Sometimes Quilts Need to Relax

Challenging QuiltEvery once in awhile I receive a challenging top to quilt.  The challenge may be deciding what design to quilt or whether I should free motion quilt.  And sometimes the challenge is CAN I quilt the top?  This is one of those times.  Click here to watch a video of me quilting a portion of this quilt.

This top is made in beautiful batiks.  You’ve heard me say I love batiks.  You probably also know I love nature – animals, leaves, and TREES!  This quilt appealed to me visually for those reasons.  This was right up my alley!  I knew how I wanted to quilt it!  The ideas were flying in my head!  I was psyched!!

Quilt BorderAnd then I put the quilt on the machine…

This quilt top is constructed with several bias pieces of fabric.  When fabrics are cut on the bias, they have a tendency to stretch more.  At times some forgiveness in fabric stretch is a great thing; other times it can make a small problem become astronomical.

Stray ThreadsAnother issue with this quilt is the amount of loose threads.  When longarm quilters work a quilt, the machine is stitching at very high speeds and the operator may not be looking at the needle’s path (as in the case with a pantograph pattern).  If you have loose threads, they should be trimmed.  If your top has very light areas of fabric and your threads are dark, they may show through onto the front of your quilt.  When I start a quilt, I am mindful of this and will gather loose or bothersome threads; but it is truly the job of the customer to trim.

Clipped ThreadsI quilted this quilt with a natural thread color.  The greens in the above photo are threads I cut from the front of this quilt.

Thread TensionThe above photo shows threads on the top of the quilt that could tangle in the hopping foot.

Quilt TensionI took this photo to show the sewer’s tension may have been off while constructing this quilt.  If I’m correct, that could account for the wonkiness of the top.

My solution for taming this quilt was to baste the top and pin the bottom of the top to my bottom roller.  I rarely do this as I have more control of the batting and top by not attaching the top’s bottom edge.  In this case by pinning the bottom, I could take out some of the excess fabric and a few lumps.  My theory is if fabric can stretch on the bias, it can also relax on the bias.

Relaxing the quilt topAfter pinning and basting, I could work one width of the quilt top.  Then I rolled to the next section and let the quilt relax for several hours.  I could work another section and then reroll, relax the quilt, etc.

Quilted animalsI needed to free motion quilt this top which was my intent from the beginning, but it did limit how I could quilt it.  I wanted to stitch in the ditch around the trees, but the top was too wonky for this to look pleasing.  I also did not want to stipple in the blank spaces, but I knew I would need to quilt one-handed while trying to tap down any potential puckers that may happen.  Because of this, I was again limited.  I did sneak in a moose and other animals here and there, but again I was limited where I could do this by potential puckering.  The tree trunks for the most part were done easily, but there were a couple that needed to be done one-handed.  The tree tops have leaves (of course!) and a bird here and there — again, only where I didn’t need to quilt with one hand.  There’s even an apple tree in the orchard!

Quilted Bird Pattern

Whooooooo is this perched in the tree?Quilted Owl

This was definitely a quilt that taught me lessons.  1. Step up to a challenging quilt.  2.  I have my limits and sometimes a customer will need to rework a top before I can quilt it. (This advice from an online quilters’ forum.  Thanks!)  3.  People relax under quilts, but sometimes the quilt needs to relax first!

Detailed Leaf Quilting

Click on this link for a You Tube video of me quilting a portion of this quilt!

Click here to see the completed quilt.


  1. That was one heck of a challenge Emily. Well done for persevering.

  2. Wow! What an inspiration to see how the quilt changed under your guidance! I really appreciate what you’ve shared for two reasons. I’ve made (and taught) that pattern. It’s good to see another way to quilt it. Also, I have a dahlia quilt top from a customer that has some of the challenges you faced with Acorn’s Promise. While I was feeling mostly sure I could smooth out the ripples, after watching your video I know I can!

    • Mary, I love the Acorn’s Promise pattern! I’m thrilled you like my quilting design. It really does help to quilt a less-than-square quilt one handed while you smooth and sometimes add pressure with your free hand. Best of luck on the dahlia quilt!

  3. Elana goldberg says:

    I just learned so much from your post. Thank you for sharing the process that you sometimes go through. I have so much more respect and understanding for what goes into quilting someone else’s creation. What a responsibility and awesome task to undertake!!

    • Elana, I’m thrilled that my post was helpful to you and I appreciate your kind comments. It is a responsibility to quilt for others and I truly love it! I am honored that people allow me to help them finish their projects. When a quilt maker has spent so much effort, time, and money in their top, I want to enhance and not detract from the overall project. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  4. Hey, Emily. You ARE amazing! What an accomplishment! I hope my quilt is a bit easier on you. But please tell me of anything that gives you trouble that I should know for next time. Dianne

  5. Christine Penney says:

    Wow Emily, while I watched the video I could see your challenges. Great job!! What patience and perserverence. Love your work.

  6. I’ve been following your posts, too, because I was just handed a paper-pieced top that is so out-of-square that I’m not sure what to do with it. One side measures 72″ long and the other side is 74″ long. The borders are wide and wavy. I’ve started to figure this out a couple times and keep putting it aside to tackle other projects. I’ve done another quilt for this same person, and her piecing skills leave a lot to be desired. She apparently does not care about 1/4″ seams. You’ve given me some confidence to attempt it once more. Thanks.

  7. Boy oh boy………you worked magic! I read about this quilt on Cindy’s blog. I wonder did you give this customer any tips and did you give her the ball of threads!!

    • LOL! I have been collecting loose threads (usually they’re mine and not the customers) and have plans to make fabric with them. So, no, I kept the ball of threads. I consider it extra compensation. I have not spoken with the customer. Her quilt just left me yesterday.


  1. […] had several requests for photos of a challenging-to-quilt top that I just completed.  I blogged about my process in tackling the quilt here.  What do you think of the end […]

  2. […] This is the post where the quilter describes the process of quilting the quilt. To view this post, Click Here  […]

  3. […] tops are given to me that are challenging.  See my post “Sometimes Quilts Need to Relax” to view one challenging quilt.  Tackling every quilt gives me a feeling of accomplishment when […]

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