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 Quilting Techniques : Stippling

Stippling is a common form of "filler" quilting. Either done by hand or by machine, it creates a pattern of closely-sewn, roaming lines that fill background spaces on a quilt. A few shapes are repeated throughout stippling, but not so frequently to create a rigid effect. Instead, stippling has more of a random, wandering appearance to it. Often used around appliqué, stippling makes the surrounding areas appear raised.

This technique is closely related to meandering. The major difference between the two is the distance between lines of stitching. Stippling features a quarter of an inch or less between lines, while a wider distance is used in meandering. Although the techniques are used for the same purpose, this spacing difference creates two distinct effects.

An additional requirement of stippling is that lines of sewing do not cross over each other. The patterns formed, instead, are roaming, curved lines that cover the entirety of an otherwise open area.

Stippling is typically used in addition to other quilting techniques as part of an overall design. Best results are achieved when it is used in smaller, contained spaces.

It is a good idea to use low-loft batting for projects you plan to stipple. This ensures your quilt lies flat and the effect is uniform.

Why Use Stippling

Stippling may be chosen either for the visual effect it creates or for convenience. Because it involves covering an area with closely spaced stitching, stippling creates a flattened area. By contrast, surrounding areas appear raised and more visually prominent. This effect works well in areas around appliqué or other design features you wish to accentuate.

When done by machine, stippling is a convenient and fast way to quilt a project. Although there is a great number of stitches involved and stippling by hand can be labor intensive, sewing machines make the process fairly simple.

Stippling With a Sewing Machine

Stippling can be easier on a sewing machine than by hand, but there is a technique to it. The trick is develop a rhythm in moving the fabric and controlling your stitching speed at the same time.

Check your machine's settings before getting started. The feed dogs should either be lowered or covered. Your quilt sandwich will be manually fed through the machine throughout the process. Use a darning foot and set the stitch length and width to zero.

If you have not done stippling before, working on a test sandwich is a good way to develop a feel for it. It is important to learn to coordinate manual control of the fabric and stitching speed before working up your final project with the technique. Once you have the rhythm, moving onto the real thing is easier and will yield better results.

Stippling Technique

Stippling can be done either free-style or by following a paper-based design. Whichever manner feels more comfortable, start your work in a corner. To camouflage your starting point, begin on a previously stitched line if possible. Guide your fabric evenly to create curved, repeating lines. Keeping a constant speed, add variations in your stitched shapes or the direction of sewing, but do not cross over your stitching lines.

The goal is to fill an area with stitching without quilting into a corner. Try to end your stippling in a spot where another round of quilting can begin instead. This simplifies creating a pattern and direction for your stippling.

Stippling Tips

- Use a fast to medium sewing speed, but not so fast the fabric cannot be controlled.
- Move the fabric smoothly for even stitches.
- Work away from yourself to avoid crossing over existing stitches.
- Guide the fabric so that previously stitched shapes are echoed instead of moving only in a horizontal direction.

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