Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn Leaves, Fall Feathers

Autumn leaves are beginning to appear here in Wisconsin, just touches here and there.  I always like to use fabrics in these colors that I love so much once fall arrives and inspires me. 

I decided to do a small feather frond as a class sample for my upcoming classes at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY.  I just read on their website that there are a few openings in my classes, which are the final ones I'll be doing for awhile.  I have no more scheduled for the future.  If you are interested, give them a call.  The supply list is fairly easy to assemble, and these classes are wonderful, Paducah a great place to visit.

We will be quilting feathers and there are two basic methods I've used over the years, so both are included in the sample, above.

On the right side of the feather, which I quilted first, I began by zipping along from the bottom up and totally forgot I was going to do them the "traditional" way, with no space between each feather.  The first feather on the bottom right does have that space, and then I quickly realized I was already diverging from my plan. 

If something is quilted well, I don't take out the stitches.  If this had been in a "real" quilt, I still would have left it in, and it would blend with the rest and be a bit of a quirky variation on the feather, but not wrong.

I made a quick mental readjustment, and the remaining feathers on the right side, plus the smaller feathers at the top are done the way I had intended.  Each one is quilted, then there is  "backtracking" or "traveling" over the top of that feather or on the center line, or "spine" of the feather, then the next feather is quilted.  This involves precision, experience, control. 

I learned how to quilt them like this in 1990 and quilted them like this for many years, over a decade and more.  I could quilt them quickly and efficiently, but students found it difficult to stay precisely on the previous stitches, and often had feathers that looked messy and uneven.  They were not happy.  I made it look so easy when I showed how to do it, but it takes a bit of repetition and skill to get them so precise.

I like how they look.  Neat and even and compact.  Smooth, classic.

However, I decided there had to be a somewhat easier way, and came up with "Echo Feathers," explained in my Quilt Savvy book. 

Instead of stitching over a previous line of quilting to get to the next feather, when I completed a feather shape and hit the spine, I simply bounced off the spine and echoed the line of the first feather about 1/8" away or less.

When I reached the top of the previous feather I had to create the new feather shape and quilt it, down to the spine once again, building from the bottom of the feather and UP so I could see the feather already quilted in front of the foot and space the next one perfectly.

Upon reaching the top of the design it is important to echo down the outside of the feathers already quilted, that same space that was left between each one, completing the design, and taking you to the bottom.  Then you can quilt around to the other side and begin building feathers from the bottom up, on the left side.

I could quilt these quickly, at one even smooth speed.  I rarely had to slow down, maybe just a bit at the spine for the bounce into the next feather shape. 

The left side has the echo feathers.  There is a small space between each one.  Sometimes this technique seems to define each feather more and make it stand out.  It is faster, and most students can master this with some effort. 

Try drawing them, use a stencil and quilt around those lines to get the flow and shape of the design in your mind.  It's impossible to quilt something with no marking if you don't know the shape.  Practice them, look at what's wrong, correct it, practice some more.  Draw, draw, draw.  Quilt, quilt, quilt.

Some beginners at feathers can only do two at a time and then they begin to deteriorate or become funky.  The answer to this is to quilt two, stop the machine, take a breath, look at what you've done, proceed to the next two.  Soon you will be able to do more at a time, and finally entire rows of feathers with no problem at all.

They look especially lovely like the one above as "leaves."  Instead of large leaves in designs, try some feathers instead.  Tuck some tiny feathers in your leaf designs.  Use leaves with feather designs! 

Get out some of the beautiful fall colors you've saved and mix in your other favorites for something fun to quilt.  I always tell my classes to "practice" on fabrics and colors you love.  You'll do better work.

Some will quilt feathers better and easier the old-fashioned way, and some will love the echo technique.  One isn't necessarily better or easier, just different.  Give it a try!

And keep quilting, your work gets better every day!