Quilting the Faded Railfence Quilt

As you can see from the photos, this quilt top has a lot of seams. The blocks are 5″ finished and most of the strips are 3/4″ wide or smaller. Because of the method I used in the workshop, some are really tiny! It creates a fantastic effect, but of course with lots of seams comes extra bulk that can be troublesome when quilting. Personally I don’t think hand quilting would be an option for a project like this. Despite the fact I love hand stitching, I just wouldn’t enjoy quilting through all those bulky layers by hand. Yes, I know that I could quilt 1/4″ in from every seam to avoid the seam allowances, but I don’t think that will give me the right look for this piece.


Before I start to quilt, I baste the layers together by hand. There are lots of options with basting – adhesive spray, pins, plastic tacks, but I prefer just good old hand basting. I find it pretty much as quick as any other method and it works for me. I use a very bright thread that contrasts with the quilt surface so I can see it easily. For this quilt I used a bright yellow thread and made big stitches all over the surface of the quilt. Later, as I approach a tacking stitch, I snip it out of the way. It’s best to avoid stitching over your tacking as it can make them harder to remove.

In the darker areas of the piecing I switched to a steely dark grey that is one of my favourite threads. Boring I know, but this grey just goes so well in my work! Depending on the range of the fade in your quilt, you might get away with two threads, especially if one is variegated like mine, OR you might find that you need to use more colours or values of colour. It really depends on how you want your quilting stitches to appear. Do you want them to stand out or to blend with the fabric? If you want them to blend you’ll need to use threads that match the colour and tonal value of the colour quite closely.

On the bobbin I use a mid grey thread for the whole quilt.

Here is the quilt top I put together and featured in the workshop Using Tonal Value: Scrap Quilt Fade. In the video workshop I focussed on tonal value, how to sort your fabrics and piece the quilt. The next stage is to think about how to quilt the piece. In fact, most of the time I spend piecing is actually devoted to thinking about how I will tackle the quilting, not because it’s difficult, but because there are SO many options. It can be hard sometimes to decide how best to tackle the quilting as there’s rarely a wrong answer, just myriad choices!

That said, I decided that I did want my quilting to echo the shapes of the piecing. With something like this I think you can either choose a flowing design that disregards the piecing, or go with something that respects those seam lines. A flowing design could add movement, curvy lines could balance very nicely all those straight seams and rectangle shapes. Something like a ‘leaves and vine’ style looping pattern, or even feathers could work because they’d offer some design contrast.

I chose to go with the opposite and stick with the geometric lines and reinforce that structure.

For my quilting thread I wanted to keep things simple. There are a lot of fabrics in this piece and I didn’t think using lots of threads was going to necessarily add anything. For the lighter section of the fade I used a variegated Aeroquilt thread from Madeira. I’ve had this one for ages and it’s strange colour shift from murky green to creamy beige to mauvey purple had never found a place in my work till now. For this piece it was just perfect! Using a variegated thread can be tricky, sometimes the shifts in the thread happen in all the wrong places and the thread can end up contrasting and blending exactly where you don’t want it to. With this thread, the tonal range is quite compressed so it was never too dark or too light.


As you can see, when it came to the quilting design, all I did was to stitch just within each strip of the rail fence. I worked freehand so I could go in any direction avoiding the need to constantly pivot the work as you would if you quilted with the feed dogs up and a walking foot on. Yes working freehand means that sometimes my lines are a bit wobbly, but I’m OK with that. I rather like my quilting to have some personality here and there! I kept the stitching reasonably close to the seam lines so I was always working through the seam allowances. The machine can cope with this no problem and I think it helps to make the seams ‘sit down’ neatly, a bit like top stitching a seam in dressmaking does.

This style of quilting is pretty easy to do as you just follow the piecing that you’ve already done so very little brain power is needed – perfect for those late night quilting sessions!

Thanks for reading and happy quilting,

Love Laura

Other strip piecing workshops...

Using Tonal Value: Scrap Quilt Fade

Join Laura in the studio to explore how important tonal value is in quilt making and learn how to piece with a tonal fade effect using scrap fabrics.

Painterly Piecing, Applique and Hand Dyeing

We just love hand dyed fabrics, there’s no better way to create just the colours and colour combinations that we want for our work. In this video collection we’ll show you how to dye your own fabrics and then use them in painterly appliqué and patchwork projects.

Strippy Scrappy Blocks

Slice up your scraps and use them with quick piecing methods to make beautiful quilt tops. This is a great stash buster and will quickly make a dent in your fabric pile!

Strippy Scrappy: Quilting the Spaces

If you’ve tried any of the quick piecing techniques that we’ve featured on DMTV, then it’s likely you’ll have quilt tops that need quilting! Fear not, Linda has some ideas to help you quilt the piecing and those tricky empty spaces in blocks. Join her to discover how she chooses the quilting designs for her strippy patchworks. She uses hand techniques to stitch a cushion front and then creates a completely different look with machine quilting to enhance a beautiful hand painted garland in the on point squares of a little quilt.

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Strippy Scrappy – What happened next?

Take a look at how Linda’s completed the quilting on the piece she started in the Strippy Scrappy video workshop.

Strippy Scrappy – Finished

It’s done, take a look at the last bits of quilting on the Strippy Scrappy quilt that Linda’s been working on recently.