After you've pieced your top, you will be left to "quilt as desired." This is one of the hardest things to learn. These days, some quilting magazines and books are getting better at providing quilting diagrams as suggestions that come along with patterns, especially Fons and Porter. If the design choices have you stumped, there are several wonderful resources out there to help you answer this question. The Rodale Series offers a book, Choosing Quilting Designs, with very practical advice for beginners, with many diagrams showing various quilting options overlaid on top of various quilt designs. There is also another book, Encyclopedia of Quilting Designs, which catalogs every known design used by quilters from a historical perspective for traditional quilts.
Quilt shops rarely offer a good selection of stencils, but longarm quilt supply mail order houses usually are a great starting point. You can use pantographs found in longarm quilting supplies with all over quilting designs to transfer to your quilt top (see "bobbin quilting" tutorial here). There are also several online resources that specialize in quilting stencils: The Stencil Company, and Stensource are two great starting places. You can also find them through the Golden Threads website. If you get the chance to visit a quilt show, there will more than likely be several vendors specializing in templates where you'll have the largest selection to view and select from in person. Having a good stash of stencils, templates, and quilting designs is just as important if not more than having a good stash of fabric!
Here are several simple rules of thumb to keep in mind when you are looking for quilting designs:
- Karen McTavish puts it best when she says, you don't want to overwhelm or underwhelm but rather compliment the quilt with a design you choose.
- You'll want to make sure that the density of your quilting is balanced throughout the quilt.
- You'll want to think about the amount of drape you want with your quilt when choosing a design - the more densely quilted, the less drape and vice versa.
Finally, its good to keep in mind, quilting shows up best on fabrics that are white or very light, solid fabrics rather than darker fabrics or fabrics with busy prints, (unless you want to quilt with contrasting thread, ie. light color thread on dark fabric and vice versa which is very unforgiving if you have unintended wiggles and wobbles).
The more you become confident and have fun with your machine quilting, the more you'll want to design and plan for quilts that offer alot of plain background fabric to quilt in. Also, for the backing, in the beginning you might want to use a busy print which will camoflouge wobbles, but as you get better, a white backing will show off your quilting, and will give you the look of a whole cloth quilt from the back where nothing but your quilting design will show.
The very best way to become skillful at choosing a quilting design is to go to as many quilt shows as you can to study what other quilters have done, where you can get up close and really see what rarely shows up in a photo, and then keep a book of ideas with you for the future. Its also really helpful when planning the quilting stage of your quilt if you create a diagram of your quilt, then make photocopies and rehearse several different ideas. Lastly, Sherry Rogers Harrison recommends transferring a quilting design onto thin upholstery vinyl magic marker, then overlay on top of your quilt as a way to rehearse various designs as well.
When you're ready to transfer your quilting design to the top of your quilt, here are a few suggestions:
- If you are using a plastic stencil, always buy the clear, see-through kind, never pastel pink or any other color. See-through plastic helps you align the stencil with registration marks, especially on busy prints.
- Try to avoid using quilting paper to transfer your design to the top of the quilt. It tears easily, you can't see your stitches while you stitch on it, and small bits of paper tend to get stuck underneath the stitches.
- I have tried both blue and white pounce powder (by this brand) and found both of them to be useless - the white did not stay on and the blue did not wash out. HOWEVER, after hearing a podcast from Alex Anderson with Marilyn Badger, I learned that the brand of pounce powder you use can make a difference. Marilyn swears by the "miracle chalk" brand which you can view here. She needle punches her hand drawn quilting designs onto freezer paper with a large size needle and then transfers the design to the top of a quilt by swiping the pounce pad across the design where the chalk flows through the holes and onto the quilt top. According to her, the chalk does not come off until you take it off with a warm iron.
- If you are trying any product based on chemicals to transfer the design, such as a marking pen, always test first to see if it washes out on ALL the fabric in your top. You'll want to rinse it completely out with "cold" water and then wash the quilt with a very mild soap. Also, be sure to avoid contact with direct sunlight or any heat source while the pen markings are on the quilt.
- Before you commit to a final design, its helpful to rehearse the design on a piece of paper with a miniature scale diagram of your full quilt, then on a small swatch first before you commit to your final choices.