Christa’s SoapBox – Hallmarks of Modern Machine Quilting

There’s been a lot of buzz about modern quilts since the debut of QuiltCon in 2013. And with my recent announcement that I’m part of the QuiltCon 2016 faculty, I thought I’d throw more of my voice into the mix. It thrills me to no end to see so many quilters embracing the modern style as they learn how to design and piece modern quilts. When I returned to QuiltCon in 2015, I noticed that elements of modernism had now been applied to the hand or machine quilting process, too.

Since machine quilting is my favorite technique, I’ll share 5 trends I’ve noticed in today’s machine quilted modern quilts:

1. Functional quilting enhances the design of the quilt without overpowering it.


Closeup of my HST quilt, which was recently featured in Make Modern Magazine.

Quilting stitches serve a functional purpose by holding the three layers of a quilt together. Over time, sophisticated quilters have learned to add an extra layer of decoration to their quilts by quilting intricate motifs onto the surface. With modern quilts, decorative quilting can be used to make the pieced design come alive, but the quilting is usually a little bit more subdued and is not the star of the show. Because many modern quilts emphasize clean lines and minimalist designs, over-the-top ornate quilting is not often seen on modern quilts.

2. Quilting motifs are often inspired by elements of graphic design.


Closeup of Optical Illusion, included as part of QuiltCon 2015

The seven basic elements of graphic design are line, color, texture, shape, size, value and space. These elements can be incorporated into modern machine quilting design motifs, too. Modern quilts often emphasize linear quilting because it adds such a textural quality to the quilt. Think irregular grids, tightly spaced lines (often known as matchstick quilting), and evenly spaced parallel lines. Thread colors, simple shapes, contrasting motif sizes and even the amount of negative space in between the quilting can all play a role in creating a successful modern composition.

Although my new book is not exclusively written to a modern audience, it does include a healthy portion of geometric quilting motifs. It’s what I’m drawn to, and what I love to quilt!

3. Asymmetrical quilting designs add depth and dimension.

Asymmetrical, “off the grid” piecing is one of the hallmarks of modern design. This idea can be incorporated into machine quilting as well. When you can see the hand of the maker in his or her quilt, I’m sure you’ll agree that a quilt doesn’t have to be computer perfect to be both functional and beautiful. Ditch the stencils and embrace irregularity to create perfectly imperfect quilts!

4. The walking foot has been reclaimed.


Spiral Quilting with a walking foot, part of my full day class on Modern Machine Quilting

No longer relegated to “stitch-in-the-ditch,” walking foot quilting is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Using a walking foot, or built-in dual feed, quilters can do more than quilt simple straight lines. Think of gently flowing waves, organic, angular textures and continuous large-scale spirals. And don’t forget the possibilities of decorative stitches. Continuous zigzags and undulating serpentines can add drape and body to a quilt, just begging to be snuggled with!

5. Dense free-motion quilting adds incredible texture.


Detail of Swirls and Pearls free-motion quilting with geometric spirals in String of Pearls

From pebbles and swirls, to shattered lines and echoed spaces, dense free-motion work adds character to a quilt with an extra layer of composition just waiting to be explored. Contrary to popular belief, a densely quilted quilt can be soft and cuddly. Since most modern quilts are meant to be loved and used, they tend to soften up wash after wash. So don’t be afraid to quilt your own quilts, and when in doubt, add more quilting!

 So – what are your thoughts about the “quilting” part of modern quilting? I’d love to know!

15 thoughts on “Christa’s SoapBox – Hallmarks of Modern Machine Quilting

  1. alfamare57 says:

    I used to think I hated the quilting part of a quilt. But I took a class with Angela Walters, and then watched the MQG webinar with you Christa, and now i find I’m very excited about the quilting part! I’m working on rearranging my sewing area so I have room to move my quilt under the free motion or walking foot and will even work with some bigger quilts. And thank you so much for your description of how to spray baste on a design wall! Big big help. 🙂

  2. flutefishy says:

    Don’t your #1 and your #5 kind of contradict each other? 🙂 I think you have to listen to the quilt and do what will be best for the quilt. I’ve had some quilts where over-the-top quilting was what made it sing, and others where it just needed a simple spiral, and I don’t think in either case that was the defining characteristic of what made it modern. It’s a continuum, like everything else in quilting.

  3. Sharon - IN says:

    Your post is encouraging me. I can relate to #1, 3 & 4. My most resent quilts have been finished by me using a walking foot, straight lines, curves, and even spirals. That is a huge step in becoming confident in the skill. Before branching out into FMQ, all my quilts went to a long arm quilter who does beautiful custom quilting, not the pantigram stuff. I’m kind of torn between the fear of messing up a perfectly good quilt top with my learning curve and just paying by check to assure the quilting is nice.

  4. Glenda Penner says:

    ‘Quilting, like any art form, cannot be contained within rigid walls or borders, wow, what a pun. In fact, it flourishes even in the absence of traditional material, and historical pattern. Think of the quilts of Gee’s Bend. Colour and pattern, value and composition; these are elements that quilters humbly employ, their sum greater than the parts, and we as artists are neither above rules, nor bound by them.’ Sheesh, another pun. I wrote those thoughts a few years ago when pondering the various quilting vantage points. I don’t believe that Modern Quilting is a trend any more than I think of traditional quilting as something that could become dated. Both quilting vantage points express a joyous celebration of fibre art. I am so delighted to have come upon your blog. Wonderful, thoughtful, lovely.

  5. Karen says:

    So beautiful, Christa! Your examples give this beginner something to aspire to–and I love that you emphasize that perfection is not necessary 🙂

  6. Ellen Werner says:

    I feel like such a traditionalist when it comes to quilting. I like the fabric and matched points and squares to steal the show. Guess I like symmetry. But most of all I treasure the love that goes into making a quilt. I do not care for artsy/modern quilts especially when you know only a machine can do all the intricate quilting and most likely it’s a computerized long arm so the quilter is less involved. I like mistakes that are left in and known only by the quilter and blocks that don’t quite make it but show effort and devotion to the craft. Guess I need to go get a Singer Treadle machine and get over it. I’ll never get a ribbon at a quilt show. Quilting is a hand craft that is so meaningful to so many quilters. Loading a long arm and letting a computerized program take over is just not the same. It’s like watching an embroidery machine and what fun is that.

  7. Marsha says:

    Thank you for your information. I love love love any kind of quilting that can be done with a walking foot. It’s more versatile than you’d think, and I can do it on my machine at home with no fear. Swirls and fans and intricate designs are just not my style. I’m looking forward to the release of your book.

    • allisonreidnem says:

      My stumbling point with finishing quilts is nearly always the quilting stage. I’m fearful of ‘spoiling’ a quilt with poor quilting. I think learning to quilt with a walking foot or integrated feed is the way forward for me and modern patchwork designs are very well suited to this style of quilting. I have discovered the hard way that some domestic sewing machines are more able to produce even quilting stitches than others – which can be very frustrating and demoralising. I now have a Pfaff with idt and have managed to spiral quilt two fairly large projects. Looking forward to seeing your book ☺

  8. Debi Jimenez says:

    On all levels modern is for me. That is strange since I prefer to decorate my home with rustic wood..reclaimed and upcylce pieces. My foods are from a barn in So. D. And I am currently working on a pellet wood wall in the kitchen. I like simple things..old stuff vintage stuff but the best thing is modern quilts and quilting work w it all of it in an amazing way. And I have you Christa to thank for introducing me to it all.

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