Where do I Start Quilting?

You finished your quilt top! Congratulations! Now the fun starts, the FMQ. The Babylock Tiara group had a recent discussion on this topic. Where should I start quilting? Does it make a difference if I am doing an overall motif? How do I know where to start?

The most common advice, the simplest advice is to start in the middle. You have pin or spray basted (I belong to the pin baste group, FYI). If pinned, your pins are 4-5″ apart each direction. The simplest – and most accurate – advice is to start in the middle and FMQ by quadrants. Divide your quilt into quarters and start in the middle, quilting from the center out in each quarter. This works well for quilts with clearly defined, larger blocks and for quilts like crumb quilts with many, many small pieces. It works best for all over motifs as well. When I first started quilting, this was how I approached all my quilting.

Why is this good advice? This is good advice because quilts are puffy creations and as you quilt, regardless of how well you baste, you can get pleats or puckering forming, usually in the backing, as you move through the quilting process. Quilting itself gathers fabric up. The denser the quilting, the more fabric is gathered up and some inconsistencies in your “loose” un-quilted fabric will develop. Or perhaps your piecing is a little off? What? Yes, it happens. a crooked row can or section can add to the “poof” factor. Starting in the middle means that you can smooth out any poofs or wrinkles or pleats towards the edge of your quilt and avoided the dreaded pleats in the front or back of your quilt. If you have sections of denser quilting and less density, you will definitely get “poof”. If your center is densely quilted and your borders have light quilting, you will definitely get poof on the borders. For this reason, I tend to quilt my borders a similar density to my center quilting. And yes, I learned the hard…er “poofy” way! Dense quilting gathers up a lot fabric. Light quilting gathers minimal fabric.

Does basting around the edge of the quilt help? Some people advocate for basting around the edges of the quilt as a means of stabilizing the quilt. I have tried this and found that I wind up having to take the basting out to accommodate smoothing out fabric as the quilting progresses, especially when doing heavier quilting. This is a definite NO for me.

The Best Way?

Stitch in the Ditch First! SID first and have more freedom about where to begin FMQ. I resisted SID in the beginning of my quilting journey. It was hard to FMQ straight. Using rulers to SID was hard. It took too much time. Whine/complain. I was stubborn in my resistance. Now, I SID all my quilts prior to quilting. What changed my mind? Applique. Applique quilts changed my mind. FMQ on applique quilts requires a different approach to FMQ with large areas of your quilt top covered by applique components. I began outline stitching around all my applique pieces. I noticed how nicely it defined the elements and design of my quilt and how much easier FMQ was when my applique was securely outlined. That made me want to SID the pieced sections of my applique quilts so that they looked as nice. Yes, then I was hooked and started SID on all my quilts before FMQ.

MY SID process: I now SID all my quilts whether a wall hanging, a table topper or a huge bed quilt. I use MonoPoly so that my SID stitching is “invisible” and I don’t have to worry about hiccups that wander a bit from the ditch. I do it freehand because it’s quicker than using a ruler and now that I have lots of experience SID, it is more or less straight. I use Bottom Line in the bobbin. And yes, I start from the middle. I SID from the middle out to the edge along each row. Middle horizontal row to bottom row. Then the top, middle out and then turn to SID the other direction.

Once you have SID, you can FMQ wherever you like because your quilt is stabilized and your pins have been removed. (I do keep one row of pins around the very outside edge.) I love sewing with the majority of pins removed! No more clattering of pins as I move the quilt, many fewer pins to catch on a table edge, no pins to run over and throw my machine out of timing (yes, I have done this), and no stopping at an awkward moment in the middle of a motif to remove a pin. You can now sew anywhere, although I still save borders for last. I usually start in the middle, especially on a large bed sized quilt, because the middle is the most challenging and I like to get the hardest part over with first. But once that is done, I roam where I will!

SID also enables us to do heavier quilting in some areas and light quilting in others! Once you have separated your blocks or areas with SID, you can do either heavy or light quilting without disturbing the neighboring block.

SID on a quilt with lots of pieces. For a quilt with many small pieces in the patch work or smaller squares, like a crumb quilt, you may want to divide your quilt into larger sections to SID. For example, SID every third or fourth row. Are you doing medallions? SID around the medallion outer edge and middle. Ruler work? Whatever your plan, you can SID and divide your quilt to fit your chosen motifs.

Hmmm. Where are the photos? Time to share my very recent finish on the Cat/Koi #1 quilt! (This quilt is 57″ x 64″).

Here is how I did the outlining and SID, all done with MonoPoly.

  1. Green, – Starting in the middle and following the gold outline in the fabric that bordered the sections of different designs.
  2. Blue – SID the burgundy sashing around the middle section and the aqua sashing. SID around the burgundy grunge.
  3. Red – SID around my applique frame elements and outlining the black cats. I Also did straight stitching every other block of the checkerboard print fabric.
  4. Yellow – SID around the outer burgundy sashings and along the gold print outlines in the outside section (same as the middle section of the quilt.)

Once the outline and SID were done, I quilted feathers in the burgundy sections and a wandering, watery design in the Koi print sections. The Aqua sashing was quilted with a small swirl repeat. I left the burgundy sashing (1″ wide, unquilted for contrast and texture.).

Feathers in the burgundy grunge sections.
More feathers!
A swirl repeat in the aqua sashing.
Feathers and the koi.
Meanders and swirls in the “water”.
Watchful kitty!

Happy quilting all! May your backing never pucker!


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