Week in Review 2019 – 11/15

I love free motion quilting. Although, this was not always true. I recall my first feeble attempts. I took a class with Harriet Hargrove, one of the early pioneers transitioning from hand quilting to machine quilting. Was anyone doing free motion quilting then? This must have been in the mid to late ’90’s.

Sunrise Over the Gulf River is quilted.
Free Motion Quilting Roots

Early machine quilting fell into two broad categories. There was stitch in the ditch. This followed seam lines. The alternate method consisted of designs that could be done with a single, albeit frequently “complex” line. Just as free hand quilting might require marking, so did continuous line quilting. Hari Walner provided a treasure trove of continuous line quilting patterns. I purchased several of her pattern collections. They have come in handy when making gift quilts. A particularly useful one is “Designs for Our Children“, which is copyrighted 1994.

Sky motif used in Sunrise over the Gulf River
Learning the basics

What I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around was free motion quilting. Big shout out to Leah Day. I spent a solid year doing her “Quilt Along with Leah”. Leah is a genius at breaking down all things free motion quilting. She provides 500 free motion quilting motifs, each with video instructions, on her website. I can’t tell you how many times I found the perfect free motion quilting motif thanks to Leah. Now, I am able to retrieve and modify free motion quilting motifs without the aid of this handy reference. That’s growth.

The water is quilted more intensely than any other area of the quilt.

Another gift I received from working through a year of free motion quilting with Leah, is the ability to enjoy the rhythm of free motion quilting. It is truly a zen time for me. The world slips away and I in the moment. Yes, I love free motion quilting.

How to choose a quilting motif

I chose three different free motion quilting motifs for Sunrise Over the Gulf River. Clouds floating across the sky, my own design, fills the sky. Half the fun is the variety of cloud shapes I can achieve simply as the mood strikes. Quilting the water was an easy chose. Long undulating lines give a sense of a gentle breezes rippling the water. The toughest decision came with the marsh. I opted for more open lines with occasional spikes to suggest the tufts of grasses and other vegetation.

Whereas, the marsh is barely quilted at all.

Note how the intensity of the quilting varies by section. This is no accident. The densest quilting is the water. This helps the water to move back, or be the lowest point of the image. The sky is more loosely quilted. It should still recede, but not quite as much as the water. Finally, the loosest quilting of all is the marsh land. The result is a very subtle trapunto effect, allowing the marsh to “stand up”.

This image highlights the variety of motifs and the bas-relief effect achieved with quilting.
Your thoughts

When you think about how to quilt, do you choose an all over design, quilt by sections, enhance the natural lines suggested by the image, or do something I haven’t even suggested? I would love to hear your thought process. Do you love to free motion quilt, too?

I am linking up with Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Fridays.

By Gwyned Trefethen

I am an artist who uses fabric, thread and miscellany to create designs gifted to me by my imagination.


  1. I confess I am not good at free-motion; I’ve tried both “McTavishing” and Leah Day’s practices and have abandoned them. I think this lack of enthusiasm stems from my not liking dense quilting in any way. The wide skies out here are often so clear and clean that the thought of putting even wavy lines through an interpretation of them bothers me — but I do it because there has to be at least *some* quilting in a sky, denoting air movements invisible to the eye. Most of my “free-motion” work is actually thread painting — on tree trunks, or hills, or whatever. And definitely for tiny tree branches. Then there’s the “free motion” randomness I use to tack down tiny pieces of fused fabric denoting leaves or petals. But…on the whole…while I admire it in others’ work, and sometimes feel guilty that I don’t quilt more densely — free motion or otherwise — it’s just not what appeals to me for my work.

    1. I could probably use some of your restraint on my landscape pieces. I do like to add details, especially the finer tree branches and twigs with thread painting.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Comments are closed.