was chucking it down and I didn’t want to drown my quilt holders, but I’ll try and get some pics this week on the one day that it apparently won’t rain…

All Over Pattern

This can refer to a pantograph, or can be done freehand, depending on the long armer, but as the name suggests, you end up with the same pattern all over your quilt. For long armers that don’t offer pantographs, this is generally a cheaper option than customised quilting.

Customised Quilting

This is the extra special option for your quilt, perfect for special occasions, or for the quilt top that you have laboured over for months using your most precious of stash fabrics. This is where things such as gorgeous feathers and curliques appear, where each little section of your blocks may be highlighted in a different pattern, and can be entirely free hand, or have some use of rulers to guide certain shapes. It’s where your long armer can really strut their stuff to make your quilt shine. This is the most expensive of the quilting options, but oh so worth it if you can save up for it! I adore the feather quilting on this bee quilt by Trudi Wood

Mid Arm Quilting

This is a sort of halfway point between a domestic and a long arm. With a throat/harp space between a small domestic and a long arm, they can be a sit down machine, where the head of the machine is fixed over fair sized a table, or a machine used on a dolly on a small frame that can be moved around like a long arm. They are restricted to free motion quilting in the same way as long arms, and some have a limited pantograph option.