Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feathers Together

Way back when, about 10 or more years ago, I began quilting freehand feathers with the "echo" technique, leaving a small corridor or space between each feather, and echoing once around the finished design to tie it all together. 

I still love quilting them this way, although longer thin "finger feathers" as in the design above, are a tad difficult to do in a home machine.  Moving the quilt smoothly and keeping that space even isn't easy, but you do develop the skill with repetition and conscious effort.  Concentration is the key, and then it becomes a non-thinking task, more of a muscle memory.

The photo above shows a portion of a small design/quilt I drew, traced, and then quilted with this technique.  If you find it too difficult to do feathers with no marks, then try drawing your own, tracing them to your quilt, and quilting them with the technique.  Quilt on the line for the feather, but echo it back up to the top until you reach the marked top of the next feather, then quilt on that line.  Remember to echo the outside tips of the feathers as the finishing touch.

You can also use stencils and quilt them this way.

In my designs I include fat rounded feathers, long thin ones, feathers that look a bit like real bird feathers with hardly any variation in the width, large and small feathers.  It makes the design interesting to combine a variety of sizes especially, but even shapes.  Don't go overboard on this or it will look very busy and distracting.

The complete design, below, is still one of my favorites.  The good thing about drawing a design is you can tinker with it and get it so it looks right before proceeding to mark and quilt it.  Also, you have it in your drawer of designs to use again and again.


Note the two plumes I added at the bottom to balance the design.  Fun!  The main design was begun with the urn, then I added a branched spine.  Now, I would only draw that much, and quilt the feathers freehand, spontaneously, but at that time I drew them all and traced them. 

I am better at quilting them now, but any feathers, at any time, beginner or advanced, give beauty, movement, elegance, charm to your quilts.

Enjoy your feathers, keep working at them, add them to other designs to keep up your skills.

FMQ Challenge members, good luck in March!  You will enjoy Ann's tutorial.

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Feathers on One Side Only!

I have been looking at the FMQ Challenge results that many of you have posted, and they are fabulous!  There are feather plumes everywhere, all over the world, looking individual, unique, lovely.

Practicing drawing, quilting, going back, trying again, all of you worked so hard and came up with some spectacular results.  The best thing?  You are quilting them already in your quilts. 

They look terrific, and of course, the more you do, and keep at it, and try new things with them, the easier they will be, the better they will become.  Try different threads and needles.  It's always fun to experiment, and yes, it is a process, a journey, and seeing improvement so quickly does keep you going.  I am really happy so many of you are doing quite well with this tutorial.

The echo quilting background I did is more difficult and takes a long time to do.  Simple echoes that repeat the design are easier, with more spacing.  If you use a contrast color thread that shows for the feathers, choose one that matches background for echoes or other background design so the feathers are highlighted, and your "oops moments" in echoes are not as obvious.  But echo quilting is a fabulous technique to learn, so keep at it, love seeing your results.

The hardest thing in doing echo quilting is having good visibility in your home sewing machine.  Some machines make it truly difficult, others are great because of the foot placement, no big thumb screws or added hardware getting in your line of vision.  Big thick plastic feet are hard to see around, as are feet that are not offset from the central post but block your view at "noon."

Time for another idea for your feathers.

The photo, above, is a variation of the feather plume that you can try.  It works placed around anything, other designs, applique, open spaces. 

I used the Perfect Spiral tool by Anita Shackleford at www.thimbleworks.com to trace the spiral lines that became the spines of the feathers as they radiate outwards.  I only traced one line, quilted it out from the base at the echoes around the pile of Headbands (directions in my Quilt Savvy book).  Then at the outer edge, and just as in the spine in the tutorial, I echoed it back to my starting point and then feathered it.

It's easiest to feather on the outside curve, the edge that is like the outside edge of an inflated balloon.  Here I quilted on the left side of the spine and it was the Dreaded Inside Curve, but it is so gentle it is not a problem. This side can be tricky and more difficult as so many of you found. 

This design lets you quilt on either side, pick your "best" side and do that. If you found it was always hard to do one side, but the "other" side was good, pick that side and quilt it in this design. 

You can also quilt this design in plumes, so each line has feathers emerging from it.  Be sure and double the spine so you don't get thread pileups going to a single stitched line.

The feathers also fill the background space, no need for any other quilting that can be so tedious. 

I loved reading someone saying that she decided to quickly add a few more feathers as it decreased the amount of echo quilting!  Something I discovered years ago too.....:-)!

The center part could be an applique, and actually this spiral technique was devised by Anita as an applique block background.  Feathering it is just a way to make it more interesting and give more excitement to the central area.

You could divide a border space with these curves and do areas of this design like a fractured design.  It would not be difficult, it would give you areas to quilt and take a break, and would look new and fresh and interesting.

Yes, you can use straight lines for this if you like, but the soft curves  look so flowing and natural.  And yes, you can sketch these yourself without a tool, give it a try.

