Tag Archives: free motion quilting

Done At Last

For well over a year I’ve been working on and off on two small wall hangings.  I took very different design approaches by happenstance, yet both represent the current stage of my quilted work. They also reflect my obsession with circles.

Mosaic was planned to a fare-thee-well.  I found a photo of a mosaic composition that appealed, revised it for quilting, drew up a full size pattern for it, and used Gloria Loughman’s techniques to make it.  I’ve blogged about my process before so I won’t repeat the details here.

mosaicMy starting point, above, and the finished product, below.

MosaicI changed the color scheme and spent a lot of time appliqueing the fabric shapes on each section before I sewed the large pieces together.  Then the piece hung over a bannister for months before I forced myself to quilt it.  If only I had been able to replicate the quilting designs in my mind – sigh.  I had hoped to give the notion of the jagged mosaic pieces. If you question the quilting you can see, you should have seen what I ripped out and redid.

Mosaic_closeup2Pong, the other piece that’s been hanging fire, has been in a state of becoming for at least a year and a half. It started as bits of fabric sewn together willy-nilly.  Then, I decided to practice some big stitch embroidery with perle cotton.  After that, I thought it needed to be bigger so I added hand dyed fabric.  When I came across leftover bits of transparent fabric backed with Mistyfuse I decided to layer that over what I had already done. Finally, I found fabric backed with Wonder Under – more leftovers – and added spirals.  All that was topped off with more embroidery. At that point I declared the piece finished for real. It was becoming very heavy.

PongThe quilting was an extra challenge as I had to work around/between the embroidery.


pong_detail1This piece is named for the prehistoric video arcade game. I thought those circles seemed to be bouncing back and forth between the sides.

Taken together, these two pieces represent my attempt to integrate several techniques in a quilt without making the techniques the quilt’s focus.  They also mark my willingness to persevere with free motion quilting on a “good” piece. I don’t know why I always do so much better on my sample pieces.

And this wraps up my finishes for 2013.  One other quilt is almost done, but since only the boring part, the binding, is left, I decided to treat myself to fabric play time for the last day of the year.

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Filed under Completed Projects, Inspiration

How NOT To Do Free Motion Quilting

As I’ve previously admitted, I have issues with free motion quilting.  I really haven’t progressed much beyond my first attempts in the late 1990s, and expectations of free motion skills have increased exponentially since then.  On the other hand, I’ve become adept at the use of my walking foot and machine decorative stitches.

However, sometimes a quilt simply has to be free motion quilted.  Case in point is my “Canyon” which measures 30 inches wide and 62 inches long.  I wrote about it some months ago, but have finally screwed my courage to the sticking point and started quilting it.  First, I stitched in the ditch with invisible thread and my walking foot along major horizontal and vertical seam lines.  Next, I stitched some curvy lines in variegated thread, again with my walking foot.


With the day of reckoning at hand I took off the training wheels and began the free motion work after studying pictures of Brice Canyon and the Black Canyon. I decided to forgo marking as the top’s design has several tiers of blocks set a various angles that I thought I could use to inspire my quilting.  The lines I wanted to quilt were craggy with occasional outcroppings of low, dusty green bushes.  I wanted to use thread color to emphasize sunlight on the canyon walls.  I’m talking major abstract walls here.


I’ve been at it now for a week and am so glad I chose a backing fabric that conceals everything.  No quilt judge or competent free motion quilter will be allowed anywhere near this stunning example of bad free motion quilting.

  • Uneven thread tension? Check
  • Uneven stitch length? Check
  • Too much drag on the top because part of the quilt fell off the table? Check.
  • Strange squiggles to represent vegetation? Check.
  • Too much quilting on one part?  Check.
  • Unwillingness to rip out bad stitching?  Check.

My rationalization is to call what I’ve done thread sketching.  God knows I followed no regular pattern, and have used at least 8 different threads so far.  I plan to quilt it more, figuring it’s already messed up so I might as well go for broke.  I may even blend some of the fabrics with my paintstiks.

My major victories?  I haven’t broken a needle or the thread.  Yay me.


Filed under Techniques

Are You Angular or Curvy?

As I dive into quilting my shamefully large pile of quilt tops I’ve been studying how other, much more talented quilters, handle their free motion quilting designs.  Now, I decided that the only way I was going to become competent at free motion quilting was to actually do it on an actual top (as opposed to sample squares.)  However, I thought it best to have some idea what I wanted my quilting design to be before lowering my feed dogs.  So I’ve been looking at lots of pictures.

As I looked at examples of free motion quilting I noticed two distinct kinds of designs – curvy/swoopy and angular.  Both kinds are used on modern quilts, but curvy seemed to be the norm for traditional quilts.  And art quilts often seemed to use quilting as a sketch on top of the cloth, with little or no pattern to the lines.

I recall that about ten years ago free motion quilting was often just meandering or stippling over the whole quilt surface. But the minimum expected level of quilting has sure stepped up since then. Heirloom free motion quilting came along with stitching every quarter inch.  Certainly the “best of show” quilts at national shows seem to have no surface left unquilted, but I don’t know if that’s still the standard for “regular” quilters.

terri doyle elise campbell patts

And more recently boxy, angled designs have shown up on modern quilts, with the negative space broken up with different quilting patterns.  Angela Walters, whose work is shown below, is a well-known longarm quilter who seems especially sensitive to the different quilting designs needed for modern quilts.


Another well known modern quilter, Elizabeth Hartman, also uses a lot of angular designs in her free motion.


And, here’s how Wanda Hanson of Exuberant Color handled quilting to complete her design.  There’s nothing show-offy here, but the quilting lines enhance the flowers and give depth to the background by providing a horizon line.

Wanda quilt

And courses in free motion quilting are popping up everywhere for both in-person and online presentations.  I’ve tried a few online classes, which have certainly given me tips, but I just have to practice to improve.  I think I’m now up to the barely competent level, having finally learned to recognize the sound my sewing machine makes when it’s at the sweet spot.  Did I mention how much I hate to rip out stitches?  I’ve started applying the “stand five feet away” rule to my stitching.  It looks better then.

As for the compulsion for intricate free motion quilting, it’s great for show pieces, but not so good for quilts meant to be used.  All that stitching can make a quilt feel stiff, not cuddly.  Also, in some cases the stitching upstages the quilt design rather than enhancing it.  I realize this may simply be my rationalization for being bad at free motion quilting, but I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about my lousy stitching.  I’ll still try to improve as it’s painful to watch people wince when they look at my uneven stitches, but the self-inflicted beatings will cease.


Filed under Techniques