How to quilt a quilt—6 quick ideas

How to quilt a quilt quickYou’ve just finished your quilt top—time to tackle the quilting! Some quilters gleefully embrace this essential part of finishing quilts; some hire a machine quilter by rote or drop their quilt top onto the UFO pile to finish…later.

Although the words “quilt as desired” and “instant gratification” aren’t typically uttered in the same sentence, there are ways to get a quilt to the finish line without weeks of planning, prep, and production. Today we’ve gathered ideas for quilting a quilt that are perfect for those times when you just want to finish a project and feel good about a job well done. Emphasis on done.

Stitch in the ditch, outline, echo, and allover-pattern quilting are common go-to approaches for finishing quilts more quickly. But if a super-fast finish is your ultimate goal, consider the out-of-the-box ideas below. Ready to say “The End” to that unfinished quilt? Read on!


How to quilt a quilt quick: by hand and by machine

1. Tie a quilt by hand
From Jera at Quilting in the Rain

How to tie a quilt tutorial
Think tying a quilt is an antiquated method that’s lost its appeal? Think again. Many of today’s quilters tie their quilts—it’s a fast, inexpensive approach to finishing a quilt that results in a charming, casual, vintage look. Get a step-by-step tutorial on tying quilts by hand at the Quilting in the Rain blog.


2. Tie or tack your quilt by machine
From our friends at McCall’s Quilting magazine

How to tie and tack a quilt by machine
Discover another simple way to tie your quilt—by machine! Watch this video from McCall’s Quilting magazine, where you’ll learn how to machine stitch yarn to your quilt instead of pulling it through the quilt layers by hand.

In the video you’ll also find out how to use decorative stitches on your machine to “tack” your quilt layers into place. Simply use your machine’s preprogrammed motifs. Both techniques are a great approach to quilting a quilt for beginners.


3. Hand quilt without a hoop
From Tonya Ricucci at Lazy Gal Quilting; author of Word Play Quilts

Hand quilting without a hoopHand quilting has an “it takes forever!” reputation, but today’s quilters have relaxed the rules to make hand quilting faster—all without investing in a hoop or a frame. Here’s what Tonya says about her hoop-free technique in her book, Word Play Quilts:

“I love the look of unmarked or casually marked quilting. My favorite is freehand fans (right), which I hand quilt without marking. When a design requires that I do mark, I use chalk and mark only a small portion of the quilt at a time. I enjoy using thicker thread and larger stitches, which lend an informal, folk-art appearance. I use size 8 pearl cotton and a larger needle, such as a size 7 or 8 Between.”

Find more details about Tonya’s hoopless technique at her blog, Lazy Gal Quilting.


4. Hand quilt with big stitches
From Rachel Hauser at Stitched in Color

How to quilt a quilt with big stitches
Another popular hand-quilting trend is to take big, colorful stitches that are meant to stand out in a quilt design. (Big stitches = quicker quilting!) See how beautiful the results can be in Rachel’s step-by-step tutorial at Stitched in Color.


5. Free-motion quilt with simple repeat patterns

Free-motion quilting booksInterested in learning more about machine quilting, but need someone to hold your hand? As it goes with—well, most anything—the more you practice, the better you get. In Free-Motion Quilting Made Easy by Eva A. Larkin, you can start simple by quilting just one motif per block. Once you feel more confident, layer on different combinations of motifs. From setting thread tension to quilting in small sections, Eva walks you through every step of the process. Once you learn the ropes, free-motion quilting just might become your quickest go-to method for quilting! Learn more about Free-Motion Quilting Made Easy and Eva’s second book, Easy and Fun Free-Motion Quilting, by clicking on the covers above.


6. Try allover free-motion quilting patterns: beginner to advanced
From Leah Day at the Free-Motion Quilting Project website

Free Motion Quilting ProjectWhether you’ve just started playing with free-motion quilting or you consider it part of your current skill set, you’ll find ample inspiration at Leah’s site. Not only does she provide examples of 365+ free-motion quilting designs—she’s videotaped herself machine quilting every single motif! Categorized by difficulty level, filler-design type, and directional texture, Leah’s videos do a great job of showing how free-motion quilting, with practice, can make for a quick finish.

How to quilt free eBookletOne final resource: Download the free eBooklet about hand and machine quilting from our How to Quilt page. In addition to hand- and machine-quilting tips, you’ll find expert advice on backing, batting, and basting.


What’s the quickest way you’ve found to get your quilts to the finish line? Share your ideas in the comments!


