Quilting a Photo Quilt – A Mini Tutorial

Sometimes it is hard to wrap your mind around all the decisions you need to make when quilting your photo quilt. What threads should you use? What batting should you use? What quilting method should you use? We are going to talk about all of those questions in this mini-tutorial!

When you are quilting a photo quilt, you need to answer these five questions:

  1. Do you want to quilt your PHOTO QUILT with an edge-to-edge pattern, stitch-in-the-ditch quilting, custom quilting on the photo, custom quilting around the photo, accent quilting, or frame quilting?
  2. What quilt stitching pattern do you want to use for your PHOTO QUILT if you are doing edge-to-edge quilting?
  3. What batting should you use for your PHOTO QUILT after answering the first two questions?
  4. How many layers of quilt batting should you use in your PHOTO QUILT?
  5. What threads should you use for your PHOTO QUILT?

Sit down, grab a cup of coffee and let’s look at all your options and which works best for your photo quilt. Once you learn the thought process behind quilting a photo quilt, you will be off and running with confidence!

#1 What Quilting Technique Fits Your Photo Quilt?

Deciding on the quilting technique for your photo quilt involves considering several factors, such as the complexity of the design, the size of the quilt, the materials you’re working with, and your personal preferences. Here are some steps to help you decide:

  1. Evaluate the Design: Look at the design of your photo quilt. Is it a simple design with large photo blocks, or does it feature intricate smaller photos and details? A simple block design might benefit from basic quilting techniques like stitch-in-the-ditch or straight-line quilting, while a more intricate design may require free-motion quilting or custom quilting to highlight specific elements.
  2. Consider the Size: The size of your quilt can also influence your choice of quilting technique. Large quilts may be more difficult to maneuver under a sewing machine, making intricate free-motion quilting challenging. On the other hand, small quilts may allow for more detailed quilting patterns.
  3. Think about the Purpose: Consider how the quilt will be used. Will it be primarily for display or decoration, or will it be used regularly, such as on a bed or as a throw? Quilts intended for display may benefit from more elaborate quilting techniques, while those meant for regular use may require sturdier quilting to withstand wear and washing.
  4. Test Different Techniques: If you’re unsure which quilting technique to use, consider making small test samples using different techniques. This will allow you to see how each technique looks with your specific quilt design and fabric choices. If you want to experiment with your photo blocks, you can always lay them on a copier, make a copy and then practice with pen and paper how you would like to quilt over the photo block.
  5. Match the Style: Choose a quilting technique that complements the style of your photo quilt. For example, if you’re going for a modern look, you might opt for geometric quilting patterns, while a more traditional quilt design might be enhanced by classic quilting motifs like feathers or stippling.
  6. Consider the Fabric: The type of fabric you’re using can also influence your choice of quilting technique. Thicker fabrics may require simpler quilting designs to prevent puckering, while thinner fabrics may allow for more intricate quilting.
  7. Personal Preference: Ultimately, your choice of quilting technique should reflect your personal preferences and quilting style. If you enjoy free-motion quilting and feel confident in your skills, don’t hesitate to incorporate it into your photo quilt. Conversely, if you prefer simpler quilting techniques, there’s no need to feel pressured to use more elaborate methods.

By considering these factors and experimenting with different techniques, you can choose the quilting method that best enhances your photo quilt and suits your individual needs and preferences.

At this point, I recommend you take a moment to jump over to this post showcasing six different quilting techniques for photo quilts. You will be inspired and get your creative juices flowing with this read!

#2 How to Choose an Edge-to-Edge Quilting Pattern for a Photo Quilt

Choosing an edge-to-edge quilting pattern for a photo quilt can enhance the overall look and feel of the quilt while complementing the images featured in the quilt. Here are some steps to help you select the right edge-to-edge quilting pattern for your photo quilt:

Consider the Theme or Subject of the Quilt: Think about the theme or subject of your photo quilt. Is it a family quilt with photos of loved ones? A nature-themed quilt with landscape images? Or perhaps a quilt celebrating a special occasion like a wedding or anniversary? The theme will help guide your choice of quilting pattern.

