Why So Many of Us Can’t Stipple or Meander…

Free motion Quilting, Stipple stitch, Meander stitchAs I have mentioned many times, I want to Ban the Stipple quilting stitch and it’s larger cousin, the Meander stitch.  Now, I know many of you like these stitches, and it’s nothing personal…it’s just that every beginner is told to “just stipple”…

I did a quick Google search of how to stipple and here are some of the descriptions and directions:

  • “Stippling is closely spaced, random quilting lines that do not cross and are gently curved.”
  • “Draw Amoebas”
  • “It should look like a jigsaw puzzle.”
  • “Stitch a wiggling, meandering line that doesn’t cross itself.”
  • “Wiggle but don’t cross’

REALLY???? No wonder so many beginners get frustrated and quit Free Motion Quilting!

Stick with me a minute…while I share a story…

When my daughters were in high school, they were all life guards at our local swimming pool. Whenever one of the little Tykes started running on the wet pavement (very dangerous)-the life guards were instructed to shout “WALK!”… They didn’t shout “DON’T RUN!”…

Here’s the reason:  Our brain works fastest when we tell it what we SHOULD DO, not when we tell it what NOT to do…

Free motion Quilting, Stipple stitch, Meander stitch

Now back to quilting…

Instructions like:  Start on the bottom line, stitch straight up.  Stitch a half circle…we can all follow these directions….(especially when there’s a photo to go with it!)

Whereas instructions like:  Stitch amoebas, don’t cross over, wiggle…are much more difficult to follow.

So if you’re one of the many people who has trouble with Stippling or Meandering…you are NORMAL!  Just move on…there are so many choices…

Doodle to Design on Craftsy

 Happy Stitching,


PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and is intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!

69 thoughts on “Why So Many of Us Can’t Stipple or Meander…

  1. I couldn’t agree more!!!! We are all “visual” learners (to one degree or another) and such word pictures “register” in our brain cells much faster than abstract concepts/verbs. Great post!!!!

  2. I completely agree with your philosophy about our ability to make quilting designs with visual directions. I have never used meandering to quilt because I feel that it is a big ‘let down’ after all of the precise work in making a quilt top. One very well know quilting teacher calls it ‘the mattress pad look’. I appreciate your free motion quilting designs. I have tried lots of them on practice pieces and have had acceptable success-I will keep working on it. Lots of quilting skills are on an ongoing learning curve. I shutter at some of my first attempts at piecing or applique but I learned from the experience and the next projects were much better. I love to quilt and I especially enjoy the free motion quilting part of it-much of that pleasure comes because of your helpful blogging and your AQS articles.

  3. Querida Lory,
    eu definitivamente resolvi este problema quando ouvi uma professora falar:
    fazer um osso de cachorro.
    Metade de um osso de cachorro mais outra metade do osso e muitas metades de osso de cachorro resultam em stipple ou algo parecido….

  4. I do ok for a few minutes with stipple, but then I totally “lose it!” Maybe that’s my problem–trying to do something that isn’t exactly natural to me!

  5. A very big thank you. I did give up on those two patterns – maybe – just maybe –
    I might try them today while it is STILL SNOWING!. By the way, is it really bad to “cross over” a bit? I was so involved with that thought I would stop when I did. I did buy a Bernina BSR foot to help me – but that didn’t solve the eye/head/hand coordination. I read and collect most all of your blog wonderful blog info and pics – yet I still use my walking foot and mostly echo style quilting for most things. I still think you are the most incredible quilt artist/teacher on the web that I have seen.

  6. I agree that stippling has been overused. Your designs are ingenious but I have a hard time understanding how they are used as overall designs for large areas. I like detailed quilting for some projects, but also enjoy making things like baby quilts that focus on the piecing but can be quickly quilted – hence the overuse of stippling. Could use address this topic or point me to a post where you have discussed it? Thanks.

  7. Guess I am the odd ball out here because I find stipple quite easy, but maybe it’s because I am a real doodler. I can’t stop doodling if I have paper and pencil in my hands. So there must be something to that since you say to doodle and practice and doodling is a form of practice. On another note, I want to say I can’t wait to get your book so it will be easy to find and follow your designs. I sure hope you keep these tutorials going too! Sure look forward to each morning to see what else there is begin practice on. Thanks for sharing with all of us who wish we had your gift!

