How to Quilt a Photo Quilt – 6 Inspiring Techniques

When I talk to quilters at quilt shows one of the questions that is typically asked is “How do you quilt a Photo Quilt?” There are many things that quilters worry about such as distorting their faces, having too much space between quilting, will the needle ruin the photo, and many more. So let’s jump in and work through all the questions that need answered to arrive at the destination of a beautiful photo quilt!

When you are quilting a photo quilt, these are the six best ways to quilt your photo quilt:

  1. Edge to Edge Quilting- with this method you do a uniform, repeated quilt pattern over the entire quilt.
  2. Stitch in the Ditch Quilting – “Stitching in the ditch” is a technique which involves sewing down the channel of an existing seam (the “ditch”). By doing so the stitch “hides” in the ditch. This leaves the photo completely untouched with no threads.
  3. Custom Quilting On the Photo – with this method you will have a custom stitching that follows or accents the photo you are stitching over and covers the entire photo block.
  4. Custom Quilting Around the Photo – with this form of quilting your quilt the photo block, but leave the main subject of the photo block unquilted to make them “POP” off the quilt in a 3D fashion.
  5. Accent Quilting – when quilting large photo panels, this method quilts following the photos and highlighting the accents but not completely covering the photo block in stitches.
  6. Frame Quilting – instead of completely avoiding the photo or completely quilting over the photo block, this method ads frames on top of the photo block to accent the subjects as well as quilt the desired area.

Now, don’t stop reading here! The best is yet to come! We will now begin the show and tell section with photos and examples. This is where your creative juices will get to flowing!

1st Option: Edge to Edge Quilting

The first option you have for quilting your photo quilt is edge to edge quilting. This quilting method keeps it simple and allows you to use edge-to-edge patterns that coordinate with your theme. Edge to edge quilting is simply repeating the same pattern over and over from one edge of the quilt to the other. With this method, you will be stitching over the photos in your quilt.

This method is perfect for ANY quilt that you just want to keep simple and want the entire quilt to be viewed as a whole picture. Edge to edge quilting provides a continuity and simplicity that is perfect for quilts that are going to be cuddled and loved.

***If you have not used Photo Quilt Blocks for your photo blocks, make sure to test your photo block to see how the stitching performs over the printed photo block that you do have.

If you need to know more about the different types of printing photos on fabric, I have written an article outlining the different methods of printing on fabric. I encourage you to read this article if you haven’t decided how you want to print your photos on fabric yet! Photo Quilt Blocks is a sublimation process and is quite suitable for stitching over the photo.

Here are some examples of edge to edge stitching on my quilts:

This quilt is a very simple, meant to be used, quilt that is perfect for edge to edge quilting. The quilt has gained a lot of attention at quilt shows for the vibrant colors and just how well the photos quilted up with this edge to edge quilting.

Here is another example of a beautifully quilted photo quilt using edge to edge quilting. As you can see the photos quilted beautifully!

2nd Option: Stitch in the Ditch Between Your Photos and Blocks

The second choice you have for quilting your photo quilt is stitching in the ditch between your photos. Stitch in the ditch is stitching right in between the two pieces of fabric where they join. This way the quilting or stitching hides in the seam or ditch and doesn’t distract from the aesthetic of the quilt.

This method is perfect when you do not want any stitching over your photos and you have easy and simple channels to follow with your stitching. A blocked quilt like the one below is a great example of simple channels to follow with your stitching.

Unfortunately, I have no sample of this currently as I love the other methods so much! With that said, I am getting ready to make a baby quilt that I may do the stitch in the ditch method! Until then, here is a graphic depiction of where you would quilt:

3rd Option: Custom Quilting ON the Photo Block

The third option you have for quilting your photo quilt is custom quilting ON the photo block. I have done a lot of experimenting with this and I ADORE this method as well as the quilting AROUND the subject on a photo block! So I have lots of samples to show you of these methods!

This method is beautiful to add dimesion and art to your photo blocks and really make them shine!

The fabric used for this quilt was a velour….so luscious! You can order the velour fabric for any Fat Quarter Layout or as an individual block here.

In this first example, my long arm friend, Mendy Buckmaster, custom quilted this senior quilt for my daughter. She does absolutely beautiful work and really opened my eyes to the potential of custom quilting the photo quilt blocks. Here is a link to her Instagram account if you want to take a look at more of her work!

In these photo blocks, she has done custom quilting over the entire photo.

4th Option: Custom Quilting AROUND the Photo Block Subject

The fourth option you have is to quilt on the photo block but choose a subject or focal area to exclude from your quilting. You can do this with stippling, straight line quilting, custom quilting shapes, feathers, or whatever suits the photo block.

In this next example, you will see how I have custom quilted these photo blocks EXCLUDING the subject of the photo block. By doing so, I have made the subject 3D and it puffs out as an accent!

