How to Make a Quilting Plan for Your Quilt

Since we are getting ready to quilt our quilts for the Color Weave Quilt Along, I thought it would be helpful to discuss how I make a quilting plan, using examples of some of my previous quilts. Then it will make more sense when I write about machine quilting for the next installment of Color Weave. For those of you NOT doing the quilt along, this info is still helpful for any quilt you make!

Machine Quilting Color Weave

Machine quilting my Color Weave quilt.

I’ve had fun sharing my methods in three machine quilting books I’ve written along with my online classes through Bluprint (formerly Craftsy). Each of these resources includes not only step-by-step patterns for piecing a quilt; each pattern also includes a complete quilting plan with instructions on how to finish your quilt!

Christa Quilts Machine Quilting Books

Today I’ll share a several quilting plans and explain how I break down the quilting process. Then hopefully, you’ll be able to incorporate some of my methods into your own work.  But first, before we even get to that part, you’ll need to get your quilt ready for quilting. Be sure to check out my earlier post from this week about preparing the backing and basting – which works for any quilt!

Hobbs Batting Cotton/Wool

Click here for my pieced backing and spray basting tutorial.

When I’m making a plan, the first question I always ask is, what’s the purpose of the quilt and how much time do I have to finish? For example, If it’s for a baby shower coming up this weekend, I’ll stick with fast and simple quilting, like an allover design. Here’s a simple block quilting plan showcasing one of my go-to modern quilting motifs: boxes. The plan is more of a guideline of how to work my way around the quilt rather than an exact replica of the stitching I’ll do.

Allover Free-Motion Quilting Plan

First, I will draw the design on paper to get a feel for how it will flow across the quilt. Then I’ll quilt it out on a practice block, or even a scrap of fabric and batting to check thread color and tension. Finally, I’ll apply the design to the actual quilt.

To quilt an allover quilting design, pick a favorite free-motion motif and quilt the design randomly from edge to edge, regardless of the pieced design. It’s fast, fun and easy to do, and by the time you reach the end, you’ll be an expert at that design! I quilted the free-motion design shown above, on my quilt “Stepping Stones“, below:

Stepping Stones by Christa Watson

Click here to get the Stepping Stones quilt patten for just $6.95 while supplies last.

To make a plan for an allover design, I always start quilting on the right side of my quilt and work my way towards the middle. When the quilt gets too bulky, I rotate it 180 degrees and then finishing quilting from the middle to the other edge of the quilt. It’s much, much easier to start quilting when there’s no bulk under the machine, and you work your way across the quilt a few inches at a time.

By the time you’ve reached the bulkiest part in the center, it’s time to rotate the quilt, and then it gets less bulky again as you work your way across the other way. As long as you’ve done a good job basting your quilt, there’s no need to start in the center and stress yourself out with all of that bulk to begin with!

Stepping Stones Quilt Pattern by Christa Watson of Christa Quilts

Here’s what the quilting looks like on the actual finished quilt. Remember, I didn’t try to replicate the design exactly, I just meandered my way across the quilt in an organized manner, block by block. Like everything I design, my Stepping Stones quilt pattern includes instructions for both piecing AND quilting.

Allover Walking Foot Quilting Plan

You can also use the edge-to-edge quilting process with walking foot quilting, by using a process  I call “divide and conquer” – or breaking down the quilting design into smaller manageable chunks. I still start on the right-hand side of the quilt work my way across towards the center, rotate, and then continue from the center to the other side. In this example, I’m planning to quilt a wavy line design “near” the ditch rather than “in” the ditch because wavy lines are much faster AND easier to quilt than straight ones!

I’ll quilt my wavy lines in one direction for all of the vertical seam intersections, and the spacing will depend on how wide the blocks are. This first pass across the quilt is called “anchor” quilting and will secure the quilt for additional quilting later on. It also distributes the density of quilting evenly across the quilt.

First, I sketch out my plan on an image of the pieced quilt design. You can print off a digital image of the quilt if it’s something you designed in Electric Quilt (or other design software). You could also make a photocopy of a sketch or pattern cover and blow it up big enough for you to draw on. You could even take a picture of of the finished quilt top and then print it out in black and white on a regular size piece of paper, too.

