Quilting Reulanach


Quilting Reulanach

Feeling a little daunted about quilting your Reulanach quilt? Do you have a lot of negative space in some places and less in others? What kind of time do you have to devote to quilting? What size of quilt are you making? Are you quilting on a domestic machine, long arm on a frame or picking up a needle yourself? Some of these questions will play into the decisions you make about quilting your Reulanach quilt. This blog talks through two approaches that I’ve used (and have been pleased with). 

In an ideal world I would have my own long arm on a frame with much more time than I currently have to quilt as I’d like. Back in the real world, I’m using a fabulous Pfaff 710 Quilt Expression, which has a 10” throat space so a little more than a standard domestic.

Reulanach Throw

Finished quilting

Here I took inspiration from Jacquie Gerring's book ‘Walk 2.0’ drawing out some potential patterns on paper to think through how they might work with the piecing and whether I could handle them on my machine at the throw size.

Testing quilting ideas

I pieced a lot of stars developing the Reulanach pattern so I had some to play with to test out my quilting ideas. In one version, I quilted right across the pieced stars using the design above. It wasn't long before I regretted this as the quilting ended up fighting with the piecing and detracting from it, particularly on the Lone star. In the final version shown above I stopped quilting at the edge of the stars then stitched in the ditch around the stars. While I was happier with this approach I ended up with many more threads to bury.

The other point worth mentioning on this quilt is that I ended up taking an asymmetrical approach to the quilting. In the image showing my final quilting each 'flower' is made up of three streams. It could have taken a fourth but I felt three streams gave the pattern more of a sense of movement than a symmetrical approach to quilting would have done. Each to their own...

On a practical note, I used the Pfaff IDT system (integrated dual feeder technology) so a walking foot would work fine if that's what you have. I used thread to match the bright yellow piecing (Moda Bella Solids Citrine) because I wanted the quilting to stand out on this quilt. With more time, I would use this approach again with a ruler foot and template. 

In case of interest, the location, date and time of this quilt relates to the moment I heard that my application to join the Creative Informatics resident entrepreneur programme (University of Edinburgh) had been accepted. This is the programme that supported me to develop the Reulanach pattern creator!

Queen size 

So, with a Queen size 88” x 88” I was never going to be able to use my Pfaff 710 QE. I used a Bernina Q24 on a frame that I was lucky enough to have access to. Thanks, Brian and Carole!

There can be a lot of negative space in this quilt so I completely understand why this might feel a bit daunting. I hear you!

I didn’t go straight to doodling with this quilt but instead did some searching for how others handle negative space quilting. I searched #negativespacequilting on Instagram and chatted to my experienced quilting friends about how my ideas might (or might not) work. I also searched Instagram for #starquilt to see how other quilters handled their star quilts. 

Negative space quilting examples. Image credit: Instagram @schnigschnagquiltsandmore

Image credit: Instagram @quilty_quilty

Image credit: Instagram @harper_longarm_quilting

I spent a bit of time (a couple of weeks on and off) just thinking about the starscape. Out of that thinking, three ideas came to mind:

  • I wondered how star constellations could inform my quilting. 
  • The waves of light that make up the Aurora Borealis. 
  • The swirls of the night sky in Vincent van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ kept popping into my mind. 

These ideas informed the quilting for my Reulanach quilt.

As a sidenote, while I was quilting my Reulanach quilt I was still developing the Reulanach quilt pattern creator so these ideas also informed the development of the tool you’ve used to create your star quilt pattern. If you’re using the tool on a computer you’ll be able to see some of the stars and constellations that appear in the telescope area that your quilt is based on. A web search for constellation images will give you lots of patterns and shapes that could be incorporated into you quilting.

I decided to incorporate the constellation of Hercules into the negative space of my quilt. I spent a bit of time thinking about the meanings within different stories about the constellations. There are some less flattering associations with Hercules but I liked the idea of incorporating a representation of strength into a quilt for a daughter. The Reulanach you see here is my first daughter's date of birth.

With these three ideas in mind, I turned to doodling. The images below show the start and end points of my doodling. In between, I resized my Hercules motif to take up much more space than I'd initially planned. Resizing the image and moving it around the quilt (using photo software) meant I could resize, undo/redo and copy my motifs quite quickly. In addition, by adjusting the colour of the 'quilting' lines I could get more of a sense of how the quilting would fade into the background. I use Affinity software. It's very much cheaper than subscription based alternatives like Adobe, the functionality is comparable and I've not found a problem I couldn't find an answer to on an online forum.

Test quilting

You get more of an impression of Hercules disappearing into the background in the image on the right. I printed a copy with just Hercules and the connecting lines between the constellation stars so my final doodles on paper (rather than screen) focused on practicing the background swirls without taking the pencil off the paper. 

Having planned and practised on paper, I got to quilting! 

IntelliQuilter computerised stars joined with free motion waves

While I was developing my ideas I was also thinking about the practical constraints. I was travelling quite far to use the long arm and with the cost of fuel as it was I didn’t have an unlimited number of days that I could spend quilting. In addition, I wanted the quilting to be functional and open. While I love the quilts that have really dense negative space quilting, it wasn’t going to work on my Reulanach for a variety of reasons.

I used the IntelliQuilter computerised quilting system to stitch stars into the background to make up the Hercules constellation. I connected the constellation stars with gentle waves inspired by the Aurora Borealis and then filled in the background swirls before advancing the quilt on the frame. I used white cotton thread (Master Piece Superior Threads) so that the emphasis would be on the piecing. This subtle approach to quilting also worked well with my hidden message in the constellation. I then decided to get the ruler out and stitch in the ditch around the stars. This meant going back over the quilt and a lot of frame turning. Lastly, back at home I added a French knot at the centre of each star. 

On reflection, there’s probably a tipping point at which doodling becomes less useful. I suspect that tipping point relates to the size of paper on which you are doodling and how closely it relates to the scale on which you will be quilting. My doodles for this Reulanach quilt were much larger on paper than I could manage when free motion quilting (without marking up the quilt first).

Quilting experience will play a large part in how the quilt turns out. Doodling gives me the confidence to test out ideas but an open mind and the ability to adapt (or willingness to unpick!) all help too!

Happy quilting..