Playing Favorites: Ribbon Candy Quilting
Fill your sashing and borders with this versatile and easy design.
I don’t like to play favorites, but I do have a favorite thing in quilting—ribbon candy machine quilting. For me, ribbon candy is the world’s most perfect machine-quilting design! You might disagree with me, but I will stand firm in my opinion. I usually stitch ribbon candy in a border or sashing, sometimes in a block and often in free-motion collage-type quilting. Basically, I stitch it wherever I can on as many quilts as I can!
When teaching quilting, I rarely use the words “always” or “never.” I make an exception for ribbon candy— I always stitch ribbon candy between lines. The lines can be seam lines, quilted lines or chalk lines, but there are always lines of some sort. When given a blank piece of fabric and asked to stitch ribbon candy in the middle of it, I know from experience that it just won’t turn out well.
If you have tried stitching ribbon candy and found it difficult, fear not; I have some training wheels for you.
How to Stitch Ribbon Candy
First, set up your machine for freemotion quilting. Then make a practice layered piece with batting between two layers of cloth.
It is helpful to designate a stitching area. If the top layer is just one piece of cloth, outline an area with a marker (about a 2"- wide strip is good for a beginner) and then stitch along the drawn line. You will stitch within that area. When you’ve finished practice stitching in one area, move on to another area and do the same thing. The following instructions are given for vertical strips, but you can practice in horizontal strips as well.
After defining the stitching area, begin by stitching left and right zigzags within the strip as shown in Figure 1. This will give you the sense of moving in the space. I pause at each point and take an extra stitch to make a crisp point. If you need to stop stitching to reposition your hands, sneeze, cough, breathe or answer the phone, do so at a point. If you wiggle when you restart your stitching, that wiggly stitch will hide well in the point.
For the next practice, stitch to the left, stitch a half circle, then stitch to the right, and stitch another half circle as shown in Figure 2. This is still the back-and-forth movement, but it is continuous because of the curves at the end. This design doesn’t have a built-in stopping point, so I start and stop carefully, usually at the far left or far right of one of the curves.
After you feel comfortable in these practice runs, we’re ready for ribbon candy. Divide the ribbon candy space approximately in thirds as shown in Figure 3, either mentally or by chalking some lines. Again referring to Figure 3, stitch a half- circle in the left third, stitch slightly angled up across the middle third, then stitch another half circle in the right third, and stitch slightly angled up in the middle third to meet the previous line of stitching. When stitched in those segments, it resembles icecream cones.
When stitching on a quilt make it a goal to stitch smoothly without pronounced points between the half circles and the angled lines as shown in Figure 4.
Ribbon candy doesn’t meet in the center; it meets about a third of the way in from the left and from the right.
Be Kind to Yourself
Ribbon candy is extremely forgiving. My loops aren’t all the same size. Some loops are bigger and some are smaller. Some loops touch the line and some do not. While stitching, it is tempting to say, “The third loop from the top looks wobbly, and I’m never going to be able to stitch a perfect row of ribbon candy.” The good news is that perfect isn’t the goal; ribbon candy adds texture to an area of your quilt but no one except you is ever going to check to see if each loop is exactly the same size.
Students often say, “I can stitch three or four ribbon candy loops and then things fall apart badly.” This is a very easy problem to solve. Stitch three or four ribbon candy loops, and then stop stitching. I usually stop stitching at the far left or far right side of the ribbon. Breathe, blink, finger-trace the pattern on the quilt so you know where you are going, and then, and only then, start stitching again. Stitching only three or four loops at a time isn’t a forever thing. The more you stitch, the easier it gets, and soon, you’ll be stitching five, six or 10 loops at a time.
Personally, I can stitch extremely small rows of ribbon candy, but I find it difficult to stitch larger rows. I prefer stitching ribbon candy rows from 1" wide to about 21/2" wide. Any wider than that and mine stop looking like ribbon candy and start to look like spaghetti noodles. Try stitching various sizes of ribbon candy and see which size is most comfortable for you.
Ribbon Candy Adds Depth to a Quilt
I often alternate a row of ribbon candy with a row of unquilted fabric. Ribbon candy is a rather dense stitching pattern and where a quilt is densely stitched, it is flat. Unquilted areas on a quilt are as puffy as the
batting allows. If I have a row of flat ribbon candy next to an unquilted area of the quilt, the contrast between flat and puffy adds texture to the quilt and makes this quilter’s heart go pitter-pat.
When I use a thin batting, I see little contrast between the quilted and unquilted areas. When I use a puffier batting, however, I notice more contrast. Determine which batting is the right one for your project and consider using contrasting depths of quilting (quilted versus not quilted) to add some fun texture.
Some quilters may not want to stitch the same pattern on several quilts, but ribbon candy is really fun to stitch and will look different on different quilts depending upon how and where it is stitched.
The sashing strips between the blocks showcase ribbon candy quilting.
This Rail Fence quilt has the perfect spaces in which to stitch a ribbon candy quilting pattern.