43 Comments (leave a comment)

  • fastest way to quilt ? once I get started, I tend to add more quilting than originally planned
    straight line machine quilting on dolly and lap quilts is fairly fast albeit not always the best appearance
    all-in-all, I still like the appearance of hand quilting

    —MarciaW on April 25, 2013
  • Stitch in the Ditch and Echo are the only ways I know how to quilt at this time! Still learning!

    —Karen on April 25, 2013
  • I must prepare my self to quilt – not confident as of yet for free motion quilting. So I usually do stitch in the ditch, but I like big hand-stitching also. I find the best way is to tell myself I can’t make any more tops until I quilt some – force myself to set down & quilt.

    —Cindy Wienstroer on April 25, 2013
  • i mostly hand quilt and am never really in a hurry…i have tied quilts and decorative stitching on a stack n whack pattern but for sheer enjoyment and relaxation nothing beats hand quilting

    —nancy b. on April 25, 2013
  • I like to piece my blocks in a row, than sew it to the back, and quilt as I go, row by row. The I can just finish up the out side any way I want to. I always have blocks leftover or scraps that I make into blocks and put them into a row. I like quilts that do not matchy match. Too much of todays quilts have lost the art of reuse and reduce that my grandmother always quilted.

    —Lori M. on April 25, 2013
  • the fastest way? Call my Mennonite buddies with the midarm sewing machines and ask for help! nice work and happy! happy! finishing touches (as opposed to my quilting that looks like it was completed by drunken squirrels)

    Rebecca J on April 25, 2013
  • Embroidery quilting stitches and designs. And quilt as you go

    —Jean on April 25, 2013
  • Quickest way is to use fleece for a backing then you can quilt as little as you want…..I usually run a row of stitching every foot or so just to hold the top and backing/batting (no batting needed!) together. 15-20 quick straight lines of stitching and you are done. Faster still is to spray-baste it first….Takes longest to turn the edge of the fleece to the front (or the edge of the top to the back) and pin so you can run a line of stitching around and finish the edge.

    —Dotty Bailey on April 25, 2013
  • Quilt as you go is the absolute fastest for me. I never have to think about how I am going to quilt the quilt. Other quick quilting options are stitch in the ditch, echo and straight or gentle curved line grids.

    —Audrey on April 25, 2013
  • I haven’t found a way to jump start a quilting project. I worry it to death and talk it to death. Once I get started I have fun. The results vary but I still have fun. I will just keep trying. Maybe someday Ill get it right.

    —Diane on April 25, 2013
  • I put it on the longarm and quilt away. I know not everyone has their own longarm, but lots of shops rent them by the hour. Get a buddy, take the (usually) required class and schedule some time. Two people make the loading go faster.
    You can get a lot done in a short period of time.
    If you quilt on your domestic machine, practice on some charity quilts. There is a real sense of satisfaction when you make a total quilt by yourself.

    —Pat H on April 25, 2013
  • The quickest way is to have someone else quilt it for me while I move on to another quilt. Is that the best? Probably not. I’m trying to quilt more of my projects and I’m making headway. I have been practicing free motion quilting and I’m finally beginning to see some improvement. It’s taken a while and I still have a long way to go, but I’m not ashamed to display my work now.

    jeanne in Ohio on April 25, 2013
  • Doing it myself. After spray basting, I machine quilt on my home sewing machine which is getting to be more of a chore every time. I will try the renting long arm time for the next project larger than a table runner. Waiting months for a long armer to quilt and then paying $200+ isn’t my idea of good customer service.

    —Claudia on April 25, 2013
  • I leave it with my aunt and she gets sick of it taking up space so she quilts and binds it for me. As I am the worlds slowest binder this works a treat!!
    Otherwise, I use the tying method or a professional quilter.

    —Mhairi on April 25, 2013
  • I never forget the phone number or address to my favorite long arm quilters. I have two: one is Hannah Myers in Elizabethtown, KY fivesistersquilting@gmail.com and Nancy Blunk at http://www.merrymeanders.com. Both are excellent quilters and I know, how much the quilting will cost (written estimate and finished invoice) as well as what designs they’ll use and when I’m getting my quilt back.

    For my own quilting; I do hand and stitch in the ditch as well as straight line stitching on the diagonal. Whatever is the quickest, easiest, and looks good is what I do.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on April 26, 2013
  • It’s frustrating to me to freehand quilt, so I either have a long arm quilter do the quilting or I hand quilt. I love hand quilting. It always reminds me of by-gone days when I would sit with Grandma and quilt with her at her quilting frame. Bless her heart, she’d let us help even when we were little and our stitches were BIG! I miss those days…..I hope to pass on those times by doing the same with my grandkids.

