The Top You’re Scared to Quilt

I recently experienced that fear I think all quilters run into… you finish a top and you don’t know how you should quilt it. You stare at the top for a while. Then you have an idea as to how you’d like to quilt it but either you aren’t confident in your skills to pull off the design or you are simply just petrified to try it out in case it might look awful.

What ends up happening is your top doesn’t get quilted and you continue to feel guilty that you haven’t finished that quilt yet.  I finished this top in the Spring of this year and it has languished in a drawer while I thought about how I wanted to quilt it (and worked on commissions).

I decided it was time to pull it out and quilt it. Before that, I considered my options.
  • Send it to the longarm quilter and let her figure it out. – I decided against this option because I really like working on my own quilts start to finish and knowing I did it all myself. Also, money was a concern.
  • Stitch in the Ditch and then decide how you wanted to fill it in – I prefer to do my fillers first starting from the center of the quilt and for this particular quilt I really had the feeling I wanted to do different sashing and border designs instead of plain old stitch in the ditch. So that option was out.
  • Draw on the quilt with a marker or pen and see how you like the design – Even with really great removable marking pens out there – it still makes me nervous, especially with a white background fabric like this one.
  • Practice a design on a test sandwich and go for it – I ended up doing this. It was risky and I figured I’d do one section on the quilt and then decide if I liked how it looked before doing the rest.  Ripping out quilting isn’t one of my favorite passtimes but I wanted to take the risk anyway because I had a hunch it would look ok.
  • Put in Back in the Drawer and worry about it later – Always a viable option but your UFO pile will really start to accumulate if you keep doing this!

I think for each quilter we all go through this “quilt anxiety” once we get to the quilting step. You don’t want to ruin a beautiful quilt top that you spent a lot of time working on but you want to finish it too.

Realize, you’re never going to have a “perfect quilt”. I know each and every one of you can pull out any quilt you’ve worked on and point out every mistake that is in it. Does that mean the finished product isn’t satisfying? Hopefully not! It just means you know what to improve for your next quilt.

I made quite a few mistakes while quilting these feathers but if I step back they look pretty good. I don’t think I’ll be entering this quilt in a show anytime soon so it won’t be under a magnifying glass.  I want to see the quilt in my house somewhere and not stuffed in a drawer anymore.

I still don’t know how I’m going to embellish the insides of the butterfly wings and the bodies! I am hoping my brain will figure that out while I’m filling in the rest.

If you’re having quilt anxiety think about your options and go for it! Nothing is worse than letting a beautiful top languish in a closet or a drawer when it can be put to good use.  Worse comes to worse and you hate how it was quilted, I’m willing to bet you can find someone that will enjoy it.


  1. I just finished one of these! It was terrifying but well worth it in the end. I didn't end up tearing out any of my quilting. It's a quilt for "muggles"(also known as non-quilters) and they won't notice all the mistakes. I'm very happy to get this one done and plan on finishing up some others soon. Feel free to check out some pictures on my blog-

  2. Those feathers look fantastic, you're really doing great with the longarm quilting Katie!

  3. Katie- your feathers look great! So impressed.

    As for the butterflies… why not let the quilting mirror butterfly wings in nature – there lots of swoops and curves within wing designs! Then each butterfly could also be unique.

  4. So true, and what you've shown looks great!
    I quilt professionally for others and there are a few things I've learned; some people simple do not like that part of the project and that is OKAY. I don't say that just so I get the job, I say that because I don't like every process of quilting all of the time. You're right, lack of confidence, or even knowing what to do, is a big staller. But like everything else, you can't know until you try. And nobody gets it perfect right off the bat, and even those that have lots of experience can still feel afraid of tackling a quilt sometimes. I see improvement in my work constantly, and I know there are jobs I've done that I would have done differently if I had had more confidence in myself. I learned this same thing while cake decorating; you are your worst critic, you notice your mistakes more than anybody else and lastly, most people are simply in AWE that you could do something that they wouldn't even know how to begin doing! Trudy

  5. That happens to me with every quilt top! I've even taken classes to help decide how to quilt them.

    Your feathers are gorgeous, Katie! And, I think they are a great choice for that quilt.

  6. Well friend, as you know from my posts lately, I am experiencing this full force, lol. Your feathers are fantastic…so impressed 🙂 They accent the butterflies beautifully!

  7. @Linda – I wish I could do feathers on the longarm but right now I'm happy I'm able to do them on my domestic sewing machine. The longarm has an entirely different learning curve!

    @Pam – I love your idea! I might find some shiny embroidery threads and embellish them that way.

    @Trudy – So glad to hear from someone on the other side of the process. I totally agree – I know lots of people that just don't like the quilting part and thank God there are folks like you out there that love to do it and do it so beautifully.

    @Colleen – Thanks! I've always been interested in those classes on how to decide how to quilt a top. Did you feel it was worth it?

    @Lori – your post kind of inspired me because I experience the same anxiety with each and every top I finish and go to quilt. I think the anxiety sets in even before the top is finished, especially if I'm really attached to the quilt. Lord help me if I ever finish that big lonestar quilt that I have the kit for – I think i'd have a heart attack trying to quilt it.