With this quilt, the quilt was for a family that LOVES the Dallas Cowboys! So we chose an edge-to-edge quilting pattern that featured stars and swirls!

Match the Quilting Pattern to the Photos: Look at the photos featured in your quilt. Consider the style, mood, and content of the images. For example, if your quilt features photos of flowers, you might choose a floral quilting pattern. If your quilt showcases outdoor scenes, you might opt for a nature-inspired quilting design.

Consider the Scale of the Quilting Pattern: Pay attention to the scale of the quilting pattern in relation to the size of your quilt blocks and the images within them. You want the quilting pattern to complement the photos without overpowering them. If your quilt blocks are small or feature intricate details, you might choose a smaller-scale quilting pattern. For larger blocks or bold images, you might opt for a larger-scale quilting pattern.

Test the Pattern: Before committing to a quilting pattern, consider testing it on a small sample quilt or piece of fabric with similar characteristics to your photo quilt. This will give you an idea of how the pattern will look and help you make any necessary adjustments before quilting the entire project. You could also run the pattern on a piece of tracing paper so you can lay it over your quilt and see how it fits on your actual quilt.

Consider the Overall Aesthetic: Think about the overall aesthetic you want to achieve with your photo quilt. Do you want a traditional, romantic, modern, or whimsical look? Choose a quilting pattern that aligns with the aesthetic you envision for your quilt.

Let’s consider these two quilts below.

The quilt on the left could have been quilted with an edge-to-edge pattern. But many details and personalization were added to the quilting. Plus, by custom quilting this quilt, the ribbons were made to look like grosgrain ribbons with the quilting.

The quilt on the right could have utilized custom quilting on these adorable pup photo blocks, but the whimsical fabric combined with the simplicity of the design made edge-to-edge quilting with a playful swirl on this one the final choice.

Personal Preferences and Skills: Lastly, consider your personal preferences and quilting skills. Choose a pattern that you enjoy and feel confident in executing. If you’re new to quilting or working with edge-to-edge patterns, you might start with a simpler design and gradually work your way up to more complex patterns as you gain experience.

By considering these factors and taking the time to choose the right edge-to-edge quilting pattern for your photo quilt, you can create a beautiful and cohesive finished product that showcases your photos in the best possible way.

If you own a Brother Luminaire, Baby Lock Solaris, or a Brother/Babylock machine with a design center where you can create your own custom quilting designs, I would love to invite you over to my YouTube channel where I am starting a series on custom quilting for these machines!

If you want to learn Free Motion Quilting Skills, I recommend this little course that I am currently teaching myself and absolutely love! Here is a link to her website, FREE MOTION MASTERY IN A MONTH, where you can learn about her program!

If you would like to purchase the Free Motion Mastery in a Month book, I have this book available in my store here!

#3 What Batting Should You Use for Your Photo Quilt?

The answer to what batting you should use depends on the answer to the first two questions above:

  1. What quilting technique are you using for your quilt?
  2. What edge-to-edge quilting pattern have you chosen to use?

Why do you need to answer these two questions prior to choosing batting?

You have to know how you are quilting your photo quilt prior to choosing batting because battings have maximum distances between stitches for them to perform correctly. Some have 2 inch maximum between stitches, and some go up to 12 inches!

After you have measured and know the longest distance you will have between stitches, you are ready to head to the batting aisle and find the batting that will work best for the quilting design you have chosen. Just read the package and make sure you get the correct distance!

Let’s take a look at a quilt and learn how to measure this:

On the left, you can see that there is an area that has a 8 inch straight opening between the stitches. Technically, you should have an 8-inch batting. However, with the closeness of all the stitching, I used a 4-inch instead. So a little of this is left up to a judgement call.

A little guidance on finding batting with the appropriate stitch distance is next!

8-12 inches apart: Use batting with SCRIM for the longest distance between stitches.

What is Scrim?

