Rules for Quilting “The Big Quilt”

FMQ, Peony, KennedyGood Morning, Quilters!

I hope you had time to doodle or quilt Claire’s Peony from Wednesday’s “Tuesday Tutorial”…



It’s a great BEGINNER motif!


Quilting the Double Wedding Ring, Kennedy


Because I have had so many requests and questions about using the motifs in quilts–today, we are starting a new series, Rules for Quilting THE BIG QUILT!

I’m really excited about this project…It will start us all in a new direction.  This is for long arm quilters as well as domestic sewing machine quilters like myself  (I am currently stitching on a BERNINA 770 QE–a dream machine!)  While there are obvious differences in the two methods, there remains a lot in common-especially in the design phase of quilting.  I think we can all learn from each other!

There will not be an established time table…just regular updates.

So let’s get started!


When choosing motifs for The Big Quilt, it’s easy to get carried away–there is so much space to fill and there are SO many quilt motifs

I recommend choosing 2-3 motifs to start…only adding more if necessary.    This saves time learning new motifs, but more importantly, it helps keep the design unified.


As you are basting your quilt, think about where you want to add quilt motifs and where you want to keep the quilting simple– like stitching in the ditch.

Remember that prints conceal and solids reveal.–Save your most elaborate quilting for the solids and choose simpler patterns for the print fabrics.


Next, think about the shapes that will be filled.  Make a list in your Quilter’s Notebook.

For example, in the Double Wedding Ring Quilt:

  • Pinched squares (approximately 8 inches)
  • Melons
  • Border (six inches wide)
  • Corner squares in border
  • Setting triangles


Time to doodle!

Claire’s Peony fit well into the pinched squares:Quilting the Double Wedding Ring, Kennedy

For the melons, I stitched a small peony with two leaves:


I planned to stitch a row of Peonies down the center of the border, but after doodling, I found that left a lot of negative space.  By stitching half-peonies, I was able to fill the border space more fully.


Setting triangles–The setting triangles are the space between the rings and the half square triangle border.  My initial plan was to stitch leaves and flowers into each of these triangles.

However, after stitching all the center and melons with Claire’s Peonies, I could see that the quilt needed a visual break from all the curvy motifs.  For contrast, I added straight line quilting…I think this is sometimes called Piano Keys.WeddingRingQuilt.FMQ.LKennedy008Now the Peonies really stand out!
FMQ, Peony,LCKennedy


We will be adding a lot more to this list…but for today:

  1.  Quilting should not be an after thought.  Think about the quilting through every phase of the project.  Choose solid or near solid fabrics in some areas of the quilt for more elaborate quilt motifs.
  2. Choose just a few motifs–add more later if necessary.
  3. Make a list of the quilt shapes (including sizes) that will be quilted with motifs.
  4. Doodle variations of the motifs into each shape.
  5. Use contrast (curvy motifs and geometric motifs) for better quilt design.
  6. Be willing to change your plan as the quilting phase progresses.

This is just a start on our series, “Quilting The BIG Quilt”…we are going to come at it from several different angles…

Please chime in…We have more than 7500 experienced quilters…we want to hear from YOU on this challenging topic!

Tomorrow:  How Long Does it Take to Quilt a Quilt?

Happy Stitching!


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




72 thoughts on “Rules for Quilting “The Big Quilt”

  1. One of the things I have found about quilting larger quilts is that I have to listen to them. You did this when you changed your mind about what to quilt near the triangles. It’s one of the best things you can do, My initial plans for quilts almost always change somewhere along the process.

  2. Certainly looking forward to this series and all of the replies. I’m just beginning my journey with fmq, and this will definitely help!


  4. Your wedding ring quilt is beautiful. Your timing for this series is perfect, I have a big quilt all sandwiched and ready to quilt. My only problem is that it keeps changing it’s mind on what to quilt in the open spaces. I am looking forward to your information

  5. I just completed a big large whole quilt. It was a first for me, and I didn’t do some of the things you suggested at first. It took me 5 months to complete, requiring much reflection, ripping out, and restarting before I completed it. Now that I see your list, I applied all of the “rules”. Next time, I will plan better beforehand. It was a tremendous learning experience, and at least it ended with a lovely gift.

  6. Looking forward to this series. My focus this year has been to improve my free motion quilting. You’ve been a great inspiration in trying new designs. I’ve made several baby quilts and filled them with practice motifs. Now about to start a large French braid quilt.

  7. Half peonies, brilliant! That just takes the design in another direction. Unexpected and lovely. Hey, that could be used with other designs! I always learn something. Thank you.

  8. One element that really makes the quilting ‘pop’ is varied density….with consideration that with high density comes less drape-ability and more stiffness. Used sparingly, it creates the necessary shadows to emphasize the larger motif(s).
    Great post!!!!!

