Quilting Up a Postage Stamp Quilt

This last month I have had three people write with questions about how to quilt their completed PSQ toppers. I will share some ideas, but hope others will jump in with ideas as well! Right about now I am wishing I had saved detailed photos of every one of these charming quilts that has left my home. Alas, I did not. But here are some suggestions to get you planning how to quilt your quilt. As with all the PSQ discussions here, I assume there are beginners among us, and encourage them to jump into something new here, as they feel ready.

A favorite Postage Stamp Quilt.As with any quilt, there are a couple of questions to ask first. First, do you have a batting preference? That may dictate your quilting technique, using the package’s guidelines for spacing of quilting and considering the loft of the batt. If you are using a thin batting, or a cotton one, you can elect more detail, and the quilt will be flatter. Second, how will the quilt be used? Should you be making a toddler quilt that will need frequent washing, and be dragged all over the place, a polyester blend with a bit more loft makes more sense. Check out Quilt Batting Basics—Baffling No More to compare batting types.

Alright, a third consideration: what is your quilting skill and comfort level? These are ‘busy’ quilts to begin with. While that means they do not require a ton of quilting to look marvelous, it also means that they hide mistakes. If you have been wanting to experiment with a new technique or all-over design, go for it. Heck, by the time you put rows of large feathers all over it, your skills will have grown enormously. If you consider this third question and are quaking in fear, your local long-arm quilter may be your best choice. Especially for a large quilt!


Tied PSQTie it! The first one I did, I tied with pearl cotton. It had a double-thick, high-loft poly batt, so tying made sense, and was simple. Think ‘comforter’ more than quilt. Still very washable, and super cozy. I have since tied other PSQ quilts, either for lack of time, or because the owner wanted a higher loft than I can cope with quilting at home. Tying can be a sociable family activity as well. A friend tells the story of three days without power in mid-winter. She set her preteens up with a stack of pin-basted quilts, and they cuddled under them while tying by candlelight.

If you are not sure how to tie a quilt, Part 2 of the Classic Squares Quilt tutorial might be helpful.

Great for beginning quilters?

Straight Lines. Stitch in the ditch works well, just select the number of squares you use to separate the rows based on the batting package. (Example D.)

Simple Geometric Quilting over Squares (c) The Curious Quilter.

Click photo to enlarge.

Still straight stitching, but not in the ditch, diagonal lines are great as well. (Example A.) Personally my default for quilts when I have minimal time and little patience is to do a harlequin or diamond shape. The distance is once again dictated by the batt selection and personal taste.

Simple variations on ‘straight’ have lead me to use zigzag channel quilting (example B.) But I also love what I call “zipper quilting”. (Example C.) I show it in the sample board using a two square model, but three, four, or more works as well. The trick to making it fun is to stagger the “teeth” rather than align them. Yes, you have to turn corners, but it is very straight-forward stitch in the ditch, so pretty simple to do.

If you are learning to use a walking foot, channel quilting or any of the ones listed in this section are great for practicing. Remember to peek at the back from time to time to see if your backing is puckering. Basting right can really help you while you are learning, but it is the step most quilters skimp on. You want your quilt sandwich to act like one unit, not three shifting layers. (Yes, if you read that post, I rarely pin-baste any more. I do not have the space to stretch it out and get it right, and I have learned that using Ms. Chamber’s ideas for hand-stitching the basting on my dining room table lets me get a good sandwich while watching a movie or football game. Okay, now I am getting hungry and have the desire to put on my Fran Tarkenton jersey!)

When you are doing stitch in the ditch with a walking foot and have pin-basted your quilt sandwich, there are some cheats you can do to make it work while you gain experience. One trick I teach in beginning quilting classes? Take out your long straight pins and pin every 1-2 inches at right angles to your stitching line before stitching, right across it. Put them close together, and remove when you get close to them. They can really help you get the feel of the process. By the time you finish your quilt, you will have learned more about how to baste, and how to manage the walking foot without cheating.

Ready for a bit more of a challenge? Try these:

Feature Quilting Over Squares

Click to enlarge.

Perhaps you want to spice it up but not go overboard. Consider doing large squares of stitch in the ditch around charm sets, and putting a featured quilting design in some or all of the squares. For a baby try some simple geometric shapes, for a gardener you could practice all your leaf and flower shapes. Scatter them about and see how it goes before you commit to placing a feature in every set of squares.

