Scribble Quilting

Ann Baldwin May invented the term “Scribble Quilting” to describe a quilting technique used for a quilt an auction quilt she donated to her local guild.  It is now her favorite way of quilting her work.   Here is her description of that process.

Scribble Quilting is a colorful, artful way to quilt.  Are you stuck in stitch-in-the-ditch?  Are you a bit bored with straight line quilting?  Maybe it’s time for you to try Scribble Quilting.  All you need to get started is a walking foot, a quilt sandwich ready to quilt and different colors of thread.  Take this opportunity to play with thread color; be aware that it can change depending on what it is on or near.  Free yourself from perfectly matching the thread to the top fabric.  Think about the lines you are making while quilting.  In Scribble Quilting, the lines cross each other, creating positive and negative space.  The actual sewing lines are the positive space, and the negative spaces are the shapes created by the lines.  Lines undulate, curve and wave.  Do the lines you’ve made draw your eye and keep your interest?

Like many great ideas, Scribble Quilting was discovered by accident.  I was making a baby quilt and decided to quilt curvy lines with my walking foot instead of straight ones.  I used one of the built-in stitches on my sewing machine which made regular, gentle curves.  Soon, I wanted to make the curves wider.  Switching back to my usual straight stitch, I began gently moving the quilt from side to side by hand to make wider curves than my built-in stitch had allowed.   It was fun, and the lines looked more interesting.  I kept quilting, experimenting with contrasting thread colors, and finished many of my art quilts this way.

I called this technique Scribble Quilting because, during my thirty-eight years of teaching, I noticed that some students showed their frustration with what they considered unsuccessful art projects by scribbling all over them with four or five different crayons or pens.  It always caught my attention; to me, it looked like a party with confetti falling all over.  As I quilted my pieces, drawing lines with multiple colors and crossing over them repeatedly, it reminded me of scribbling.

As I continued to Scribble Quilt, I found that even slight variations in the color of the quilting threads added subtle interest to a quilt top.  More color is more interesting. For example, I bought a spool of chartreuse (yellow green) thread at a flea market several years ago.  I never wear this color and had not tried it in quilting, but this thread has become one of my favorites because of the way it plays with other colors.  It brightens green or black fabric, and it often reads as yellow.  I encourage you to play with the thread to see how it changes, depending on the color of the fabric.   More color is more interesting, with one exception.  I tried variegated thread but was not satisfied with the results, because I had no control over when the colors changed and because the bobbin thread didn’t match the top thread.

Are you ready to start Scribble Quilting?  Begin each project by quilting straight lines about 5  inches apart using a walking foot.  Stitch-in-the-ditch works well to hold the quilt sandwich together.  Remove the pins to avoid sewing over them.  After you’ve finished straight-line quilting to secure the quilt sandwich, change to another thread color.  Quilt several lines in one color, spreading them out across the quilt top and gently moving the quilt sandwich from side to side as you sew from one edge of the quilt to the other.  Change thread color and continue quilting, making wider curves so that the quilting lines cross.  Keep quilting until the quilting is evenly spaced and you are happy with the way the lines cross each other.


1)       Prepare a quilt sandwich by pinning together the backing, batting and top (step 1).

Step 11000x1000

2)      Decide where to start quilting.  In the beginning, it’s easiest to start on one side and go to the opposite side.

3)       Begin by using a walking foot to make straight lines of stitching about 5 inches apart.  Stitch in the ditch if you want.  (step 2).

Step 2  1000x1000

4)      Now begin sewing curved lines of quilting, still using a walking foot.  Begin curved quilting on the edge of the quilt, near the middle of one side.  Pull the quilt taut with both hands as you quilt.  Gently move the sandwich from side to side as the machine stitches.  Use your needle down position in case you have to stop.  Stop quilting to readjust the quilt sandwich.  Avoid jerky movements.  The quilting thread should form a smooth, flowing line (step 3).

Step 3   1000x1000

PROBLEM SOLVING:   If your line of stitches moves abruptly to one side, stop immediately.  Remove stitches until you have enough to thread a needle, then bury the threads in the batting.  Continue quilting, starting at the end of the line of stitching.  If you don’t want to stop or don’t notice the mistake until later, stitch another line of quilting which crosses the first line at the point where the mistake occurred (step 4).  This will make the mistake less noticeable.

Step 4   1000x 1000

5)       As you quilt, check the back of the sandwich to see if some areas need more quilting.  The quilting lines should be balanced from one area of the quilt to another (step 5).   Keep quilting until you like the way it looks.  If you’re not happy, add wavy lines in contrasting colors, crossing more lines of quilting.

step 51000x1000

6)      Bind the quilt using your favorite technique.

Welcome to the joy of Scribble Quilting!