Which Way Up Quilt | Modern Improv + Hand Quilted

Which Way Up Quilt - a modern improv quilt featuring 4 thread weights for added quilty texture and dimension | Shannon Fraser Designs #handquilted

Do you feel guilty about your WIPs?

Too many on the go? Feeling like you’re scattered? Feeling like you’re neglecting your makes?

I waver in and out of these feelings, but generally approach my work in progress pile as something that’s ongoing and ever evolving. Overall, I try not to stress about it.

Take this modern improv quilt, she first got started back in 2019. I’d just finished designing the Flight Plan quilt and needed a little improv in my quilty life! I first tackled the House of Cards quilts with the scraps leftover from my Geometrical Flight Plan quilt, but I also had all these orphan blocks from all the tests I did for the Flight Plan quilt pattern templates.  

I’m not sure I’ve approached an improv session with so many orphan blocks. It was a first and super fun to see how to bring all the pieces together. 

It’s been a while since the Which Way Up quilt got pieced and basted. She’s actually been draped over the back of my sofa for ages now. I won’t dwell on just exactly how looooong it’s been – ha! What’s important is that I got back to her 😉

Which Way Up - a modern improv quilt entirely hand quilted using 4 different thread weights 12wt, 28wt, Aurifloss and pearl cotton in size 8 | Shannon Fraser Designs #handquitled

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My plans for quilting her up changed entirely at the last minute.

I originally intended to machine quilt her in *28wt Aurifil Thread in the colour Dove. It’s a very soft pale gray that is just stunning. That was my plan all along until this past holiday season. I was packing up to head to the lake and I knew I had my scrappy Plus Infinity quilt to finish up, but I like to have back-up projects with me, in case I make good progress on the other. So, I decided to pack her up on the off chance I wanted something to hand stitch.

Aurifil Thread in 28wt color Dove for machine quilting - gives you all the yummy quilty texture | Shannon Fraser Designs #thread

With my morning makes primarily focused on hand quilting, I find myself making great headway on my quilts. I got the Plus Infinity quilt all stitched up in record time and turned to this pretty for some quiet meditative improv stitch work.

It’s been glorious working on her these past couple of months.

Which Way Up - modern improv quilt hand quilted by Shannon Fraser Designs featuring orphan blocks leftover from the Flight Plan quilt. Sustainable quilting + texture through hand stitching #modernimprovquilt


One thing I love about the Aurifil Artisan challenges is that I always see them as an opportunity to explore and try something new. I thought I was ahead of schedule, thinking this wasn’t due until May, only to realize it was the February challenge – oops! Good thing I was already at the binding stage when I made that realization 😉

Since I’m ever on a quilty texture analysis, I opted to explore incorporating texture through hand quilting with various thread weights. Four of them, to be exact!

I decided to sneak some Aurifloss, 12wt and 28wt + a little pearl cotton for some extra dimension.

Here’s how they line up in terms of thread weight. From thinnest to thickest:

Pearl Cotton 


Back side of the Which Way Up quilt with the different spools of thread used for hand quilting, including Aurifloss, 12wt and 28wt Aurifil Thread | Shannon Fraser Designs #modernimprovquilt


In case you haven’t tried hand stitching with these thread weights, I thought I’d give you a deeper dive on how you could feature them in your own projects.

Let’s dive in!


I first pulled some 12wt in Turquoise, Pink, White and Cream. I didn’t want to deviate from the colourway of the quilt but wanted colours that would coordinate while giving me the chance to focus on the added texture they could provide.

12wt is one of the first threads I started hand stitching with – you can see her featured in the Pink Lemonade quilt.

What I love about 12wt is that it gives a nice prominent stitch without a crazy amount of pressure on your hand.

Burying knots is so much smoother than a thicker thread, such a pearl cotton or Aurifloss, is.

It’s kinda the best of both worlds, if you would. Chunkier stitch without too much hand quilting fuss.

Which Way Up modern improv quilt with bowl full of thread spools for hand quilting | Shannon Fraser Designs #bigstitchhandquilting


I adore the added dimension and texture Aurifloss adds to my quilts.

You can use her like embroidery floss, where you pull the strands apart and only use a few at a time. However, I like to go all in with her and use all strands at once. I will give you a heads up, this one can be more challenging to stitch with.

First, because the fibers aren’t wound as tightly, they can pull through your quilt at different speeds, leading to potential for more tangling and stray fibers that you need to pull through individually.

Burying your knots can also be a little tough as the size of the knot is thicker due to the number of threads. I noted needing to be gentle yet still quite firm when popping my knots. There were times I was concerned about tearing my fabric. A note to go slowly if you give it a go 😉

But if you’re looking for a really prominent stitch, this does it perfectly!



This was my first-time hand quilting with 28 weight thread. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but my intention in including it was to add variety in the thicknesses of my hand stitches and I had a feeling 28wt would give some pretty highlights and delicate details to the quilt design. She did just that!

If you want nice smooth delicate stitches, without any pressure on your hand, then 28wt is a beautiful option.


When it comes to big stitch hand quilting, pearl cotton thread gives you that chunky fiber texture, but you do have to work a liiiiiittle harder for it compared to the 12wt,. Although, not nearly as tough on your hand as Aurifloss.

Back of the Which Way Up quilt with the front flipped up - shows off the big stitch hand quilted using 4 different thread weights for maximum texture | Shannon Fraser Designs #improvquilt


This improv quilt is entirely upcycled from previous quilt projects. Most of the fabric scraps are from my mod-rose Modern Aztec quilt, while the turquoise I’m pretty sure is trimmings from my Tribal Diamond quilt backing. Here’s a full run-down of what I featured in the Which Way Up quilt:

*White 50wt thread for piecing 


Which Way Up quilt hand quilted in 4 different thread weights for extra cozy texture and stitch dimension | Shannon Fraser Designs #texture

For more inspiration, I shared a little more about my love for the different thread weights you can play with in this post and video. And for more hand quilting inspiration, check out these projects:


Happy stitching!




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1 comment

  • I love playing with different threads too. Your quilt and the quilting look fantastic! Great finish!

    Gail McHardy-Leitch

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