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.
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.
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.