  9. I have a Bernina Active which has a smaller throat so I have found quilting big quilts very difficult. I am not too good at FMQ but have become pretty good at straight line/walking foot modern type quilting. However in order to do this, I have to do the QAYG method. I do blocks of approximately 15″ square and then join them together. This works well for most quilts…I just did a rail fence. I do not think it would work for your wedding ring quilt (which is absolutely beautiful) but it does work for a lot of patterns and cuts down on frustration. I still follow your blog faithfully and know at some time in the future I will be able to FMQ . When are you going to write a book? You really should. Your FMQ is great.

  10. Part of choosing designs for me is a consideration of seam placement. Is it a pieced block, and will the quilting flow over the seams, or be contained within each segment of the block? If it flows over, how detailed of a motif can be used before things go sideways? Once you’ve an idea of what goes where, does it look like the quilting is fairly uniformly dense/loose across the top (hate lumpy quilts that are very densely quilted in just a few spots, and loosely filled everywhere else).

  11. Thank you for starting this group of lessons. Just what I needed! I spend a lot of time (waste a lot of time) trying to figure out what to do in large quilts. This will be a great help.

  12. I am really looking forward to this tutorial! I have had a finished quilt top sitting for over a year because I cannot decide how to quilt the 12 inch ‘busy’ patchwork blocks I have. Thanks for great inspiration!

  13. This is a much needed lessons for all of us. I start out with patterns all over the table deciding what I will quilt. Then narrow it down to 2-3 patterns. Some times I will hand quilt in between the applique then machine quilt the rest. I like the straight lines then sewing down to make triangles. Looking forward to more of these lessons.. Well Done!!

  14. Thank you for starting this discussion! I like the texture that a continuous line all-over panto creates on longarm…but I quilt on a sit down Pfaff Grand quilter. I have asked many people how to duplicate these designs with this machine. I see many blank faces! My skill is such that I can stitch these designs…just don’t know how to mark them. Do I buy a panto and trace on a light box before basting?…create a stencil somehow and mark after basting?…Golden threads paper? Beginning to suspect the panto purchase is the best starting point….the spacing is perfect and the designs are perfect. Open to any suggestion and instruction..HELP!!!!
    Realize I may be jumping ahead but just in case this roadblock was not on the agenda, thought I would throw that out there!!! As always thank you for your generosity.

    • Great comment/questions, Vicki – I have a Babylock Tiara (sit-down machine) and have wondered about the feasibility and logistics of using panto designs. I hope Lori has some thoughts in the subject.

    • Vicki. I have tried many of these methods and find them very frustrating. I now just doodle the design until I have it memorized and quilt it. The time spent doodling is way less than the time spent marking with these other methods and far more enjoyable. I will discuss this more later

      • Thank you..looking forward to seeing more about this. Doodling is an option, but think I would tear my hair out trying to achieve the precise spacing and placement of these designs…the design Popcorn comes to mind…so perfectly nested and spaced. I love the all over texture these designs create when the fabric and piecing is the main event. I have never been a fan of stippling, preferring a recognizable design. Not crazy about adding more expense to the process by buying a panto but….would be willing if that is the only way that I personally can achieve that open, nested, perfectly spaced design. Just need to figure out the grunt work of marking, I guess! Thanks again for your reply and generosity!

  15. I recently found that I could use the clear iron on vinyl (DON’T iron it onto your quilt), remove the papaer backing and it will be tacky enough to stick to part of your large quilt. I can then doodle on that clear vinyl to audition quilting lines. Once I have my design figured out, the vinyl will stick to a window as a map to refer to.

    Again, do not iron it onto your quilt or window. Also, be very careful not to write on your quilt with your marker. The version I uses is just a bit wider than my ironing board, and I can use a length just longer than the board as well to give me some insurance. After I had removed my quilt, I tried to change/practice one of the designs on a smaller piece, and wrote all over my ironing board with sharpie….that is recoverable, the quilt is not necessarily so depending on your marker.

      • I use a piece of plexiglass and place it over a section of the quilt. Then draw on it with dry erase markers. And I have put some green painters tape around the edge so I don’t forget where the plexiglass ends. Did that once…duh! My plexiglass is approx. 2’x 3′ so gives me a good chance to play with designs. Then when I like what I do, I take a photo of it to remind me before erasing and moving on to another part.

  16. One “rule” that I think is essential in determining quilting design is the end use of the quilt. On bed or throw quilts, I like to quilt more sparingly, so they still have a lot of loft. Wall quilts can be more densely quilted. Claire’s Peony is a beauty!

  17. Wonderful! Thank you for blurring the lines between home sewing machine quilting and longarm quilting. Our tools may be different, but the end result is a FINISHED quilt to use, enjoy and give!!

  18. Lori, I am so excited to see your emails each morning. I am very new to FMQ. I have a table runner I have been sitting on for about 2 years because I can’t figure out how to quilt it. This one lesson is huge for me. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I think I can now come up with a plan and quilt it. The Claire Peony is beautiful.