Once I’ve quilted the first pass across the quilt, I’ll quilt  more wavy lines in between until I’m happy with the final line spacing. When planning a quilt, I won’t necessarily draw in all of the lines, but I’ll sketch enough of them to remind myself of what I’m doing. You can follow the exact same plan above using straight lines, wavy lines, or even decorative stitches on your sewing machine.

Here’s me putting the quilting plan into practice, “scrunching and smooshing” the quilt under the machine as I go. Look closely near the bottom of the image to see how I’m filling in lines of quilting between each of the “anchor” lines.

The quilt shown is called “Modern Puzzle” showcasing jelly rolls of my fabric, but of course it would look fabulous in any fabrics. It’s the perfect pattern to practice your “divide-and-conquer skills!” The best thing about quilting several passes across the quilt is that you can decide to stop at any time, once you are happy with the spacing of your quilted lines.

Custom Quilting Plan

Now, If I want to spend more time quilting a special quilt, I’ll do custom quilting, combining both walking foot quilting and free motion motifs. To divide and conquer the process, I’ll break the quilt down visually into these elements: the ditch, the blocks, and the background. Then I’ll quilt something different in each section.

Here’s an example quilting plan for my free quilt pattern “Beaded Lanterns” – made from one strip roll of my Fandangle fabric line.

Step 1 – Stitch in the ditch between each row of blocks. Here, I’m treating each row of blocks as one unit so I’m basically outlining the shape of the blocks while stitching the vertical ditches. However, I’m NOT stitching the horizontal ditches so that I don’t have to stop and start as much.

Optional: Echo the ditch to further separate the elements of the quilt. This is also called outline quilting or channel quilting and will help provide more contrast between the blocks and the background, separating the quilting designs so they’ll stand out more.

Step 2 – Free-motion quilt “something” in the background. By this, I mean pick ANY free-motion motif you like and quilt it in all the background areas. I happen to really like quilting pebbles in defined areas so I use them a lot. Remember, this isn’t an exact replica of what each stitch motif will look like. It’s just a roadmap that will tell me which design goes where.

Step 3 – Free-motion quilt a different design in all of the blocks. The fun part is figuring out different combinations of designs you like, and there’s no right or wrong answer! Because my background had dense curved pebbles, I chose something more linear and slightly less dense in the blocks to create contrast between the two designs. Because the blocks are made from busy prints, the quilting won’t show up as much so it’s a great place to practice a fun design that doesn’t have to be perfect!

Remember, for each pass across the quilt (ditch, echo, background, blocks) I’m working from the right side of the quilt towards the middle, rotating the quilt, and then working from the middle to the other side of the quilt. I only concentrate on one section of the quilt at a time, and reposition my hands whenever I feel like I’m reaching. By breaking down each step of the quilting plan, the whole process seems much less overwhelming.

Simpler Custom Plan

I’ll share one final quilting plan that’s a bit simpler to execute, but still gives a custom look. This is the plan I created and included in my “Positive Direction” quilt pattern. It’s a combination of straight lines and pebbles which emphasize the subtle arrow design made by the color arrangement of the pieced plus blocks.

I quilted all of the straight lines with a walking foot first, and then filled them in with additional straight lines until I was happy with the spacing. Then, in the remaining areas, I filled in the rest with free-motion quilting.

And here’s what the finished quilt looks like below. The quilting adds yummy texture, but doesn’t overwhelm the pieced design. After all, the more quilting you add, the less you see the individual stitches.

Click here to get the Positive Direction quilt patten for just $6.95 while supplies last.

I hope this gets you excited to break down the process, and not be afraid to dive in and quilt your own quilts. If you’d like for me to cheer you on in your machine quilting journey, be sure to join my Quilt Along email list where I’ll share lots of tips and tricks for quilts we can make together! You can also catch me on instagram @christaquilts where I usually show what I’m working on in real time. Happy quilting!

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