    —Patty in Iowa on April 26, 2013
  • Love all the ideas, but was not able to see the video on "Tie or Tack your quilt by machine."

    —Dru Thomason on April 26, 2013
  • gracias por tantas cosas tan hermosas, que manos tan laboriosas Dios las bendiga um abrazo desde colombia (Translation: thanks for so many things so beautiful that so laborious hands God bless embrace from Colombia.)

    —maria eugenia patiño cespedes on April 26, 2013
  • Please put me on your mailing list. I got this address from a quilt chat.

    Sincerely,

    Wilma Howell

    Hi Wilma,
    It’s better if you sign up for our newsletter yourself! Just to to shopmartingale.com and click on "sign in or register". Then you’ll see where you can register to receive the newsletter and download some free patterns!
    Thanks!
    ~Cornelia

    —Wilma on April 27, 2013
  • love this page. so glad a quilting friend sent it my way

    Vickey S. (aka wordpainter)

    Vickey Stamps on April 27, 2013
  • I usually make tops and then tackle the quilting when I feel like it. But it is usually fast because I can’t wait to say I’m finished.

    —Karen Propes on April 27, 2013
  • The quickest way to get my quilts to the finshed line is an immovable deadline – like Christmas or a Wedding!!

    Nothing focusses me like the feeling of dread that I won’t be finished in time. In fact, I work out how long it takes to quilt an area, work out how much area needs quilting, and then budget my time accordingly.

    Well, I’m a hand-quilter so the term "insane" goes without saying really… 😀

    —Kayt on April 28, 2013
  • I do not have an answer to this being that I just finished my first top and have not figured out how I will quilt it. I will probably be doing it by hand as I have never used a sewing machine but have been considering to teach my self how to use the machine that my mom gave me.At moments it seems overwhelming and wish I knew someone close by who could help me. But am determined not to stop,as I love quilts…..

    Janice Albrecht on May 5, 2013
  • You present an interesting angle in regards to quick ideas and their consequences. This is very beneficial information. Great job Jenny.

    Knitting Journal on May 8, 2013
  • Whether quilting by hand, or home sewing machine, divide the quilt into
    4 sections, it’s easier to compete a corner and not so much to move around.

    —Jane on August 11, 2013
  • Many years ago, I saw a lady on tv make lap quilts for hospital patients. She had lots of volunteers that came in at different times of the day to help. Her process of making a quilt looked easy and neat! I can’t remember exactly how she did the lap quilt but I think she made a quilt block then quilted it by machine with batting and backing. As she did this process, she sewed them all together then put the binding on them. At the time it was considered a short cut trick in making a quilt. Would anyone happen to know exactly how this was done? You didn’t have to do any quilting after it was put together! Would appreciate any help! Thanks!

    —Barbara L. Smith on September 4, 2013
  • To Barbara’s last comment, check Georgia Bonesteel and lap quilting. That may be what you are looking for. I know I also have some newer books that are similar with quilting each block and then assembling the whole. I haven’t tried it yet, but the method has interested me…

    —Dena on October 10, 2013
  • I have started quilting my own quilts finally. My favorite way to quilt lap quilts is to use fleece for the backing. I spray baste and just pin around the outside edges. I use the serpentine stitch on my sewing machine and quilt rows about three inches apart. Sometimes I criss cross the lines, and sometimes I just do rows in one direction. It goes very quickly and looks good. The fleece never has puckers and is very forgiving. The people I give the quilts to always comment on how soft and cozy they are. I really want to learn to do free motion quilting soon. My dream is to learn to quilt feathers on a quilt. When I can do that, I will have my masterpiece.

    —Ruthie on March 4, 2014
  • I’ve only been quilting for about a year; but I started out with the idea that if I was going to dive into the hobby, I’d rather do the entire project myself from start to finish. I bought a book and then took a class on free motion quilting and decided I really enjoy it. I have done a number of smaller projects, and I’ve just completed my third quilt…a queen-sized 100-patch that was rather challenging. I know now that I can do it with my domestic machine. I do tend to think a lot about appropriate and "do-able" designs on my projects, though, to the point of waking in the middle of the night with quilting thoughts. Crazy or obsessive, I know.

    —Ali Stanley on March 4, 2014
  • My fastest way to finish quilts is to do quilt as you go quilts. That way I don’t have to worry about it. Other than stitch in the ditch and around a particular design in the quilt, I find a longarm quilter and let them have the fun. I’ve found 2 that I love and I really enjoy the quilts much than I would if I did them.

