What is the best size for a baby quilt? Click Here to find a size chart.

What is Custom Quilting? Find 3 videos to guide you...

What is Custom Quilting? Level Up Your Machine Quilting!

Written by: Leah Day



Time to read 10 min

Have you ever tried Custom Quilting? This is a longarm quilting term used to describe stitching unique quilting designs into each area of your quilts. These areas include:

  1. Quilt Blocks
  2. Sashing - the space between quilt blocks
  3. Shapes like cornerstones, triangles and hexagons
  4. Quilting Borders

The price for having a quilt top "Custom Quilted" varies from one longarm quilter to another. Generally though, you can expect to pay a lot more for custom quilting than for all-over style or edge-to-edge quilting.

To make a custom quilt, a longarm quilter plans and stitches unique designs into each part of your quilt. This includes designing custom motifs, planning unique borders, or selecting multiple computerized designs to stitch in specific spaces. This takes a lot more time than covering a quilt with a single design.

Because of the cost associated, most quilters are paying longarmers to ignore their pieced patchwork and appliqued blocks. And this is a shame because if you bothered to piece it or applique it, the quilting should honor those shapes!

The great thing about this quilting style is you can learn to do it yourself. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to custom quilt flowers into all the areas of your quilts.

Custom Quilting Spring Flower Quilt Materials List

  1. Spring Quilt Panel - Fun practice Panel designed for Spoonflower. You'll need 1 yard of the Signature Petal Cotton.
  2. Crib sized quilt batting (45 x 60 inches)
  3. 1 1/2 yards backing fabric (42 x 54 inches)
  4. Quilting thread
  5. Sewing machine
  6. Printer and paper (8.5 x 11 inch copy paper works great)
  7. Spring Flowers Quilt Stencil Collection
  8. Scissors

In this custom quilting tutorial, I'm quilting the printed quilt panel linked above. You're welcome to follow along or use any quilt top you've pieced. You'll find flower quilting designs to fit all sizes of quilt blocks within our Spring Flowers Quilt Stencil Collection so any quilt will work!

Custom Quilting Vs. Edge-to-Edge Quilting

Custom quilting means honoring the different spaces of your quilts. Instead of covering your patchwork with a random design, custom quilting highlights your piecing and applique.

The piecing and the quilting intertwine and accent one another to create a beautiful flower quilt.

Please don't misunderstand - I regularly use all-over quilting in baby quilts and throw quilts. I even have list of easy All-Over Quilting Designs right here. It's a great machine quilting method for projects that need to be finished quickly and simply.

Also all of the single paper stencil designs we offer are designed to make edge-to-edge quilting easier. So clearly this isn't a bad quilting method.

But there is a time when a quilt needs a special, custom quilting design. If you've sewn a detailed flower block or a Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt, it would be a waste to cover it with random quilting. Using our new paper stencil collection, we can easily accent and elevate our piecing with unique flower patterns.

All you need is your sewing machine, some practice at free motion quilting, and a willingness to try. Now get your spring quilts layered with batting and backing fabric to create a quilt sandwich and let's go quilt!

1. Custom Quilting Flower Blocks

Within the Spring Flower Quilt Stencil Collection, you will find multiple quilt block designs and sizes. 

The smaller 6-inch blocks and hexagon blocks fit onto one US letter sized (8.5 x 11 inch) page. Just print, cut out the design, place it on your quilt and stitch on the lines.

For 8, 10, and 12 inch blocks, I've split the design into quarters so they are easier to print and quilt. For these, place one quarter of the design on your quilt, making sure to properly position the stencil in a corner of the block.

Quilt from one end to the other (I generally quilt from left to right) and then stop with your needle in the down position. Butt the next stencil right up against the first and check the edges are aligned with your flower quilt block. 

Continue quilting each quarter until your flower quilt block pattern is complete.

Only have one loose paper stencil on the quilt at a time. Trying to have more loose stencils taped down while you quilt is a recipe for Frustration Tea.

~ Leah Day

Video 1 - Custom Quilting on a Home Machine

See how I quilted the center of my Spring Quilt Panel using my home sewing machine in this video:

Just in case you're wondering, yes, this custom quilting method and the quilting stencils will work just as easily on a longarm machine on a frame. If you're using a Qnique longarm machine, I recommend using the Stitch Regulated Cruise setting and 16 stitches per inch.

Are you curious about my home sewing machine? Learn more about the sewing machine, table and quilting tools I'm using in this video:

How to Deal with Thread Breaks

You're going to have loose threads at the beginning and end of each line of quilting. I prefer to tie off and bury my thread tails within the batting area of the quilt. I always tie off 2 threads at a time to minimize the knot size. Click Here to find the needles I use and a video tutorial to guide you through securing your thread tails.

2. Custom Quilting Sashing

Quilt sashing is the space between quilt blocks. Quilter's piece sashing between blocks to make a quilt bigger or to add a buffer between blocks.

The most popular width for sashing is 2 inches finished (2 1/2 inches cut). This creates a narrow space around blocks that can be challenging for custom quilting.

I wanted to give you a nice design that will add texture without making the quilt feel stiff. 3 widths of the candy sashing design are included within the stencil collection.

I prefer a narrower quilting design so I don't accidently stitch outside of the sashing space. This also adds a nice buffer between the quilting designs so they don't overlap.

