Breaking the Rules of Quilting
The rules of quilting explored.
If you ask any quilter about machine quilting, even if they don’t personally machine- quilt, they can tell you the rules of machine quilting: “Don’t use polyester thread.” “Always use the same thread on the top and in the bobbin.” “If you are stippling/meandering, never, ever cross the lines!”
I disregard these “rules” all of the time and have never been punished. If you choose to use polyester thread in your quilt, your quilts will not disintegrate. If you are comfortable using different threads in the needle and bobbin when machine quilting, feel free to do so. I’ve crossed machine quilting lines literally thousands of times with no ill effects.
Please hear me when I tell you that the only rule in machine quilting is “Don’t bleed on your quilt.” If you ask, “Should I stitch toward the left or right?” I will respond, “Will either way cause you to bleed on your quilt?” If the answer is no, then it doesn’t matter. You can machine-quilt in any way that pleases you.
Let’s look more closely at the rules, starting with the stippling/ meandering pattern:
I’ve been told that there are differences between meandering and stippling but in two decades of machine quilting, I’ve never figured out what they are. When I was teaching this pattern in Russia, my students called the pattern “brains.” For the rest of this article, I will refer to this pattern as meandering.
I can meander in a variety of sizes, and the magic of this pattern is that it adds texture to the quilt without overpowering the pieced design. When I meander all over a quilt, the world will not end if I accidentally cross the lines. Typically, I use thread that matches the fabric and no one will ever notice my so- called boo-boo. If someone points out a crossed line, I congratulate them for finding the hidden design as if I had stitched it there on purpose!
Accidents aside, I have learned that I can cross the lines on purpose and make a pretty ribbon design.
This design is particularly useful when I’m not happy with the way my meandering looked the first time. My thought is that if at first I don’t succeed, stitch over it again. This looks great whether the threads are the same color or different colors.
You can also disregard the “rule” of quilting that says that meandering should have no straight lines or points. See what happens if I add another line of meandering over the first two but also add some stars where the lines cross.
Helpful hint: I make the stars where my meandering looks the worst. If I have any wobbly stitches, this is a great way to camouflage the wobbles. This also covers up where my thread broke or the bobbin ran out, and I had to restart. I never tell anyone that that is why I chose the pattern and act as if I meant to stitch it that way from the beginning!
I’ve heard that it is supremely important to keep the meandering stitches the same size. Sometimes,
though, my mind wanders, the phone rings, or I just lose track of what I am doing. I have accidentally discovered that different stitch sizes of meandering look great together.
Remember, meandering is for texture. If someone holds a ruler to my quilt to measure each curve, they are standing far too close. I tell them to take three giant steps backward and to view the quilt from a polite distance.
Have you heard the rule about keeping the same density in quilting designs to make sure that it isn’t too close together here and too far apart there? This rule is founded in the idea that quilting very closely in some areas while leaving other areas completely unquilted will leave those unquilted areas with some puckers. This can happen, but a change in density in your pattern if you wander off here or there won’t make much difference.
I change the density of my stitching on purpose, and I love how it looks. When using a contrasting color of thread, it can actually have a colorwash effect on the quilt.
Repeats in Meandering
Another error I’ve heard about with meandering is when the stitches make a repeat or show a discernible pattern. Breathe! Relax! Don’t worry if a few of your curves are headed in the same direction. I make stitch patterns in my meandering on purpose. I love to meander in spirals, circling in and then back out again. I think this can evoke images of roses, especially if I stitch a leaf here or there.
When it comes to machine quilting, do your own thing. Don’t worry about the rules. Quilt your love into each project and have fun!
Hints for Stitching Meandering/Stippling
In my classrooms, I’ve discovered that 75 percent of my students struggle with meandering. If you struggle, you are not alone.
Many people describe meandering as puzzle pieces or dog bones, but I prefer to describe meandering as pieces of a gingerbread man.
When I start stitching, my biggest concerns are the size of the meandering stitches and the randomness of the pattern. To help keep my size consistent, I use my quilting foot as a guide. Every time the edge of my sewing machine foot hits a previously stitched line, I curve away and continue stitching. This keeps me from stitching my lines too close together. When I get stuck and don’t know where to stitch next, I think about where I’m going and stitch a portion of a gingerbread man. I talk to myself as I quilt and say “leg … arm …” and that will typically get me unstuck for a while. The next time I’m stuck, I might tell myself to stitch an “arm … leg … leg …” before getting back in the groove of meandering.
Some machines have different machine- quilting feet for echo stitching in different sizes. By changing the direction of my stitching whenever the foot touches a stitched line, different-size feet help me achieve different sizes of meandering.
Have fun learning to try new techniques for meandering quilting designs!
Three meanders and stars.
Big and little meander.
Machine foot and stitching.
Different feet, different size meander.