    —Louise Buker on March 8, 2014
  • I just completed both a Queen size quilt and am almost finished home machine free motion quilting a King Size quilt and I must say they both look fantastic. I started by practicing on place mats and table runners. I normally just start quilting and make up the pattern as I go especially with the smaller projects. Just relax and have fun, and a glass of wine and some nice music also helps.

    —Denise Sunderland on March 15, 2014
  • Two of my easy ones are parallel lines running edge to edge – usually presser food width off the seam lines, or an expanding spiral starting at some point usually off center and spiraling out, turning the quilt around and around as I go. For that I use a guide arm off my walking foot to follow – and give myself about an inch between passes.

    —Regina on April 1, 2014
  • I have made over 350 quilts. About half were 60×80 and the rest about evenly divided larger and smaller. All but 10 I quilted myself on my domestic sewing machine. Yes, even the many queens and 2 kings! I free motion, straight line diagonal grid and "gently wavy line" quilt. I rarely mark any lines and then only at a tricky spot not the whole quilt. I used to pin baste, then I spray basted, and now I use fusible batting almost exclusively. The easiest way to quilt is gentle wavy lines vertically about 1.5 to 2 inches apart…. no marking necessary! Just check now and then to make sure lines are still vertical and not listing to the side. No need to rip out, just correct with the next line!

    —Ginette Rostedt on May 7, 2014
  • I LOVE THIS PAGE THANK YOU

    —MARIA AYALA on August 13, 2014
  • Pin baste – machine quilt in the ditch between blocks to lock it down – remove pins – hand quilt in the open areas.

    Or as an alternative to the hand quilting, run a second line of machine quilting diagonally across the blocks. You might do a "figure 8″ or "orange peel" in the open areas by doing an easy curve with your walking foot. The results are tidy yet interesting, and suited to the design of the quilt.

    Sandy on October 22, 2014
  • I HAVE A LARGE QUILT TO BE QUILTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL THESE GREAT IDEAS. SANDY

    —SANDRA HAGLER on November 5, 2014
  • I trace things to make quilt patterns–bowls, plates, whatever I have handy. For large circles, I lay them out with a metal yardstick held in place with a nailset (Thanks, dear!). I mark with those heat-erasable fusion pens and quilt using the regular presser foot. Quick and easy and it really looks good–you should see my concentric circles…

    Carol

    —Carol on November 18, 2015
  • All over quilting is the fastest for me, but I do like the custom quilted look. Even though it takes longer, I do try to make the quilts my own if I have the time.

    —Roberta Johnson on November 18, 2015
  • I love to hand quilt if I can take it slow and sit with my husband and watch a movie or some shows we tape and zip through the commercials. Last year I gave my Pastor and his family a quilt for Christmas. I worked feverishly to get it quilted before the holiday. That was NOT fun.
    The best way for me is quilt at night with my Ott Lite overhead.
    Take my time and not try to meet a deadline. Relax & Enjoy the process.

    —Mary Ann on November 19, 2015
  • Love all of this information. I do quilt on my home machine, but only
    smaller quilts and I am beginning to branch out from using only wavy lines to some leaves and swirls.

    —Sandra S. on June 15, 2016
  • I have lost count of the quilts I’ve made, but complete each one, start to finish with FMQ, occasional hand quilting and the use of stitches on my machine. I’ve made mostly bed quilts, full to queen-sized and all have been done on my domestic machine. Wavy, cross-hatched lines can resemble very controlled stippling, but it’s faster and more uniform……but still random in appearance. Quilt your outside border with the best FMQ design you have mastered (I finally have feathery-looking curving feathers that look pretty doggone good for an amateur). After using safety pins, then Pin Mores, I have now decided I love basting spray. Even that takes some practice getting out wrinkles, positioning, pressing, but once you’ve gotten that under control quilting on your domestic machine is so much easier without having to stop and remove pins! Every single time I make a new quilt, I learn something new. FMQ is my favorite from a creative prespective, but if you are under a deadline, such as for your son-lin-law"s Christmas gift, speed is of the essence and very simple ditch sticthing with some additional straight lines is quick and straight gorward. Do not like to pot pressure on myself as in a deadline, because pressure is just NOT fun. Give yourself time to make the quilt what you want it to be and have fun doing it.

    —LIN SMITH on November 26, 2017
  • Greetings. I’m a guy wants to learn to learn to quilt. Who can give me pointers on what sewing machine to buy (I’ve never had one before), what kind of project I should start with.

    —Carlos Nickerson on November 9, 2018
  • Wonderful ideas. Love this very much!

    Broadway Fabrics on December 24, 2020

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