    • I’ve tried to teach several of my friends how to stipple. They are always disappointed in their results and say they “can’t” stipple. Their work looks exactly like mine did when I started stippling. I told them that it just takes practice. If you use a 5% shrinkage batting and wash the end result in warm water, your beginner stippling will look terrific. 🙂 If you practice stippling several lap sized quilts, you’ll get lots better, but they always want perfect results right out of the box. I don’t think a cross-over is horrible. Sometimes you quilt yourself into a hole. It happens, and it doesn’t ruin anything. I always try to find my “mistakes” after the quilt has been washed and dried, and it’s usually quite a search! I also recommend doodling practice; that is enormously helpful to train the brain where to go.

      As far as “stippling ruins a quilt”; well, I call BS. It is fast and appropriate for some quilts, and out of place in others. All the famous quilters I idolize like Angela Walter and Judi Madsen use plenty of micro-stippling, and if you cannot do a big stipple, your micro is going to be…. interesting. Being able to stipple is a good tool to have, but it is not the end-all, be-all of quilting.

      Happy quilting,
      Susan in Texas

      • Oh yes, I agree with Susan – it’s overused but also useful at times. I, too, had a very hard time trying to learn to stipple – until I saw a how-to video that Diane Gaudynski (I think, though I’m having a hard time finding it now) made. She started by quilting a wavy line, and then gradually put in bigger waves, and then made the waves go in slightly different directions, and so on – hard to explain but very, very effective. I saw it twice and have understood how to do it ever since!

  8. I agree with Char. I love the small area quilting or borders but on some of the bigger quilts, if I do detailed quilting it will take me forever to get it done. I am so far behind with quilts waiting for quilting. I do have to say though that you have spurred me to try a spiral hook design on my next quilt. I practiced on paper, paracticed on fabric and now the real thing! I’m nervous but excited.

    • Jeanette you can do it! It’s so fun and when you see it all finished it is such a rewarding feeling!

  9. Recently I quilted a scrappy quilt consisting of alternating 16 patch blocks & plain muslin blocks. I quilted terry twists in each 2″ bk. of the 16 patch and a large curved pinwheel in the muslin block echoing the curves of the terry twist. To increase the density of the pinwheel bk. & make the pinwheel pop I needed a background fill for the pinwheel block. Yes, I used a stipple, (not micro). I still cannot think of anything that would have worked as well or better. Many options just seemed to distract from curved pinwheel. I would love to know what you would have used for the fill. The person who will be gifted with this quilt does not like dense quilting.
    Thank you for being so generous with your quilting knowledge. Perhaps other quilters might have some ideas too. I would love to hear back.

  10. My head works with the simple commands and when I master them separately can then put them together for the all over quilting such as swirl, swirl, flower, swirl, leaf, swirl, flower. I can relax and do that all day. But everything starts clenching if I even think about stipple or meanders! My teeth, shoulder blades… Yes butt cheeks… Lol! Blood pressure goes up, sweat starts pouring….. OK maybe not that bad but I can’t handle not having a specific design or the thought of trapping myself!

  11. I have the same opinion of straight line quilting on most modern quilts. It looks “uncreative” to me.

  12. I am so glad you are writing about this! I am new to quilting with about 2 years under my belt. I am a person who likes a plan or some basic instructions to follow, so stippling or meandering where you aren’t sure where to go is a struggle for me. Obviously a plan won’t work for every quilt, but it would be nice if there was a general rule or instruction to follow if you are doing an all over design with quilting. I realize you can get a stencil to mark out a stippling pattern, but talk about tedious! Glad to see I am not the only person who struggles with the stipple!

  13. I was taught different than you suggested.. I was told to never start in a corner but about 2″ down from the right upper corner and move in a diagonal motion.

  14. I understand your point about the stipple/meander. I can stipple and I think it looks nice, but I feel the same way about feathers. Everything has feathers. Enough already. Not everything looks appropriate in feathers. I recently found your website and have been following, but not practicing at this time. I see a book full of samples, which would be unusual for me.

  15. I guess everyone is different. I do stipple, but not on the whole quilt anymore. I agree, there is so much more out there. I try really hard to not do it, but for me it is an easy go-to if I’m in a rush. I would like more information on figuring out what type of FMQ the quilt is asking for. I really struggle with that.

  16. What is all this hullabaloo about meandering and stippling? These methods work for just as many people as not. Many of us wouldn’t be free motioning if we hadn’t started with the meander. We don’t consider it a letdown at all. As for crossing lines, why can’t you? That’s one rule that shouldn’t stop you. In fact crossing over lines can be used to add circles or balloons to the meander path and even simple leaves can be added to the path. While we shouldn’t stay stagnant with the stipple, we should keep growing and always keep filling the art bag arsenal of quilting patterns trying new ones. That is why all of us appreciate this forum. So many ideas and easy to follow instructions from Lori along with feedback from quilting friends. Just not willing to throw the stipple/meander baby out with the bath water.

