How to Combine Quilting Designs

Kimberlee Tanner

How to Combine Quilting Designs

With so many different quilting motifs available, it’s hard to decide which ones to use and how. With custom quilting, we now have to decide on multiple quilting designs to use on our quilt top. When using multiple designs, how do you decide which ones will work together and how to combine the different elements? This week we dive into techniques you can use to discover how those elements will interact with each other and different ways to combine them to create multiple outcomes.


When deciding how to combine different motifs, I start with about 8-10 foundational designs. I will get very comfortable with these designs and use them in many different ways until I am very familiar with how they interact together and will look together. This allows me to have a strong starting point when creating a quilting plan. Before I even put those designs down on paper, and later on the quilt, I’ll know how they will look. After I have this foundation pack of elements I am confident with, then I will add more designs in to my plans.

After you have decided on your favorite foundational quilting motifs, sketch them all out on one piece of paper. Don’t worry about any specific pattern or layout, just draw them one after the other. Seeing them all in one space will help you to start to understand how they are going to interact with each other. Are they very similar and will blend well? Do they create a lot of strong contrast? Is the scale or density similar or very different? Are the styles cohesive and complimentary? By thinking about the different elements in these ways, you’ll be able to see how they will work together (or not) in the quilting.

There are different ways to combine quilting designs. One way, is to quilt them in such a way that they become one element. By simply switching back and forth between complimentary designs and keeping them all the same scale, they will work together and read as one element. This works very well in background areas or as fills around other designs or pieced elements. If you take those same designs and alter the scale or density of one of the elements, they can now work to really highlight one specific area or design. The larger or less dense quilting motif will stand out and take center stage.

Creating multiple quilting designs can also be done with one motif. You can change the scale of that one element to create two almost distinct motifs. Having a small tightly packed area next to an area with that same motif on a larger scale will create new shapes and movement throughout the quilt.

Another important principle to remember when combining designs is directional tendencies. If I have two similar designs, but I want them stand out from each other, you can often alternate the direction that you quilt them. There are some elements that are more prone to being vertical or horizontal, and by alternating how you quilt them, they really become strong elements that make each one distinct. The contrast in the direction enhances both of the motifs creating interest.

Finally, when designing quilting plans, how you separate the areas can make a big difference. Sometimes we simply choose to differentiate the designs by scale, density, or direction changes. Other times, you can separate those designs by stitching out new shapes to fill. When I do this, I often stitch an echoed line close to the first to really define those areas. When filling in the different shapes, you will want to consider the same principles that we’ve discussed to create the final look you want.

Learning to combine quilting designs and which ones will work best with each other is a process. Each time I complete a quilt top, I learn a little more about how the final project came together and how I could improve it the next time. Take the time to practice and do lots of doodling. I never start without a quilting plan so I have seen which elements I plan to use and how they will work together on paper before I start stitching them with thread. And as always, most of all, have fun. Quilting is an art form and you should definitely show in whatever you create.

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