Free Motion Feathers

Prepping to present free motion quilting techniques last week at my guild must have tripped a trigger because something happened and now…

I can quilt free motion feathers! 

IMG_5773But before I show you the quilting design and my sample, just a little about the quilt. It’s a red and white churn dash free pattern from McCalls quilting. Darlene Zimmerman wrote the pattern and you can download it for free at the link above. She used flannel in the original, but mine is made from quilting cottons from Moda and others. I also resized it to make a slightly larger quilt.

It’s a simple pattern to make. But it’s not so simple to find a quilt design that works well for churn dash blocks, each surrounded by a 9″ plain block with no piecing. I searched online for over 3 weeks to find a pattern that was interesting. I finally found one with feathers around the block (different from mine), but not much quilting in the block itself.

Though the feathers really appealed to me, I wasn’t sure my quilting skills would be good enough to pull it off. So I took a lesson from my own free motion presentation: I made sample and tried it.

Using two 8.5″x 11″ sheets of paper taped together I measured off a 9″x 9″ block with empty space around it. I didn’t want to leave the churn dash block empty so I modified a block quilt design from the AQS blog that I referenced in my Free Motion Resources post last week. I used a ruler to draw the block boundaries and then free-handed the rest, including the feathers. The results were just what I wanted.


Then I just had to quilt it. (Just!) I setup my machine and prepared to quilt a fat-quarter-sized quilt sandwich I had prepared but didn’t use for the presentation.


A rare moment of bravery hit and I decided to also audition a new quilting foot for the Pfaff as well as a new 80 wt thread. But the bravery ended there; I didn’t dare try to quilt the feathers without first drawing them on the sample.

I knew that I’d be able to quilt the feathers once I could draw them. I have no trouble following drawn lines when free-motion quilting but it takes a little more practice to to reliably free-motion quilt a motif.

It wasn’t hard to quilt the top feather; however, it was much more difficult to quilt the lower one. I haven’t figured out how to accomplish it yet, but there’s a whole weekend ahead of me!

Now for the final results:


The churn dash block will look much better if I use rulers. The space where the feathers meet might look better with a single, small circle. The small paisleys at each of the four corners of the blocks may also get eliminated. With the feather detail surrounding each block, an empty half-square is a good place for the eye to rest and it also provides good  nice contrast.

One last thing: there are actually three different thread weights in the photo above. The feathers were done in 80 wt Quilter’s Select thread. The churn dash block itself was quilted in 50 wt Aurifil thread. I used a 90/14 topstitch needle for both these threads. For added emphasis, I retraced the inner and outer circles in 12 wt Wonderfil Spagetti thread just to see how it would look. For the Spagetti I used a 100/16 (jeans) needle.

I’ve never tried or used either the Quilter’s Select or the Spagetti threads and who knows if they’ll make it into the final version. But what an impact that 12 wt thread really gives to the circles! It also makes the feathers feel lighter and more, um, feathery.

Next week, I’ll have photos of some of the quilted blocks on the real quilt. Exciting!


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