Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celtic Bubbles ~ Tutorial

"Celtic Bubbles"

It's a blustery miserably cold day here so I did some quilting and took some photos of this beautiful design.  I have taught it in classes for years but never published it.  It's one of those universal patterns, found in all areas of design from textiles to concrete.  You may look down at your bathroom towel and see it in terry, or be wiping your feet on a doormat that is made up of this design! 

I first quilted it many years ago, sitting at my machine and doodling around, warming up, usually after an oiling so I get all the excess worked through before working on my project in the machine.  I did it on muslin, and it looked so amazing I pinned it to the wall, thinking that someday I would use it in a quilt. 

There are variations of this I'll do in a future post.  Students either prefer the circles, above, or other shapes that might be easier for them.  Circles are fairly easy even for beginners, and the only difficult part is the tiny bit of travel as one Bubble collides with another.

"Shadow Leaves" with floating Celtic Bubbles

Currently I prefer to fill in all spaces with the design, or arcs from it in the odd spaces left between circles.  However, originally I "floated" the bubbles across the surface, much like blowing bubbles, how they appear floating in the air, seen in photo, above.  Some were clustered, some were solitary, and the spaces between them had to be filled.  I used a close background like bananas or stippling, but now fill in with portions of other circles as it looks better to me and is SO much FASTER. 

The feather, above, was a sample from my class demo piece.  I started filling in with Celtic Bubbles around it to see if it would be do-able as a background fill, and it is.  In the future I think I would make sure the last echo around a design is the same color thread used for the Bubbles, so the travel stitching on that last echo would not show as much. 

This design goes fairly fast.  It is not continuous.  Each spiral is one complete unit.  Each one is begun in the center.  Work out from that first circle, echoing it, keeping spacing even.  When you finish each one it is necessary to cut the threads and start a new one a short distance away. 

One of the key factors for success in this design is that you MUST stop after each one and cut the threads.  This small interruption in your work keeps your focus at a high level, gives you a small break, lets you look at your work and see what to change as you move on.  I find that the quality of the finished work is so worth having to cut the thread for each unit you quilt. 

Students have had spectacular results.  Trust me.

Quilting the Design:

I began my sample by marking a 6" square on a larger piece of fabric, layered with wool batt, and muslin for backing.  Give yourself plenty of room at the edges to hold the quilt. 

I am using #100 chartreuse silk thread for the quilting on a lilac cotton sateen.   Starting at a left bottom area/corner works well for most designs as it is easiest to build the design to the right and UP. Try and do the first bubble in a fairly inconspicuous spot as it will probably not be your best one.  Here I can end my first spiral at a line, and if you quilt it in open space, you must end the final row by merging into a previous round, and then cut threads, see photo below.  This way is better so there is no problem with ending the spiral.

Center spiral below was the first one quilted with the final round merged back into the spiral, threads cut.  It's better to start at the bottom so your first spiral isn't the focal point!

After a few rounds stitching over the thread tails, see photo above, I stop and cut the threads before proceeding. Thread tails are a visual distraction and every time you approach them while quilting you might veer off course, slow down, speed up, something.  

However if you HATE to stop and lose your momentum and concentration, it is fine to wait until the single bubble is complete and then cut those thread tails at the center.

My best advice for the start of this design is to relax, and don't think too much about which dirction to spiral.  I sometimes quilt my spirals clockwise and sometimes counter-clockwise; there is no right or wrong. 

It's nice to be consistent throughout the design, so don't decide which way you will circle, just begin and do it.  Your body does what is natural.  In this exercise I seem to have quilted them all counter-clockwise!  But I have been known to take a break, come back, and quilt in the other direction.  It all adds to the character of the quilt....do not worry about it.

OK, let's begin!  Insert needle, pull up bobbin thread, hold both threads gently with left finger.  I take about 7 very small stitches to begin and then cut the thread at the quilt surface.  If you choose to bury thread tails, leave them long, bury later. 

Start out at a slower controlled even speed.  My spacing is a fat 1/8" or can go up to a scant 1/4".  Try to keep within that zone as greater spacing will be a bit more difficult, especially on a home machine and for the first time you try this. 

This first circle you quilt is very important as it establishes the shape for the entire first "Bubble."  If you quilt an egg shape as you begin, the Bubble will be egg shaped.  And that is fine.  Don't obsess over getting perfect circles; just go for it and try and make the spiral evenly spaced with good even stitches.

After cutting the thread tails, carefully begin quilting and continue echoing the spiral. 