  19. Although it would not have worked for this quilt, I was able to FMQ a queen sized quilt on my home sewing machine by leaving the quilt top in 3 long panels, basting it to batting and backing (still in 3 long panels) and then quilting those panels. I did not quilt the last 4 inches of the edges that would need to be joined. After joining the quilt top and basting the batting together, I sewed the backing seam together by hand and then quilted those areas. It really worked well but required some forethought – especially when you are considering your borders.
    I look forward to this series because now that I have the logistics of quilting a large project down- the designing phase remains the most challenging!

  20. I have an on-point flimsy with solid open spaces. I haven’t been satisfied with my ideas for these spaces, biput I am thinking that your peonies may work well. looking forward to all of your posts!

  21. One of my Craftsy instructors suggested using Glad Press and Seal to trace the design, then stick it onto the quilt and stitch along the lines. It holds well enough, comes off easily, and is easy to see through. It’s a little pricey, but still cheaper than buying something like Borders Made Easy and you can make any any design you want. I also like the look off an all over pantograph for the center part of a patchwork quilt and something a little different for the borders. I use a Bernina 440QE and have to do large quilts in sections too. It’s easy to add more backing and batting to keep down the bulk.

    • I tried that method with Press & Seal once but never again. On dense quiting it is really a pain to remove all the little bits of P&S stuck between the lines of stitching! JMHO

  22. I was somewhat surprised to see that you stitched an “X” in the pinched squares in addition to the peony. What was the reason for that?

    I like the idea of “Rules for the big quilt” as I think deciding on what and how many designs should be used is one of the hardest questions to answer. You have already given us good food for thought about the big quilt and I’m anxious to hear more. Thanks for a great blog, Lori.

  23. Thank you, Lori! I have a couple of lap quilt tops waiting to be quilted so your Rules for Quilting is bery timely!

    A question – on your wedding ring quilt, did you quilt in the ditch around the rings and setting triangles? What is your “rule” for securing the basted quilt sandwich before adding the FMQ motifs? Thank you!

  24. I am in agreement with your Rules. Another consideration is how the quilt will be used and if the recipient will appreciate the details in the quilting or be happy with a simpler allover design. The work we put into the quilting needs to be respected as much as the choices of fabric and pieced design.
    I look forward to reading more about the big quilt process.

  25. I love this series already and am waiting for the next installment! The comments gave me a new phrase, i.e. the “stand and stare” phase, and a new idea, Glad Press and Seal to trace the design, then stick it onto the quilt and stitch along the lines.

  26. I am so excited to see this new series as I am always trying to figure out how to use your wonderful quilting designs in a large quilt. I love FMQ, but I struggle with what designs to use in the different areas of a quilt, and the quilting makes so much difference in the appearance of the finished product. I loved your Craftsy class too! Thanks for your inspiration!

  27. Would it be possible to cover my small (sorry!) wall quilt – or a section of The Big Quilt- with the Glad Press and Stick, then doodle on the wrap to come up with a design? Or might it tear or leak a marker?

    • In my experience I found that that a normal ball point pen works. The markers bubble up, don’t seem to dry and smudge. I was tracing a beautiful Chinese water lily. The stretch and seal came off the straight lines easily but at points where you have to double back to get to the next opsection the plastic was very difficult to take off. It required me to use tweezers. It is “stretch” and seal after all… and left tiny remnants behind. Be careful in your choice of ink, as My quilted lilies had a tint of blue or black ( whichever ink I had in my pen) and there was a definite hue in my silver thread. It may come out over time. Its nice to work with and it sticks without pins. I was just checking out the pattern on my quilt at first and decided to see if I could sew through it. …..I would use it again.

  28. Great new series. I can’t wait to learn more. I see this helping me in my longarm quilting. I just love your quilting designs.

  29. Since you first mentioned this series, I have been so excited about it. I bought a Babylock Tiara II earlier this year and have just finished my first large quilt on it. It took four months. I know this series will help me in planning and design. Maybe I’ll finish the next one in three months!

  30. Even though I have not started my fmq yet this info works great for hand quilting too. I am struggling with how to quilt the solid and print boarder on a lone star quilt. You gave me some ideas to consider thanks.

  31. Can’t wait to delve into this more. I have a HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen (Sitdown long arm) I purchased in March. I have done one lap quilt which I successfully FMQ an all over design with swirls after I stitched in the ditch. I have just started my second quilt and am in the stitch in the ditch phase. This one feels so much harder due the enormousity of the quilt as it is a queen size. It is a chevron pattern with white background and scrappy acqua and blues (just like Lori’s color scheme). I am at a loss if I should use white or aqua thread for the all over.

  32. Love this site and all your advice. I follow on FB as I am horrible at opening emails.- Looking forward to more great stuff and comments from the others. I have a Janome 6500 and do my own FMQ. Have 3 sandwiched waiting for El Nino to bring rain and keep me in the house this winter. Not easy living at the beach in San Diego.

  33. Pingback: Tips for Quilting the Big Quilt-Open Line Friday | The Inbox Jaunt

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