The second Saturday in August I will be teaching a Freeform Feather Workshop for my guild, Ocean Waves. I began preparing for the class by pulling examples of quilted feather designs that I stitched freeform (or freehand). As I studied these quilts I began to write my notes. The notes expanded into a handout. The next thing I know the handout became a 50 page workbook. I am a huge fan of quilted feathers. They are so beautiful, and once you get the hang of if, so easy to stitch it's impossible to not fall in love with them.
Feathers are made up of three parts, the Base of the Spine, the Spine, and the Individual Feathers.
There are endless variations of Spines.
The Individual Feathers set the tone for the design.
Practice drawing feathers. It's an easy way to try out design ideas and it teaches your muscles the "feather motion". Eventually, all you will need to mark is a guide for the Spine, and maybe the outer boundaries.
When you are ready to commit thread to fabric, your choice of materials is critical to your success. Machine quilting is unlike other quilt making techniques in that skill cannot overcome inferior materials. Select the best quality thread, fabric, and batting that you can afford. For example, investing in Tuscany Wool batting gives feathers a stuffed (trapunto) effect that cannot be achieved with another, less expensive batting. Stitching in a fine, silk or cotton thread, or a high quality invisible nylon thread hides a multitude of sins. These threads are so forgiving that you don't even need to stick to the same color as the background for the stitches to look lovely.
I stitched my first free motion, freehand feathers several years ago right after I took my first class with Diane Gaudynski. If you ever get the opportunity to take a class with Diane, run, don't walk to sign up. I never would have had the confidence to try freehand feathers without Diane's instruction. My feather shapes are little jerky and the thread choice is not ideal but for my first effort I was quite pleased. The little quilt, Pretty in Pink, (25 inches square) was stitched using commercial Moda cottons, Cherrywood hand-dyes, Tuscany Wool batting, and YLI #100 silk thread on my Bernina 440QE using the BSR.
A few years later I was fortunate enough to take a machine quilting class with Sharon Schamber. I showed up to class with my 440QE and the BSR. Sharon immediately zeroed in on the BSR and asked me to try putting it way for the class. She approach is more along the lines of "Zen and the Art of Quilting". She was absolutely right. I found I actually had more control and more freedom to maneuver without the BSR than with it. It was like taking the training wheels off of your bicycle. Since then I have never used the BSR again. However, like the training wheels and learning to ride a bike, without the BSR, I never would have learned to free motion quilt. The Iris quilt on the left is my first freehand, free motion, none BRS, effort. The pattern is by Alice Wilhoit. The Iris is stitched using commercial fabrics, Tuscany Wool batting, DMC #50 cotton machine embroidery thread. Again, it's far from perfect, but the owner, my good friend LaVerne, loves it as if it were. And, it shows improvement.
Since then, I have taken more classes with Diane and I have forced myself to machine quilt as many pieces as possible with as little marking as possible. The exception is Diane-shiko that requires a marked grid. Here is a close-up of my last free motion, mostly free hand quilted piece. It is a whole cloth design on RJR Sateen, quilted on my Bernina 830 using Tuscany Wool batting and YLI #100 silk thread. For those of you that own a Bernina 830 and like to use (our would like to experiment with) fine threads for free motion quilting, check with your dealer to make sure that the latest software update is installed on your machine. Bernina recently adjusted the software to specifically address the challenges of stitching with extra fine threads.
I hope this blog entry inspires you to try freehand feathers, or at least free motion quilting. If you are a true beginner, it may be a little overwhelming to to do it on your own so sign up for a class at your local shop or guild. Once you get the hang of free motion quilting you will never look back!
Until next time....
Mercy in Miami