The March 2015 Free Motion Quilting Challenge!

March 1st, 2015


If you haven’t been following it already, Darlene of Quiltshopgal blog has a new free motion quilting challenge going this year.  She hosted an incredible free motion quilting challenge a few years ago and thousands of quilters really honed their FMQ skills by participating.  This year, she is a hosting a new monthly FMQ challenge where participants make a pillow that showcases various FMQ skills/techniques.  For the month of March, the challenge relates to some of my favorite techniques and you can read all the details on her blog by clicking right here.  I’m going to hopefully inspire you with a couple of ideas in my blog post today.


Darlene has 3 different options for quilters to explore in the March FMQ challenge.  I have a quick class where we learn the basics of trapunto and it’s a popular class so I’ve needed to make many, many samples for it over the last several months.  I’m going to post how I recently made 2 different pillow samples and each of these will incorporate all of the options included in Darlene’s challenge.  We’re going to use:


1.  Cool border design work using principles from my 2012 FMQ Challenge.  (Click here to go to that original posting.)

2.  Trapunto and hyperquilting from my Craftsy class.  ( Click here for a link for $25 off of my Craftsy class…that’s MORE than 50% off!)

3.  Cool background free motion quilting from my instructional DVDs on free motion quilting.  (Click here to see our instructional DVDs.)


For my pillows, I started with an 18 inch square fabric block.  The fabric was deliberately solid so that the stitching would be obvious.  (A gently mottled fabric would also work great for this.)  For this trapunto class, we begin with an elaborate feathered wreath that has already been stitched in the center of the block (I provide this wreath block to the students and I make these quickly on my embroidery machine using one of our Majestic Feathered Wreath Designs.)  If you do this on an embroidery machine, you can either throw a piece of scrap batting underneath the fabric block or pin it underneath the hooped stabilizer.  If you are stitching the wreath yourself, just pin a piece of batting underneath the block before you begin stitching.  (I’ve posted about how to do this a million times in my blog, so surf through the posts under “trapunto” if this part seems foreign to you.)  Once the wreath has been stitched, you will cut away all the excess batting/stabilizer that falls outside the wreath.  Take care to avoid accidentally cutting into that top fabric! The backside of your block will look something like this when you’re done:


Once done, place that square into a quilt sandwich with batting and backing fabric.  I spray baste, but you can baste however you’d like.  The first thing you’ll do is to outline the various “zones” of the wreath w/invisible thread. For the wreath I’m using on pillow 1, this means outlining the inside and outside of the wide spine zone and then outlining each plume.  You do not want to outline any of the detail stitching inside the spine or inside the plumes because that will kind of flatten the trapunto.  At this stage, you will begin to see your trapuntoed feathered wreath protruding out somewhat. To make my wreath really pop, I then echo outline the perimeter of the entire wreath with a highly contrasting color of thread.  This will add a halo of color around the wreath and will also make the trapunto more prominent.   Once you’re done w/the outlining, switch to whatever thread you are going to use for your quilting.  I chose a green that was just a tad darker than the background fabric and created a series of empty borders that lie on the diagonal from each corner of the square block:


You can do this with your walking foot or you can do this as ruler work.  If you look at the bottom right corner, you’ll see that I messed up on the width of a border, but I just kept going!  In this tangential shot, you can get a better sense of the trapuntoed wreath protruding out a bit:



(Can you see all the shiney invisible thread across the plumes?  Those are my “jump stitches” from when I was outlining and they will all be trimmed away before the pillow is finished.)  I then began filling in some of my empty channels.  I stitched small feathers inside the corner triangles and a row of pearls inside a narrow channel:


(If you look at the corner, you’ll see a faint soap line at 1/2 inch from the edge.  I don’t stitch anything in there as it will ultimately be a seam.)  In this larger view, you can see the borders are beginning to take shape as a formal frame around the wreath:


Next up, I added the ribbon candy design inside another border zone:


In this wider shot, you can see how having different textures inside border zones really adds an element of intricacy.


