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!


Barb said...

I enjoyed your post at Sew Cals, and really like this one as well, such a wealth of information. Thanks so much for taking the time to do these extensive post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your "lessons". So easy to follow your instructions. Could you maybe be more specific on forming the feathers on the inside curves? Thank you again. If my work is 1/4 as beautiful as your, I'll be one happy broad.

Marty Bryant said...

Again Diane, YOU are the master, thank you for continuing to teach and help others trying to achieve at least some success at feathering. Wonderful material at SewCals and also on this blog. Thank you for your time and continue support of passing along the information of how to.

Colleen Lunt said...

I am in the challenge. I read that you use pale yellow thread on ecru muslin. What color do you like to use on white?

Diane Gaudynski said...

Thanks everyone, hope feathers will become easy and natural for you too.

Maggie, I'll try and do a post about inside curves. I think they are the most beautiful but also a bit tricky to do, but within everyone's reach, definitely.

Colleen, for white fabric white thread would give you a crisp, classic look, really clean and pretty. Mistakes are minimized, you see the puff of the designs, and don't focus on individual stitches.

Also, a soft, light low-contrast shade of thread that would blend with other colors used in the quilt would look good: lilac, beige, blue, soft rose, ecru (love ecru on white), pink, gold or soft yellow, etc. Do some trials and see what YOU prefer; there are no steadfast rules. Some prefer high contrast on white, like navy or red, but I don't, just my preference.

If quilting thread is very heavy, then a bright color (lime green!) or contrasting color would look fine, more like redwork embroidery. Then choosing a fine thread like silk or fine cotton for background quilting in white would set it off.

What I do is make some samples and quilt with a variety of threads to see what I like best. Place these on the quilt and you'll know right away what the quilt needs.

This isn't wasted time, but time that builds your skill level. Label and save these samples in a drawer or box and use them for future reference.

And thanks Marty for your support and enthusiasm!

Kay Lynne said...

Diane--I'm in the challenge to and want to compliment you on such a great tutorial. I'm not a beginner to feathers, but I'm always working on improvement. Thanks for sharing your talent with us. I fell in love with feathers when your first free motion quilting book first came out :)

Diane Gaudynski said...

Kay Lynne, Thanks so much! I think all the tutorials will offer new insights to our quilting so everyone can learn or improve or get a fresh take on things.

Ruth said...

Fabulous tutorial. You are always inspiring.
Saving the samples helps me see my improvement!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Thanks Ruth! Samples are good, keep them for reference, toss them out when you have moved on. They do tend to accumulate.....

SewCalGal said...

Excellent insights on using a stencil for feathers and how to look out for the angle of the feather. Thanks, I'll share a link to this post in the Facebook group for the 2012 FMQ Challenge.


Connie Kresin Campbell said...

What a wonderful tutorial and great tips! I'm in the challenge and hope to make some beautiful feathers!

Bouts Choisis said...

Looking at the tutorial the first time caused a sharp intake of breath but I will learn - I'm determined!I am so grateful to you for giving us an idea of a good stitch size for FMQ related to a machine stitch setting. I know now that I should be aiming at something a little smaller than I was stitching before. It is so difficult to get an idea of scale just from photos and videos etc. I have stitched a piece with the 1.8 stitch setting engaged to place beside me a I FMQ as a reference point. Your advice is much more practical than "aim for even stitches that are not too big and not too small" which I've seen in many places.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Bouts, glad the stitch length info helped. I will try and give more detailed numbers and info in the future too. Larger stitches work best with heavier threads, so the finer the thread, the smaller the stitches. Also, smaller stitches create more puff in the designs. Be careful and avoid very tiny stitches when hands slow and machine keeps running full speed; slow or stop machine when you are thinking or get in a tight spot.

Diane Gaudynski said...

What a great idea! Thank you for so much information...I do believe I can tackle this now without the feeling of failure lurking!

Shirley in Canada left this comment, and I accidentally deleted it, so am posting it here. OOPS!

And thanks everyone, I think you'll do great on these plumes.

Sue Halter said...

I am in the Challenge and have so far only done a couple sew outs of the feathers. It is so hard for me right now! But that's the purpose of the challenge. I have found that I must force myself to stop. I get so intent on getting the next feather better than the last, that I'm not taking any breaks until I get to the top of the spine. Sigh... Thanks so much for this feather challenge, Diane.

Sue Halter
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