Fantastic Straight Line Quilting Designs for your Quilts

Oh how I love straight line quilting! This style of quilting can be fast and easy or it can be dense and detailed. You get to decide. You don’t need any hard-to-learn skill sets or expensive tools. And I love the fresh, modern aesthetic it can bring to a quilt pattern.  Let’s have a chat about straight line quilting and then look at some straight line quilting designs you can use.

What is Straight Line Quilting Exactly?

Straight line quilting is exactly what you’d think – sewing straight stitching lines to hold your quilt top, batting and backing together. Straight line quilting sounds like it could be a bit boring, but there are endless quilting designs you can use. Not just rows and columns, but diagonals and shape echoing as well. And then there are all the variations you can create by mixing them all up. Really, the only limit is your imagination. 

Scrappy Posie - an easy, free baby quilt pattern from Bonjour Quilts.
Above: Scrappy Posie baby quilt with crosshatch straight line quilting

Tools for Straight Line Quilting

To be transparent, I am a low-fuss quilter. If I can do something easily or quickly to get an 80% solution I will often do so. So it makes sense that I don’t use many tools beyond what I have on hand. But let’s go through what you could use if you wanted to.

A walking foot attachment for your sewing machine is probably the only thing I would consider essential. The walking foot ensures your “quilt sandwich” (quilt top, batting and backing) are pulled evenly under your sewing needle.  (The feed dogs in the base plate pull from underneath, while the walking foot pulls from above.) This makes sure none of the three layers shift relative to the other, which would create puckers and other mischief. And honestly, a walking foot makes quilting more enjoyable and gives you a better outcome. I have no trouble recommending you get one if you haven’t already.

Above: The walking foot on my Janome sewing machine

Some people swear by quilting gloves when straight line quilting (not just free motion quilting). The grippy texture of quilting gloves can help you keep a firm hold of your quilt sandwich as you guide it through your sewing machine. This can certainly be helpful when quilting larger quilts (twin and beyond) as there can be quite a bit of weight to shift. I don’t use gloves – I hold onto the rolled edges of my quilt to guide it (more on this in the Tips section below). But for those of you needing extra grip, consider using quilting gloves. 

Change your sewing machine needle out for a fresh one. This isn’t particular to straight line quilting, of course, but it will help give you a great result. I prefer a size 90 needle for my straight line quilting designs (I use 80 for piecing cotton and 70 for piecing voiles/lawn). 

Above: some size 90 sewing needles. Fun fact – I bought a lot of these needles on sale when we lived in France 10 years ago. I’m still getting through them; lucky I like them.

Keeping your Straight Line Quilting Straight

I guess the most important thing about straight line quilting designs is that they be straight! (Although many a wave has made its way into my straight line quilting, ha.) I will always choose a straight line quilting design that uses seams as guides because I don’t like to do any more work than I have to. But if you’re new to straight line quilting or would like to achieve an impeccable result, here are some tips for keeping your straight line quilting designs nice and straight. 

Snowball Party Quilt Pattern
Above: more straight line quilting on a Snowball Party baby quilt

Some people like to use the guide bar (also called a quilting bar) that comes with their machine. It’s a thin metal measuring bar that can be fitted to your sewing machine to help keep the line you’re sewing straight relative to another line or seam. I think this would be useful in a whole-cloth quilt scenario where you don’t have any block seam lines to use for guidance. I must confess I’ve never used mine – it’s still in the plastic packet it came in.

Above: really simple straight line quilting on an appliqué Christmas mini quilt

Another way to keep your straight line quilting super straight is to use tape to mark out your lines and then sew ever-so-slightly to the side of the tape. Or along both sides, if you like. (Try to avoid sewing on the tape as that makes it harder to remove when you’re done.)

Low adhesive painters tape is great for line marking as it’s easy to place, remove and reposition if required. Tape is handy if you’re quilting across blocks where there aren’t a lot of seams to use as a guide.

This leads on to using a quilting ruler to mark out your guide lines. Similar to tape, ruled lines provide a useful guide where seams aren’t available and you aren’t comfortable eye-balling it.

The two most common methods of marking ruled lines are to use a water soluble marker/pen*, or a hera marker*.

It would seem the water soluble pens have light blue casings while the air soluble pens are purple.

I prefer to use the hera marker, even if the lines can be a little harder to see. (I had a bad experience once with a water soluble pen not coming out of a fabric.) If you use a water soluble pen I would recommend testing it on scraps of the fabrics that are in your quilt top. (My culprit was an organic fabric.) You want to be sure you won’t be cursing at the end of your quilting. If you use a hera marker try to quilt straight after marking your quilt before the lines soften (it can happen fast in humid environments).

