Quilting Density Demystified

There are so many choices when it comes to quilt making. From the quilt top, to the fabrics you’ll use in it, to the internal batting and the backing fabric. One of the final choices you’ll make is what quilting pattern to use! But did you know there’s one more layer to the quilting pattern choice? It’s called density. We’ll go in-depth on quilting density today, and arm you with the info you need to make the best choice for your quilt top!

Before going further, please note: We have two main density options: Regular and Dense. By default, your quilting will be Regular. This means we make sure the density of the pattern you choose will be the right size to secure your quilt top (if you’re not sure what that means, we’ll talk more about that in a moment!).This blog post is meant to give those who are curious more information about the why behind choosing one quilting density over another.

Regular vs Dense Stitching Sample

This sample shows the exact same quilting pattern (American Beauty). The only difference is the density

What is quilting?

Let’s start with the basics. Quilting is a strong, decorative design stitched across your entire quilt, binding together the quilt top, internal batting and backing fabric. It’s technically what makes a quilt top into a quilt!

The more important question to answer is why we do quilting. The short answer is that quilting greatly increases the strength and longevity of a quilt. Quilting is the main reason quilts last so long!

Quilting also prevents the seams of your quilt top from puckering. Each seam in your pieced top should ideally have at least one line of quilting running through or nearby it to tack it down.

The quilting design you choose is not only practical, though! It’s also decorative, like the cherry on top of your quilt. Once you’ve chosen the perfect quilting pattern to complement your quilt top, you might want to choose how dense you want that design to be.

What is quilting pattern density?

It can be thought of in a few ways, but the simplest way to look at it is as the average amount of empty space between the lines of a design. Less empty space equals a denser design.

A general rule of thumb: we consider a pattern to be “dense” when there are 1 to 2 inches of space on average between the lines. All of our Regular density patterns can be shrunk to create a Dense version.

Density within a pattern difference

Using the quarters as a size reference, you can see that the design in the top photo is much looser (more open) than it is in the bottom photo. In each photo, the same quilting pattern (American Beauty) is shown. The only difference is density.

Different Patterns Have Different Natural Densities

Comparing patterns, it’s easy to tell that some are just naturally more intricate, which makes them naturally more dense.

In the example above, Abundant Feathers is such an ornate pattern that we only offer it in Dense. At the other end of the spectrum in this example is Soho, which has good motion and very balanced white space.

A more open pattern can almost always be made denser, but the opposite is not true of some naturally intricate patterns. However, we’ve carefully chosen our collection of patterns so that most of them can easily be adjusted up or down in size. Those that can’t will be marked with “(DENSE ONLY)” on our website.

Why can some patterns only be dense?

Our quilting machines have a set area that they can reach at once while they are sewing, and the pattern needs to fit in that space.

Why Some Designs Can Only Be Dense

If one row of a pattern is so large and/or intricate that it cannot be stretched out enough to get to Regular density without getting too big for this height, the pattern must be quilted densely. Any pattern that fits in this category will be marked with “(DENSE ONLY)” on our website.

Which is better: more or less dense?

One is not better than the other. Beyond the minimum density needed to secure your seams, quilt density is down to your taste and how you plan to use your quilt!

When you order, you have two density options: Regular and Dense. How do you know which to choose?

Choose Regular Density if…

  • Your quilt has normal to larger piecing (fewer seams)
  • The quilt will be used on a bed, or you’d like it to drape more. More drape makes for a cozier quilt
  • You want your piecing to stand out, not the quilting

Choose Dense Quilting if…

  • Your quilt has a lot of small piecing and blocks (meaning lots of seams)
  • Your quilt is for wall display, so drape is not as important. Denser quilting makes for a stiffer quilt.
  • There’s a lot of blank space in your quilt that you’d like to add visual interest to
  • You’re using 100% cotton batting. Cotton batting can potentially ball up inside your quilt if it’s not quilted densely enough

And that’s all there is to it! You’re officially a quilting density expert. If you have any questions about density, or anything else related to longarm quilting, we’re here to answer them!

Happy Quilting!

Prep Your Quilt Top for Longarm Success

How can you make sure your quilt looks great once it’s been quilted? Longarm quilting secures the multiple layers of a quilt together with a strong, decorative design. This step is technically what makes a quilt top into a quilt! There are few things more exciting than seeing the quilt top you worked so hard to piece come back as a finished quilt.