Quilt until you hit something - another spiral (in the future after this one is done), and here, the blue marked line, or in a quilt, a seam, edge, quilting design, applique, edge of piecing, etc.  When you get to that edge or stopping point, slow down a bit, stitch on it, and travel to the place where you continue the next round. 

Here I have hit the blue line and filled in the corner with short parallel arcs, keeping the spacing as even as I can.  Don't worry too much if the spacing isn't exactly the same.  After you've quilted more of the Bubbles, it will all look so much better. 

My sprials are not perfect in this sample.  My excuse is I lost momentum and concentration because I had to stop and take photos.  I also got really upset when my machine started doing odd things, skipping stitches, doing funny jumping things with the needle.  It turned out I had bumped my screen with the small light I was using for photos, and turned on some weird combi-stitch.  I rebooted and was ok, but my quilting was shaky for a round or two.

Cut the threads.

Next step:  Begin the second Bubble, photo above. 

Insert needle less than an inch from the outside of the first spiral you just finished.  Begin the same way, establish the circle design for a few rounds, stop and cut threads, and spiral away.

Tip!  If you begin the second motif too far from the outer edge of the first one, the second one will become extremely large, look out of place, and be way more difficult to quilt on a home machine.  Longarmers won't have this issue though.

Here I have stopped and will cut the threads.

Continue spiraling, perhaps increasing machine speed so the curved lines are smooth.  Be careful not to move hands faster as you spiral out, or the stitches will increase dramatically in size.  

  • The small even stitches help maintain smoothness of design, and create "puff" in the finished design.  
  • Large stitches let the puff leak out and your spirals will be flat. 

Now we begin "layering" the Bubbles. As you spiral around the second one, quilt until you collide with the adjacent Bubble, the first one you quilted. Slow down a bit, and stitch on the outside line of that first Bubble out to where you can continue the correct spacing and quilt the next spiral.  This technique makes it appear that the second spiral is partially hidden by the first one, or "layered."

Above, I have hit the first Bubble and stopped.  I will quilt on that line, to the left a few stitches to establish spacing, then quilt away from that point, around my spiral, below.

The catch is, you will be reversing your direction here.  You collided with the first Bubble as you quilted towards it, then stitched on it to the left, and now are quilting back away from that first Bubble. 

Tip:  Don't turn the quilt.  
  • You may tweak its position in the machine a bit to see better, but it's best to look behind the foot and estimate the spacing.  
  • Do not look at the needle.  You will get better at this with practice.  I ask you not to turn this small sample (even though it would be soooooo easy to do it) so that you build your skill and when a larger quilt is in your home machine, you will know how to quilt away from yourself and do it correctly and easily.

Do the same thing as you come around the spiral and hit the first Bubble on the lower side.  Slow a bit, stitch on the last line of that first Bubble, then quilt away from it keeping the spacing even, around to the other side.  

Isn't this so pretty??!!

Tip:  An open-toe foot really lets you see the line you are traveling on so this small amount of two sets of stitches will not be noticeable.  It would be extremely time consuming to cut threads when you hit another line, so this method works well to get you to the next round of the spiral.

Keep going as many rounds as look right to you.  Some Bubbles are larger, some smaller; this makes the design interesting.  The larger the Bubble becomes, the more difficult to quilt that huge curve on a home machine.  Be aware as the Bubble increases in size, you might tend to make straighter lines and lose the nice round you began with.  Longarm quilters will have an easier time with these large shapes.

Here are the first two Bubbles (or spirals, but Bubbles float so nicely....) completed.  Threads will be cut at the quilt after tiny overlapping stitches on a previous line of quilting are made to lock them in.  Note that my final big round is beginning to flatten out a bit.  I knew it was time to quit and begin a THIRD BUBBLE, below. 

Tip:  You might want to take a small break now, pat yourself on the back and look at those gorgeous spirals before starting Bubble #3.

Here I began the third Bubble, and quilted to the right as far as I liked because I ran out of room to do a complete spiral.  I traveled on the blue marked line (a ditch or seam in a real quilt), and on the last quilted line of my second Bubble on the top part.  I stopped, cut the threads, and will fill in the space at the bottom next.

All filled in!  Keep going like this, beginning the next center less than an inch out from a quilted spiral edge.  Keep going, fill in spaces, take breaks if you need to.  You can see that the areas stitched twice are hardly noticeable.

The color of the fabric is affected by the lighting.  Under the needle it is in fluorescent light from the machine, and the photo above is natural light.

