Love Your Longarmer: How to Choose a Quilting Design


Ebony LoveI put out a question a while back on my Facebook page asking people what their biggest challenges were when it came to quilting, and one of the topics that came up over and over was about choosing quilting designs.

Choosing a design is a challenge, and I get stuck quite often. It’s nothing to be concerned about! Very few of my quilts leave my sewing machine with the quilting already decided, and many will percolate on a hanger for a bit before inspiration strikes.

I do have ways of getting unstuck, or at least ways of narrowing down my choices, so I’ll share my process with you in the hopes that it helps you choose your next design.

Pick a Style

The first decision I make about a quilt is whether I will do an allover design or something different in each area. There are so many things you can do, and sometimes the infinite array of choices leads to decision paralysis. I look at the time I have available, whether the quilt is more of a showpiece or utilitarian, and whether the quilt itself will benefit from a custom design.
If you have a quilt made with very busy fabrics, it may be a waste of your time & talent to do something custom. When you can’t see the quilting design, or the quilt is destined to become a couch fort, what you quilt doesn’t matter much.

How to Choose a Quilting Design - Busy Quilt Fabric

If you are working with a longarmer on your project, this decision has a significant impact on what you end up paying. Custom quilting is more expensive than an allover design that can be quilted from one edge to the other.

Pick a Method

Will you be quilting freehand, using a computer, using rulers and templates, or a combination of these?

When you choose your method, it narrows down the types of designs that you have access to. For example, if I wanted to use rulers, I’m limited to the rulers I have (or the rulers I’m willing to purchase.) If I’m quilting freehand, I won’t be able to execute perfectly straight or precision designs, so I’ll be limited to my current talent & skill level.

Again, these decisions impact the price you pay for longarm service. You may find that an allover, computerized design is more expensive than an allover freehand design, based on the complexity.

Study the Quilt for Inspiration

As you look at the fabrics and shapes in your quilt, do you see designs you want to mimic or introduce into the quilting design? An example from one of my own projects is my Sewing Bee quilt. One of the fabrics had a 5-petal flower, and I used that shape as a huge motif in my quilting.

How to Choose a Quilting Design - Taking Inspiration - Bee

Perhaps there isn’t a specific shape from the quilt or the fabrics, but your quilt has a theme or is related to a certain topic. Perhaps you’re making a quilt for a friend and they are a lover of cowboy boots, so you choose a design where you can incorporate a pair of boots.

How to Choose a Quilting Design - Taking Inspiration - Houses

Play Opposites Day

A quilt with a lot of hard, straight lines often begs for curves. Any time I have a quilt that’s primarily made of rectangles and squares, my brain immediately goes to spirals, circles, loops, and arcs to soften those lines.

How to Choose a Quilting Design - Playing Opposites

A quilt with softer shapes and rounded edges can benefit from some hard angles and spikey shapes. Even parallel lines can add interest, and they don’t need to be perfect.

Phone a Friend

I have no shame in reaching out to friends for advice. I have a couple of friends who I message on a regular basis and ask for their advice on what to quilt. I’m always ready to return the favor.
This is the most fun I have choosing quilt designs: bouncing ideas off people I trust. There have been times when we’ve texted each other back and forth for hours, sending photos of progress and sharing how a suggestion worked out.

Do Some Doodling

When a design decision gets overwhelming or I’m just not sure what to do, it helps me to pull out some tools to sketch my ideas before I put thread to fabric.
I develop sketches in a few different ways. Sometimes I grab a piece of scratch paper and doodle with a pencil. Another technique I use is to print out a line drawing of the quilt or a block. I use Electric Quilt 7 for my pattern design, so it’s easy to get an outline drawing printed that I can use for sketching.

At times, I’ll doodle directly over the quilt! I use Quilter’s Preview Paper, which is a long roll of clear plastic; or Press n’ Seal, which is slightly tacky to the touch and stays put. Once I’m satisfied with a sketch, I’ll hang these doodles on the wall or have them near my quilt to use as a guide.

How to Choose a Quilting Design - Sketching with Press 'n Seal

Set It Aside

At the end of the day, if you still can’t decide on a design… set it aside. Lay it on a table, hang it on a hanger, lay it across the bed in your spare room, and then stop thinking about it. It will come to you eventually.

What would it take to get you to try longarm quilting? Tag @lovebugstudios on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with your questions and comments!

Comments (2)

  • Michael David Barber M

    I’m working on a Tennessee Waltz quilt and since it has huge 12 inch snowball blocks, I want to take the opportunity to put something nice in them but I don’t want to take away from the overall pattern of the quilt. I would like to put an on-point design in the snowball block in a thread the same color as the background, then just to do some heavy quilting on the 4 patches and the background of the peaky and spike which would make the star design stand out. Digi-tech sold out to a new company and the selection of designs was cut in half.

    I am thinking, just have the star quilted with stitch in the ditch, the four patches with a simple curve across the middle of each piece making a simple star=like design and a tight ribbon candy pattern in the background of the peaky and spike units.

    What do you think? Are there digital patterns out there for designed specifically for this block? If so, let me know where I can find them. Thank you.

    January 4, 2018 at 5:10 pm
  • Debbie T

    I can usually find a design based on the prints in the quilt or the designs in the spaces that speak to me. Am I the only one who seems to have problems using pre-printed quilting patterns? They never seen to quite fit or I can never seem to move the quilt up enough to follow the design without sewing over the row. Freehand quilting is easy, fun and no different than drawing with a pencil a continuous line drawing. Am I missing something to think free form is easier than using a pantograph? I have beautiful pantographs, but I find them difficult to know how far to advance the quilt no matter whose directions I follow. Do you have suggestions?

    February 22, 2018 at 11:46 pm

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