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How much should you quilt your quilt top?

by | Apr 21, 2016

You may not actually have a problem with the utility quilt at all…it is most likely just some hang-up I got into my head. But I will tell you about it anyway…so maybe you don’t run into the same issue.


When I first started quilting, I would just use my walking foot to straight line quilt my quilts. It worked out just fine: All layers securely attached and a nice snuggly quilt for the bed or sofa secured.

Then I started to free-motion quilt and one of my quilting teachers told me that my quilts would never look really complete unless there was LOTS of quilting all over the quilt. Wanting to become better than best, I swallowed the advise and then spent the next several years of my quilting life covering every square inch of my quilts with dense-fillers….

Here is the result: All those quilts lay nicely folded in the cabinet and really never see the light of day other to be looked at a few times a year and then put back in said cabinet.

Why? Because these densely quilted quilts are about as snuggly as a poster board. They don’t drape and they aren’t soft. So really, though some of them are quite pretty, they are completely useless and unloved.

SaturdayMorningAnd ultimately, isn’t the point of the majority of the quilts we make to be loved and snuggled under?

I don’t know why this wan’t intuitive to me, but now, when I start a project, the first question I ask myself is:

“What is this quilt for?”

Is it for hanging on the wall, entering in a show, or a model for a new pattern? In which case, feel free to quilt it so densely it won’t even fold if you try. Have at it!


However, if you want your niece’s new baby to be comfortably bundled up, or take naps on the sofa with your new creation. Feel free to go light on the quilting. Don’t spend hours creating thousands of tiny pebbles or spirals or anything else that will just make your shoulders ache anyways.

Rather, think in terms of the quilts usability:

  • Quilt no farther apart than the manufacturer of your batting recommend.
  • Choose a soft batting. I prefer to put wool batting in many of bed quilts because it breathes and keeps us warm. Bamboo and silk batting tends to drape very nicely. Here in super-warm Arizona I also like to use a very thin cotton batting like Quilter’s Dream Request or Select.
  • Consider taking the time to hand quilt. No, really. It won’t take as long as you think. Use a 12 weight Pearl cotton or Aurifil 12wt. You can even go heavier if you want and strategically big-stitch your quilt top. Hand quilting renders the quilt much softer than machine quilting.
  • Make sure all your materials can be washed in the machine. All my utility quilts gets tossed in warm water on a gentle/wool cycle with a hand-wash detergent. Then I stretch them back to shape and dry them hanging over the shower curtain or outside on the fence.
  • If a quilt feels too stiff after quilting, I will tumble dry it after I wash it specifically to wear it down a little bit so it gets nice and soft.
  • If you are sending your quilt tops out to be quilted by a long-arm quilter, don’t neglect to discuss with them what you are going to use the quilt for.
  • Strategic simple quilting of a utility quilt can look just as beautiful as the dense quilting os a show quilt. Heartquilting

Utility_bedThe pictures included here are of a utility quilt I made for my daughter last fall. Although it isn’t the most successful quilt I have made in terms of design (really, they are just oversized pinwheels and solid blocks with the super cute Birch fabric by Teagan White), I love to tuck my daughter in at night with it.

I chose to use lawn-weight fabric on the back to make it even softer, used wool batting, and I hand quilted it with Aurifil 12wt.  The result is a warm, lightweight, and soft quilt that gets popped in the washer pretty regularly.

Maya drags it all over the house. Sometimes it is draped over a table to make a house. Last night, when I tucked her in, she pulled the quilt up to her little nose and said “Mommy, you made this blanket for me because you love me, right?”

…and that is a great measure for a successful quilt.



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