Add Excitement to Your Quilt Top by Breaking the Rules


Have you ever looked through a quilt magazine and wondered why your quilts don’t have that extra something like the ones on the magazine pages? The odds are pretty good that the quilter broke one of the hard-and-fast rules of quilt design. We’re taught to follow the rules while we’re growing up, so our eye naturally gravitates to designs outside the norm. If your quilts are looking a bit too boring and basic, use one of these techniques to flip the design around and create some design interest.

Sometimes Mistakes Aren’t

If you make a mistake when sewing a block together, don’t be too quick to grab the seam ripper. If it’s just a matter of using the wrong fabric, and not a truly wobbly seam, keep that block the way it is and see how it looks with the rest of the batch. You might find a pattern you want to use more than once.

Related video: How to Choose a Quilting Fabric

Stop Using Boring Backgrounds

How many quilts have you seen with patterned designs on white backgrounds? Look at some Amish quilts, and the background is a solid black. White (or cream) and black are just about all you see when it comes to quilt backgrounds. What if you used a delicious raspberry color for a background? How about a regal purple? If you’re not feeling quite so bold, why not use icy hues of mint or gray-blue?

Related video: Choosing Between Black and White Quilt Backgrounds

Use Unexpected Fabrics

Some quilt patterns just lend themselves to certain types of fabric. Think of a log cabin quilt and you see plaids or small flowered designs. Wedding ring quilts are mostly made of fabric with small prints like those created during the Great Depression. Shake up your quilt top by using a fabric no one would ordinarily choose to put there. How about a Baltimore Album quilt made of neon colored fabrics? A Dresden Plate with bright batiks? Do your next gift baby quilt in black and white fabrics with primary colored ribbons. Just look at what’s usually done, then turn it on its head.

Related video: Composing Your Quilt Design

Skip the Borders

Sure, a border is like a picture frame. But have you looked at a photograph lately? They don’t have borders anymore, either! Run your pattern all the way to the edge, then put a matching or contrasting binding all the way around. Obviously this only works for quilts with allover designs. Or does it? It’s your quilt; it’s up to you to decide.

Related video: Fun Quilt Border Ideas

If you’re making an intricate quilt for a show with a book full of rules, you might want to follow the regulations and make a traditional piece. But not always. The most striking quilts around were created by quilters deciding to do what they wanted instead of what everyone else was doing.

The quilt police are a myth. You can do whatever you want, then tell everyone it’s an intentional design element. As long as you like it, it’s the right move for your quilt.

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15 Responses to “Add Excitement to Your Quilt Top by Breaking the Rules”

  1. Marsha

    Why is it a rule that seams on quilts are to be 1/4″? I have made quilts with 1/4″ seams and they come apart. I have started sewing 1/2″ seams instead. They are more secure and make the quilt a little heavier. Sure hope the “quilt police” don’t come get me.

  2. Carole Courtney

    I have always said “Quilters don’t make mistakes, we adjust the pattern”

  3. Kathleen Matthews

    I accidentally reversed the claws on a bearpaw pattern and ended up with fish. I kept half and call it fish ‘n bears. Loved it especially coming from Alaska at the time.

  4. Cheri

    I agree about backgrounds. Our quilt guild had a challenge and we exchanged 20 6″ blocks out of our fabric stash. We had to make 1/2 square triangles with our own background fabric. We then could use them in any design we chose using the 1/2 square triangles. Everybody used white, off-white or ecru as their background. I chose a bright yellow and got more compliments and comments on my quilt. It also was considered the best quilt for the challenge. Quilters who have been quilting for over 30 years and have made hundreds of quilts commented that they never thought of using any other color.

  5. Linda F Mischloney

    I am answering Elizabeth Carlson’s question. She said she is making her quilt from fabric she has on hand, just use up more with four or nine patch squares and make a scrappy backing. I just discovered how much fun this is.

  6. deb.zurawski8

    Excellent ideas and tips! I learned new ideas from each video! Thanks for this free service. Can’t wait to get creative!!

  7. Sheila Schmith

    One of the creative errors that I made was to use a wrong size strip on a log cabin quilt. If it’s not pointed out, you think that it’s part of the pattern.

  8. elizabeth carlson

    I am making a sample quilt mainly to use up some of my material. Almost every color on the color wheel will be used. What is a good color for the backing.? . There will be no background color.

      • Lari

        When I do a postage stamp, strips, or something with lots of colors I often use a backing that is unexpected. Right now I have a backing that is yellow with leafless trees that are on the diagonal, also have a brown piece that looks like baskets or could be read as acorns. Using fabric like this gives you 2 different looks.