This post is in response to The Finer Nation’s “Ugh–Crappy Modern Quilting” because, really, she makes a good point about the role of quilting and what it does.
I know by now you’ve seen all sorts of modern quilts and the quilting on them. From dense to sparse, quilting itself covers a wide range of styles and techniques. I am only going to briefly talk about my own personal feelings on how much quilting is enough. Quilts and quilting can and do make beautiful objects, but if you want your quilt to be an heirloom, then you have to consider how best to construct it to make that happen.
Quilting stitches do several things:
1) It keeps the batting in place (more on this in a minute)
2) It keeps the fabric from shifting and hanging funny, and
3) provides and important design element
Wherever there is a line of quilting, there will be stress on the fabric as it holds everything in place. How many of us have seen tied quilts where there are gaping holes where the ties have been? Thinking about how the quilting on many modern quilts is often simple and spare and reflective of the large blocks (sometimes 4″ or more apart), that means there are fewer stitches to hold the heavy weight of fabric and batting together. In general, I think it is best to think about keeping your quilting lines really no more than an inch apart. It’s like that game “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”: A bunch of people can use one finger to lift a person on the ground, but fewer people have a much harder time of it. Think about how fewer stitches will have to bear much more weight, and how they’ll do. For this reason, unless you’re making an “arty” quilt (and really, not even then, IMHO), the more a quilt is quilted, and the smaller the stitch length, the better.
If you’re really making a quilt to be used and washed and dried and dragged around and used and washed and dried and– well, you get the point– then you really have to consider what the quilting is doing for you. Over time, your batting will wash enough times that it’ll become lumpy or perhaps even shred, depending on the brand. That’s not what anyone wants. In the end, it’s up to you, but quilting does have a function in extending the life of your quilt. You can still think of ways to make it look minimalist if that’s what you want, and I would recommend using a 50 weight polyester thread matched to your quilt top. I promise, it will wash up nice and soft after a couple of washes, no matter how densely it’s been quilted. Hope this helps!