Quilt As Desired Article 5: Quilting Negative Space

The following article was originally written as part of my Quilt As Desired column for the National Quilting Association’s Quilting Quarterly magazine. The association was disbanded after nearly 46 years, so this article was never published. Scroll to the end for links to all of my previously written articles.

Quilting Negative Space by Christa Watson

Negative space, also known as “the background” or “white space,” can include any color of fabric and is not relegated to solids only. Negative space creates contrast in your quilt, allowing the main design to shine. In many modern quilts, there can often be more negative space than design or “positive space,” leading to a conundrum of how to quilt it.
Here are four suggestions on how to quilt negative space:photo1 Photo 1 – Abacus Quilt by Christa Watson

(1) Quilt an allover linear design such as the continuous wavy lines in Abacus (see photo 1). This type of quilting works well regardless of block layout. It can help emphasize the textural quality of the quilt, rather than the absence of design. Continuous wavy lines can be quilted easily with a walking foot and a straight stitch by turning the quilt from side to side, or using a decorative machine stitch. Confident free-motion quilters can comfortably quilt continuous wavy lines back and forth across the entire surface of the quilt.

Photo 2 – Me and My Shadow by Vicki Ruebel of Orchid Owl Quilts

(2) Create a secondary composition in the negative space. Vicki Ruebel quilted a near-mirror image of her whimsical bird in her award winning quilt, Me and My Shadow (see photo 2). She sketched the outline of the bird and feathers, and used the same drawing to create both the quilted and appliqued birds. She used two layers of batting to create definition, filling in the areas around both birds with free-motion swirls on her long-arm machine.

Photo 3 – Wholecloth by Ida Ewing of Ida Rather Be Quilting

(3) Divide and conquer if the negative space is too much to tackle at once. Ida Ewing created her negative space design by marking an “E” and echoing around the letter. She then subdivided each section of the quilt and filled it in with a different free-motion motif (see photo 3). This filler technique looks stunning on any size quilt from a small wholecloth piece to a bed-size quilt with vast amounts of negative space.


Photo 4 – Ida shows what a difference the quilting can make!

(4) Repeat elements from the block into the negative space. For Ida’s Little Guppy quilt (see photo 4), she created a diamond in a square motif with her quilting, emphasizing the square block design. The pebble quilting relates to the circles in the print, unifying the piece.
The next time you are stumped on how to quilt negative space, grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just start doodling. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Further Reading

Click the links below to read all the articles I wrote for NQA:

QuiltCon 2015 (co-authored with Jacquie Gering)
Modern Machine Quilting
Embrace the Line
Filler Designs Add Texture
Handwork Makes a Comeback

Great News – Sewing Machines to be Provided at NQA

I just got great news that sewing machines will now be provided for all classes at the National Quilting Association show this June. Since I will be teaching 3 hands on classes, this will be so much easier on the students!

nqaclassesIf you are thinking of attending, be sure to register for classes now as the deadline for workshop registration is May 1st.

Just to recap, here are the 3 classes I will be teaching. I’d love to see you there!

Modern Logs  This class is quickly become a student favorite. It’s fun to teach the same workshop in multiple venues and I love to see how everyone makes it in their own way! My quilt measures 48″ x 54″ and it’s super easy to make it larger – just add more blocks!

Modern Logs

Modern Machine Quilting  Enjoy the satisfaction that comes with learning to quilt your own quilts! In class, I’ll teach a plethora of walking foot wonders and free-motion favorites that are accomplished with little to no marking. Let go of perfection and enjoy the rich textural effects of modern quilting!

modern machine quilting samples

Charming Chevrons  The one that started it all, this design was my entry into the world of modern quilting. It’s quick and easy to make from your favorite collection of charm squares, whether they are solids, prints, or a mix of both!

Colorful Chevrons

Christa’s Soapbox – Why You Should Become a Member of the National Quilting Association

I’m super excited to announce that starting this winter, I will be writing a regular column for the Quilting Quarterly, the official magazine of the National Quilting Association. I invite you to become a member of this tremendous organization, not only to read my articles, but to glean insights and further participate in this wonderful community.

20150615_naqMy ongoing column will be entitled “Quilt as Desired” and in it I will share my tips, tricks and ideas on how you can quilt your own quilts! On occasion, I will even include a pattern in the magazine showing how to put my ideas into practice.

I highly recommend becoming involved as many quilting groups as you can. From my local guild to national organizations, it’s a great way to enjoy more of what the quilting community has to offer.

Jacquie Gering

Meeting Jacquie Gering at QuiltCon for the first time in 2013

I’ve been a member of NQA off and on over the years and renewed my membership last year after returning home from QuiltCon. I had just met Jacquie Gering and she was able to use a picture of mine and a quote about the show in her ongoing NQA series, “Modern Moments.” It’s by far one of my favorite columns in the magazine and I love how NQA embraces all walks of quilters, no matter their style!

Modern Moments QuoteModern Moments article by Jacquie Gering, Summer 2013

I was further pleased when a couple of NQA certified judges agreed to sit on our Modern Quilt Guild judging committee to provide recommendations on how to make the competition portion of QuiltCon a better experience for everyone. 🙂

My first article and pattern will be in the winter issue coming out this December, so be sure to join NQA so you don’t miss a thing!