Monday, January 4, 2016

Quilt As You Go: Quilting the Blocks - My Experience and Thoughts

Quilt As You Go {QAYG} is a technique that captured my attention early in my quilting journey. While attending a 2009 quilt show in Cumberland, MD I watched a demonstration for QAYG placemats. It made total sense to me that this would be a great method to learn and develop free motion quilting skills. For some reason it took me six years to give it a try - I highly recommend you not wait that long.

All the blocks have been quilted
This stack of blocks provided a lot of QAYG practice

Before going any farther let's define quilt as you go. Regular quilt making begins with assembling a quilt top, then making a quilt sandwich (top, batting, and backing), and finally quilting the entire top as one large piece. QAYG breaks the whole process down to the block level. A quilt block is completed, layered onto batting and then quilted - at this stage there is no backing fabric. One reason I really wanted to try this method of  quilt making is the small size of my sewing machine. Some of you may remember this picture:

My Janome sewing machine
Yes, that is a grapefruit
As you can imagine it is pretty difficult to stuff a large quilt through the throat space on my sewing machine. If I only have to quilt one block at a time it frees up my hands and arms to focus on the flow of quilting rather than pushing, pulling, and twisting a bulky quilt through this relatively small space.

Before beginning I did some research on QAYG methods, considering both quilting the blocks, and what I was most concerned about, assembling them once they are finished. In this blog post I am going to focus on the quilting of the blocks and will save my thoughts regarding assembly for a Part 2 post. Okay, enough of the background...on to my experiences and thoughts :o)

My recent quilt finish, Great Grandmother's Patchwork Quilt, is made up of three different blocks: 9 patch, 16 patch, and 36 patch. These blocks provide a great opportunity to give QAYG a try. First I selected a different quilt design for each of these blocks.

Simple edge to edge quilting
Simple edge to edge quilt designs
All three of these easy quilt designs are suggested in Christina Cameli's book, First Steps to free-motion quilting. I mentioned this book last year in another of my free-motion quilting posts. I highly recommend it (please note I purchased my own copy of this book and am not being asked to endorse it.)

For the actual quilting I grouped my blocks together and quilted all of each block at the same time, for example, I did all of the 36 patch first, then all of the 9 patch, and finally all of the 16 patch blocks. Also - and this is an important point - keeping in mind that a run through the washer and dryer improves the look of all quilting, I gave myself permission to learn how to do these designs on the actual blocks. In other words, the more blocks I quilted the better I got. The first few times I did each pattern it looks like beginner quilting.

I started with the loops on a line design because I thought this to be the easiest of the three. It actually was very easy and did not matter if I was working top to bottom or bottom to top on the block I got the same look - in other words I did not need to rotate the block when I reached the edge, I just stitched over to the next column and began again. Next, I did the figure eight/wishbone design. I loved the smooth movement of this design and it really was easy to find my rhythm with it. For this design I also I did not have to rotate my blocks but it took a bit more mental processing to switch from quiting up the block to quilting down the block. Finally, I saved the vine for last because I thought it was the most difficult of the three designs. For this one I definitely had to rotate the block with each pass and always worked bottom to top. Here's my skill progressions with the vine pattern:

Free Motion Quilting-beginner
Vine: early attempt yields poorly formed leaves and inconsistent sizes

Free Motion Quilting - bit of practice
Vine: after a few blocks the vines are starting to look more uniform in size and shape

Free Motion Quilting-end of quilting session
Vine: finally a block I am proud to show. Good spacing, shape, and sizing :o)

I did notice that since I was only quilting a top and batting (remember, there is no backing fabric on the blocks at this stage) there is more drag when moving the blocks around. I did use my Supreme Slider and it was a big help. However, even without a Supreme Slider this would not be too difficult given the small size of my blocks.

Overall QAYG was a great experience! It was so fun to quilt small blocks and to try different free-motion quilting patterns without having to wrestle with a large quilt. It was also exciting that it really did not take long at all to see improvement in my quilting - a big motivator!

I'll write up another post soon giving my thoughts and experience with assembling the quilted blocks and adding a backing, so stay tuned! In the meanwhile run, don't walk, to your sewing machine and give quilt as you go a try on some of your quilt blocks - you'll have fun! I promise :o)


  1. Great recap, Debbie. I am both intrigued and scared with the QAYG method, not so much for the quilting part, but for the assembly, so I am looking forward to your next post on the topic.

  2. Looks great. The joining together part is the one that I haven't quite faced yet - it would be a great workshop to take hands on I think. Speaking of workshops - I'm super excited to have signed up for a QuiltCon West class next month with Christina. Will you be going to Pasadena?

  3. I Am Interested To See Your Next Post Because I Have Always Done QAYG With Top, Batting, And Backing All At Once. BTW I Really like The Appearance Of The Finished Quilt Of 9, 16, And 36 Patches.


Thank you so much for visiting my blog! I love it when you share your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

I respond to comments and questions via e-mail. If your profile is not linked to your e-mail then check back here for a reply.