Above: Hera marker (left) – a plastic tool with a sharp edge that can be used to score fabric

Tips for straight line quilting

  • Get set up. Put your walking foot on your sewing machine and grab a fresh sewing needle. Make sure you have a table large enough to support your quilt as you’re quilting.
  • Prep your quilt. Before you baste, think about how you’d like to quilt your top and place your basting pins accordingly. I prefer to use basting spray so I don’t have to think about pins. (My favourite basting spray is hands-down the 505 basting spray*. It’s the best.) Once you’ve basted, mark your straight line quilting design on your entire quilt top, if required.
  • I like to use a longer stitch length for my quilting stitches (4 on my Janome) as it looks pretty (and mimics hand stitching). 
  • Roll your quilt sandwich so that the portion of the quilt in the machine’s throat can move easily.
  • I like to sew my first line in the middle of the quilt and then work out to the edges. I feel like this helps smooth out any bunching that might occur.
  • I like to straight line quilt from edge to edge. That way I don’t need to backstitch and my beginnings and endings are secured in the quilt binding. If you’re not straight line quilting from edge to edge then remember you’ll need to secure and bury your thread ends (yuck).
  • In the case of working edge to edge, I prefer to quilt all my lines from the same side of the quilt each time. So if I was sewing rows, I would start sewing from left to right, then for the next stitching line I would return to the left and go toward the right. When you sew right to left, then left to right in the next line, I’ve found you can sometimes get some slight warping of the quilt top fabric. 
Above: the best basting spray for quilting, hands-down

Straight Line Quilting Designs

Let’s get to the fun part – planning out your straight line quilting designs!

Stitch in the Ditch Quilting

As the name suggests, stitch in the ditch quilting involves quilting directly along the seam lines joining your blocks together. The pros of this method are there’s no need to mark anything – the seams are already there. The cons are that it’s hard to stay exactly on the seam and it can be noticeable when you stray a little. The trick is to have really good lighting, a thread the same colour as the adjacent fabric and to go sloooooooooow. 

I don’t have any example photos of stitch in the ditch as it’s not my favourite. Sorry!

Matchstick Quilting

Matchstick quilting is straight line quilting with the lines quite close to each other (a matchstick’s width apart, in fact). This creates a very textured area which looks pretty fabulous. It is labour intensive though and leads to quite a stiff quilt. If you’re looking to make a soft, draping quilt then matchstick quilting might not be the best choice.

Matchstick quilting is a great option for wall hangings, cushion covers, pouches and table runners, which appreciate the extra structure. You can also have a lot of fun using different coloured threads with matchstick quilting.  

Close up of matchstick quilting on a Christmas quilt block adding texture to a Christmas quilted placemat pattern. Fun handmade Christmas decor.
Above: matchstick quilting on a Christmas placemat

This Ribbon Heart mini quilt looks great with matchstick style quilting lines:

Using coral fabrics, a la Pantone Colour of the Year 2019 Living Coral, to create a cute Ribbon Heart mini quilt

The fun thing about matchstick quilting is you can add it in to another design wherever you’d like to see a pop of texture. You don’t have to matchstick quilt the whole quilt to enjoy the effect. 

Checker Board Quilting

Checker board quilting is simply quilting vertical and horizontal lines to create a grid of squares across your quilt. If you have a block based quilt then checker board quilting makes a lot of sense. All the guide lines are already there, all you have to decide is how small you want your checker board squares to be.

I will often start with a large checker board based on the block seams and then go back and add more lines to it, making the squares smaller. It’s a very straight forward and unimposing style of machine quilting. 

A fuchsia, white and navy background Star Sweep quilt. Sewn from scrappy and left over fat quarters, the low volume fabrics are all mixed across the quilt, which the fuchsia fabrics are matched to create star shapes. The quilt has been quilted with straight lines and has a pieced patchwork backing. Star Sweep quilt pattern available at Bonjour Quilts.
Above: Navy Star Sweep quilt
A close up of the quilting on a Star Sweep quilt. The patchwork is navy, white/low volume fabric and fuchsia. The quilt has been quilted with straight lines, echoing either side of the block seams. Where the blocks intersect, a star pattern is formed.

It can also be fun to add a line of matchstick quilting either side of a checker board line to add some interest. You can do this for every line, or perhaps every second line. Or spread it out even further if you’re low on time. 

For this Deco Diamonds baby quilt (below) I didn’t feel like checker board quilting the whole quilt, so I concentrated the lines over the centre patchwork piecing. You can see I varied the spacing of my vertical lines on the edges of the quilt.

