So no apologies from me - I still love quilts that remind me of ones made hundreds of years ago. I think the pioneer women especially, with limited supplies and the necessity of making warm bed covers out of what might have seemed like "thin air," were true pioneers in the art quilt movement. They used what they had and made some amazing compositions that still command our respect and admiration. One little piece of Turkey red placed well in the top turned a dull array of shirtings into a visual delight.
My little basket quilt was a sample I pieced together out of blocks made to demo the piecing techniques for it. When asked to appear on Simply Quilts about 10 years ago, I used it to layer and mark and show how you would do this for machine quilting a top. When I returned home, it seemed like a wise idea to go right ahead and quilt it.
I used #100 YLI silk thread, mostly neutral shades, as that is all I had at the time when I was just beginning to venture into using opaque colored threads for the quilting. I discovered that most of the colors in the quilt could easily be quilted using the neutrals and look just fine. The old idea of color matching exactly the thread to the fabric that hung on in my mind from my days of sewing garments sort of went out the window.
It took me more years of using this thread to realize its full potential, and now it is the extra touch I use to give my quilts depth, highlights, dimension. I still avoid using very dark fine thread on lighter fabrics as the machine stitch does not look wonderful nor does your quilting if you do this. Stitching over a line of quilting to get to the next area is not obvious, as you can see in the rosette in the corner square, below.
This basket quilt has simple quilting throughout, but has a complex border design that creates a lovely frame. The sashing and inner borders don't have background quilting, just basic cables or pumpkin seed designs. The basket has clamshells and continuous curves, and my favorite part was the straight parallel lines of backgrounds, exactly as a hand quilter would have done in the 1800's. This basic style is what made the quilt look vintage, even though done on my modern sewing machine. Stippling, or any of my new backgrounds, done around the baskets would have been just fine, but definitely have taken away from the mood of vintage. One basic old fashioned design,straight parallel lines, did so much for this quilt.
The lines were done free motion and I didn't mark them. I learned to look ahead of the needle and aim ahead, use a speed where I could stay in control yet fast enough for smoothness. Sometimes in larger areas it's a good idea to mark a "plumb line" or horizon line so there is something to keep you going straight. I did not use the edge of my foot as a guide, instead, I visualized the "puff" I was creating between the lines, and that was much easier for me and made everything fall into place so much better.
And the most important thing is to quilt the lines on the bias just as the old hand-quilted ones were done. There will be the least amount of distortion, "snow plowing," or pushing fabric along and causing a pleat when you arrive at a ditch or previously stitched line if you quilt a straight line on the bias. Yes, I did stitch in the ditch first, and around each basket. Everything stayed perfectly in place, there was no excess at all, and each basket background was more even and better than the last.
It's also a wise idea to do all one sort of quilting at a time - in this case, I quilted around each basket, then within each basket with the designs there, and finally all the backgrounds, one after the other, with a tiny break or mental "re-boot" time in between each one. This worked to increase my skill with the built-in repetition.
If you have some old tops pieced up that maybe don't interest you anymore, take one out, mark some basic designs on it, and quilt it up. Use some of your newer freehand designs as well to add to the complexity of your quilting, some un-marked feathers, whatever.
If I were quilting this top now? I'd probably have some echo feathers sprouting around those baskets, or a bird perched above one every now and then, but maybe the old way is still the best for simplicity and holding true to the roots of our quilting heritage.
Or....you could piece up a classic design like this in bright, bold, funky fabrics and quilt it, enjoy it, love the colors you have used and enjoy re-visiting each one as you quilt over it. The thing is, you need to look down at your work and love it. Love the fabrics, the colors, thread, designs you quilt. Then you will do your very best.
The pattern for this basket block and quilt are in my book Guide to Machine Quilting, still available at http://www.americanquilter.com/ or other major booksellers' sites.
Have fun deciding, and keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.