Edge-to-Edge or Custom Quilting? Part 2

So now that we know about overall/edge-to-edge quilting, (you can read my first post on that here) what exactly is custom quilting? Custom is any type of design that does NOT completely cover the quilt top with one pattern. There are actually different levels of custom quilting. I sometimes break them down into semi-custom, simple custom, full custom, and heirloom. (Other quilters may have different terminology.)

An example of semi-custom quilting. An overall design in the body of the quilt, with separate border treatments.

An example of semi-custom quilting. An overall design in the body of the quilt, with separate border treatments. (Click photo to enlarge)

The distinctions between levels is not clear cut. The simplest form (semi-custom) is an overall design in the body of the quilt, with a separate design in the border. But just as there is a wide variety of quilt tops, there are also many variations of custom quilting. Each time an additional treatment is added to a quilt, it adds time, complexity and cost. (A ‘treatment’ is each differing design, border, sashing, stippling around applique, etc.)

So if a quilt is made of 60 blocks, but they are all the same, I might only need to decide on one block design, one sashing design, and one border design. Another quilt may have only 30 blocks but they are all different. Now much more time needs to be spent on how to quilt each of the blocks. Therefore the first quilt might be simple custom (only 3 treatments), while the second quilt would be full custom.

Simple Custom - the same design in each block, with a different design in the sashing.

Simple Custom – the same design in each block, with a different design in the sashing. (Click photo to enlarge)

A word about stitch-in-the-ditch (SID). Many customers come to me and say “Do something simple like SID”. When you are quilting on your regular sit down sewing machine, SID is fairly easy, as you have feed dogs to guide the quilt sandwich and pull it evenly through the machine. However, on a longarm machine it is quite different. Not only do we not have feed dogs, but we are ‘driving’ the machine around on the fabric, rather than pushing the fabric through the machine. It is very difficult to move the machine perfectly along the (hopefully ;-)) straight line of the ‘ditch’. Most longarmers actually use an acrylic ruler to help guide the machine in that straight line (or along the twisty windy path around an applique design), and slow down considerably. So SID and other types of straight-line quilting are technically more difficult and slower than other types of LA quilting. For this reason, some longarmers do not offer it, or if they do they must charge a premium price for it. I actually like doing ruler work, and if you’ve seen the custom quilting I do, I often combine straight lines with other treatments. I love the way it looks, but it is time consuming, so it does cost more than other types of treatments.

Ruler work in the black sashing and outer border. These treatments take extra time to space evenly, mark, and sew with templates.

Ruler work in the black sashing and outer border. These treatments take extra time to space evenly, mark, and sew with templates. (Click photo to enlarge)

Heirloom quilting is the top-of-the-line show quilt stuff. I could quilt two identical tops with feathers, but one could be full custom and the other could be heirloom. What’s the difference? On a full custom quilt my feathers would be more freeform random feathers that are not necessarily symmetrical or identical. Background fills would be medium to small sized. There would be some SID to separate perhaps the body of the quilt from the borders, but no extensive SID or ruler work.

Informal feathers - these are not marked and may be more randomly spaced.

Informal feathers – these are not marked and may be more randomly spaced. (Click photo to enlarge)

Quilt B (heirloom), would have more formal feathers, usually using marked designs to keep them looking alike. Background fills would be smaller, there would be more SID, and many of the designs would require measuring and math to be sure they are spaced evenly.

Formal feather border

Formal feather border (Click photo to enlarge)

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Center of applique quilt with heirloom quilting. (Click photo to enlarge)

I also try to come up with unique designs to fit the top – for instance once I had a quilt with a fleur-de-lis design in the fabric, and I repeated that design in open areas of the quilt. Which means I often custom design a motif just for that quilt.

Center of Wilderness quilt with custom designed pine cone motifs.

Center of Wilderness quilt with custom designed pine cone motifs. (Click photo to enlarge)

Now that you know about some different types of quilting, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself in order to determine which type is right for your quilt. I’ll cover those questions in my next blog post. To be sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to my blog for future updates (on the upper left of this webpage, or below if you’re on a mobile device). You can also “Like” my page on Facebook. And feel free to share my site with your friends!

Part 3 of this article has been posted here

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Tuesday Tip – SID Machine Quilting Hint

SID is short for Stitch-in-the-Ditch. The “ditch”, in quilting terminology, is the seam line between two patches on the right side of your quilt top. When quilting the top, stitching in the ditch will make your patches stand out and give crisp and clean lines to the finished quilt.

When SIDing, the object is to have your quilting be as invisible as possible. Since seam allowances are generally pressed to one side, you sew on the ‘low’ side (the one the seam allowance is NOT lying under), as close to the seam line as you can. When the fabric relaxes after the quilting process, those stitches will lie somewhat underneath the ‘high’ fabric and hardly been seen.

The general thinking is to use a thread color that matches that low side fabric. Let’s say my ‘low’ side is black and my ‘high’ side is cream. Most people would use black thread to do the SID.

What I’ve found, however, is if I accidentally stitch up onto the ‘high’ side of the ditch, the contrasting thread is really obvious.

I now prefer using a thread color that matches the ‘high’ side. Since I’m sewing right next to the ‘high’ side, the lighter thread is not obvious on the dark ‘low side’ fabric. And if it does jump up on the ‘high’ side fabric for a few stitches, the mistake can hardly be seen.

Since you often have multiple fabric colors, or the low side of the ditch shifts from dark patches to light patches depending on how the seams were pressed, you won’t always be able to choose the ‘perfect’ thread color. And many people like to use invisible or monofilament thread to SID. But perhaps this will give you something to think about next time you choose thread for SIDing. Let me know if it works for you!

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