I Can Quilt That! With Mandy Leins

Do you stare at your quilt top and wonder “where do I start”? Author and quilting instructor Mandy Leins encourages us to leave the negative self-talk behind and just dive in!


This project is amazingly colorful.

Expert quilter Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts

I love making quilts because there are so many ways to be creative!

From choosing the colors and fabrics, the design of the pieced top, and the motifs of the quilting stitches, there is ample opportunity for making something special and unique. The finishing step of quilting can often seem the most daunting step of the process, especially if we want to do something unique for our quilt top. Here are a few ways I approach quilt tops when planning a quilting design.

First, I ask myself what the final use of this quilt will be.

Knowing how much wear and tear a quilt will receive often helps me decide how much and how densely a top needs to be quilted, and determines what kinds of thread and batting to choose. If it’s a quilt for display on a wall, I often have more freedom to add dense layers of quilting to completely compress the batting so it will lay flat. If it’s a quilt for a bed, then I want it to be beautiful as well as comfortable, and I will quilt it less densely so it is soft and there are no spots that feel hard or flattened.

Second, I ask myself if there is a story my quilt wants to tell.

Does the top make me think of something in particular? Your top may recall the colors of a trip you took, and maybe there’s something from that trip that stuck in your memory, like arches on a building or flowers on a garden wall. Those shapes simplified can often be a springboard for designs that you can incorporate into your quilting design.

Going Places by Mandy Leins tells the story of a walk on a cobbled street in Italy.

Going Places by Mandy Leins tells the story of a walk on a cobbled street in Italy.

Going Places is a quilt I made that tells the story of a walk on a cobbled street in Italy when it has just started to rain. The fabrics show that change from “dry” light-colored fabrics to “wet” darker and brighter fabrics. I wanted my quilting to show the rain as it splashed down and mixed with the oils on the ground, so I quilted an all-over design that blended raindrops and oil slicks across the surface. (Note: special quilting can be an all-over organic design as well as a more formal symmetric design!).

Eggs & Darts by Mandy Leins. Photo by Nissa Brehmer

Eggs & Darts by Mandy Leins. Photo by Nissa Brehmer

Eggs and Darts is an example of using more formal design elements to create a quilting design. The appliqué is taken from a small architectural detail on ancient Roman temples. For this modern interpretation, I wanted to divide the space for quilting into thirds, a classic design principle. I used rulers to mimic the appliqué with a similar yet different shape using repeated ovals to make a swag. To bring more attention to the ovals, I made sure that there was some unquilted negative space. By making sure that the rest of the quilting around it was of similar density, the swag stands out and balances the larger appliqué to the left. The background fill for this quilt is “perfectly imperfect”. The petal shapes are not exactly the same, making them easier to quilt freely while also being more visually dynamic than if they were computer-perfect.

Tip: An important tip is that our eye is often drawn to the empty spaces before the quilted ones, so if there is a particular motif you want to highlight, consider emphasizing it with unquilted space around it, like a ¼" echo.

Tip: An important tip is that our eye is often drawn to the empty spaces before the quilted ones, so if there is a particular motif you want to highlight, consider emphasizing it with unquilted space around it, like a ¼” echo.

No matter what I plan to use a quilt for, I aim to have a balanced density of quilting across the top.

If I quilt one section heavily, I know I’m going to have to quilt other sections as heavily to balance out the look. For the quilt pattern Love Struck by Erin Schlosser, I consider my quilting a great success and a failure: I was so excited about my idea of creating a lacy bullseye that I over-quilted the middle! If I had stitched those lines further apart and less dense, then the rest of the quilt would have appeared less dense as well. Because I quilted it so tightly, I had to add a great deal more quilting to help even out the top. Rather than one lacy line at each seam line of the outer ring, I had to add multiples. If this quilt had been meant for a snuggle session, it wouldn’t be all that cuddly.

While it can be unnerving to stand in front of a quilt thinking about the “perfect quilting solution”, I truly believe that whatever you do will be the right thing for you—and your quilt—in that moment. Quilts reflect who we are when we make them, and the love and care you put into it will show no matter what you do. Enjoy the journey, friends!


Visit Mandy’s website for more information about Mandy and her quilts.

Thank you, Mandy, for sharing your tips for planning the machine quilting process with us.

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