Wednesday 13 March 2024

5 Essential Tips When Wholecloth Quilting

I previously wrote a series of posts about wholecloth quilting starting HERE.

This post is an extension to that. Not having done a wholecloth in some time, I took some photos as I went along and also started to think about all the things that can go wrong when attempting a wholecloth. What follows are 5 critical points where things can get a bit haywire and will affect the outcome of your project.

1. Mark the crosshairs!
This is a really important step as your entire wholecloth is based on those few lines. To do this press your fabric really well and then fold it in half. Press the center line...don't worry about whether this is ever going to come out. It will! Then fold your fabric on the vertical and repeat. Now take these lines and very carefully mark the center lines on your fabric with a fabric marker of your choice.

Take your time with this task. I also then mark in the 45 degree lines using a ruler.
Don't worry if your 45 degree lines do not exactly end up in the corners of your fabric. Unless you have been extremely precise in your cutting the lines are likely to be slightly off in the corner but correct in relation to the vertical and horizontal crosshair lines and that is what's important.

2. Marking
Test your chosen marker before you start. If you followed my blog you would be aware that I had a bit of a mishap at this stage. I made some mistakes in tracing my design and rinsed it off. To my horror, some of my lines turned brownish and did not come out. I believe that this had to do with my lightbox emitting heat at the edges which set the blue water erasable marker. I ended up buying another piece of fabric and starting again, this time tracing the design without a light box just to be sure.

3. Equipment
When designing your wholecloth think about the tools that you are going to use. I obviously forgot about this point for my recent wholecloth having designed center motif circles for which I actually did not have the right ruler. I could have solved this by stitching the circles freehand which I have done in the past however this is extremely challenging as it is super hard to keep it a 100% round and on a wholecloth this is going to be extremely visible. I ended up buying the Echo clips for my Bernina Q20. They just clip on and can be used to extend the size of your ruler. Similarly, I had not thought about my beautiful Amish feathers. To stitch out the spine in that nice rounded way, I also had to use a ruler, but this time use it in a somewhat sliding motion to make the curves as consistent as possible. Definitely had not thought about this before and it took me ages to do that. So planning how you going to tackle stitching out your wholecloth is a definite must. In addition, do a test run of your stitching to get more familiar with your design. Unfortunately with a wholecloth you usually start with the center motif which is also the main thing that your eye focusses on when first looking at it so you want to get that down as clean as possible.
3. Basting
Do not skip on this stage. A wholecloth project has to be basted fairly heavily, I would say every 3-4in in a grid as you are shifting fabric around as you stitch the various sections. You start by stitching out the general frame, starting in the center and moving outwards usually so you going going to have a lot of unquilted loft around which in my case puffed out enormously as I am using a wool batting. The basted grid contains the loft in its own little square and prevents it from shifting over to the next section.

4. Expect the Unexpected
In my experience there is always something that goes wrong and usually several unexpected issues pop up. I am used to that by now and do not get overly excited by it anymore. In my current wholecloth I had an interesting issue, almost hilarious after my mishap with the marking. For the first time ever my blue marks were fading. This has never happened before. This is what was left of my grid by the end of one week. Not sure why this happened and whether it has to do with the current heat wave we are in. It is often quite sticky inside the house as we are running an evaporative air conditioner for most of the time. Probably not ideal for a water erasable marker.
So this was not the idea but it meant that I had to stitch out my frame plus the feathers literally in that one week and in between reinforce my blue lines (where I needed them most) so that I would not loose them altogether. It was hard core but I managed to get it done. So much for that lovely idea to stitch this out in a relaxed and well thought out way! I was literally stitching every day for several hours.
5. Skill level
Consider your skill level and the purpose of the quilt. Are you just doing this for your own enjoyment or are you planning a show quilt. I am a relatively sloppy marker which is somewhat surprising as I am also a perfectionist, however as I know my weaknesses I do know that I have to pay attention to this as I stitch. I will usually correct my design as I stitch along. I stitch feather plumes usually very slowly looking ahead and around me to make sure they are angled in a way that makes sense.
I don't necessarily follow my lines at all times and have in this picture rounded some of the angles on the inside of the feather plumes a bit more. I was not too concerned about having to do this on most of the curves as I by now have a particular angle and size I stitch my feather plumes with so I was fairly confident to be able to do this in a consistent manner.
Another issue which I think people underestimate is the amount of starts and stops and the time it takes to stitch out an intricate design like this. With this Amish feather every curvature is stitched in sections. You could backtrack and absolutely do it all in one hit, but again, that would be very visible and if you are doing a show quilt and probably not recommended. This sort of stitching can become incredibly tedious and frustrating, so something to think about before you start. On top of that I do still bury my threads, so it was after each section, stop...bury the beginning and end, then start again, making sure every stop and start looked good on the front as well as the back. I do remember that people found this extremely annoying when I was teaching my Mini Wholecloth class and most people just backtracked to get things done. That is absolutely fine, however it will show on your project, so you will need to decide beforehand how you want your wholecloth to look and for how much intensity you are prepared.

I did manage to start my grid quilting so I can follow my lines with a ruler, but for now I am having a bit of a break.

For the To Do Tuesday list from last week...well, did not do anything else but stitch this wholecloth.

For the remainder of the week I am planning 
- to have a break
- wash some fabric for the Fox quilt, and 
- maybe do a Fox block, but that's a few other things on this week!

Linking up to To Do Tuesday #65 over at Quilt Schmilt.



  1. Thank you for the great tips. And what a beautiful whole cloth quilt. Absolutely gorgeous.

  2. Interesting that so many machine quilters get bent out of shape at the thought of burying thread tails. Knotting and burying thread tails was normal and expected for centuries of hand quilters, and they had even more threads to knot and bury as their stops and starts weren't only dictated by their quilting design -- they could only work with lengths of thread about the length of a forearm to avoid excessive knotting and kinking, which means many stops and starts and knotting and burying in places that modern machine quilters can just keep quilting (unless a bobbin runs out!). I would think that the use of a sewing machine speeds the quilting process up enough that knotting and burying to make your work look as neat and as beautiful as possible, but as with all things quilting, these are very personal decisions and no one "right" way to do things. Your work is exquisite as usual, and yes, I've had issues of marker lines disappearing prematurely in high humidity, too. Hope the weather cools off for you soon!


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