Thanks for all your enthusiasm and comments about my upcoming tutorial for SewCalGal's Free Motion Quilting Challenge! I know many taking part are beginners, and also many are experienced quilters, so I had to aim for all levels in my explanation of quilting a feather plume.
The sample, above, is done with #100 YLI silk thread on silk dupioni, Hobbs wool batt, and I made it about 10 or more years ago when I first started quilting feathers freehand after years of drawing and tracing my own feather designs, and before that using stencils.
It still looks fine. I would do it a bit differently now (the spacing on the spiral at the base of the spine is too close, should have more puff to make it stand out from the background), but don't be afraid to learn this technique and use it right away on your quilts. The only way you'll improve and be smooth and confident is to quilt tops. Repetition on a real quilt is the key.
Some things we should remember:
Feathers are unique to the quilter, but they do have some basic things in common.
The "flow" of the feather or elegance is based on the angle that is formed as it touches (yes, it must touch) the spine, or central line. My feathers have a narrow angle, maybe about 20 degrees or less, depending on the curve of the spine. You will find many stencil feathers come to the spine at a much bigger angle, more than 45 degrees. I call this angle the "tilt" of the feather and like to keep mine very tilted. I'll try and find a stencil that has chunkier feathers for you to see, and show it in a future post.
I include both long, fat, thin, large and small feathers in a plume to make it look more interesting and natural. It's not necessary to do this if it is easier for you to make them all the same, but many quilters like the "no restrictions" of feathers in all sizes.
Avoid straight lines. If there is one straight line in 40 feathers, the eye will go right to that. Always try and curve the lines gently, not abruptly. It sounds easy, but all of us tend to see "home" and head straight towards it. In my tutorial there is one straight line feather - you'll probably see it right away, but I left it in and continued.
The echo space between each feather needs to be very consistent and even, as if you have a twin-needle in the machine. This looks really hard, but in reality it is a resting time as you quilt, as you don't have to think about where you are going.
A nice medium speed is good; too fast and you get out of control, too slow and the line isn't smooth. Look ahead of the needle, create the space and make that even. Don't look at the stitches.
There will always be some "odd" feathers in your design. Don't worry about them! With all the swirls and curves, one strangely shaped feather won't stand out. If they are all strange, perhaps you have invented an entirely new design.....!
If you quilt one side of the feather better than the other, start on the good side first the next time. Take a break, just a few minutes, before doing the second side, and really think about where you want to quilt, the shape you will make. Concentrate!
It's ok to stop, needle down, take a breath, then proceed. This isn't quilting where your life or income depends on it; this is fun. It will go faster as you get better and more experienced.
Be very careful when you resume quilting, start slowly so the needle doesn't jump to a new spot. I usually begin by raising the needle and then starting so I'm sure the needle is in the right place. On my Bernina I do this by touching my heel to the foot control - needle is raised, or lowered with that action.
Make small plumes for practice, with a spine about 5" long. Make several. Take a break, start a new practice sandwich, then make some more. If you do one incorrectly and then try a new one next to it, your eye will see the bad one and reproduce it one more time. Get a new sample so you start fresh.
Remove thread tails so they don't get in the way or distract you.
When you reach the spine don't keep running the machine if you are not sure where to go next. A knot of thread will build up top or back or both in about 3 stitches, so stop the machine, readjust hands, figure out your plan, then proceed.
I hope these tips will help you, even if you are not in the Challenge. Quilting feathers is a beautiful thing, something that not only is relaxing but also fills your quilts with lovely designs and gets them finished before you know it.
Snow here in Wisconsin, beautiful flocked trees, blue skies and sun. Time to quilt!