How I decided on a quilting design

I am frequently asked how I decide what hand quilting design to use on a quilt.   I wish there was one specific answer but unfortunately the best answer is “it depends”.

The one I am working on today is a Vintage New York Beauty top that I have posted about the last few days.   DSCN2300

The quilt top belongs to Bill Volckening who has an extensive collection of New York Beauty quilts and is in the process of writing a book about them. 

I have seen pictures of many of his quilts and I wanted this one to be quilted differently than those I have seen.  The white areas are very big so there is a lot of room for “fancy quilting”    One of the things that I have to ask myself about each quilt it “do I want the piecing to be the star or the quilting”  or in other words what do I want people to notice first?

After all the remaking to get the top flat I can appreciate all of the tiny little triangles that make up the arcs and the sashing.  I really don’t want to distract from that.  Overly elaborate quilting might do that… so what to do in those big areas?

I need to consider the style and era of the quilt as well.  when I am doing a vintage quilt I like to do the quilting in a style that is fitting for the era of the top, I want the end result to look as if it was all made by the same person.

Yesterday I posted some sketching I did for ideas ( the book is new for me…I used to just use scrap paper then toss out the sketches)


But back to the criteria I set:

1.  It has to feel like it is from the same era as the quilt

2.  It should not distract from the pieing (it needs to be harmonious with the design)

3.  It has to be different from others I have seen in Bill’s collection

My first thought is often feathers for big open spaces  they are beautiful, and I find that I can draw them to custom fit the space.   I decided that beautiful as they are the don’t fit my criteria ….#3 …I’m pretty sure he has at least one with feathers so those were out

My next thought was something rather simple like this that I have circled.


I like that a lot, but it is essentially the same design I did on the last one I did for him…


So that one is out….

I wanted to do something that related to all the points on those triangles and the stars in the sashing.  I wanted something that looked like a sun.


That was the last picture I drew because that was the one that felt right.

I used a dinner plate to draw a circle in the center of the block and a ruler to draw some radiating lines and got to work. (the pencil on the book above is what I used to mark the top)  The design evolved as I worked on it and this is what I ended up with.


The pieced corner sections will get simple lines of quilting as in the lower right corner here.


the sashing will be similar to this.

I am using Mountain Mist cream rose cotton batting….fitting because the name New York Beauty comes for a Mountain Mist pattern in the 30’s.

I am using YLI 40 weight hand quilting thread and a #11 John James between needle.  The backing is white muslin….sometimes the back shows the quilting better than the front in pictures


So next I have to do 3 more of these and then the partial blocks around the edges and a lot of sashing!  It is going to be fun!!

Happy Quilting



38 thoughts on “How I decided on a quilting design

  1. Sara says:

    Perfect thoughts, perfect decisions, perfect quilting!

  2. Jan Marriott says:

    I have been following your trials with this top and am impressed with your quilting choice

  3. Well chosen! You picked the same one I would have picked!!

  4. John says:

    Are you sure you aren’t using some robotic arm to do this quilting?? Very impressive to get that much done already. I thought the top was still warm from the piecing. I am impressed.

  5. Louise says:

    How do you get the pencil marks out of the quilt when you are done?

  6. Deb says:

    Fantastic quilting!! Thanks for the idea of using a tablet to keep record of the quoting designs!! I too always trashed mine! Sure glad you shared your thoughts on the quilting … There not much of that out there for hand quilters !

    • timquilts says:

      thanks Deb!! I will try to remember to do that for future quilts as well….I got that book from a good friend who is an excellent hand quilter…..I am so glad she got it for me

  7. Mimi says:

    Very special the way the rays line up with the triangles…. well done.

  8. Julie Porter says:

    Perfect design for the quilt.

  9. glendajean says:

    My gosh Tim you keep blowing me away with you talent, what a lovely lovely design to complement the New York Beauty. I still find it hard to believe it is the same quilt you showed us at the start. Thanks so much for all the free lessons, I keep learning so much from you and after 15 years have started quilting a 1930s grandmother Flower Garden quilt. Cheers Glenda Australia.

  10. kathie says:

    beautiful choice, glad your saving those drawings (and ideas!) for future quilts. studying antique quilts and their quilting choices they used has been helpful for me in choosing when I do hand quilt a quilt…check out the antique quilts I posted the past few weeks ….I was in awe over the hand quilting….I know you will be too.

  11. Pat Long says:

    As usual your designs are beautiful. It is very interesting to see the process you use to decide on the quilting design.

  12. Kay Pungitore says:

    I am in awe! Perfect design! I find it difficult to trust myself to choose the right design for a quilt. Incredible how much you have done. When do you sleep? I need to start a notebook.

    • timquilts says:

      LOL….this one has been on my mind so much that Once I started it I had to get it to the point of quilting so I could see it… I didn’t sleep much ;)….now that I can see that it is working I can slow down a bit!

  13. audrey says:

    I love how you make the design fit the quilt. It always makes the quilt better, like it’s not complete until the stitching is included. Wonderful work!

  14. I use the same booklets for working out my designs, making notes, even journaling. When one gets full, I take out my doodles & designs & tape them in an artist sketchbook. Then I can always refer to them.
    Your quilting is lovely, your design extraordinary.

    • timquilts says:

      Thank You!
      I usually just make it up as I go with no plan….but I can see the advantage of using a book…..I want to make a new New York Beauty some day and will definitely refer to the sketches and to this blog post and the others on the subject….the blog is my journal

  15. sandralouise says:

    So gorgeous, Tim. I’m sure Bill will love it!

  16. Dawn Fox Cooper says:

    Good choice for complementing the triangles. The rays lead your eye out to the triangles.


  17. cmosey says:

    Nice journal you’ve got there, mister! 🙂 The quilt is going to be a beauty!

  18. Sandra B says:

    The quilting is so perfect for this quilt! It really pulls everything together beautifully!! Such an inspiration for all of us who are hand quilters. Thanks so much for sharing!!


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