Hello Quilting Buddies-
I thought it would be fun to give you a little taste of what Graffiti Quilting is all about! You can follow along with this tutorial with your quilting machine, do free-motion quilting on your domestic machine, or even just draw along with a pen and paper! If you’d like the full scoop on my Graffiti Quilting technique, be sure to order a copy of the book here!
Welp, lets get started…
Graffiti Quilting combines all your favorite quilting motifs and absolutely none of the planning that you’d normally do when starting to quilt your quilt top. Okay, Maybe a little planning, but not much. Graffiti Quilting is a great opportunity for you to give yourself permission to let go of inhibitions. So kiss the quilt police goodbye, and say hello to living free and letting your creative juices flow!
Now, let’s talk technical for a second. Technically, Graffiti Quilting is the act of taking many different elements and motifs and smashing them all together into one quilt. Each element builds off the last, and is whimsically thrown in without pre-meditation. As you practice it in your quilting, it is equally important to practice it in your sketchbook.
First, lets talk about some of the popular designs and motifs found in Graffiti Quilting. As we go through them, I am sure that you’ll recognize a few that are used time and time again in both traditional and well as modern quilts alike.
I really like using curls because they provide a great base to add other elements on top of, like feather plumes or flower petals.
Let’s be honest, we have all seen feathers over and over again, with good reason; they are beautiful!
I love pebbles!!! They are super cute, versatile, and quite obedient. In Graffiti Quilting, you often get some very awkward spaces to fill, and pebbles fill them in perfectly.
Arrows are definitely the signature design in the Graffiti Quilting Style. When I was pioneering this technique, so much of it was literally inspired by street art and arrows are iconic in that realm. You can do these completely straight or sharp, or make ’em curvy and organic.
Now, flower petals are quite the crowd-pleaser. The other nice thing about them is they are quite versatile as well. Once you master the overall shape of the flower petal, you can fill it in with so many different fillers, and echo it in so many different formations.
While flower petals are very feminine, leaves are a great alternative to still giving you quilt an organic and natural look without being quite as girly. Yet, they still give those nice curves that are so aesthetically pleasing.
When I say angles I am talking about squares and rectangles. Using angles will do wonders for your Graffiti Quilting. It adds that urban edge that you don’t often find in traditional quilting.
Now that we have talked about some of the shapes, let’s start talking about how we can combine some of the elements together to make a cohesive cluster of designs. Remember- this technique can be done on any machine that allows free-motion quilting, not just longarm machines, but domestic machines as well. If you are using a domestic sewing machine, you can do free-motion quilting if you can drop (or disengage) the feed dogs on your machine. If you don’t know how to do this, contact your machine’s manufacturer for more information.
Where do we begin?
I always like to track my practice in my sketchbook. This means as I am developing or practicing new designs that I come up with, I don’t want to ruin my nice fabric with something that experimental. So my sketchbook is my practice space. Here are some of my personal drawings:
If you are having trouble coming up with your own combinations, try copying mine. You’ll find that you will want to stray from what I have drawn fairly quickly. This is good! Let your imagination flow!
Now, in the above pictures, you can see that some lines are drawn thicker and more dense than others. I am sure you are thinking,
“But Karlee! How the crap am I supposed to make my thread thicker or thinner as I quilt?? You are delusional!”
That is a great observation to point out. The way that those thick lines are translated into quilting is by OVERSTITCHING.
*Hint* If you haven’t figured it out by now, I just want to point out that overstitching is a HUGE proponent to achieving the Graffiti Quilting style.
I know that overstitching is a bad word to some quilters. But not to me. Overstitching allows you to add such contrast to different areas of your quilting, and you can really trick the viewers eyes into look at whatever part of the quilt your heart desires. Besides, at the end of your day, its your quilt! And you are the boss of your own quilts.
Now let’s actually do some quilting using the information we have covered so far.
If you are on a stand-up quilting machine, load your fabric and batting just like normal.
If you are on a sit-down machine or domestic sewing machine, make a quilt sandwich (top, batting, backing). Baste your sandwich in whatever way you prefer.
If I am planning to make this piece into a wall-hanging, I like to use 2 layers of batting. It helps the quilt stay stiff and lay flat, with such dense quilting. But that’s just me…
People always ask me specifically what brand of thread I use. Honestly, I am not a brand snob, and I will use whatever seems to work at the time. The one word of recommendation I have with thread is that I like to use thread that is a 40wt or thicker. This allows me to get really nice thick lines, especially when overstitching, but 40wt still isn’t too large to wind in my bobbin.
For this tutorial, I used my Sweet 16 sit-down quilting machine. Whenever I am Graffiti Quilting on a sit-down machine model, I tend to start in the center of my quilt and work my way to the edges.
In this case, I quilted a circle about the size of a 50cent piece, and put a curl inside of that circle.
From here, I want to add a little more depth to that circle so that as I add designs around it later, it will just have a little bit of space to breathe.
Now, because my center design is circular, I am going to try and make the overall flow of my quilt circular, almost like a tornado or a toilet flushing. So now I am going to start adding elements onto my circle, starting with that famous “Karlee Curl”.
Int he following image, notice that I have not only added a leaf shape coming from the crack in the two designs, but I have also overstitched the outer line of the curl. I love that doing just one or two extra passes over that line makes it so much darker.
Now I am going to add a few layers to that leaf, and fill in the middle with some pebbles.
Building on from there, I am going to just keep continuing around my center circle adding one design element after another. Can you see how each new element flows in the same general counter-clockwise direction? Making sure each element flows with the next is what gives the quilt it’s overall direction and flow.
In the previous photo, notice that there is somewhat of an awkward space between the arrow I just added and the curl that we added at the beginning. My go-to element for an awkward space is pebbles. Pebbles fit anywhere. It is glorious.
There you have it!
In this final picture, you can see how the flow just kind of keeps going around the circle in the clockwise direction. One major component of Graffiti Quilting is a lack of planning. When I quilted that original circle in the very center of my quilt, I had no idea what elements I was going to add or where I would place them, It is all about living in that little space that I am quilting in that moment. I forget about the past, and I don’t worry about the future. It is all completely spontaneous and it turns out beautiful WAAAAAY more often than not.
Just keep practicing, and never give up! I consider every quilt a practice quilt.
Everyone’s Graffiti Quilting will be as unique as their own handwriting and signature. Get creative with it. Try all your favorite threads, and even try some non-traditional fabrics like satin, canvas, silk, or even leather if your machine is up for the challenge.
The possibilities are endless!
If you enjoyed this tutorial, please consider purchasing a copy of my book, “Graffiti Quilting: A Simple Guide to Complex Designs”.
Thanks again for reading, and leave me a comment below if you have any questions!