Three Quilting Techniques: In-the-Ditch, Outline And Ornamental

New quilters are often overwhelmed by all the choices they have to make – first a pattern, then fabrics and threads,  battings… it seems there are so many options to consider when piecing a quilt. Don’t panic, but the options don’t end there. You still must decide how you will quilt your project.

There are three basic types of quilting: in-the-ditch, outline, and ornamental. A lot of quilting newbies choose in the ditch quilting for their first few projects because it seems to be the easiest. In it, the quilter stitches very close to the seam lines in each quilt block’s design. So, you are not really quilting “in” the ditch, or seam line, but are very close to it. New quilters like this because they do not have to worry about marking the lines they will follow. Since this type of quilting follows the block elements, it actually replicates the design on the back side of the quilt as well.

Outline quilting is very similar to in-the-ditch quilting. The difference is the space between your seam and your quilting line. Quilting about a quarter inch away from the seam is called outline quilting. Experienced quilters may have no problem at all maintaining that quarter-inch distance all the way around. If you are fairly new to this type of quilting, however, it is best to find a way to mark it. Perhaps you can just use your sewing machine’s presser foot to gauge the distance. If that is hard to see, just place painter’s tape on the quilt to mark the distance. Be sure not to sew through the tape – the adhesive will gum up your needle. Instead, sew just to the other side of the tape. The down side to this taping method is that you may have to stop and re-tape areas of your project if the tape is rather large. Like the in-the-ditch method, the benefit to this form of quilting is that you duplicate the quilt block design on the back side of the project as well.

Ornamental quilting encompasses many different styles. Basically, it is best described as decorative quilting. Quilts you have seen with grids, hearts, chains, swirls, and other motifs are examples of ornamental quilting. Stippling is also a form of ornamental quilting. It is created by sewing “squiggly” lines that never close and duplicating them throughout the quilt.

There is no rule that you must pick one or the other form of quilting. As a matter of fact, a lot of quilters combine ornamental quilting with either in the ditch or outline quilting. Often, they use the ditch or outline method within the blocks, and feature the ornamental quilting in their borders or corner blocks. With the exception of stippling, most ornamental quilting needs to be marked on your quilt top so you can follow the pattern. You may use stencils, create the designs freehand, or trace patterns from your favorite source using a marking tool that will wash away. (You also have lots of options in the way of water soluble pencils and pens.)

Don’t let your quilting options side track you from what is really important – enjoying the craft. Select a quilting method and just take your time with it. If your stitches seem a little out of place, stop when as soon as you notice it and remove them. In the end, you will be glad you took the time to re-do it. The first few quilts you make may take a little longer to complete than you would like as you get accustomed to the craft. Don’t let decisions like which quilting technique to use sidetrack you. Try them all to see which you like best.

By Penny Halgren of

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