top of page

Quilting Motif 14 - Swirls

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

Hi friends! Today we are learning about one of my favorite motifs - the SWIRL! I use this motif quite often, and I'm excited to show you the basic version and a few alternatives for different spaces and different vibes.

This quilting design is quite often used as an all-over or edge to edge (E2E) design, but it also makes a great filler when combined with other designs. Maybe that's why I love it so much, it's so versatile!

It is a pretty dense motif, but you can adjust the spacing within your swirl in different ways to help make it less dense if desired. I think the thing I like the most is that it is FAST! When you get in the swirl-making groove you can really set your machine on fire (lol).

This is a basic swirl. You may be asking how is this different from a spiral?

The difference is that a spiral starts on the inside and moves outward (one direction). Whereas the swirl starts on the outside and goes in and then back out, so you can keep making them without breaking thread.

Again this design uses your free motion quilting foot to make all the round swirls, but you can use your walking foot to make angular swirls too. This design uses echoing and the swirl shapes to fill in all the nooks and crannies for a full coverage filler or edge to edge design. It is similar to the oyster shell in this way.

Things to remember when making this free-motion design as a beginner:

  1. Stitch at a medium speed for smoother curves,

  2. Lengthen your stitch since it's free motion and you are controlling the speed not the machine,

  3. Use matching thread to help blend the stitches into your quilt block. (If tension is an issue, try using a bobbin thread that is the same as top thread or the same value (light, medium, or dark) even if it's not the same color.

*When you become confident with this motif (and free-motion in general), you can move at faster speeds as long as your tension is good.

The Mechanics of Making the Swirl

If you want to practice with pen and paper first, drawing the swirls helps your hand remember how to make the shapes and also make a nice round circle.

I try to start all designs off the edge so that the binding locks all of the stitches down.

Once you are in your desired quilting area, make a circle shape that does NOT connect. Instead make a spiral (like a seashell) and leave a space between the lines.

You will be returning to start in this space and how wide you make it will affect the density of your design.

Once you get to the center point, stop and go back along the spiral (pink line) in the space that you created.

Your end points at the center, and if you make multiple echoes, will be pointed.

To adjust your density and how much space your swirls take up, you can add echoes on the outside of the spiral. You can also make them large (like an orange) and you can make the space wider (like an inch between the two lines - pink and black).

When you get back to the outside of the spiral, you can start the next spiral at any point. This allows you to fill in all the spaces of your block area. I also typically change directions from clockwise to counter-clockwise as I move from one swirl to the next. It is not required but it seems to flow better and add variation to the pattern.

Normally the goal for swirls is keeping the spaces between your "going in" line and "going out" line similar. However adjusting the spacing can also give you a fun look and help with the density of your quilting. In these examples, if you look closely at the Halloween quilt (right), the "going out" line is very close to the "going in" line which I thought gave it a "spooky" look.

Variations on the Basic Swirl

As always I like to give you a few options to stretch your creative wings...

Option 1 - Elongate your swirls for borders and other linear spaces by creating a swirl and then make a short wavy line before creating the next spiral.

It is visually important to get the outer shape to be round and extend beyond the line on both sides. I sometimes don't go out far enough when I start making the swirl, so then...

Option 2 - I did not get the desired roundness the first time, so I echoed the entire design with a wavy line on both sides to create a better shape.

Option 3 - Go square or angular (like the heart shape). The process is the same and can be done with your free motion foot or walking foot. If you use your free-motion foot, take an extra stitch at the corners before changing direction. This helps the corners look sharp and not rounded.

Fun right? Here is a short video so you can see this process in action and in real time.

I'm a sucker for pretty quilting!

No judgement or criticism here - only applause! I'd love to see your work whether it is on this quilt or you're using this design on another project! You can share photos here in the comments or on Facebook or Instagram @polkadotpeepquiltsetc or #quiltingswirls or #nothingbutloveQAL or email me and I will share it at

If you do have additional questions, issues, or comments regarding quilting or making swirls please ask in the comments.

If you are just joining in, here are the links to all the quilting designs we've covered so far in the Nothing but Love Quilt Along:

January 24 – Affection/GRIDS Quilting Motif 1 - Grids (

February 7 – Refuge/OUTLINING Quilting Motif 2 - Outlines (

February 21 – Joyful/SQUIGGLES Quilting Motif 3 - Squiggles (

March 21 – Devotion/PUMPKIN SEEDS Quilting Motif 5 - Pumpkin Seeds (

April 4 – Inspiration/WAVY LINES Quilting Motif #6 - Wavy Lines (

May 2 – Admiration/FRACTURED SPIRAL Quilting Motif 8 - Fractured Spiral (

May 16 – Infatuation/SCALLOPS Quilting Motif 9 - Scallops (

June 13 – Smitten/LG WF SPIRAL Quilting Motif 11 - Spiral (

July 11 – Patience/PEARLS ON A STRING Quilting Motif 13 - Pearls on a String (

Have a great day swirling away!

Until next time be blessed my friends,


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page