How to Sew a Quilt with Dense Echo Quilting

Echo quilting is a sewing technique that can add lush texture to art quilts. It is one of those quilting techniques that can take some practice and patience to learn, but it's well worth the effort. And a bit easier to do if you know a few tricks of the trade.

echo quilting sewing technique
Nancy G. Cook uses a dense echo quilting
technique to make this pomegranate
motif stand out.

An excellent source of those trickslearned through practice and patienceis Nancy G. Cook. Her magnificent dense echo quilting technique brings richness and sculptural relief to her art quilts.

She uses machine quilting stitches to outline her quilting designs, repeating them at uniform distances to echo the shape of the motifs and cause them to stand out. It's a sewing technique Hawaiian quilters are known for, sewing appliqués and then echo quilting around them for emphasis.

Nancy takes this quilt sewing technique to the extreme, with impossibly narrow spaces between the echoing lines of the quilting stitches. To accomplish this feat, she employs a thoughtful process and preparation.

Here are some of her tips for how to sew a quilt with echo quilting, adapted from Quilting Arts In Stitches Volume 6, the latest edition of our interactive eMag.

Assess the quilting needed. What stitch lines do you want on top for design details versus the embedded lines of quilting? Are there large motifs that will need trapunto padding? If so, the trapunto work will need to be added before the full quilt sandwich is put together.

basting before the quilting stitches
Basting the quilt sandwich keeps the fabric from shifting during the echo quilting process.

Baste. Cherilyn Martin taught Nancy to first baste the quilt sandwich with long flower-headed pins every 2" – 3", and then to carefully hand baste a 2" x 2" grid using a sharp, fine needle and silk thread.

Set up the sewing machine. Nancy uses an open-toed embroidery foot so she can see where she is going and keeps the feed dogs up and the needle down. She uses variegated thread for the top stitches and a related color and value in the bobbin, then tests the quilting stitches on a practice quilt sandwich to make sure the tension is balanced.

Outline. Nancy looks for the longest lines and begins with them to help stabilize the sandwich. Working from the inside to the outside helps balance the tension between the quilted and un-quilted areas. She removes the basting stitches as she gets to them, reducing the need to use needle-nose tweezers later to pull basting threads out that have been stitched into the cloth.

Echo quilt. Once the outlining is completed, Nancy begins the echo quilting. She riffs off the Hawaiian echo quilting tradition with machine quilting to emphasize the negative spaces (the areas around the motifs).

Fill in. After about 3-4 rounds, the quilting gets easier and begins to go faster with smoother-curved quilting lines. Nancy looks for areas to fill in, and working individually on them as she gets to them. As the areas start to fill up, the texture builds and patterns emerge in the quilting.

Add hand-stitching and block. Nancy often adds some hand stitching for highlights. Once all the stitching is done, she blocks the quilt onto a padded surface with steam and lets it dry undisturbed for 36-48 hours, before cutting to size.

Nancy's results are truly amazing. To find out more about her style of echo quilting and watch her demonstrate aspects of her technique, download a copy of In Stitches, Volume 6, available now.

P.S. Have you tried echo quilting? Share your tips for success with the community, in the comments section below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Hand Embroidery, Machine Quilting, Machine Stitching, Quilting Daily Blog, Sewing Techniques

2 thoughts on “How to Sew a Quilt with Dense Echo Quilting

  1. As the old Prince Song goes… There is Joy in Repetition! (Actually, I love the Dayna Kurtz version better!). Nothing is easier than repeating a motif. Especially useful and rewarding for the beginning machine quilter. No marking, just quilting. There is JOY in repetition…

  2. Hi I love the article on repitition. Have tried it on a project in 2010 with success.
    I would share a jpg with you if I knew where to attach it. Do you accept photo’s of porjects people have already tried when it relates to a current artifcle. Look forward to more good ideas. Stitchgeek.