Choosing quilting designs

Laura wrote:

Mary, in a separate blog post, would you consider walking us through your process for deciding which pantograph to choose and the tightness/spacing/size of the design. I know some of that is determined by the manufacturer’s recommendation printed on the batting label. And if you have a lot of small pieces, you might want some quilting to run across there. I see no long-term functional benefit to stitch-in-the-ditch; esthetic, yes, but functional no. If it’s a log cabin type, do you choose something with some curves? I guess these how and why questions would be answered in an online quilting tutorial?

Laura is right, the first consideration is the batting and the recommended distance between quilting lines. I mostly use Hobbs 80/20 or Pellon 80/20. The Hobbs should be quilted every 4 inches and the Pellon every 8-10 inches although I NEVER leave that much space between my quilting lines and I would say that most of my quilting is 4 inches or less without being dense. I don’t like dense quilting – it’s just not cuddly and my quilts are meant to be cuddly!

Curvy lines do look good on straight line piecing but I don’t usually overthink think this. When choosing a quilting design I think about the following:

  • First, does the quilt have a theme … autumn or woodsy? I think leaves… for a loved one? Hearts…. the sea? … a watery meander… a floral theme? Flowers.
  • Second, I do think about the piecing and if straight line or curvy quilting would enhance it best.
  • Is it a “girl” quilt or a “guy” quilt? That might determine if I use feathers or flowers or something more geometric and “masculine”.
  • I also look at the piecing and the size of my motifs …. will I actually see the leaves or the hearts or will I just see lines? In some cases I will downsize a design so the motif is more noticeable. It’s one thing I love about the Pantovision on my Innova. I just quilted the same design on two quilts but on the second one, I felt the heart motif needed to be smaller.
  • In an ideal world, I’d freehand quilt as much as I’d quilt pantographs but I probably do more pantographs. However, swirls, dwirling , leaves, freehand baptist fans, and overall freehand designs are favorites of mine.

Ebb and Flow is a favorite pantograph for veteran quilts.

Freehand baptist fans look great on traditional and string quilts.

I even like to hand quilt using the “ big stitch” method.


  1. Hi Mary! Great topic – thank you Laura. It’s one of those questions that is hard to answer, isn’t it? It’s as if the quilt tells you how to quilt it. But for those of us that are filled with angst over the how-to, it seems like our quilts don’t tell us. HAHA! I think it’s more that we’re not listening but once you set aside the anxiousness a design pops into your head that always works. And truthfully, no one really cares and won’t look at it nearly as critically as you do. {{Hugs}} ~smile~ Roseanne

  2. May I add one more thought to your list? The choice of the density of a design can also be affected by the size of the pieces and the amount of seams and intersections the machine has to stitch through. For quilts of many small HST’s, flying geese and broken dishes, simple, curving and flowing work best. I like to avoid panto’s with backtracking for these types of quilts too.

  3. Great post, Mary! I am still wanting to learn the quilting process on my Bernina 770. I might even be able to do a couple of these designs with some practice. Currently I mostly do crosshatching which I like, but getting tired of it. And I only do small projects. Thank you for these ideas!

  4. Thanks, Mary, for tackling my questions. They arose while seated next to my bed, studying my well-used family quilt. I’m guessing the fabrics are no newer than the 1940s. I’m not sure which side of the family it came from. (I should hurry and see if Mom remembers.) But if it’s one that I slept on or under at a grandparent’s home, it was OLD in the 1960s. The self-binding, folded from the back to front, wasn’t sturdy enough. Many seams have popped open, mainly on the outer block that would have received the most tugging and handling. It seems the maker used 1/8” seam allowance. That’s another reason why seams are open. The solid red used for sashing, and the solid black have frequent shredded areas. The shirtings that make up most of the pieces are definitely stronger fabrics.

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