Our series on machine quilting has been considering various types of background fill as part of a custom fit quilting design. We have recently looked at straight-line and echo quilted background fills; this week, we turn our attention to the ever-popular stipple quilting.
Stipple quilting – or “stippling” – is a continuous, curving line of stitching that never crosses over itself. Like echo quilting, it is a random, free-motion technique that is not marked on the quilt. The shape of the stitches has been described many ways, including puzzle pieces, vermicelli, coral, or little mittens! But it is also often mentioned that stippling is like handwriting, and everyone’s looks different. This is what mine looks like, drawn on paper.
Traditionally, true stippling was characterized by 1/8-inch spacing between the lines. We now tend to apply the term to lines spaced as much as 1/4″ to 1/2″ apart, but anything further apart would be considered meander quilting. The true impact of stippling is actually the space between the lines – the channel – rather than the quilted lines themselves. Therefore, it is important to keep the spacing as equal as possible and to avoid crossing over any previous lines of stitching.
Stippling is an excellent choice as a background fill because it does a great job of condensing the background and bringing adjacent unquilted areas into high relief. It is often used to surround appliqué and quilting motifs for this very reason. Tight stippling adds visual texture and can actually create a sculpted or embossed effect.
I learned a great deal about stippling from the book Guide to Machine Quilting by Diane Gaudynski. There are many detailed photos and helpful tips that are sure to help you improve your stitch, but one idea in particular made a huge impact on my stippling. Diane suggests that we start at the bottom and work up and away from ourselves. This way, we can see the lines we have already quilted and avoid crossing over any previous lines of stitching. What a great idea! I tried it for the first time on my quilt Bridal Tea and never looked back.
In my quilt Go Fish, stippling was used in the sky around the sailboats to make the clouds stand out.
Stippling is also a good choice alongside trapunto. The background fabric in the quilt Instruments of Praise disguised the stippling so much that it was barely visible. But it sure made the trapunto stand out!