But some factors can affect the quality of the final product. Here we’ll look at two things you can do to make sure your quilt looks amazing after longarming!

Get the Border Size Right

It may seem odd that the borders on your quilt top would have anything to do with longarm quilting, but incorrectly sized borders are the single most common cause of quilts ending up out of square. When the border of a quilt top isn’t the right size, the final quilt is often warped (the illustration shown is an example of this).

Preparing your quilt for longarm quilting incorrect border size

Incorrectly sized borders lead to a warped finished quilt

Let’s first look at the most common ways that we size quilt borders to see why this warping can happen. Then we’ll give you a tip for getting the border right!

Methods that can lead to improperly sized borders:

  • Following a pattern or instructions for the border size instead of measuring
  • Measuring the outer edges of the quilt top
  • Not measuring at all, but simply sewing long strips of fabric to the edge of the quilt, then trimming the excess once you reach the end of the side

The problem with the first method is that it doesn’t use the actual size of your quilt top. In a perfect world, our quilt tops would be dead on with what the pattern claims they should be, but this is rarely the case. This doesn’t make you a bad quilter, it just means that there’s always variance in a handmade item.

The second and third methods seem like they should give you a correctly sized border. However, a raw fabric edge is prone to stretching, gathering, or just not lying straight and flat, so using the edge as your guide will generally give you an inaccurate measurement. The third method above will give you a different, inaccurate length for each side, which really adds to the problem!

So how should you determine your border sizes? It’s simple! Just measure along the nearest seam line to the edge in question. Seams are sturdier and more consistent in their length than raw edges.

Prep Your Quilt Top Right for Longarm Quilting

Seams are more consistent in length than edges. Measure them to determine your border length!

Attach your first pair of shorter borders, and then measure along the other seam for your longer pair. Don’t trust any pattern or math, only your measurements.

Get the Backing Right

Once you have a quilt top ready to be machine quilted, it needs a backing. One option is to let us provide premium Moda fabric for backing at wholesale price and you won’t need to measure, cut or sew the backing. If you do want to use your own fabric, it’s important to follow these tips to get the size right:

  • First, lay your quilt top out and actually measure it.
    Much like with the border example above, it’s very tempting to think, “Well, this is the size the quilt top should be,” and to cut your backing based on that. Don’t give in to this temptation!
  • From these measurements, add 8” to each dimension.
    For example, if your quilt top measured 80” x 90”, then your backing should be at least 88” x 98.”

    Prep your quilt top by measuring the backing

    Add 8″ to each dimension of your quilt top. That’s how big your backing fabric should be


    It also never hurts to lay your quilt top over your backing fabric afterwards to double check that the backing is the correct size.
    Why the extra 8”? When a quilt is loaded onto a longarm sewing machine, the backing fabric is secured onto the machine at the top and bottom and then held at the appropriate tension by side clamps. These clamps need the extra fabric so they have something to hold onto.

    Excess backing gets clamped on the longarm quilting machine

    When your quilt is placed on the longarm quilting machine, the backing gets secured with clamps. We need excess fabric on all sides to quilt to the edge of your quilt top


    While it’s a must to have at least 8” of excess fabric on each dimension, there’s no need to have backing much larger than this. Fabric is expensive, and your quilt top doesn’t need a circus tent!

  • Square the backing fabric
    It’s important that you cut your backing fabric to be fairly square. In this case, square just means that the edges are at right angles to one another; your quilt top and its backing might be a rectangle, not a literal square.

    Unsquare backing fabric with quilt top for an example

    When your backing isn’t cut square, the total usable area of your fabric is smaller and can lead to problems. We see this all the time


    Wonkiness in the backing fabric makes the total useful area smaller than it should be (as shown in the illustration; we see this often), and can lead to other problems during the longarming process, such as gathers and folds.
    One thing we recommend to help keep your fabric square is to rip it instead of cutting it. Knick the selvage with scissors or a rotary cutter and then tear. This gives you a relatively straight cut, even if the fabric is wrinkled. If you’re using extra wide fabric, which is usually very wrinkled, this method is essential.

And that’s it! While there are other little things you can do to prepare your quilt for longarming, these are the two most common and problematic issues we see. If you get the border and backing right, your quilt top will longarm beautifully!