This Deco Diamonds baby quilt is sewn with linen/cotton blend fabrics, which have a looser weave than standard quilting cottons. I like to quilt these fabrics a little denser than usual as it helps to support the piecing seams. Plus, anything that lends extra strength to a baby quilt is always a good idea in my opinion.  

Cross Hatching (Crosshatching?)

Let’s add some diagonal lines to the mix. I love cross hatching – it adds really nice texture without taking away from your quilt top design.

Above: close up of crosshatch quilting on my Scrap Magnet throw quilt
Cross hatch quilting on a Scrap Magnet throw quilt. The crosshatch straight line quilting adds lots of lovely texture to the quilt and is easy to sew due to all the small blocks in the quilt. It's easy to sew from block corner to block corner, negating the need to rule and guide lines. Scrap Magnet quilt pattern PDF can be found at Bonjour Quilts.

This diagonal quilting style is also a really nice finish for a modern quilt. As with checker board quilting, you can space your lines to let your quilt drape as much or as little as you like. I love a close cross hatch for a mini quilt as it gives it some good structure.

Sewing a zipper pouch
Above: zipper pouch with close crosshatch quilting for structure

You can add some matchstick quilting lines to every second or third cross hatch line of stitching to give your quilting an argyle effect. (Don’t forget to consider changing thread colours, too.)

I rarely mark my quilts when crosshatch quilting – I just eyeball it. But if you’d like more precision it’s easy to add guide lines using the block corners to line up your ruler/tape. 

Two sizes of Christmas Tree mini quilt pattern - 18.5" and 23" square.
Above: Christmas Tree mini quilts (tutorial here) with crosshatch quilting

Other Diagonal Straight Line Quilting Designs

There’s really no end to the straight line quilting designs you can come up with. Especially if you’re open to pivoting mid-line. Here’s a completely bonkers design I did a couple of years ago on one of my The Plus Side quilts.

The Plus Side quilt pattern by Bonjour Quilts. An easy modern quilt suitable for beginners; pattern available for sale.

You can read more about this crazy straight line quilting design over on this blog post.

Grab a sheet of graph paper and have some fun with it! And don’t forget, for every base design you can jazz it up a bit by adding in extra lines, matchstick style, either side of the quilting. You can also use different colour threads, too. 

A baby size half square triangle quilt in a rainbow of fabrics. This is an easy, fat quarter friendly quilt pattern that also has a twin and queen size pattern available. This Colour Explosion quilt pattern PDF can be found at Bonjour Quilts.
Above: A Colour Explosion baby quilt, quilted with different coloured threads. Read more on this quilt here.

Zigzag straight line quilting:

Above: zigzag quilting using the block corners to pivot
Diagram above: straight line quilting in a shallower zigzag pattern
Above: a straight line zigzag quilting design with uneven zigs and zags

V or chevron straight line quilting: 

Adaptations to the chevron quilting design:

Use decorative stitches on your machine

If straight line quilting is getting a little boring for you, don’t forget to use your sewing machine’s decorative stitching options. You can follow the same process as straight line quilting and your machine will do all the fancy work for you.

Do try and sew a few lines on scrap fabric to see how wide and dense the design is before you attack your quilt. You may like wider stitches to hit your corners or guide lines dead centre, or perhaps offset to one edge of the stitching.

If your seams are fairly bulky then aiming for your block corners might not be the best idea. It can be hard enough to sew evenly over thick seams as it is, let alone concentrating on the area with a decorative stitch. In this case, marking some lines to follow away from your block intersections could be a good idea.

Decide beforehand so you can make sure your decorative stitching lines are consistent across your quilt. (Decorative stitching is definitely a lot more painful to unpick, so best to get it right the first time if you can!) Don’t forget to wind a few extra bobbins as decorative stitches are thread hungry.

I used some decorative straight line quilting on this Rectangle Block Log Cabin Quilt I sewed for my daughter several years ago.

Give Straight Line Quilting a Try!

If you tend to gravitate towards stippling and pebbles, why not give straight line quilting a try? I think you’ll enjoy how quickly and easily this quilting method lets you finish off your beautiful quilts.

Do you have any other favourite straight line quilting designs or technical tips to share? Please do leave a comment below so we can all learn more!

Cross hatch quilting on a patchwork baby quilt called Easy Disappearing Nine Patch. This version is called Soft Spring and is made from yellow, orange, coral, pink and purple fabrics, with the colours gradating across the quilt. Easy Disappearing Nine Patch Pattern is available at Bonjour Quilts.
Above: straight (ish) line quilting on my Easy Disappearing Nine Patch baby quilt

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31 thoughts on “Fantastic Straight Line Quilting Designs for your Quilts”

    • Hi Sandy, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself echoing the diagonal lines in both directions. That would create a diamond-shape crosshatch (argyle??) which I think would look fabulous.