    • I agree with you, Judy…I never would have attempted any other kind of FMQ if I hadn’t started with the stipple. I do think it looks better without crossed over lines, and I just use it for small areas. But thus far, it’s one of my go-to stitches!

  17. This is for anyone who wants to use some of Lori’s designs for a bigger quilt. I am currently working on and am close to completing a King sized quilt. I left the center seam open and am quilting in 2 separate sections. I am not quilting the last 6 inches close to that seam. I am using the “Dizzy Daisy” for an allover design, the heart design for one of the borders and the connecting triangles (forgot what is called) for one of the other border. When I complete the quilting, I will join the center seam, hand stitch the center seam quilt back and quilt the center section. It has been fun to do the “Dizzy Daisy”.

  18. Lori, I love learning so many new techniques from you – thank you for all your hard work on our behalf!

    That said, I am a master stippler. And my stippling is beautiful (nicely rounded and smooth). I find it very easy and much more relaxing than new designs. I am challenging myself to learn lots of fun new designs (why I love your tutorials!), but there are times when stippling/meandering are a good option for fill. I don’t find it much different than other all over designs – perhaps simpler, and yes, more plain. But that’s okay too, some of the time.

  19. Lori, I wrote the company to ask whether the Webinar will be available later for those who can’t be online at that specific time, and haven’t received a reply. Can you answer? It would be soooo cool if you did a course on Craftsy, because they have 24 hour access. I love their format. Regards, Cindy

  20. Well, I feel rebellious now because I stopped to catch up on blog posts as a break between the walking foot ditch quilting of this baby quilt and the background fill pattern I had planned — which was going to be stippling/meandering!! Oh please, Quilt Police, give me a pass — this is for a baby to spit up on, not destined for a quilt show, and I just want to get it DONE and out from under my sewing machine! Plus, with Minky backing, dense custom quilting is not going to work well with the pile of the Minky. The only two background patterns that I am comfortable enough to quilt on autopilot are stippling and paisleys, and I don’t think I could keep the paisleys big enough (don’t want dense quilting on this one). 🙁 Now my feelings are hurt (not really!) but I’m going to go STIPPLE THAT QUILT ANYWAY!

  21. Thanks Lori for encouraging post. I can’t stipple, don’t like the look of it. And I don’t understand some people present it as properly free motioned quilt. I would only quilt in ditch rather than stipple because ditch quilting don’t distract eyes from beauty of patchwork. By the way I can see little people dancing in your stipple sample 🙂

  22. I have no trouble stippling. But spirals? Hah! No matter how hard I try, they just don’t work for me. What does that say about my brain? Hmmm…

    I think that stippling has it’s place. When done densly, it can allow unquilted areas around it to pop. However, I agree that it often used out of habit or laziness.

  23. I have always quilted my own quilts and never did much ditch quilting. I have stippled all my quilts except for a few instances of stencil designs. The quilts would never get done if I had to plan and mark lots of different designs. I’d rather baste a quilt than mark it. And I don’t like feathers at all. I’m not artistic, and I hate dealing with the bulk of a quilt. Why do I I keep doing this?

    • Perhaps you should give yourself permission to do some of the quilt by hand. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but it’s so relaxing & can be very freeing – because the sky is the limit with stencil or design choices, large or small, intricate or simple. I wouldn’t give up the camaraderie of my weekly quilt group nor working on a floor frame while watching tv or listening to music. There’s a time & place for everything, but slowing down for some quiet time is good, too.

  24. Amen!!! I have been teaching free motion quilting for 15 years. 7 years ago I quit teaching stippling and focused on other designs. When I was teaching stippling, my students would get hung up on stippling and decide they could not free motion. Now my students have all kinds of success, and have a number of designs that they are confident with!

  25. I’m so glad you’re here. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me! Then I decided that since I couldn’t stipple anyway, that I just hated it. Lol! I’ve matured very slightly since then… But to find out that I’m actually normal is a huge relief! (Probably except for the hate part, I’m sure!

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  27. You can still have a plan if you meander. I learned some great tips from Leah Day’s videos. I make a lot of charity baby quilts and meandering works best to quilt them. I start in the center of the quilt and move back and forth in lines within one quadrant at a time. There’s never a lot of fabric under the arm and I don’t have any vacant spaces when I’m done. It takes me about 15 minutes to quilt a baby quilt this way.

  28. I Love them all and do them all. Stippling/meandering, straight line/matchstick. Every quilt calls for something different! Be creative and relax!