More Bubbles completed!!  A stack of Bubbles.....

I could stop now at this point of the design, and do another design in the top portion, or continue adding spirals, filling in odd spaces, always traveling over another line to get to my next row.  Sometimes, alas, you do get into a spot where you must cut the threads.  It doesn't happen often, but accept it, move on, look across the room to refresh your eyes, pet your cat or dog. 

Complete!!  Not all round, not all perfect, but very pretty.

The entire square is now filled with these lovely Bubbles.  There is depth and dimension, so much texture and visual interest.  This design even shows up well on prints.  Any parallel line quilting will show well on most fabrics. 

The design is not marked.  It goes fast, stands alone as a terrific design, or can be used as background.  It's harder to do that, but not impossibly difficult.  Instead of colliding with another spiral, you will be colliding with a quilted design such as a feather or anything else you have quilted and want to set off nicely.  You do need some space to make this design show or it will be fragmented too much in small spaces.


  • Because the lines are arcs and not straight, this design doesn't distort or push/pull excess fabric and batt to form pleats.  If you find as you approach a quilted line from the previous spiral and excess is building up a bit, slow down and allow the fabric to ease into your quilting.  Also reduce the pressure on the foot just a bit so the free motion foot will float over the excess fabric.

  • Quilt at a nice even speed.  You might increase the speed as you get comfortable, or as the spirals increase in size.  If you go too slow, the stitches get HUGE.  Speed up the machine, slow down your hands.

  • Slow down for the traveling stitches so you are accurate.  This design looks so beautiful if you can't see where you had to stitch twice.

  • On the bigger spirals you will have to stop and move your hands.  Stop the machine as well.  Then begin slowly and I even stitch once or twice  "in place" and then proceed to eliminate the tell-tale wobble when you have to start and stop in the middle of a stretch of quilting.

  • Work on spacing.  Visualize the path or "puff" between the rows of stitching, not the lines themselves.  Look down the path not at the needle.

  • Quilt at a speed that gives you control, good spacing, and even stitches.  Your speed will increase as you become comfortable. 

  • In a Real Quilt, the marked square would first be quilted to stabilize it and prevent the square from becoming distorted.  It might be a corner square, part of a pieced block, a section of border and the ditches would be quilted first for stabilization.

  • Don't get discouraged, keep going.  The only way to become good at this is to do it often, each day for awhile, until it is natural.  Locking the technique into muscle memory is important.  As soon as you become fairly pleased with your work, use it on a REAL QUILT.  Don't put the sample away and move on.  Make a small piece using this design to see how it looks in something REAL.

Above is a piece of fabric with this design I bought at The Back Porch quilt shop in Pacific Grove, CA.  I had a senior moment and left my package on a bench in town while waiting for a cab, and someone found it, came out to Asilomar where I was teaching and left it at the desk, where it was delivered to me in the main hall that very evening by a handsome park ranger!  I was thrilled.  Of course I bought it because it was a great sample of this quilting design.

Below, a towel I bought when I saw the design.  I couldn't resist, and then the purple pillow from just after Christmas, same story.  The rounds on the pillow are from a digitized design/machine and each round is complete, rather than a spiral that is continuous.

Fortunately these things were very inexpensive....!  You can find the design in many places, it's classic and wonderful and is any style of quilting, from funky and modern to classic formal quilting. 

Good luck with your quilting, let me know how it goes.  My email is dianequilter@sbcglobal if you have a finished sample photo for me to see.  Post questions in comments, and I'll do a future post and answer them for all to read. 

 Meanwhile, warm up the machine, give it some oil, make up a bunch of layered samples, and give this a try.  I'll post variations of the design for you to try next time.

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every freezing day.....


Brita said...

I'm thrilled you're back and doing tutorials, and Oliver seems to back in true form. Can't wait to try the spirals, so interesting!

thatchristine.blogspot.com said...

Thank you Diane. To have your talent is amazing to share your talent with others, even more so.

Quilting Babcia said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful detailed tutorial! I plan to try this soon, that is as soon as the queen size wedding quilt is out from under the needle!

KathieB said...

Love this, Diane. It looks very achievable even when done by a hack like myself! Hope all is good with you and yours....

Sheila said...

Such a timely post Diane. 3 weeks ago , whist at the movies i photographed the carpet in the foyer thinking what a great quilting design it would make. It was of these overlapping circles. Thank you for your clear guidelines.

2ne said...

Love your tutorial and look forward to try it :-)

Joan said...