You'll also find sashing corner turns included, which means you can really stitch your quilt blocks up a notch! Combine mini borders of sashing with the smaller flower quilt blocks to create even more custom quilting designs.

3. Custom Quilting Triangles

I designed the spring quilt panel with big triangles to give us a fun place to play with our triangle designs. For the smaller triangle, I used two of the triangle designs with a 6-inch flower block pattern.

Because I used a mirror repeat on the quilt panel, you'll also end up with a much larger triangle on one edge. For this space, I quilted a 10-inch quilt block and a triangle. It's a very different look and made a nice use of the space. Even though there wasn't space for the entire flower block pattern, it still resulted in a great custom design for this corner.

Video 2 - Custom Quilting a Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt

I purchased a Grandmothers Flower Garden quilt top on Ebay a few years ago, but it was around 30 inches bigger than I needed. This resulted in a narrow remnant that was just too nice to throw away.

Thankfully this patchwork remnant didn't go to waste. I cut four Grandmothers flower garden placemats out of the piece and stitched a fun custom quilting hexagon design into each one. See all the steps in this 60 second short video:

You'll find two hexagon flower designs within the Spring Flowers Quilt Stencil Collection. These are some of my favorite flower designs in the set!

4. How to Plan Your Border Quilting Design

The final and possibly trickiest area for custom quilting is your quilt border. Border quilting is challenging because the area is long, narrow, and wraps around the entire quilt. How do you quilt a continuous line design through this space?

The key is to start with the corners. You'll find a small and large corner turn within the stencil collection. Place the corner turn you like best into each of the corners. From there, planning your custom quilting design will be like putting together a puzzle.

Play with the 3, 6, and 9 inch border lengths to create the long sides of the border. You may need to swap two diagonal corners if you have more than 1 inch of extra space on the sides.

The key to planning your border quilting design is to take your time, stay patient, and just play with it. There is no right or wrong choice for your border design. Try not to let the Perfectionism Quilting Police start up a dialogue in your head.

Developing your "design eye" is also part of this process. What do YOU think looks best? Why?

Video 3 - Border Quilting

See all the steps to planning a custom border quilting design in this video. Follow the steps to quilt a continuous line border design in any size of quilt!

Border Stencil Decision - Leave Gaps or Overlap?

You will occasionally have a situation where your border stencils will not exactly fit your quilting space. Here you have a decision - do you leave gaps between the stencils or overlap them?

Leaving a gap between the stencils is the easier option, but it will result in more space between the designs. Make sure to mark the quilt with a fabric marking pencil or tape to indicate the gap being left.

As you quilt the border, you will stitch to the end of the first stencil, then across the gap, then onto the next stencil. This is a very easy and quick way to handle extra space in your border.

For overlapping, plan the amount of overlap and this time mark it on the stencils. This way the paper will guide you as to how much the designs overflow on top of one another.

Quilt the first stencil completely and stop with your needle in the down position. You may need to trim some of the next stencil away so you can properly place the overlapping stencil. As you quilt over the doubled layers of paper, try to make very tiny stitches to make the paper easier to rip away.

Before you start custom quilting your border, remember to take a picture of the design. If you're quilting a large border, consider numbering the stencils. This will help you remember the arrangement when you're on your machine.

Don't brew yourself a cup of Frustration Tea - only have one loose stencil on the quilt at a time!

Spring Quilt Panel Custom Quilting Design

There are dozens of ways you can quilt this Spring Quilt Panel with the Flower Quilting Stencil Collection. Here's a picture of my finished quilt and the designs I choose to use in the quilt blocks, sashing, triangles, and borders:

The mark of a beautiful custom quilting design is that it can stand by itself as a wholecloth design.

All of the quilting stencils from this collection could easily make a beautiful wholecloth quilt too. If you'd like to learn more about wholecloth quilting, here's a beginner class I've taught on this technique.

I really love how our Spring Quilt Panel finished and that it only took 5 hours to machine quilt!

This is surprising because the entire quilt was stitched on my home sewing machine set in a table. This "push quilting" method is slower than quilting on a frame.

Custom quilting on a marked line and having the designs planned out definitely speeds up the quilting process, even when custom quilting. You don't have to stop and make decisions as you quilt like where to go next or what design to use.

Don't forget, our paper quilting stencils also work great on a longarm machine on a quilting frame too! This will be even faster because it's easier to move a machine on wheels than pushing a quilt over a table.

Final Steps to Finishing Your Spring Flower Quilt

You only have a few more steps to finishing your Spring Flower Quilt panel:

  1. Tear away the stencils - Scrunch the quilt up with the paper to the inside, then again to the outside. Give it a good squish and this will make the paper much easier to tear away from your stitches.

  2. Trim the edges of your quilt panel - Make sure to include 1/4 inch of the white fabric around the quilt panel so you don't cut off the custom quilting design with your binding.

  3. Finish with quilt binding. This is the final step of the quilting process, I promise! Click Here to find a tutorial on binding by machine.

Do you have any remaining questions about custom quilting? Please reach out and let me know! I'd love to update this post with more questions from quilters to help everyone learn more about custom quilting.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Leah Day Quilt Designer

The Author: Leah Day

Leah Day is a sewing and longarm machine dealer and online quilting teacher. She has been designing quilts since her first nine patch quilt in 2005. Leah loves making all styles of quilts and teaching machine quilting on every type of machine she can get her hands on - from longarms to treadles!

Read more