Quilting Blog

6 Strategies to Plan A Striking Straight Line Quilting Design

You’ve spent days, weeks, months or possibly years planning and making your quilt top. Now what? “How do I quilt it?” This is the question every quilter has asked themselves at some point.

I tend to use straight lines in my quilting with my walking foot. Be sure to check out my Craftsy blog post “A Beginner’s Guide to Straight Line Quilting” for more tips!

Here are some strategies for how I plan my straight line quilting design:

1. Use the seams in your quilt top as a guide.

I often study the seams in my quilt top and use them as a guide for straight stitching. By using this strategy, you can emphasize your quilt top design and make it the star of the quilt.

detail of Shutter Snap Quilt Photography inspired quilt

In my Shutter Snap quilt, I really wanted to draw focus to the eight camera shutters. I quilted the design by following the seams in the blades of the shutters and echo quilted the hexagon inside the camera shutters.

I often let the size of the area that I’m quilting dictate my quilting stitch length. Since the camera shutters are small pieces, I shortened my stitch length.

2. Use the shapes in your quilt as your inspiration.

For my Road Work quilt, I wanted to keep the quilting simple and not detract from the bold quilt top graphic. Straight lines, rectangles and triangles are the only shapes in this quilt.

detail of Road Work Quilt Racing and car inspired quilt.

I started quilting the background with straight lines 1″ apart. I then moved on to the yellow stripes and white rectangles, quilting ¼” from the seams. I then followed the shapes of the triangles with my quilting. I decided that the background didn’t feel quilted enough, so I went back and filled in between the 1″ quilted lines with more quilting, making the lines ¼” apart.

I often quilt lines 1″ apart if I’m unsure about how dense I want to make the quilting. I can always go back and add additional quilting. If you’re unsure about a design or density, it sometimes helps to set the quilt aside. I’ll often leave an unfinished quilt in my living room so that I can look at it over the course of a few days to make final design decisions.

3. Trace it out.

Want to play with a design before committing to it? Trace it out!


I like to use a sheet of acrylic with dry erase markers or tracing paper over my quilt top.

Using acrylic and dry erase makers to plan  quilting designs by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

Dry erase markers easily come off the acrylic using glass cleaner. A word of caution — it is fairly easy to smudge the dry erase marker. Be careful not to get the marker on your quilt top. While you have to be careful, I like this method because there is no waste. Simply erase your design and try a new one! Just be sure to take some digital photos of designs before you erase them. The photos are great to reference when making a final design decision.

Tracing paper

Using tracing paper to plan  quilting designs by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio
A less messy way to test out traced designs is to use tracing paper. I purchase tracing paper by the roll and sketch over the top of my quilt to test out quilting ideas. For the queen size version of my Road Work quilt, I used the tracing paper method to sketch out the background quilting design. Here’s the finished design:

detail of Road Work Quilt

Tracing paper is a great way to play with random lines. For my Emerald Energy quilt, I traced random lines on tracing paper to get a sense of the design before I committed to it.

detail of Emerald Energy Quilt
Emerald Energy Quilt by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Emerald Energy Quilt

4. Avoid quilting areas that you want to feature.

Sometimes less is more. Consider not quilting areas that you want to accentuate. This may sound
counterintuitive, but here’s an example.

detail of Sew Speedy Quilt

I quilted the background of my Sew Speedy mini quilt with dense straight lines and only outlined the needles. Because of this type of quilting, the needles stand out. Also, by quilting straight lines parallel to the lines in the quilt top, the long length of the needles are accentuated.

5. Use quilting to complete a quilt top design.

detail of Up and Away Quilt

Straight line stitching can help complete the design of a quilt top. For my Up and Away mini quilt, the strings between the hot air balloon and the basket weren’t a part of the quilt top piecing. Instead, I used straight line quilting for the lines.

First, I drew the lines with a fabric pencil and quilted over the lines. I then quilted tightly to the right and left (and sometimes over) the quilted lines. Using this method, you’re using quilting as embroidery to add to the design.

6. Keep it simple.

Simple straight line stitching can be beautiful. I love the quote “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” by Leonardo da Vinci.

Check out my Modern Love quilt. I simply followed the straight lines, matching thread colors to the fabric color.

detail of Modern Love Quilt

Sometimes the concept behind your quilt can also lend itself to a quilting design. In my Sun Salutations quilt, I quilted the top half (the sunrise) as if sunrays were radiating from the sun.

detail of Sun Salutations Quilt

The possibilities are endless with straight line quilting. Want more inspiration? I highly recommend the video lessons in Creative Quilting With Your Walking Foot with Jacquie Gering. Jacquie’s work is amazing and you’re sure to learn new techniques and be inspired.

Are you ready to dive in and plan your own straight line quilting design on your next quilt? Is there a specific strategy that resonates with you? Please comment below.


Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill is a designer, pattern writer and award-winning quilter. With the help of books and the Internet, she taught herself how to sew and discovered her love of designing and making quilts. As a trained and practicing graphic designer, her quilts start with a concept and research shapes the design. Her work is inspired by her everyday life and experiences. Sheri strives to make beautiful objects that inspire others to make and learn by providing clear instruction and encouragement. In 2016, she was awarded the first annual Craftsy Quilt Designer Fellowship. Learn more about Sheri and her work at wholecirclestudio.com and on Instagram or Facebook.


Brendan Berg

This is THE best blog post I’ve read on the Craftsy platform. Chock full of really simple yet powerful ideas, Sheri has provided some real insights to how a “Master” approaches line quilting. We’d love to more posts like this one. Brilliant!!

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Brendan, Thanks for your kind words. I’m happy to hear that you found it inspiring!
– Sheri

Jen Dunn

Wonderful quilts with fantastic quilting. I love the emerald energy quilt….perfection. As a new quilter who started because I figured you’d only need to be able to sew straight for the length of the patch it’s a bit daunting, but then again so is free-motion! What have I got myself into?! Will defo need to check out Jackie’s class.

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Jen,
Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. The great thing about quilting is there are LOTS of ways to do it, from simple to complex and yes—you totally can just sew straight for the length of a patch! Do what works for you and what you like. Best of luck and keep quilting!

Tiffany, Village Bound Quilts

Some great suggestions on how to test out quilt designs! I may have to give a large piece of acrylic a try.. Thanks, as always, for the great tips, Sheri! 🙂

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Thanks Tiffany. If you try the acrylic, I’d love to hear what you think and how it goes!


This is the best article I have read on straight line quilting. I have a quilt with lots of open space and borders that calls for quilting that does not detract from the focus blocks. Auditioning designs with tracing paper and acrylic are great ideas. I have a better idea on how to proceed with and feel more confident now. Thanks. I think my quilt will look great.

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Helen,
I’m glad you found the post helpful. Good luck with your straight line quilting journey! I’d love to see your quilt when it’s complete.

Charrie Shockey

Beautiful designs and so intricate. Just beautiful! I have a few questions as a newbie. You didn’t say how you transfer your markings from the tracing paper or acrylic sheet to your quilt or do you just eyeball it? And how is it I see no backstitches anywhere?

Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill

Hi Charrie, Thank you for your kind words! The tracking paper/acrylic is just for me to get a sense of the design. I either used a Hera Marker or masking tape to use as guide lines (and some times just eyeballed). That’s a great topic for a future blog post either here on Craftsy or on my Whole Circle Studio blog (thanks for the idea!). I only backstitch at the edges (that will be trimmed or covered by binding). Anywhere else, I bury my threads (again, another great topic for a blog post)!
Keep quilting! Sheri


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