Nancy’s Quilting Classroom: Choosing Quilting Designs, Part 1

Spin City Quilt
Spin City – Loop-and-Circle Quilting Design

The quilt top is finished—now what? Occasionally, I take a quilt top and backing to a professional longarm quilter. But, most of the time, I like to quilt my own quilts because I can add one more design element. In this 3-part series, I’ll share my insights for choosing quilting designs.

I quilt on a sit-down sewing machine, where I’m moving the quilt, so my approach to quilting is different than if I used a longarm quilting machine for longarm quilting designs. Although, many of the ideas I use for my quilts apply to both sit-down and longarm machines.

I start thinking about the quilting design when I’m assembling the quilt blocks and adding quilt borders. The size of the quilt and how much time I have are big factors when choosing a quilting design. However, for me, the most important decision is whether I want to quilt an allover design or use the quilting design to enhance the patchwork.

Today, I’ll share a few of my go-to allover quilting designs. One of my favorite allover designs is a loop-and-circle design. This is a quick and easy design because I can adjust the size of the loops and circles to fit the space, and I can cross any stitched line. I randomly stitch the design, but if I find myself boxed in, I stitch a loop or two and work my way out to an open area. I used this design in the center of “Spin City” from Love of Quilting January/February 2010. Then I quilted the same design in a straight line in the piano-key border.

Spin City Quilt
Spin City Quilt

Once I’ve decided on an overall design, I also think about thread color. For “Spin City” I used a cream color thread because it would blend with all the fabrics. For “Crooked Path” from Easy Quilts Spring 2015, I used a light gray thread and a swirl-hook quilting design. When stitching this design, I need to plan ahead since I don’t want to cross any previously stitched lines. If I need to work myself out of a corner, I echo quilt to the next area and start another swirl.

Crooked Path Quilt - Quilting Design
Crooked Path – Swirl-Hook Quilting Design
Crooked Path Quilt
Crooked Path Quilt

Straight or wavy lines are another option. To stitch evenly spaced straight lines, I use a walking-foot and either mark the lines with a removable marker or use a guide (such as masking tape). On the other hand, to stitch wavy lines, I use a free-motion foot for free-motion quilting and a more random placement. When quilting the wavy lines in “Four X Squared” from Quilty July/August 2014, I used the block lines as a guide and quilted two wavy lines between the seamlines in the quilt blocks. I used a removable marker to extend the seamlines into the border, so I could quilt edge to edge in one direction.

Four X Squared Quilt - Quilting Design
Four X Squared – Wavy Lines Design

Allover quilting designs are like doodling with your needle. Actually, doodling on paper is a good way to practice any quilting design because it builds muscle memory. In Choosing Quilting Designs, Part 2, I talk about choosing quilting designs to enhance the quilt block design. And, in Choosing Quilting Designs, Part 3, I discuss quilting borders. Take a look!

Nancy Mahoney, Fons & Porter Guest Blogger


Happy Quilting!



Other topics you may enjoy:


Fons & Porter Blog, How to Finish a Quilt
Nancy Mahoney

About Nancy Mahoney

Author, teacher, fabric designer, and award-winning quiltmaker, Nancy Mahoney has enjoyed making quilts for over 30 years, during which time an impressive range of her beautiful quilts have been featured in many books and in over 180 national and international quilt magazines. Nancy enjoys combining traditional blocks and updated techniques to create dazzling quilts. She doesn’t consider herself a specialist in one particular area, although Nancy’s favorite techniques include precision machine piecing, quilt design, and machine appliqué. When she’s not designing and making quilts, Nancy enjoys traveling to guilds and events around the country, sharing her quilts, teaching her piecing and machine appliqué techniques, and visiting gardens. Visit Nancy on her website,, for more quilting information and fun!