  29. There is another argument for meandering that I don’t see mentioned. I quilt a lot for beginning quilters, and their quilts aren’t perfect but they are still an achievement to them. We all had to learn, right? So I do a lot of meandering for them because (1) it’s all they can afford or want to invest and (2) it is a way for me to control some of the issues like extra fullness or little mole hills (or the occasional mountain). I do a lot of free motion quilting and ruler work on my own quilts and I love it but I don’t donate my time any more (like I used to) because I thought a quilt just had to have more than meandering. We, as quilters, are fortunate that our art form has so many ways to be creative. Admire what others do, but be proud of your own skills and work to advance them in the direction that pleases you most. Quilters rock!

  30. Lori, I am so glad I’m not alone!! I thought there was something wrong with me… I was just telling my husband I am just not good at stippling last week. I have only been piecing/quilting for about a year now with the encouragement from bloggers (like you) and YouTube. I have learned a lot and have completed 5 quilts and 6 quilt tops are waiting for quilting and several more are in the piecing stage. However, I can’t stipple to save my life! I will keep practicing it and learning other designs as well because I too believe that each quilt deserves its own finishing touch. 😀 thank you for sharing your knowledge and helping me learn to stretch my quilting self!

  31. I never had a big problem with stippling. Of course, I’ve never followed the “don’t cross over previous stitching” rule. My version of stippling is more like squiggles with odd shapes, spirals, circles, ovals, and loop-d-loops.

    What I want to know, Lori, is how you come up with your designs. Whenever I’m faced with that blank area, I blank out. Hence, my version of stippling.

  32. I giggled when I started reading this. I would like to encourage everyone to use stippling … but not all the time.

    There are many designs for filling in blank spaces in a quilt, but not every deign is suitable for the same space.

    Feathers are not fillers … unless they have room to shine. Feathers are a feature design and should be used where they can be seen clearly. In between the feathers I think there should be something which is just a filler, a small all over design which is just a heap of stitching which makes the feathers and other feature designs stand out. Stippling is the most boring stitch visually I can think of which makes it one of the perfect stitches to use simply as a filler. I prefer hand quilting, and I use smallish cross hatching to fill in spaces, but cross hatching is not near as easy to do by machine as stippling when you just need something to flatten the space between feature quilting and applique designs, and even in the background area of pieced designs. A filler stitch should not be too pretty!

    So, long live stippling so the feathers can be the feature!

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  34. My meandering always looked like a field of, of… men’s private parts. Gasp! So–I had to add loops and daisies to get away from that. Now that I’ve taken more classes on free motion quilting, I have many more motifs in my head to use for overalls. I love wild free motion quilting, but to me, it’s not needed on a baby quilt–too dense. The customer would rather have loose quilting for softness and it keeps the price down. At least I can use an overall loose leaf or large pebbles or something different now. I leave the fun quilting to table tops and wall hangings. 🙂

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  36. I prefer a loose meandering stitch on my quilts. My quilts are made to be used, not showcase a fancy stitch pattern. A loose meandering stitch allows more air to get into the fibers of the batting and provides more warmth in the winter. I find that the “custom” quilters put so many stitches into their quilts that they become stiff and are not comfortable to cozy up with.

  37. Here’s why I do “meandering” or Stipple quilting on my quilts.. To keep them from falling apart years down the road. When I stipple, I catch all the seams, even my appliqued items, and I know that if the quilt is washed more often, or the natural “tugging” when using it, or making the bed, or a battle in bed over who has more quilt than the other, it’s not going to come apart at the seams as other quilts..

  38. Stippling was the first design I attempted & mastered; I still enjoy it. It is not the only design I use now but like an old friend it is nice to use & not really have to think to do it. I do get bored & try new designs or make ones up but I will never stop using it. I find it easy, relaxing & very adaptable to insuring the best life of a much used quilt.

    To each their own .

  39. My first quilt was meandering quilting. It ran away with me a lot, crossed lines against my will and had big and tiny stitches; but I learned how to hang on for the ride and gain a little control. My second quilt was vines of leaves closely quilted. By the time I got to the borders, I quilted hearts, vines with leaves and rose-like flowers in them. It is still beginning quilting and it looks like it up close but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am getting better. I was quite nervous that I would ruin this quilt but was pleasantly surprised at how nice it turned out.

  40. My first quilt was meandering quilting. It ran away with me a lot, crossed lines against my will, and had large and tiny stitches but I learned to hang on for the ride and gain a little control. On my second quilt, I quilted vines of leaves close together. By the time I got to the outer border, I stitched hearts, vines with leaves and rose-like flowers there. It was beginning quilting still and looked like it up close; but I thoroughly enjoyed it! I had been quite nervous about ruining this quilt but was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out.

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