One thing us longarm quilters have to deal with is quilt pattern density. Let’s say you send me a quilt and tell me you want a heart pattern quilted on it.  We look at a few heart patterns and decide which one you like best. The next issue to decide is how big do you want those hearts to be on your quilt.  Many times, the quilt owner will just say “use your own judgement”.  That decision becomes somewhat hard once you start looking at all the factors involved.  First of all, I do not know what vision you have for the quilt.  Secondly, how tightly the quilt is stitched can make the quilt stiffer.  Thirdly, when you load an edge to edge quilt pattern into the computer, after loading the quilt onto the machine, you have to put in the dimensions of the quilt.  The computer then suggests what it thinks the appropriate size of the pattern should be and lays it out so each pass of the quilting machine will fit onto the quilt evenly.  In other words, the computer sizes the pattern so that each pass will be the same and you won’t end up with a portion of a pattern on the last pass.  Now, I am able to adjust the number of passes which will also adjust the size of the pattern.  The other thing to take into consideration is both the quilt top and backing fabric.  How will the pattern appear on those fabrics?  How many seams are in the quilt top?  A quilt pattern works best if it passes over most all of the seams.  Some patterns can get totally lost if they are stitched too tightly or too loosely.  Do you want the fabric print to stand out or do you want the quilt pattern to stand out?  These are all questions that should be considered.
Communication is the key.  Below I have posted a single picture of a sample stitch-out that has a standard quilt pattern on the left and what I would call a dense quilt pattern on the right.  They are the exact same pattern but the one on the right is about twice as dense.  As you can see, the standard density (left side) has 5 rows of hearts while the dense (right side) has 9 rows of hearts in the same space.  I put the quarters in the picture to show scale.  A quarter is about 1 inch in diameter. 

Left side is standard and right side dense

Some patterns are dense to start with.  So, you could ask to make it even more dense but that might not be a good idea.  Remember that dense can also mean stiff.  Hopefully this will help you understand the pattern density issue and also help you decide on how you want me to apply the pattern to your quilt.  Below is an example of what I would call a dense pattern. 

A pattern that already has dense coverage so not much need to make it more dense

Here are some guidelines I use:
Choose standard density if your quilt has larger blocks/piecing with fewer seams, or if you want a less stiff cozy quilt, or if you want the fabric design to stand out more than the quilt pattern.
Choose dense if the quilt has a lot of small blocks/piecing with a lot of seams, or you want a stiffer quilt (possibly for wall hanging), or if there is a lot of blank space where you want the pattern to stand out, or if you have chosen 100% cotton batting (which can ball up inside the quilt if not quilted densely enough).  
So, when I receive your quilt I am going to ask you if you want it quilted standard or dense.  And hopefully this blog post has helped to explain what goes into that decision.
Happy Quilting!
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