The oft-pinned photo of the PSQ resting on the glider in my garden shows an all-over meander, with gaps ranging from one to three inches. I find that meandering from the center out works at home on my old Singer, even on a large quilt. But it does take some time and an attentive frame of mind.

Two Inch Treasure Postage Stamp Quilted detail

Click photo to enlarge.

A long-arm quilter asked me why I bother, when she can churn them out so fast. Well, I often find that I have more time than money, so I try to save my long-arm friends for projects that are less forgiving than a PSQ quilt. If you decide to do a free-motion, all-over quilting design, keep it loose and flowing. But if you are anxiously waiting for a chance to try large free-motion swirls or feathers, go for it. Those interesting little squares will hide little jerky spots, so again, practice away on this quilt.

Circle quilting over squares (c) The Curious Quilter

Click to enlarge.

One of the loveliest quilt designs I have seen on a PSQ is the Circle over Square design. Yes, it looks intensely hard, but it isn’t. You do not have to sit and wrestle the quilt around and around to make circles, it is done with wavy lines. Simply put, you do one set of waves across the quilt, shown in red on Example F. Then you do the green set from Example F also across the quilt. Now you turn the quilt and move on to Example G, again doing first one row, purple, then the other, orange. Yep, the colors are for the examples only. Example E shows putting a circle over every square (not recommended for tiny squares). Example H puts a circle over every four squares. You decide how many squares to enclose based on the batt selection and your patience. (Check out the one by Linda at LR Designs, which she shared on our PSQ Flickr pages!)

It would be helpful to draw the wavy lines on a few rows at first. If your topper is PERFECTLY pieced (unlike any of mine) and you want to stay with perfection, make a cardboard template that works with your wave selection. But personally I am fine with slightly erratic circles. This winter I have to do this pattern on one of my toppers.

Long Arm Quilters, here we come!

Perhaps you have decided you are not into free-motion or channel quilting that king-sized PSQ topper you have pieced. Talk to your quilter before creating your quilt sandwich and see what is needed to make it fit on the equipment. Then look through his or her samples. The standard pantograph designs are often less expensive, and work well for these quilts. But an experienced long-arm quilter may have some great tricks up their sleeves and be ready for custom designs. Perhaps assorted footballs and soccer balls for a sport nut. Coffee cups for a barista? Sweeping waves for a surfer?

Maybe you have a long-arm machine in your home. If you are still learning about it, consider your PSQ topper an opportunity to try something new and increase your skills.

What about YOUR PSQ topper?

Have you quilted it already? Are you playing with designs? Please share comments below, and photos on our PSQ Flickr Pages!
Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot com Quilting Up a Postage Stamp Quilt© 2013 by The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com. All rights reserved.


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
This entry was posted in PostageStamp Quilts/Charm Swaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Quilting Up a Postage Stamp Quilt

  1. Gay says:

    thank you so much for these great ideas! I have a 2″ one patch my mother pieced and really want to finish it myself. The circles over squares looks so easy now with your instructions!

  2. Sarah Craig says:

    I have quilted a PSQ on my longarm placing a FMQ heart in each individual square. This quilt was for a woman who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the hearts represented all the people who were praying for her! Almost a thousand of them – a powerful reminder!

  3. On my postage stamp projects I have done straight line in the ditch tracing around in a random pattern, free motion squiggles and even a clam shell design ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/74656737@N05/8508561006/in/photostream/ ). I love working with my little squares!

  4. I still have a load of 1.5 inch squares that I need to turn into a postage stamp quilt at some point. Little by little I’m sewing them together. The good thing about it is that I can do small bits every day, in between other projects, so that I feel like I’m making progress on everything without losing time on anything. 😀

  5. Thanks for referring to my PSQ quilting! This is my favorite quilt by far! When I quilted a Trip Around the World, I used a small meander, 100% cotton batting and then washed and dried the finished top to make it get all wrinkly! I love that look, too! Here’s a link to a picture. http://lrdesignsquilting.com/blog/archives/3622 Thanks for starting this discussion! Good questions and answers!!

  6. You make circles over squares look like a great option….my next quilt!

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