Deciding What to Quilt~ quilting small blocks

Well it is Monday again and we know that means that it is time for another post in the “Deciding What to Quilt” series. Today we are going to talk about quilts with small blocks. Our example quilt will be the Seeing Squares quilt designed by Shea of Empty Bobbin Sewing Studio.

Photo by: Sarah Sorell

Since I do the quilting for all of her patterns, I have had the pleasure of quilting this quilt several times. It was challenging for me because of the smaller pieces, so I knew that it make a great subject matter for this series.

To help with suggestions is today’s guest quilter, Molly. Molly is a blogger friend of mine who has been knocking it out of the park with her free-motion quilting. She just started quilting for customers and I am excited to see what she comes up with next! Here is what she suggests for the Seeing Squares quilt:

Of course depending on my customer’s taste I would go one of two ways- if they were looking for an all-over meandering design I would probably do a square edge type meandering design- to mimic the geometry in the squares quilt.  This would look nice and would make the quilt nice and soft without too heavy of quilting- perfect for daily use.  If my customer wanted custom quilting and more show quality- with heavier design, I would suggest playing on the small scale and the geometry by doing pebbles in the outer blocks and swirls in the center squares- circles quilted amongst all the squares- both would look good, but if I were making it for myself I would go with the second route.

Option A

Option B

Thanks Molly! I think those are great suggestions!

When dealing with quilts with a lot of small pieces, quilting an allover design can be a great option. Trying to quilt each piece with a different design can make the quilting overwhelm the quilt top and that’s not a good thing! In one version of the quilt, I quilted a swirly allover design:

Photo by: Shea Henderson

But if you want a little more than just an allover design, try picking out random pieces within the quilt top and quilting a different design in just those pieces. Let’s call this an allover +1! It’s just as simple as an allover design, but add an extra little touch to the quilt.

Photo by: Sarah Sorell

In the above version of the Seeing Squares quilt, I quilted some of the pieces with a custom design, such as the white pieces, and quilted the rest of the quilt with a swirly allover design. A little tip: when picking out pieces to highlight, go with ones that will show your hard work. There’s no sense in quilting intricate designs only to have them not show up!

Here is another example of an allover +1:

Photo by: Sarah Sorell

I used a flowery quilting design with a few little details threw in.

But sometimes you just want to do some custom quilting……don’t you?…….I know I do. Sometimes, I forget how long it’s going to take and I quilt each of those little suckers with a different design and I love the result:

Photo by: Sarah Sorell

I am not saying that each block has to be a completely unique design. Instead, I pick out a few of my favorite designs and rotate them. For the smallest blocks, I use a simpler design, such an “X” or curved lines. I save the more dense quilting designs, such as pebbles, for the larger blocks. The difference in designs gives the quilt so much more texture!

Sometimes, you may not be sure if a quilt needs custom quilting or not. But if the words “hand-appliqued” describe the quilt….then it definitely needs custom quilting. That is the case with this quilt:

Jude sent me a picture of this quilt that she is working on……all I can say is, Wow! I would most definitely have to do some custom quilting on this. All the time and effort put in this quilt demands that the quilting adds another layer of art to the quilt, not distract from it. So the million dollar question is, “How do you quilt this quilt?”

It’s hard to tell exactly how big the pieces are in this quilt block, but if they are 3 inches or so, I would not quilt the pieces at all. I would quilt echo lines in the white background around pieces and leave the pieces unquilted. (I can’t believe I acutally typed that!) In the larger applique pieces, such as the circle, I would quilt something really simple….perhaps a swirl. If the pieces were larger than a few inches, I would echo the shapes inside the pieces.

What do you all think? I would love to hear your suggestions for how Jude should quilt her beautiful quilt…..please feel free to leave your suggestion in the comments. I am sure that Jude would appreciate them as well! And be sure to check back in next monday for the next installment in the “Deciding what to quilt” series.

Don’t forget to email me your questions or photos of quilts that you would like me to feature. Send them to:

Happy Quilting!
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  1. Wow! What a fabulous series!!

    I would maybe zigzag in between the appliqué pieces… Or a curly line. And then maybe more in depth in the sashing!

    It’s a beauitful piece of artwork!

  2. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to weigh in with how I would quilt this- I really love this series and all the different options really make it fun to follow- I love how you have quilted it many times in several ways- so fun!

  3. I like your second option the swirls and pebbles really show of the quilt! Love this series!

    • Thanks Kristi- It was fun to weigh in with how would quilt it and even more fun to see what Angela had already come up with- I really love this series too!

  4. I think in the center of Jude’s quilt block I would quilt a “daisy” shape that’s similar to the appliqued petals. In the center of the daisy, small pebbles would mimic what a real flower looks like, so the petals quilted around it would draw one’s eye right into the applique petals. It looks like it would be fun to quilt. As much as I am attracted to densely quilted quilts – for their appearance – they aren’t that wonderful to sleep under because they tend to be heavy and stiff. For that reason, most often I keep my quilting light, and well-balanced. For me, that’s key. Thanks for posting on this interesting topic.

  5. Mary ann says:

    Wow, I don’t think I’ll ever get into machine quilting in a big way but I am loving learning more about your thought process. I can be a much better partner with my quilter when I know the options. thank you for sharing so much.

  6. Great installment to this series Angela! I tend to default to all over quilt designs (less time to do) but you’ve given me something to think about in terms of spicing it up with a little custom with consideration made to where it might be best applied.

    I’m glad you raised the issue of quilting applique–I had thought about asking you if you would be doing a post on that but you’ve already opened that discussion! Hope you’ll talk a little more about it in a future post. On Jude’s quilt I would also probably consider outline (ditch quilt) the white paths and then do custom on the larger applique elements.

    Speaking of custom work, can you also talk about how you estimate/allocate the time it will take to do the quilting?

  7. Thanks for showing my ‘Flower Power’ quilt Angela! The design for this came from a Tile quilt book and I love to hand applique. I always make my quilts at least lap size since I figure everything has to have a purpose in life. 🙂 It is also my first ‘on point’ quilt and the squares are basically about 12 inches and sometimes lots of small pieces in them. It is a work in progress for sure. I agree with Mary Ann in the appreciation of this series, as it most certainly does help with us in being a better partner with our quilter and in the understanding of it all. Again, thank you Angela for sharing so much information and showing us all your fantastic quilting! I hope to send ‘Flower Power’ to you when I finish. 🙂

  8. This series is great! Someone pointed me over here, when I posted on my blog a question about how to quilt my current quilt, so I came by to see what you had to say. I don’t have my answer yet, but your posts gave me lots of food for thought.

  9. Mary ann says:

    I am enjoying these discussions so much Angela! I am never going to the quilting myself but it makes me a much better customer, I’ll have some ideas and more control over what happens on my projects too.


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