Straight lines would be perfect to give an architectural look or more geometry to the feather design. 

The lines control and contain your feather shapes.  You have boundaries for your feather exuberance!  Here you quilt the feathers to fill the space, so deciding on how big to make them is so easy, and they graduate nicely in size too.

I'll keep checking your results on SewCalGal's blog, and ....

Keep quilting!  Your work really does get better every day!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Feather Plumes Linked

If you can successfully quilt one simple feathered plume, you can link them to form a whimsical, organic, gently flowing line of plumes that connect. 

You can also leave a space between each and it will look as if they were dropped casually on the border and landed naturally, like leaves falling from a tree.  This design works well in wider sashing too.

In the sample above I used muslin fabric, Hobbs wool batt, YLI #100 silk thread in a pinky beige color, with background done in ecru silk thread. 

The first plume is quilted, thread is cut.  The second one is done by inserting the needle and beginning at a point at the top of the first, perhaps not on the exact tip, but offset a bit to look natural. 

I curved the second spine in the opposite direction, but they could all be in the same direction and it would look more organized, formal, like a swag.  Your choice.  Or curve them completely randomly, don't even think or plan, just quilt and have it look very natural.

Below, a closeup of the junction of two plumes. 

If you look closely, you will see that each plume is different.  But, to the eye, they look similar because they are about the same size, the spines are the same length.  This gives consistency and smoothness to this design idea.  You can have many differences if the base is the same.  The curves all blend in so the fact that the feathers are not identical simply does not matter. 

Sketch each new spine after you complete a feather plume,  to keep you on track.

You can even plan on more variations.  Add a few spirals in the feathers, exchange one big fat feather for a run of tiny ones in that space (a separate quilting unit).  Try small even feathers on the inside curve, and big flowing ones on the outside.

Devote some practice time to playing with ideas on sample squares.  Use these as your reference library for future quilts.  Sometimes when a quilt is made it is hard to come up with ideas, so go to your samples and see what might work and use one of these ideas. 

Also make your practice pieces large enough to handle well, and quilt samples towards the center.  Small pieces are hard to handle in the machine and it's most difficult to work at the very outside edges.  18" squares work great.

Have fun playing.  It is not wasted time.  It all builds skill and muscle memory.  Charity quilts are good to quilt as well; give them your very best effort, don't be sloppy.  If bad quilting is done because it doesn't matter, it will only reinforce bad habits. 

Devote one quarter of the Super Bowl game to quilting some plumes, perhaps the second quarter.  Then after the game, quilt a few more.  No one will even notice you left the room....

Have a wonderful weekend!

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day,

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Feather Stencils

My first wide stencil for a vining feather in a border!  This dates way back to the early 90's, and it's probably still being made.  When I used it then, I traced it and filled in the gaps with my marker, and quilted it just as it appears because I didn't know I could change things. 

Later I modified it, and finally drew my own vines and feathers.  But this was a great start for me, and now really looks nothing like the feathers I am quilting now, freehand.  But it was great training wheels for me, and at the time I thought it the pinnacle of all things beautiful.

I think the biggest difference between these stencil feathers and my freehand ones or drawn feathers is the angle I use as the feather approaches the spine.  Mine is a much more narrow angle, a long slanting take-off for each feather.  I also include variations in size and scale of the individual feathers.  Below, a photo of a portion of the above stencil, and then how I would change it if I were to use it now.  You'll see the differences in the angles at the spine.

You can see that when the angle is less, the "flow" of the feathers is more smooth, and even the top half-circles are angled in more to the preceding feather.  I did this as I quilted them, didn't bother to draw them in, and used the marked stencil design as a base or guide. 

Originally, feathers were formed by tracing the top half of coins as the hills and hand quilters continued the line by eye with their quilting in a pleasant curve until it met the spine.  The needle was inserted into the batt, and the next feather was begun at the top.  The spine was lightly marked, and the top rounds that formed the feather tops. 

The feathers on the inside curve of the stencil are very awkward looking, and although these might be trickier to learn on your own with no marking, they can look so much prettier than these with a little practice.  But be warned, the inside curve is definitely a tad more difficult to do, with long curving lines to sustain and keep going, with no wobbles or straight lines.  Not easy, but so worth it.

Here is a closer look at my modification of the stencil.  I also always use a double spine to avoid thread pile-ups there from both sides. 

If you use stencils, and now there are so many beautiful ones, you can use my echo technique on them, leaving a small space between each feather and adding one row of echoing around the outer edge, or you can machine quilt them in the traditional way by backtracking over stitching to get to the next feather.  Either ways works just fine, just a matter of preference and skills.

Hope you are having fun working on feathers, although our winter is really spring, and all the snow melted so quilting is taking a rest right now. 

If you are in the free motion quilting challenge with SewCalGal and have questions, please email me or use this blog to ask in the comment section.  I'll try and answer so everyone gets a chance to read the answers.  Good luck everyone!