Quilters have lots of ways to branch out from straight piecing. Some like to add a little bling or other dimensions to their projects, like applique, special dimensional fabric embellishments, embroidery, or other bling. Bling can include buttons, beads, ribbons, lace, etc. Adding these elements is fun to do and definitely makes a quilt your own.
Adding these elements takes a little bit of planning to ensure you get the effect you have envisioned in your mind’s eye. There are different times to add these elements: during piecing, during applique, after piecing and before sandwiching, after sandwiching and before quilting, and after quilting.
Consider how you are going to trim and press your seams. The more bulk you can reduce during the piecing process, the flatter the seams will be. Flatter seams make quilting easier regardless of the quilting method (hand, machine or longarm).
Anything you are doing with seams happens during piecing. Now that may seem obvious, so let me be clear. If you are going to add three dimensional elements such as piping, prairie points, or other dimensional elements, this is the time. This also affects how you will be quilting later, as any dimensional addition will challenge your longarm quilter. There is only so much clearance for the shank of the machine, so keep in mind height when adding these.
This is also when you should decide if you are going to use a Quilt as You Go (QAYG) technique. Keep in mind that QAYG does not mean that every seam is part of the quilting, although it could be for simple strips. It could mean that a block or unit is added using QAYG.
Most applique work is completed after piecing. Occasionally, you may applique blocks and then assemble them through piecing. Regardless, applique work dealt with here. With applique work there are a few decisions to make. Are you going to applique by hand or by machine? Will you use raw edge or finished edge techniques? These are pretty basic decisions but need to be made before you gather fabrics and start cutting. Raw edge applique will take less fabric, as you eliminate the need for a seam allowance. However, you will also need to add fusible to your list of materials and prewash your fabric. That adds a little time and money.
The next choice is thread. Do you want the thread to show or not? Some hand applique, such as needle turn, is meant to be invisible. Or do you want the thread to blend or provide highlights and contrast? If you want it to show and add pizzazz, think not only of color, but thickness and shine. For example, will a metallic thread provide just the right amount of sparkle? Maybe you are looking for a spooky or out of this world effect where glo-in-the-dark thread may be better.
Once you have the applique method and thread chosen, what stitches will you use? If using thicker threads in a more modern design, you may want to use a straight stitch or running stitch. If you want a more classical look, you may opt for blanket or buttonhole stitch. That is just the beginning. Regardless of hand or machine stitching, there are dozens of fancy stitches to choose from. Test a few out and see what will really add to your design.
How about lace, ribbons, doilies, handkerchiefs, or other elements? Often these are treated as appliques. They are stitched, tacked or glued in place after piecing but before sandwiching.
After Piecing and Before Sandwiching
There are a couple of other design decisions to make before sandwiching that quilt. Do you want to add some poof to your quilt. There are a few ways to do this. One is to “stuff” the applique. This is similar to trapunto. You add some stuffing either during or after the applique process. It is a way to get more loft than even double batting.
You can also add cording between the layers and quilt on either side to create thinner designs for that added dimension.
Embroidery can be done before or after quilting. If you are doing the embroidery before quilting, it is advised to add a layer of muslin or stabilizer to hide the stitches as well as provide a little body. Alternately, the batting can be used for the same purpose. Either way, make sure the layers are smoothed together by basting, pinning or fusing. If embroidering before quilting, you won’t have to worry as much about burying the stitches. However, the stitching may get in the way of the quilting, especially if it is heavy. In this case, you can opt to quilt around the embroidery or stitch close to it with a thin, unobtrusive thread.
Here we jump back into familiar territory. This is where the quilting is chosen. If you are already down the road of customization, you probably aren’t going to pick edge to edge quilting at this point. You are most likely looking at some level of custom quilting. That doesn’t mean it has to be super fancy. But it should blend with what you have done so far.
Do you want the quilting to amplify the piecing and applique or stand out on its own. If you want the quilting to be more prominent, use a higher loft or double batting. If the applique or other dimensional work is to be highlighted, quilt up to 1/4-inch from it to literally force it up.
Adding curves to angular piecing will soften those points. Inversely, using straight lines, crosshatching or other angular work will balance the curves. Here is where the quilting motifs can highlight small sections or create new sections of interest in a larger piece. Conversely, the quilting can span several units or blocks, which can bring them together and provide cohesiveness.
The thread colors at this point are also important. The colors can make the quilting stand out more or less. Contrasting colors will cause it to be more noticeable. Whereas similar colors will blend.
Once the major elements of quilting are identified, pick the background quilting to flow between the main motifs. This may be denser to cause the highlighted areas to stand out. It may be less dense to form a visual bridge between the motifs.
If the quilt has borders, the border quilting should blend with the center quilting. Density should have an equal or lesser density than the center. If it is denser, it will pucker or shrink.
Believe it or not, there is more embellishment possible after quilting! Now is the time to add bling that has more dimension to it. More decorative embroidery can be added. This could not be added earlier as it would interfere with the quilting. Examples of such stitching include ribbon embroidery, beading, crystals, and other notions. These should be added with blind stitching or glue. Blind stitching will be buried in the batting without coming through the backing. Note that stitching through or near dense quilting is difficult, so plan accordingly.
Finally, pick the binding. The binding can be simple or intricate. It can be curved, beaded, or layered. There are lots of ways to add a stellar border. Think of beaded picot and lace edging. Keep in mind that the binding on a quilt serves a dual purpose, to hold the sandwich together with a finished edge and to protect the edge of the quilt. So if you choose to add a decorative binding, ensure it is appropriate to the use of the quilt. A bed quilt probably won’t do well with a beaded binding. However, a wall quilt would look spectacular with a beaded or lace border.
With all of these possibilities and how they interact with each other, hopefully you can see how a plan in the early stages will help set your project up for success.