Notice also that every other border is an empty channel.  This really creates texture and interest, so never underestimate the importance of “empty space” when you’re doing work like this.  The last part of quilting this pillow front is adding some background quilting.  For this pillow, I stitched the rudimentary version of the “Plumify It” design:


NOW we’ve got some real texture going!  And here is the final pillow using straight borders to frame the trapuntoed feathered wreath:


For my next sample, I again utilized the series of borders on a diagonal concept, except this time, I made my border zones curved instead of straight.  Here’s a shot of the pillow top after I’d stitched my initial curved border zones.  I used my Quilters Groove Pro Echo 5 and 8 inch rulers for the borders on this quilt:


…and then I stitched my cornermost circle lines:


And then I began filling in zones.  First up were pearls:


And then I used the inchworm filler which is always a great one if you’re filling  a space whose dimensions are changing:


And then I added a small feather design at the base:


I liked it and figured more border zones would look better so I just kept adding them.  Here’s a completed corner section:


I filled in the remaining “empty space” with the irregular swirl design and here’s a shot of the final pillow from the bottom:


…and here’s a more “upright version” of that same pillow:


I think I like the curved borders better than the straight ones but they were both fun to make!  To celebrate Shopcalgal’s March FMQ Challenge, all retail sales of free motion quilting instructional  DVDs by PTD are 30% off from 3/1/15 through 3/31/15.  To get the discount, just write FMQChall30 in the discount code box during checkout.

And one more thing!  If you’re in the King of Prussia, PA area and want to learn how to do trapunto like this or you’re interested in learning how to free motion quilt, please join me at Steve’s Sew and Vac on 3/27 and 3/28!   You can read about it by clicking here and I promise it will be FUN!!


February 28th, 2015


Holy cow!  It has been over 1 month since my last post and I don’t know where the time has gone.  I’m still here, still kicking, and still quilting!  Sorry for the absence but know that I’ve been working hard AND playing hard and all is well.

When you are testing out new quilt block  designs in MEA, you end up generating lots of quilt blocks as you test.   Sometimes this is because you are making small refinements as you go along and end up making many test blocks and sometimes the block is perfect right from the start but you didn’t have a specific use for the block right away or maybe it was made in colors that didn’t “ring true” to you at the time.  However it happens, you just plain end up with lots of blocks!  Eventually they all seem to make their way into a quilted project, but right now, I have a lot of them, so I’ve been using them up. 


The blocks above are both versions of what I call the “water lily quartet” block.  I was playing around last spring and threw the yellowy-green center design into the block on the right.  I remember thinking at the time that the color was just too loud, but looking at it now in the dead of winter, that color strikes me as just perfect!  I think all the bleak white and grey of winter makes me appreciate loud colors even more.  So, I figured I’d throw that design into the center of this other matching block as well.  It’s very easy to combine embroidery designs, especially when the empty space being filled  is in the dead center of the block.  Here’s how I did this.  Step 1:  Mark the center of the block using a temporary marker:


(In this case, those diagonal lines are leftover from when I did the original MEA.  The soap lines that matter here are the lines that connect the midpoint of each side to the opposite side.)  I keep a file on my embroidery machine that is simply a file to stitch a crosshair in the center of the hoop.  So, in step#2, run that file onto a piece of hooped stabilizer and it will look like this:


Step #4-using  a flat headed straight pin, align the lines on the stabilizer w/the temporary marked lines on your quilt block.  Once you’ve placed foam pin anchors onto those pins to stabilize them, you can add some pins to hold the block in place during embroidery as shown below:


Step #5, after removing the pins and foam pin anchors, the machine will stitch placement outlines for all the applique shapes.  Here’s what they will look like once fused in place:


Step#6-Once the hoop is returned o the machine, the edges are finished and the internal designs are stitched.  Here’s a shot of it on the machine where some of the internal designs have been stitched:


The block is starting to look pretty good now!  And here’s the last shot with these 2 blocks flanking another leftover test block.  Don’t they look great together?


These are part of a large quilt I’m making that is largely made from leftover blocks.  I sure do like how these guys look as a threesome!

And before I go…we just added  a clearance section to our online store where we’re adding items that are being closed out.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone, so get them now!  Earlier today, we added several great instructional DVDs on various tops, mainly on machine quilting.  These are all at 50% off so check them all out by clicking here.


Another Ruler Foot Option for the Babylock Ellisimo and the Brother Quattro

January 22nd, 2015


Wow…when it rains, it pours! I got a nice email today from Debbie Wassenaar of blog and she has been using yet another ruler foot on her Babylock Ellisimo!  She is using an open toe ruler foot but the opening is on the left side.  I’m going to assume that this foot was designed for use on a frame system (hence the odd positioning of the opening on the foot) but it will still work for the sit-down quilter.  Again, we are all out there in the same boat, searching for ruler foot options until our sewing machine manufacturers catch up with us, so this is another option if you are still in search of a foot.  You can find her blog post about the  foot (with a photo so you can see it) by clicking here and you can purchase the same foot on ebay.  Thanks for passing along this info, Debbie!  (You should probably bookmark her blog url since she’s posting some great info about free motion quilting!)

