Quilting Stitches : The 13 main methods

Basically a Quilt consists of many layers of fabrics stitched together. Quilting stitches are the stitches that hold these three layers of a quilt together – the top, batting and the back.

These are simple stitches (can be machine stitched or hand sewn) made through these 3 layers creating a padded (raised) effect. Running stitches, back stitches and chain stitches are used in hand sewing. On a sewing machine a straight stitch is used. 

As with any creative work, there are many ways of doing these stitches and the effect they create varies with these methods

Popularly used Quilting Stitches

Horizontal quilting stitches

quilting stitches

This involves straight line stitches made in parallel rows at regular intervals. This is the easiest of all quilting stitches. You can make marks on the top and sew over this or attach masking tape and sew along the edge.

Square or Diamond Quilting stitches

diamond shaped quilting stitches

Square shaped quilting – Rows of parallel quilting stitches are made straight and across; they cross each other forming square shapes.

Diamond shaped quilting – When the parallel stitched rows are made diagonally, they cross and form diamond shapes.

Template quilting designs

quilting stitches made with templates

On quilts made by professionals, intricate complex looking designs are worked out with template shapes – they make the designs easy to replicate across the quilt. You can use template shapes/stencils made in metal or plastic or card to make the quilting stitches.  Experienced quilters use special metal templates. 

Commonly used designs for quilting stitches are wine-glass, leaf shape, heart, scale, feather and rope. Computerized sewing machines can be used to make pre-designed stitches on the quilt that looks similar to ones made with templates. 

You can also trace the designs. Check out this post on embroidery transfers to know different methods on transfering any designs on fabric.

Free form quilting

free form quilting stitches

The quilting stitches are done in a random fashion in this method. You can use the darning foot for making these free motion stitches. When you are not marking any particular design and stitching in this manner, you will need a lot of practise to get the stitching look even and good, especially where you cross lines or where pivoting is needed.

Learn more about free motion embroidery here.

Stipple quilting

Stipple quilting stitches

This is a variation of the free motion quilting stitching. The specialty of this stitching is that the free motion stitches would not cross each other at any point.

This is a stitching used to fill unfilled areas of the quilt. It is also useful in making the other areas look raised in effect when compared to the areas where stippling is done as these stitches tend to flatten the fabric. Also called meandering stitches.

Corded quilting stitches (Italian quilting)

In this quilting, the design is conceived such that it has thin double lines throughout without any breaks. Quilting stitches are made over these design lines, forming a channel in between. Later a thick soft Italian quilting wool is threaded through this  channel. 

Shadow Quilting

This is a variation of the double line quilting method in that transparent,thin fabric (Thin Silk or organdie or chiffon) is used on top and back; Either shapes of fabric are placed between the layers and quilting stitching is done around the shapes to hold them in place or colored wool is threaded through the channel between the double lines. 

Crazy Quilting Stitches

This involves making embroidery stitches as quilting stitches over a crazy quilt. You can use decorative stitches in your sewing machine or make hand embroidery border stitches.

Trapunto Quilting

trapunto quilting stitches

After the stitching is done small pieces of padding is inserted in the spaces inside the stitches so that the motif looks extra padded. 

Outline quilting

outline quilting stitching

Here the stitching is done along the periphery of an applique design or a motif. When the stitches are made around the design that design is accentuated and there is a padded effect to the design. 

Echo quilting

echo quilting stitches

Echo quilting is similar to outline quilting but the difference is that there is an echo effect -that is, the stitching is repeated  around the design. Quilting stitches are made outside the design with a distance of some 1/4 inches.

Stitch in the Ditch quilting

stitch in the ditch

In this type of quilting, the stitching is done on the seam where two blocks or patches meet. This reinforces the seam and the quilt stitching is almost invisible. 

Kantha quilting /Sashiko quilting

kantha work quilting with running stitches

In these quilting styles, running stitches are made throughout the quilt, holding patchwork pieces together in a beautifully cohesive way. Learn more about Kantha work and Sashiko embroidery here.

How are quilting stitches worked

There are some stipulations before quilting is done.

Before the addition of quilting stitches, applique, patchwork and any other surface embroidery are finished on the quilt top. The top may be one fabric or patchworked. It may also be appliqued or embroidered.

The backing fabric should be of a good fabric ; if you use a thin fabric it may result in puckering on the back.

The three layers of the quilt are kept one on top of the other – the backing fabric is kept first, then the padding, then the top layer. These layers are then temporarily stitched together by tying or tacking stitches or with pins – the objective is to keep them from shifting and to avoid puckers.  

Here are some related posts on the the quilting tools you may need, different types of quilts and the different types of popularly used patchwork quilt blocks.

You have to ensure that the design you have in mind for the quilting stitches will be enclosed withing the quilt. All the designs should be within the real top area ( excluding the seam allowance)

The thread used for quilting stitches should be of good quality. It is better to use a very similar color as the top fabric – usually a tone lighter or darker than the fabric is used to make the quilting stitches. Some may prefer a thread in a contrasting color.

Hand sewing the quilting stitches

In hand sewing, Running stitches are the most popularly used quilting stitches. If you are hand sewing the quilt, you should ensure that the stitches are all evenly made. You can use special between needles for this.

You can bury the knot inside the batting as you start the stitching so that it is not visible on the backside.  

Hand quilting is a slow process, as you have to go through all that thickness. If the quilt is a big one and you cannot manage stitching the big quilt at once, make small sections, quilt and then join them together. 

Reference : Handmade Quilts, Mimi Dietrich

Related posts : Hand sewing stitches ; Quilting terms -vocabulary  



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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Quilting Stitches : The 13 main methods”

  1. 1st time quilter; question on ‘concept’. I have a printed fabric top fabric and matching bottom fabric. Can I machine stitch along the straight lines of the pattern top onto batting, AND bottom pattern onto batting, THEN hand-punch through all thicknesses at pattern corners? I’m thinking that’s the only way to make sure the stitching follows the pattern lines identically on top and bottom.

  2. Thank you very much. This made my project complete. You are of great help to me.
    Now I can make my very own quilted product.

  3. Thank you for an honest attempt to interpret the many areas of “quilting”.
    As my Grandmother did it it was piecing the cover layer, choosing the bottom layer and the batting, then hand quilting the 3 layers together. Thankfully I still have pieces of her work.
    Now quilting is merely sewing blocks of fabric together and tying the layers down with some knitting thread.
    Many who claim to be quilters are successful in doing small pieces of piecework and sending them off to be hand quilted.
    There are still some true quilters and their work is to be admired and valued.

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