Quilting in the hoop for your backgrounds

I’ve been having a ton of fun recently with quilting in the hoop – creating designs that have quilting built into them, and also using the Transformation Quilting Collection to quilt a background that is then used for a design from a different design collection. The second method is what this tutorial is all about.

If you haven’t already done so, check out the tutorial I wrote on How to Make a Simple Tote Bag.

Now let’s talk about how to quilt the background first.

Quilting a background for a 16″ x 12″ x 6″ tote.

Simple Tote 16x12x6

This tote needs a background that is 22.5″ wide and 15.5″ tall. If I use an 8″ x 8″ design from the Transformation Quilting Collection, I need 3 squares across and 2 down, to end up with a finished piece that is 24″ wide and 16″ deep – almost perfect to make this tote.


From the front (above) and from the back (below). I love that it’s pretty much impossible to tell where the different hoopings are on the front, although it’s quite easy on the back.


To create this background, I cut a piece of background fabric and a piece of batting, both a little bigger than the finished size. In general, add 1″ extra on each side. For a finished piece measuring 24″ x 16″, I cut my background and batting 26″ x 18″.

My favorite batting to use for quilting in the hoop is Quilters Dream Orient. It’s a gorgeous blend of silk, bamboo, tencel and cotton. It’s very soft and strong – and it won’t melt if you fuse appliqué shapes onto a quilted background.

You will also need a piece of stabilizer the same size as the background fabric. Using a 0.5mm mechanical pencil or an extra fine point Pigma pen, draw a grid on the stabilizer to show where each quilting design will go.

My favorite stabilizer is OESD Ultra Clean and Tear, 20″ wide roll. It’s nice and soft – and it will eventually disintegrate if you wash your finished project.

Marking 1

Layer the stabilizer with the batting and background fabric. Pin along the lines drawn on the stabilizer and then stitch along the lines shown in solid black on the diagram above, using a 5mm long stitch length. This will give you a nice secure stitch to hold everything together, but it’s long enough to rip the stitches out easily when you’ve finished quilting. It will also allow you to see the grid from the right side of the background fabric.

Load the embroidery design into your machine and load a piece of stabilizer into your hoop.

The majority of designs in the Transformation Quilting Collection have only 2 colors in them. The first color is a placement line that can also be used as a basting line. The second color is the actual quilting. For the few designs that have more than two colors, the extra colors are quilting that you can choose to stitch in a different color.

Stitch color #1 right onto the stabilizer in your hoop.

The goal now is to position the background fabric onto the stabilizer in the hoop so that the design will stitch exactly where you want it as specified by the grid you marked on the stabilizer – and then stitched to hold the layers together.

Marking 2

You need some sort of strategy to decide which square to quilt first. Typically, I’ll start in the middle, move to the right, then turn the background fabric 180 degrees and quilt the left side (which is now on the right). This way, I keep the bulk of the background hanging off the left side of my embroidery module so that it isn’t taking up space under the throat of my machine – and it minimizes the risk of the fabric dropping onto the hoop and getting caught in the stitching. Not that I’ve ever had that happen to me ?.

Having stitched color #1, you will have a placement line stitched onto your stabilizer, in this case a square. This is hooping #1 – so you want to align the intersection marked A  (see the diagram above) with the bottom left corner of the placement line stitched onto the stabilizer and align the intersection marked B with the bottom right corner of the placement line stitched onto the stabilizer. Hold the background fabric in place on the stabilizer using a couple of pins – you can also use Scotch Magic Tape if the stabilizer in the hoop isn’t completely covered by fabric.

Restitch color #1.

This time it is a basting line to hold everything in place. Then you can stitch color #2 and watch the gorgeous quilting appear.

When you’re ready to stitch hooping #2, remove everything from the hoop. Tear away the stabilizer from around the outside of the basting line. Load a new piece of stabilizer into your hoop and stitch color #1. This time you’re going to align the intersection marked A with the top left corner of the placement line stitched onto the stabilizer and the intersection marked B with the top right corner. Restitch color #1 to hold everything in place and then stitch color #2.

Repeat as many times as necessary, using a fresh piece of stabilizer in the hoop for each hooping, and removing the excess stabilizer from around the outside of the basting line after each hooping.


This background is now ready for the 4 small “plates” from the Better Than A Paper Plate collection.

Quilting a background for a 9″ x 9″ x 4.5″ tote

I just love the 10 petal medium sized flower from the Peace Love and Joy Collection. My original simple tote design featuring this flower was going to be 8″ x 8″ x 4″. You can see in the diagram below that the ends of some of the petals are falling right off the edge of the tote, so I decided to make it a little larger at 9″ x 9″ x 4.5″. This requires a background that is 14″ wide (9″ + 4″ + 0.5″ seam allowance) and 11.75″ tall (9″ + 4.5″/2 + 0.5″ seam allowance).

Simple Tote 8x8x4

I ended up creating a background that was 16″ wide and 12″ tall. I used an 8″ x 8″ design in the center of the top. I added a 4″ x 8″ design on either side and two more copies of the same 4″ x 8″ design rotated by 90 degrees along the bottom.

Any combination of designs to fill your background works!


The front (above) and the back (below).


I’m using Fairy Frost by Michael Miller Fabrics for my backgrounds. I love the gorgeous colors and the shimmer from the “frost”. I’m using AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 weight thread for the quilting.


For this piece, I’ve already stitched the embroidered appliqué flower onto the background. Now all that remains is to finish the tote!


Design Collections featured in this tutorial:

Fabric: Fairy Frost by Michael Miller Fabric

Thread: AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 weight.


  1. This is fantastic, Sarah! I love your Transformations collection and I’ve been using it to lay down a perfect quilting background for little book covers, folios, etc. Your technique for placement is really helpful!

  2. Thanks, Sarah for a great Tutorial! The Transformation designs are so gorgeous and your instructions are fabulous!! I can’t wait to finish my granddaughter’s graduation quilt so that I can do some “playing” with your designs.

  3. This is a really great tutorial Sarah, and I love Transformations quilting! Are you going to offer these at a special promotional price/collection by any chance? You do awesome work!! Thank you!

  4. Thanks Sarah for this tutorial, I have been trying to figure out placement lines. This has explained a lot.

  5. Thanks this was great. This is a great way to make a baby quilt too

  6. Love it will have to try.Quilting in the hoop,done some but not much I sure will like to do this.You have made it so easy.

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