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Spotlight Your Quilting

Learn how to use contrast in background filler designs to showcase your quilting.

Tue, 3 Sep 2013|

"I'm Jennifer, here in the American Patchwork & Quilting sewing lab with Angela Walters, Handi Quilter's ambassador for machine quilting. We're talking about background filler designs. Often when you quilt a great motif like the feather we have here, you want to showcase it by putting some background filler design around your main motif. But how do you decide how much is enough for background filler?" "That's a good point. Because I hate when I quilt a really nice design such as the feather only to have it disappear in the background quilting. So, we're going to talk about having contrast in your filler, whether that's contrast in shape, contrast in density, or contrast in the thread color. And we'll talk a little bit more about that, but just to use contrast to help downplay your feathers or really make them shine." "And much like accessories in a room, you have one great accessory in the middle. You don't want everything competing with it necessarily. You might want to highlight it, or you might have a lot of things in the same palette that you want to cluster and sort of do an arrangement of multiple pieces. And that's how I think about background fillers." "You're exactly correct. And this isn't just for feathers (in this video we're going to talk about a feather we're going to highlight with the background filler), but any quilting motif that you have, this will work. So in this sample we have the feather. I've used a filler that's a basic swirl quilting design, and it's not very dense. It's similar in shape to the curves with the feather, so what is happening is our feather is a little more understated. It tends to blend in just a little bit more, which is great if that's what you're going for. Let's say you're not exactly happy with how your feather turned out, or you're not confident in your feather and you want to make it a little bit more understated, that's a great place to start with that." "Right. You call a little bit less attention to it with that density." "Yes. But if you're really wanting to show it off, then maybe you start filling in around it with a design that has a contrast in density. So, for instance, this is the same swirl design that we talked about, it's just on a smaller scale, so as you can tell, the feather is really starting to show a little bit more because we have that contrast in density right there." "That looks terrific." "And you could keep going for it. If you've quilted the feather or whatever motif that you've done and you're loving it and you really want it to show up, well then make the quilting smaller still. And here I've done a nice pebble that's small and time-consuming. But what you have is a nice pop of the motif." "What I love about this design is that it mimics pebbling that you have going on in the middle of the feather, so it sort of picks up that same thing, like accessorizing an outfit. You carry that thread all the way through." "It kind of brings it all together. Or you could have a contrast in the shape. Now we have our feather design and we have a dense back-and-forth line. That's just giving us a contrast because the shape of the designs themselves are completely different. So anytime you're thinking of filling in around any kind of motif, think about contrast and how that's going to affect whether you see the design or not." "Right. And I think in this example what I like is the contrast in mood. I think of traditional feathers as being a motif that you see often in antique or traditional quilts, but the back-and-forth design that you have going on there is a little bit more modern. Maybe a little bit more masculine. So I like the push-and-pull between those two motifs." "And it really makes it stand out. So what I've done here is I've went and quilted a feather that we can start quilting around and talk about the contrast like we've just done. And again, this can work with any motif that you're working on. We've just happened to pick feathers, because I love them. So I'm going to start over here in a random spot on the feather just for the purposes of the example. Let's say I've quilted this feather or the motif that you're working on, that I really want to show up, and I'm happy with how it turned out. So I'm going to pick a nice, dense filler to really help set it off." "And with that pebbling design, you're going back over some of the motifs that you've sewn. You don't have to worry about crossing your stitching line, correct?" "Exactly, I'm just going around some of those circles a couple times. It really adds some more definition and helps pop it out just a bit. But when it comes to picking out fillers, you can use pebbles, but any design that you do on a really small scale can be used as a filler. But let's say you've quilted your feather and you don't want it to be quite as dramatic, you don't want it to show up quite as much, you could always just do less contrast, so a bigger pebble. And it will just kind of blend in more. This might be the case if you're not wanting to really take away from a certain part of the quilt. Let's say you're wanting the piecing to be the focus, not so much the feathers. Or if you're just wanting to practice. So you can see there." "I love the contrast between the two shapes and sizes." "Let me pull the machine back and we can see a little bit closer. And again, you can do this with swirls like I've shown, paisleys are another great example -- anything that you can easily scale. Now let's see some real world examples of this concept, because it's hard to tell with a contrasting thread exactly what that would look like. Here we have a motif that I've quilted. I've filled in around it with a basic swirl that's not very dense. It's similar in shape to this, so you can tell that the design itself actually blends in a little more, which is great if that's what you're going for." "Right. And I love here that scrolls of the ribbon are sort of repeated in the swirls of the background. That's a great pairing." "So here's the same motif -- the same design, quilted a little bit different. I used a thread that was a little bit more contrasting than the filler, so not enough to be glaring on the quilt, but just enough to help set it apart from the filling. And I've also quilted the paisley design as the filler on a little bit more smaller scale, so you can see that the design itself actually shows up a little bit more." "Sure. So in changing your thread colors here, it really just looks like a change between white and a light pink?" "Exactly. Nothing too dramatic. I'm a big fan of quilting that doesn't distract from the quilt top itself, but you still want people to see the work that you put into the quilt." "Absolutely. Nobody wants that one accessory that goes with something to stick out like a sore thumb." "Exactly." "Background filler designs are just as an important decision to make in your quilting as your main motifs are, so spend a little time learning these different techniques and you'll find the filler that's just right for your next project."