Introduction to Quilting Plans

That moment between piecing and quilting is sometimes just that— a moment— but sometimes it is days, weeks, or months because it’s challenging to know HOW to quilt your beautiful top. Or, even before knowing how, knowing how to get started making a plan. Join me for a quick introduction to making quilting plans.

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Introduction to Quilting Plans with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

If you’ve been around here (around String & Story, that is) for more than a hot second, you know that I’m passionate about guiding you to quilt and live with confidence. There’s a whole lot wrapped up in that one little sentence, but today we’re starting with something foundational: You can’t quilt with confidence if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be quilting. That’s why I’m a huge fan of a quilting plan (and bad rhymes LOL).

To watch/ listen to me talk through this topic and answer some Q & A, click here.

Dart Quilt Pattern by Natalia Bonner -Introduction to Quilting Plans with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

(Quilting plan above is for Dart by Natalia Bonner)

What is a quilting plan?

Simple— it’s taking the time to draw on paper what you will quilt on your quilt. If you make all decisions before your needle ever touches your fabric, then you can spend the actual quilting time focusing on execution and enjoyment, not deciding what comes next (note on my drawing above that there are several different options sketched out so I can see how they work, then I’ll choose my favorite before quilting). The best part is that if you draw something on paper, and you realize you don’t like it so much after all, then you simple get a new sheet of paper, or turn the page in your notebook and try again. If you jump straight into quilting and something doesn’t look as good as you hoped it would, then it’s a much bigger pain to rip out and try again.

Dart Quilt Pattern by Natalia Bonner -Introduction to Quilting Plans with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

How do I get started?

In order to choose motifs to quilt, you have to know some motifs, so I actually recommend you start by learning some basics of free motion quilting. You can get surprising variety with just some basics (Check out my Top Three Tips for Successful Free Motion Quilting—they’re free!), but, when you’re ready to get down to business, I highly recommend Free Motion Quilting Academy because it gives you 1) so much more variety 2) the skills to learn just about any other motif you see “in the wild” and want to emulate. Think of the designs you’ve practiced and feel reasonably comfortable quilting as your “toolbox” having a good variety of “tools” gives you creative options.

As far as timeline, sometimes I start thinking about the quilting while I’m still piecing. If no inspiration has struck by the time the top is done, I might slap it up on the design wall or drape it over the longarm for a couple of days to see if it “speaks” to me. Sometimes I’ll just start to see one motif in one area of the quilt— so I’ll pull out my notebook, sketch the quilt top, and add that motif. From there, I can play and figure out the other pieces. By the time I’m pretty sure about what I want to quilt where, I’m eager to get started on the quilting process, and I try to tackle it quickly while the ideas still have lots of energy.

Introduction to Quilting Plans with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

Thoughts on Choosing Motifs

Y’all know I have a strong affinity for various types of custom quilting, so I tend to describe quilting that way, but there are actually several factors to consider as you are deciding on the level of customization, exactly what motifs to use, etc.

  1. Purpose- What is this quilt’s job? Will it go on your bed? Get turned into forts and magic carpets by a kid? Hang on a wall? Go in a show? Go camping? Get puked on? If your gorgeous quilt is meant for a life of real living and loving, the extra time and energy that go into custom quilting may not be your thing— an all over motif or some simple semi-custom options might be the way to go. On the other hand, I find that quilts meant for living make awesome practice pieces because if I mess up, well, it’ll probably get puked on anyway. (my apologies for the potty talk— just trying to offer both perspective and levity in the same example).

  2. Process- How will you be quilting your masterpiece and how much do you enjoy the process? If you love, love, love, the process of quilting, then go for it, Rockstar! Custom work always takes a lot of time, but it takes longer on a domestic, so be sure to factor that in. Also, if you’re only lukewarm on the process, consider keeping your plan simpler so you can enjoy the process and the result AND see the quilting all the way through to a finished product. If, however, you’re going to be quilting on your home machine, you don’t particularly enjoy the quilting process, and you want custom quilting, then, either you’ll resign yourself to embracing the process even if it’s not your favorite, or it’s time to find a longarmer (Oh hey there! Email me at stringandstory(at)gmail(dot)com).

  3. Product- Think about how you want the finished product to look. Is the piecing very geometric? You might consider more floral motifs (swirls, paisleys, feathers, etc) for your quilting (note this on the red and pink quilt above— my friend Paige pieced this quilt and I loved her bold, graphical design. I chose just 4 motifs to quilt it with that add a LOT of texture, but don’t take away from the visual “punch”). Did you spend 4849574 hours on the piecing, and you want to make sure that shows? Then you’ll probably opt for VERY simple quilting or VERY custom quilting. Do you have a one block quilt? Then designing something custom to the block but that is easily repeatable is a cool way to add an achievable but very special touch to the quilt.

The Big Takeaway

The bottom line that I want to communicate is that the vast majority of custom quilting is not as complicated as it looks. It is, however, the result of practice and planning. It’s easy to get paralyzed by the thought of, “I won’t know what to quilt next or where to go next on the top,” but that’s why I want you to take the time to make all those decisions on paper before you quilt. FYI: While I’m very excited when I finish a quilting plan, it’s often the next day before I actually start quilting because making all the decisions of a quilting plan can be very tiring. But remember: challenging and unattainable are two different things. And you, Rockstar, are definitely up for a challenge!

For more information and lots of videos about specific motifs for different shapes of your quilt and instruction on how to navigate quilting your top, check out my online class, Free Motion Quilting Academy.