The Evolution of a Quilting Design

I love to see how people do the things that they do so well. Glimpses into the process that they go through are really inspiring to me! I decided to document the process that I go through when trying out a new quilting design…..hope you like it!

Phase 1: Drawing, Drawing, Drawing

I spend a lot of time sketching, so I always have notebooks everywhere…in my purse, next to my quilting machine, in my car…..well, you get the picture. So the first step is drawing out a new design I want to try.

I draw it a lot before I think about quilting it. I rarely, if ever, take the time to just quilt for practice. So this step is very important. This particular design is something that I have had on my mind for awhile.

quilting desing practice

This is a very rough drawing, so don’t judge my drawing skills by this picture! Also, I am sorry the picture is so dark…..

I don’t even know where I got the idea from. I may have seen a quilt pattern that had this, or I may have seen a wallpaper design…who knows! There are designs that I love that unfortunately don’t translate to quilting.  I was afraid that this one was one of those designs. I love the way it looks, but there is a lot of backtracking to this circle….I wondered if it would it be worth it. Even though I had some doubts,  it was time to move into the next phase.

Phase 2: Quilting

Once I feel like one of my drawings will work as a quilting design, it’s time to try it out on a quilt.  Usually, the first time I try a new quilting design, I try to hide it in a quilt, so that if it doesn’t work….I am not ripping quilting out of a whole quilt.

The first time I tried out this particular design, I tried mixing it in with some swirls:

free motion quilting design

As I am quilting it, I am thinking that it looks ok but not great. I decided that perhaps it was the swirls that were distracting from the new design. So I try it with some pebbles instead:

I think that it’s a little better, the pebbles compliment the design and aren’t too distracting. But it’s at this point that I wonder if the design is really practical…..there is a lot of backtracking. It will take longer to do this design than most other ones and I am not sure it will work on a larger scale. So I try something a little different:

circle machine quilting design

I like how this one looks, but it’s not as interesting as the first one…..hmmmmm….

Machine quilting is a process of trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. After using the design on this quilt, I am not sure if it’s a keeper or not. I think it’s back to the sketch pad!

How do you practice your quilting designs? I would love to hear what does and doesn’t work for you!

On a different subject…..

My post yesterday about thread lead to great questions that I want to share with the rest of us!

I’ve had a hard time with polyester thread breaking in my long-arm machine. Can you tell us about brands of thread that you like?

I like So Fine thread by Superior thread, it runs like a dream in my machine. I don’t experiment with thread much, once I found a thread that worked for me, I stuck with it. I think that by not using a bunch of different threads, I don’t have to keep adjusting my machine. If I have a customer request cotton thread, I use Signature cotton. Just keep experimenting and see what kind of thread your machine likes best!

Jan brought up a great question as well:

Hi, I am new to quilting, but I was told to use cotton thread because, the poly thread will cut the cotton fabric over time. I know in the past ( forty yrs ago, when I would make a shirt and use cotton thread, the cotton thread did not hold up as long as the shirt. I have made about 5 quilts now and I hope that the cotton thread will not have the same problem. What do you think?

This is something that I hear all the time! Bob,the owner of Superior Threads, had an excellent blog post about this called “Busting the Biggest Quilting Myth” It is a very interesting read, definitely take the time to check it out!

I will be back tomorrow with some pictures of quilts that I quilted for Tula Pink’s book, “Quilts From the House of Tula Pink”. You know….some behind the scenes type stuff.

In the meantime, Happy Quilting!



  1. I used to have notebooks everywhere too….car, bedside, etc. My DH bought me a Wacom pen for my iPad for Christmas and I bought the app with “notebooks” so now all my doodles and quilt ideas are all in one place. Its very nice.

  2. I love reading your blog and seeing your quilting; it’s really interesting to see your process. I doodle quilt designs everywhere, too – trying out new options and practising others. So I had a close look at your photos, then had a go at your new design, and I think with practice (!) it’s possible to quilt this one with virtually no backtracking – complete the first circle, then loop in for the next-biggest one, but insted of doing the whole thing, go half-way around, then loop in again for the next one (and so on, for more circles). It’ll look like a spiral at this point. Then work your way back out, completing the second half of each circle – no backtracking, and the only place you’ll have a double line of stitching is where two circles actually touch.

  3. Man, I really relate to this post. I have been filling notebooks with quilt doodles since I began doing it. My favorite is graph paper- so when I want to work out how a design will look on the quilt I am working on I roughly graph out a section of the quilt and then try to draw the design to scale. It is so fun and I get lost in my drawing sometimes- till my guy has to ask me if I heard a word he said… oops! I really do think it helps your brain get ready to quilt it- not the same muscle memory- but the knowledge of what comes next and how to get there- I believe in the power of the sketch!!

  4. I really think we might need a support group, “Doodlers Anonymous?” I take notes for meetings and always, my notes are doodled on. Thanks for this blog, it is so nice to know that we are not alone. You are the first fellow doodler I have met!

  5. Actually, I never thought of doodling and quilting together until a friend of mine taught me “zentangles” a couple of years ago. One of the nice things about that was now I am unafraid to divide up the quilt in weird ways to quilt it instead of using just one all over design.

  6. If you are interested, I’m anxious to comment on the use of the cotton thread vs. polyester and the link. Some food for thought, the Hanes tees with polyester thread that hold up, I believe is due to the stretch in the cotton and the style of stitch used which is meant to stretch. Therefore, there is not near the stress against the cotton. The fabrics are totally different weaves. On the other hand, one of my first quilts made about 15 years ago, used on my bed for about a year, laundered maybe 6 times that year, then folded and put away because many seams are cutting into the fabric (I used cotton/poly combo). The thread totally cut through the fabric. I would much rather a thread break, you can mend that easily. When your fabric tears at the seam, there is no way to mend other than to cover that seam and you lose the design element. Just my few pennies worth… New to your blog and I love it!

  7. Thanks for this post. I too draw and have been noticing that what I draw the most, usually feathers, i am better at. Would be interested in how this design turns out. Drawings with a couple of arrows:). So many quilters have a scrap book to hold drawings, which is a good idea. Mine are on scraps of paper back of phone book etc, so can never find them.
    I use Isacord thread in my domestic machine. I picked it because of Leah Day’s recommendation. I works, so havent really ventured except some cotton that kept breaking. I tend to match thread as close as i can for now, but want to contrast when i get brave.
    Love what you share. I want to try that design you have shown recently in triangles. My imagination kind of gets stuck on those. Also borders. I stare at all of that “clean slate” and my mind shuts down.
    I have something arriving in the mail in June! Can you guess what it is? I can hardly wait!

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