Scrim is somewhat of a stabilizer that is often felted or needle-punched onto the batting using tiny needles making it stronger and more stable – and an excellent choice for machine quilting. This is important because the scrim allows you to place your quilting stitches further apart. You can place them as much as 8-12″ apart versus a maximum of only 3-4″ for batting without a scrim.

8 inches apart: Warm and Natural is one brand of batting that states that you need to quilt every 8 inches.

4 inches apart: Usually, your Cotton/Poly blends are good if this the the distance you need between stitches.

Hobbs Quilt Batting is one batting that I use regularly for doing custom embroidery on my photo quilts:

Heirloom® Premium 80/20 Cotton Blend – here it is on Amazon

Heirloom® Premium Cotton Blend is made from 80% long staple cotton fibers and 20% fine polyester. This combination of fibers creates a strong, longwearing batt and is very easy to handle.

The batting is lightly needle punched and treated with a soft resin to provide stability to the fibers and prevent the polyester from bearding. This process makes Heirloom® Cotton Blend Batting uniquely easy to quilt by hand.

This one states every 4 inches for stitching. I have used the Hobbs fusible for machine embroidery quilting and love it!

I’m going to head to some quilt stores and get us some photos of batting packaging so we know what we want! Stay tuned!

#4 How Many Layers of Quilt Batting Should You Use in a Photo Quilt?

The number of layers of batting you use in a quilt depends on several factors, including the desired warmth, thickness, and the quilting technique you plan to use.

In the above photo, you can see that I used two layers of batting to make my Santa Baby dimensional and pop! I love this for giving dimension to my quilt!

Here’s a general guideline for when to use different numbers of layers:

Single Layer: If you’re making a lightweight quilt or a quilt that’s mainly for decorative purposes, a single layer of batting may be sufficient. This provides minimal warmth and thickness. If you are making a family photo quilt for a baby to carry around, one layer would be best to keep it as light as possible.

Double Layer: For a quilt that you want to be a bit warmer or have more loft (thickness), you can use two layers of batting. This will provide more insulation and a fuller appearance. This also allows you to get some dimensional effects into your photo quilts and make your subject pop!

Multiple Layers: Some quilters choose to use more than two layers of batting, especially if they want an exceptionally warm quilt or if they’re using very thin batting material. However, keep in mind that using multiple layers can make the quilt quite heavy and challenging to quilt.

Combination of Batting: Another option is to use different types of batting in layers to achieve specific effects. For example, you might use a layer of cotton batting for its breathability and a layer of polyester batting for its loft, combining the benefits of both materials.

Consider Quilting Design: The quilting design you choose can also affect the number of batting layers you use. Dense quilting can compress the batting, so if you plan to quilt densely, you might need more layers to maintain the desired thickness.

Ultimately, the decision on how many layers of batting to use comes down to personal preference and the specific requirements of your photo quilt project. It’s a good idea to experiment with different options to see what effect you like the best for each photo quilt.

I try to add samples regularly as “testing” photo blocks can get pricey! So keep watching my blog for new samples posted so you can be inspired!

#5 What Threads Should You Use for Your Photo Quilt?

The best threads to use for quilting your photo quilt are Superior Clear Thread, embroidery thread because of the extreme variety of colors, and cotton quilting thread. For bobbin threads, I use the embroidery thread (use 60 wt if you can find a color you like, otherwise use the 40 wt), embroidery bobbins, or cotton quilting thread. Just make sure to be consistent with your bobbin thread if you change top threads when quilting over your photo blocks.

I talk about all of these in detail in another blog post! Make sure to read this because I also tell you a thread you should NEVER use!

What Thread Should I Use to Quilt My Photo Quilt?

Thank you so much for hanging out with me and listening to my creative talk! Please comment below if you have any questions or anything to add!

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 PhotoQuiltBlocksBlog.com, a website dedicated to quilts, projects, and gifts created with photos printed on fabric. She also has a business PhotoQuiltBlocks.com 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!

Recent Posts