A Ruler Foot for the Home Sewing Machine

January 21st, 2015



One of the most important things about ruler work is having access to a reliable and safe ruler foot.  Unfortunately, most home sewing machine manufacturers are behind on this, so most home sewers don’t have access yet to a ruler foot.  Thanks to Amy Johnson of Amy’s Free Motion Quilting Adventures Blog, we’re learning about some ruler foot options that would not have otherwise occurred to us.  I’ve now experimented with the Janome Convertible Foot and the ruler toe attachment on 5 models of Pfaff sewing machines as well as the Babylock Ellisimo and the Brother Quattro and had fabulous results! These 2 Janome parts may also work on your machine so we made a video that will show you each step I performed to use these parts on the aforementioned machines.



All of the aforementioned machines are low shank machines and I ordered the following 2 parts from

1.  Janome Convertible Foot for Low Shank machines:


2.  Janome Free Motion Quilting Foot Set:


(Remember, determine if your machine is low shank vs high shank before you order anything!)  Now here’s the video that shows every single thing I did for all these machines:



A Pretty New FMQ Border Design

January 18th, 2015
I thought of this border design about 8 months ago and have been intending to stitch it out but everything else kept taking priority. I finally made the time to stitch it out 1 week ago and I love how it came out:
This is basically a series of short straight feathers on a tiny swag stalk.  I think it looks like I traced this from a stencil but I didn’t.  Instead, I made a series of markings that would give me clear boundaries for each “plume unit” and that’s why they appear fairly symmetric.  I started by drawing this onto a piece of scrap paper that would allow me to work on a border of this width:
If you look at the far left side of the drawing, you can see that I also used this to test whether they’d look more symmetric if I stitched them as free-form feathers w/a short straight spine vs stitched them as bump back feathers.  No question about it…they look far more symmetric using the bump back method.  (Google “how to stitch bump back feathers” if you don’t know how.  It will help you to learn as many ways to stitch feathers as you can.)  At the bottom right corner I placed notes about the boundaries I penciled in so I could do this again on another quilt if I liked the look.  These kinds of notes/drawings are worth keeping for the future.  Anyways, what I’m trying to show you is that the easiest way to design a new border design is to work it out on paper first, and this will let you figure out what proportions will work within the confines of the particular border space you are filling.  So, here’s how I marked my border:
It’s not super easy to see, but I drew a light soap line every 2 3/8 inches across the border; this marked the boundary line between each plume unit.  I also marked a soap line 3/8 inch above the bottom edge of the border; this told me how high to stitch my plume “stalks.”  Next, I marked a soap line across the upper part of the border that was 2 1/2 inches above the bottom edge of the border; this was the highest part of the center plume.  (This is an outside border so I needed to keep my stitching out of the area that would ultimately become my binding zone.  Lastly, I drew a tiny mark at the base of the midpoint of each plume “space” as this would assure me of centering each plume unit within its space.  I did the stitching in 2 waves.  In the fist wave, I simply stitched a wave of stalks:
In the second wave, I stitched a second line of stalk and then stitched the center plume and added the remaining plumes.  Once done with a plume unit, I stitched another stalk line to get me to the next area:
Because I had all those boundaries marked, it was very fast to actually stitch out.  I needed to get in the car for a 10 hr drive (which turned into nearly a 12 hr drive because of ending up in an unexpected ice storm), and I wanted this DONE before I left.  Because of that, I kind of wimped out on my 4 cornerstone blocks and just did a simple straight feather in each of those:
…but I’m still ok with how the corners came out.  I did it in 2 waves because my original plan was to hyperquilt the border but I decided this wasn’t the right quit for that.  I’ll probably give that a go the next time I use this border design.  I really like how this wall hanging came out.  It’s one block of the Floral Serenade machine embroidery applique design (you can find that by clicking right here) that just has 2 simple borders surrounding it.  Here are some other shots of it as I was quilting it:
I’m taking my time finishing the binding…I guess I’m not ready to “say good bye” to this quilt!