Divide and Conquer Quilting

Hooray! Your latest masterpiece quilt top is finished and you are ready to baste and quilt! This is the stage at which so many of us (even the most active quilters) say “Now what?” Often the hardest part of determining how to quilt a project is creating a plan that allows us to move easily through the quilt with the least resistance. With these simple organizational techniques, this process can be made not only easier, but infinitely more rewarding.

Let’s start with an applique project, though Divide and Conquer Quilting techniques can easily apply to any quilt. The quilt top has been pin basted and the thread choice is underway.

Step 1: With an applique project, it’s best to begin by ditching the edge of the applique pieces to help them pop out. Thread selections for this portion are best made to closely color match the color behind the applique pieces. This might require several thread changes. In this case, I have chosen multiple colors from Super Threads’ Masterpiece collection. The threads are #50 to help get nice and close to the applique edge without interfering with the appeal of the applique pieces. I find that a #50 weight thread imbeds nicely into the quilt rather than building up too much surface interest where you might not want it.

Working from the center outward, start by ditching the pieces that are most behind other pieces (usually the first pieces that were appliqued into position), working towards the topmost pieces.

Using a self-threading needle, bury threads as you go, passing the buried tails through previously quilted lines to ensure that they are secure.

Finish ditching the applique by outlining the whole image. For this portion, I consistently choose a thread color that will match my background fabric.

Step 2: Create a plan to divide the area of the background into manageable areas. In most cases, this will be the only marking necessary for this quilting method. My vision for this quilt was to add movement of light to the background, so I have divided the background into “rays of light” all coming from one direction. My thread goals have also changed and now I am looking for a stronger visual impact. For the remaining quilting, I will be using the King Tut line from Superior Threads. The heavier #40 thread and the variegation produces powerful result.

Step 3: Quilt the dividing lines. (When the dividing lines are straight, a walking foot or a free motion foot may be used depending on the preference of the quilter.) Notice that once all the ditching is complete and the dividing lines have been quilted, all the basting pins should be removable. With all the pins out of the project, the quilt will be more maneuverable and less likely to snag on any surfaces. The free motion is now more truly free to move smoothly, allowing you to quilt without hesitations.

Step 4: Quilting within the new division lines, I create simple continuous line shapes that both easy to quilt and complementary to the design. I call these “foundational elements.” Since the goal here was to create the illusion of light moving through the background, my chosen foundation elements look like curling ribbons. Two of the open spaces are left empty to allow for a different style of quilting.