Quick Quilts that Fill a Void

Finishing a large quilting project is always satisfying. I feel such a sense of accomplishment. But I have to admit: finishing small quilting projects is almost as gratifying, and I can get that feeling of accomplishment so much faster!

small quilt by nancy green
‘Free Radicals 3,’ 17″ x 17.5″ by Nancy Green.

Projects I can quilt in a day or even a weekend appeal to me, especially if they give me the opportunity to learn something new. That’s what I loved so much about Nancy Green’s “Stitching on Air” quilts featured in the October/November 2012 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

Actually, Nancy’s technique for emulating cutwork embroidery can be used as a focal point on small quilts or you can incorporate it into larger quilted projects.

Here’s a summary from Nancy’s article on this contemporary-style cutwork embroidery technique.

To prepare: Create a 12″ x 12″ quilt sandwich with fabric, batting, and backing and stitch as desired. Draw a 3″ square on the top and cut it out going through the entire sandwich. Machine stitch the raw edges of the square with a zigzag stitch and then add decorative or free-motion stitching around the opening to highlight it. Now you’re ready to stitch on air.


fig 3 small quilt tutorial by nancy green
fig 4 small quilt tutorial by nancy green
fig 5 small quilt tutorial by nancy green
When you have finished stitching, use
steam and a hot iron to flatten your work.
(Photos by Nancy Green)

1. Position the hole you have just covered in front of the needle. Starting with the needle in the down position, pull the bobbin thread to the top of your work and hold it firmly behind the needle as you begin to sew. Straight stitch across the hole at a medium speed.


The threads will form a thin chain that stretches all the way across the hole. When you get to the front of the opening, catch the fibers of the quilt with the needle and stop sewing.


2. With the needle down, turn the piece around 180° and sew back to the opposite side of the hole over the first layer of stitching, being careful to maintain the shape of the opening. Repeat this stitching 3-4 times. (Figure 3)


3. Set the machine to a short zigzag stitch wide enough to cover the threads you just stitched. Secure the thread wrappings by taking a few stitches in place, then zigzag over the threads. Turn the design 90° and repeat the stitching until the desired look is achieved. If the needle gets caught or the thread knots, clip the bulk away and start over.


4. Continue to add stitching over air to create the appearance of a radiating spoke in your sample. (Figure 4)


Nancy’s tips for success:


  • Use an embroidery hoop if your project consists of light-weight fabrics.
  • Plan your entire design before cutting the holes.
  • Place the holes away from the hanging sleeve.
  • Create different effects by changing the shape of the hole, or the shape of the embroidery you add. Try making a square within a square, scallops, a wagon wheel, or a spider web.
  • Dangle baubles or beads in open holes for an interesting embellishment.


I can imagine making a series of these small quilts and stitching them together in a long row or in a nine-patch design.

This is just one of the many small quilting projects using machine stitching and embellishment techniques we featured in Quilting Arts last year. You can get all of these issues, exactly as they were printed, on our new Quilting Arts 2012 Collection CD. It’s available now!

P.S. Have you tried Nancy’s or a similar technique? Share your tips below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Embellishing, Quilting Daily Blog

4 thoughts on “Quick Quilts that Fill a Void

  1. I have never seen this technique but it doesn’t look too hard. Being a big fan of cutwork (never done it, just like it) and also of quick ideas, this is a keeper.
    Thanks a bunch, and keep up the good work!

  2. Step #1 is quite confusing to me.. what did you mean by catching the thread with the needle?? I like to try this technique. Could you perhaps give a video or explain it in a close up picture of the very first step.. .. Thank you

  3. I can see how you could adopt this technique and instead of stitching lines put the item in a hoop with water soluble stabilizer and take it to your embroidery machine and stitch a free standing lace motif over the hole. I’m gonna have to try this. Love the original idea.

  4. I have used this technique. (I demonstrated it to my quilting group after reading Nancy’s article. It adds an extra dimension to art pieces and is quite easy. However, my new sewing machine does not like “sewing on air” and it is contrary to manufacturer recommendations. Check your own machine instructions. Misselley’s suggestion sound excellent.