Thank you for the wonderful tutorial Dianne, it is so appreciated and definitely on my to do list. I am looking forward to having a go with it.

Karen said...

I am going to try this soon. I don't have any 100 thread, but I'll use the thinest I have. Thanks for sharing.

SewCalGal said...

You have always stitched beautiful bubbles. And, I do love the floating effect. Very visually stimulating. Thanks for such a wonderful tutorial. I definitely want to master this one.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for yet another awesome tutorial! =)

Diane Gaudynski said...

Thanks everyone, and if you can't try this now, you can always come back, it will be here online, and do it when you have a free bit of time.

You can use heavier thread for this too. The travel areas might show up a bit more, but if that is the thread you like, go right ahead.

Variegated thread sometimes gets messy looking because the travel areas might be two colors one on top of another, probably will be two colors actually, and it starts to look a bit muddled and messy, a thread pileup.

I just quilted another sample and didn't have to stop for the photos, and it is much better. Also, I am warmed up, back in the groove, and things are going better. I had a long break for supper, and then quilted the same motif and that always works for me to build skill level. The second time is almost always much much better and easier.

Anonymous said...

Dear Diane,

Thanks for your clear tutorial. I've loved your recent posts--especially your new spring accessories. I took a class from you at Asilomar about 3 years ago, and I hear your voice in my head whenever I machine quilt. Thanks so much for sharing your considerable knowledge.

Martha said...

Love this design, looks like such fun!!! I'll be trying it out soon. Thank you so much for the lesson!!

Martha said...

Love this design, looks like such fun!!! I'll be trying it out soon. Thank you so much for the lesson!!

liz said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm trying to get up the nerve to do some machine quilting. I've read your book now I need to get brave and do it.

Linda E in NM said...

Thanks for the great tutorial - I'll have to try this as the circles are very cool!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Liz, just do it!

These circles are not only cool, but not all that hard. It's also fun to work on your machine quilting by doing something that is fun and will give you a design you can use in so many ways in your work. My competent beginners did this beautifully.

tesuque said...

"Shadow Leaves" has convinced me to float Celtic bubbles across a multi-colored hand-dyed fabric I like too much to cut up.

Gini Ewers said...

What a great post. You are an exceptional teacher. Can't wait to get to my machine!

Laura T said...

Thank you for such a wonderful inspiring post. I have time this weekend to do some quilting and I'm definitely going to practice this design. Thanks for posting this great tutorial:)

Jeanne in Ohio said...

Thanks for such a complete tutorial. I appreciate all the detail, because it helps me understand what I'm attempting. I hope to try this very soon.

Sally said...

What a nice tutorial! Thank you for taking the time to make it so detailed. Lovely work, as usual. Always nice to see a blog from you.

Danih03 said...

Do you bury your threads, or just cut them?

Diane Gaudynski said...

Danielle, because I am using very very fine thread, #100 silk, I cut the threads at the quilt after taking about 7 very very tiny stitches, not on top of one another, but as close as I can get them. A seam ripper works great for this; be sure it's sharp and new.

If you use heavier threads, you might want to leave the tails long, and bury them.

Jessim said...

I tried emailing you my sample picture, but it said the email was denied. Is your email address .net and not .com? (You didn't say in the post).

Anyway- I really love the design. My sample is in my blog post here: http://skittl1321.blogspot.com/2013/03/is-this-quilt-art.html (The other block shown in this post includes Diane-shiko; your designs seem to have really inspired this particular quilt.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Jessim, my email is dianequilter@sbcglobal.net.
My .net address isn't working; must contact them and see what's what.

I lookd at your quilting on your blog and is WONDERFUL! And, you said after you did all those Celtic Bubbles your stitches are getting more even. That is exactly what happens with this design and when you do a lot of them, which you did. I'm so pleased, thanks for sharing :-)

Leah said...

What a beautiful design Diane! I never would have thought to break thread with each and every one, but you're definitely right - to travel from the center back out would definitely result in a different look to the design.

NinaMe said...

Hello, Diane! I just joined your readers. I love these Bublles :) very much. I was surprised to find that you start each of them from a new point. I used to think that the designs should be connected with each other as much as possible.

Terry said...

Thank you so much for this excellent tutorial! I live in northern WI and would love too be able to take a workshop with you sometime. I looked at your website but didn't see any recent ones on the schedule. Do you still do them?

Annex said...

Oooooo I love this. I saw something like it and about a year ago tried to do it and it looked okay. I didn't know about cutting thread between each bubble. Need to try this. Like the layered look.