      Reply
  1. I’m currently working on my first baby/lap size quilt taking a class at a quoting shop. We are using the checkerboard style and I really like it. I wish I could find more pictures of the back of quilts. But I love all the samples you have shared and if I attempt another quilt, I will definitely give one of these designs a go. I took the class because the kind of projects I’d like to make are more in line with a quilting method and less like garment sewing.

    Thank you so much for sharing all of these different options!

    Reply
  2. I love all your ideas. I am new to quilting and will be straight line quilting on a quilt that was flipped inside out and does not have binding. Is there anyway I can quilt this without having to bury the threads after I am done?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • You would have to do a lot of pivoting at the edges to keep the one line of thread. Then you’d only have to bury where you start and end. If it’s a big quilt you’d need a couple of bobbins so that would be a few more to bury, but a lot less than doing individual lines.

      Reply
  3. Thanks for the great article. I’m a fairly new quilter and am always looking for different possibilities!
    When doing a design like the chevrons, do you quilt to a certain (pre-marked?) spot and then (with needle down/presser foot up) TURN the whole quilt to go in the different direction?
    Just curious as to your methods for doing a pattern like this and how do you figure out where to pre-mark your “turn” spot?

    Reply
    • Hi Cindy, sometimes I just eyeball it, but if I want precision then I will mark a small dot with a water-soluble pen so I know where to pivot. I make sure my needle is down when I reach the dot and then I pivot the quilt around the needle, as you said.

      Reply
  4. Fabulous article. You gave me quite a few really good ideas for expanding my straight line quilting. I too like to start say at the top and go to the bottom for each line of stitching. Do you have a suggestion for what to when you have borders? Can you still just do top to bottom or do you need to do the borders separately? Another question. You state that you start in the middle of the quilt Do you mean the “real” middle of the quilt top or do you start your line of quilting at the top of quilt but in the middle of the top?

    Reply
    • Hi Adele, yes I start on the middlemost line, not literally in the middle of the quilt. I don’t think I’ve ever made a quilt with a border! But I imagine I would treat the border as part of the whole quilt, I wouldn’t quilt it separately because I couldn’t be bothered burying threads! I’m all about edge to edge designs.

      Reply
  5. SEW much great information and inspiration! I’ve been using straight line quilting 40 years, but your suggestions and pictures reaffirm there are better, beautiful ways to enhance the technique. Thanks for showing an old quilter new ideas.

    Reply
    • I am getting ready to crank out a quilt of firsts. My first EQ8 design and first king. I think building in quadrants, quilting the sections, then joining QAYG with no sashing.
      You have me thinking of a straight line pattern that can be matched up across the joins. Perhaps 3 zig zags as all squares are 9.5″.

      Reply
  6. Oh, I think you have just saved my sanity! I am about to quilt my first ever quilt, for a new grandson, which is pieced pinwheels 40″ x 50″ ish. I was advised that diagonal straight lines would look great. I’m thinking I will do horizontal and vertical checkerboard and add some matchsticks. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Definitely! I’d start with a fairly large checkerboard design and then reassess. You can easily add more lines to make it denser, and some matchsticking to add interest as you like. But start with the bare bones and add more, rather than going straight in with a 1″ grid because it’s hard to unpick it if you don’t like it! Have fun, I’m sure it will look amazing and add a whole new layer to your quilt. 

      Reply
  7. Thank you for this great article! I like to use straight-line and it’s affirming to see this information in your blog. I have felt at times that because I like straight-line quilting, I wasn’t really “quilting” compared to the fancy feathers, circles, and motifs I see on some quilts. You not only gave me great confidence but many wonderful ideas to expand on my straight-line quilting as well!

    Reply
  8. THANK YOU SO MUCH. So much great info – I have to bookmark this for all the times I’m sure to need it! I used to do straight line then got side tracked into swirls but seem to get stuck in the corners and the swirls get smaller? Love all the examples, the photos are so clear and easy to see what you are describing. Thanks again,

    Reply
    • I’m not sure how that would go, to be honest, Carol. But I know some people do straight line quilt with their FMQ foot rather than their walking foot. I think the biggest issue would be with the FMQ you are the one directing the quilting as the feed dogs are down. With the walking foot you’re still getting that pull from the machine so it’s harder to direct it with a ruler.

      Reply
  9. I have recently started straight line quilting large quilts on my domestic machine and appreciate all the great information in your blog post. I am anxious to try some of these designs, especially the chevrons. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  10. I have wondered if you could use a FMQ “ruler” with a walking foot to do straight line quilting. Do you have any experience?

    Reply

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