Whether you are doing free motion quilting on your sewing machine, using your embroidery machine, or long arming your photo quilt, this method works beautifully and really accents the photos and their subjects!

This method words best for photo blocks that have a definite subject that can be excluded or focused on.

If you own a Brother Luminaire or a machine with a Design Center (Baby Lock IQ Designer) make sure to tune in to my You Tube Channel as I walk through some custom quilting on another wedding quilting I am designing! This link will take you to the playlist that I will be building for custom quilting on the Brother Luminaire!

5th Option: Accent Quilting Large Photo Blocks

The fifth option for quilting your photo quilt is accent quilting large photo panels. In the below example, you will see that I have one of the large panels centered in my quilt. I wanted to give her some dimension and so I only quilted little accent areas that followed lines and matched the photo. I tried to make it blend in to the photo and not call attention to itself.

This method works best for larger panels or whenever you really want the quilting to blend in with your photo block and not be noticed.

In this photo, you can see that the quilting is a leaf and other elements in the photo to make it blend in. I also ran quilting along her hair strands. Those are a little harder to see!

Below I have followed the lines of her hand, the wall and the grassy ridge. Again, it is fairly hard to see as I used clear thead and followed the lines. I love how it turned out!

This panel is about 18×20 inches. You can find this pattern here!

6th Option: Frame Quilting Your Blocks

Frame Quilting – instead of completely avoiding the photo block or completely quilting over the photo block, this method ads frames on top of the photo block to accent the subjects as well as quilt the desired area.

This method works well on smaller photos that you want to give a little accent to, but are too small to do much custom quilting on them or around them. Here I used a colored thread because I wanted to really frame here and make the stitching POP!

These frames were stitched with polyester embroidery thread.

What Thread Should I Use to Quilt My Photo Quilt?

Now I was tempted to end this article here, but I kept having a lingering feeling something was missing! I decided I needed to talk about thread choices before I called this discussion a wrap!

There are several types of threads you can use to quilt your photo quilt. You could use cotton thread, every traditional quilter’s thread of choice. If you are quilting on your embroidery machine, you could use embroidery thread. For quilting over the actual photos, my choice is Superior Clear Thread. For the bobbin thread, I like to choose one color for consistency, whether it be cotton bobbin thread, embroidery weight bobbin thread, or a regular sewing thread if you are doing free motion embroidery. I do not use the clear thread in the bobbin.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these. Please read on!

Cotton Quilting Thread

All of the quilts that I have made so far have paired one of the polyester Photo Quilt Blocks with quilting cottons. All have turned out perfectly stunning and beautiful! 100% cotton thread pairs beautifully with the quilting cottons in your photo quilt. You can use cotton thread to quilt any portion of your photo quilt. You can also use this for the bobbin thread for the back of your quilt. If you are quilting over the photos, this will stand out in stark contrast to the photo blocks. If this is the look you are going for, you are good to go!

Clear Thread

If you haven’t tried the Superior Clear Thread, I highly recommend you do! When quilting over the photos, it is perfect because it doesn’t add stark visual lines over your photos. The thread blends into your photo block.

In this photo, you see the stitching lines, but they aren’t hiding the photo. The lines are creating more movement in the photo and point your eyes to the planes in the background you might miss without the quilting. I love using this thread on all my photo blocks. If you would like to try some, you can buy some in my store here!

Polyester Thread

I use polyester thread when quilting with my embroidery machine. I do this most of the time as I have the Brother Luminaire with the design center and can create custom quilting specifically for each block. The nice thing about using the polyester embroidery thread is that it doesn’t shrink, it doesn’t bleed color, and you can get it in sooooo many yummy colors!

Rayon Embroidery Thread


There. I have warned you. LOL! You never want to use rayon embroidery thread for a couple of reasons. First, it is just bad on your machine and breaks and frays. The Brother Dealer/ Machine Service Repairman that I worked for would not even carry it in his store he was so passionate about it being bad. Second, it fades when washed. We do not want to deal with that mess!

So make sure if you have some random embroidery thread lying around, you do not put it on your quilt until you know it isn’t rayon! If you aren’t sure, take a match to it. Polyester thread will melt and rayon will burn and turn to ash.

Thank you so much for taking the time to look at all my quilt babies. I know that you love your creations as much as I do mine, so I am trying to get the inspiration out there to take Photo Quilts to the next level!

Please comment if you have any questions or input into the different methods of quilting!

Happy quilting!

May your stitches and photos continue to tell tales

of love and laughter, and keep your memories alive!


Lori McCroskey is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to quilts, projects, and gifts created with photos printed on fabric. She also has a business where you can have her print your photos on fabric for you! Inspired by her love for sewing, scrapbooking, and family, Lori has a passion for capturing memories in useable gifts, quilts, and crafts that get your photos off your phone, out of the album, freed from a frame, and into memorable keepsakes that your friends and family will treasure. Learn more about Lori here!

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