Geometric Quilting Designs: Tips for Machine Couching in Circles

I must have dozens of textural novelty yarns that I couldn’t resist buying–or taking off of someone else’s hands. I use them most often in my prayer flags and nest quilt designs, along with other snippets of fibers.

sunlit quilt design by carol taylor
‘Sunlit’ quilt design with couched circles by Carol Taylor.

Sometimes I glue these fibers down, but I also couch them by hand. It’s a simple process: placing the fiber the way a want it to appear on the fabric and then stitching over it at intervals with embroidery thread to keep it in place.

It’s possible to couch by machine as well, something quilt artist Carol Taylor has done to stunning effect on her Arc-i-Texture series. The geometric quilt designs are made up of small, abstract quilt squares with fabrics arranged by value and enhanced by couching.

To achieve the look, first Carol machine couches yarns around each swatch of fabric on the quilt square. Then she couches the fibers in spirals over the squares.

If you’d like to try this yourself, here is some advice from Carol, taken from her video tutorial Art Quilt Design: Strategies for Success:

1. Choose the right yarn for your purpose. Do you want the couched yarn to add subtle definition to the fabric under it? Then choose a fiber that will blend with the fabric. To outline and set off the fabric and the yarn, choose a light or dark contrasting yarn. For the couched circles, consider a variety of yarns in different widths, sheen, and value to add interest to your piece.

2. Think about thread. Everyday quilting thread will usually stand out too much against the yarns. So, unless you want that effect, Carol suggests you use invisible thread or a supertwist thread which is lightweight and has a bit of sparkle to it. “It makes the yarn the star, not the thread,” says Carol.

3. Control the yarn flow. Carol has devised a clever way keep the yarn under control while stitching. She puts the yarn in a basket to the right of her machine, hooks it over the top, and then threads it through a tube cut from a plastic drinking straw that has been taped to the top left of her machine.

4. Set your machine for success. Use a 90/14 needle (for its large eye) and a couching foot. Set your stitch length for as wide and as long as it can go.

5. Tack and turn your couching. Start with two straight stitches forward and back to tack the end of the yarn in place. Then switch to a zigzag stitch. When you want to change direction, lower your feed dogs, tack (ending with the needle on the side you will be turning toward), turn, tack (again ending with your needle on the side you’ll be turning toward), put your feed dogs back up and keep going.

6. Small adjustments. When couching small squares, start in the middle of one of the sides, rather than on a corner so the join is less visible.

Carol is renowned for her use of value in her quilt designs. The ability to make value flow by trying it hands-on is one of the major techniques she teaches in the video as well as how to make “perfect” concentric circles.

Art Quilt Design: Strategies for Success is one of the many tutorials on quilting designs available with a subscription to Craft Daily. Check out all the tutorials and see what you could learn.

P.S. What’s your favorite way to use novelty yarns and other loose fibers in your quilt designs? Leave a comment below. I could use some suggestions!

Other topics you may enjoy:


Machine Embroidery, Machine Stitching, Quilt Designs, Quilting Daily Blog