Free Motion Quilting: Designing Motifs and More!

motifs

Rob demonstrates how to create and mark out design motifs and patterns for free motion quilting on a home sewing machine. He shows us how to use a General’s brand soft chalk pencil, rulers, plexiglass, and dry erase markers to make feather, line, fan, bubble, and circle patterns!

Get the supplies needed here: https://www.missouriquiltco.com/land/mansewing/quilting-motifs

Video Transcript (Downloadable PDF Here): 

When I first got into free motion machine quilting my favorite thing to do was literally shove the quilt in the machine and just kind of go for it kind of freestyle. But I’d also pull the quilt back out and there’d be areas I wasn’t in love with. One of the things I’m doing nowadays is spending a little more time marking out specific motifs and designs within the quilt top before I ever get ready for the free motion machine quilting. And today I’m going to show you how to do just that.

I am so excited to share with you some of these fun motifs we’re going to mark out this sampler quilt. So yes, I’ve built us a quilt that was very large so I could show you how to quilt this inside of a small domestic machine. But that’s a little ways down the road. What we have to first do is figure out what we’re going to quilt and where we’re going to quilt it. And I must compliment Miss Angela Walters on this theory. She taught me this awhile ago when I was reading through this fantastic free motion workbook. A lot of us look at our whole quilt as an Oh my goodness, what are we going to do over the whole quilt? And we really do not need to do that. We just need to focus on one small area at a time. Put down a motif and enjoy quilting that section and move on. When I’m quilting at home, I actually start by making a couple of very large sets of markings first so I kind of segment up the quilt. So I know where I want to work. Then I quilt that section. So and then I come back and add more markings. That’s keeps us from knocking the markings off the quilt. And it also allows me just to focus on what I am excited about the most.

So the first thing I usually use is a very soft chalk pencil. This is the General’s brand pencil. And I want it to be soft because my quilt top is already all basted. You see the safety pins which means there is backing and batting underneath so it’s a little bit of a squish. So usually I’m using the 18 millimeter chalk pencil, but I like a little bit softer pencil so it marks nicely on my quilt. So one of the things I built into this quilt was, was a few sections where I want to practice doing feathers. I want to learn to do feathers better myself. So in this area I’m going to start and basically draw out just a line that’s going to represent kind of the vein of that feather, right? And this I want it to be a little wider at the base and come in a little bit narrower. And all of the lines we’re doing today are simply guidelines. You’re not going to have to stay right on here. But this is going to help us stay focused on the motif we’re doing in that area. So this would be the start of a feather. And then with feathers, there’s all kinds of different directions we can take our swirls. So maybe for this one I just want to mark that I want my swirls heading as half shells. We’re going to work a lot with circular design. And you’ll notice I’m also just kind of giving myself a path to follow as I come through. And I want it to be symmetrical. So we’re going to mark in a simple feather here. And one of the processes I want to do with all of this quilting is I want to teach you all ways to manage the different motifs. But we first have to figure out what we’re going to do before we figure out how we’re going to do that. So in this area maybe I’ve planned to make a bit of a feather.

Another thing we can also plan for is some ruler work or straight line quilting. Now when you’re marking your quilt, I guess I should have mentioned this, you’re kind of playing within this battle of pucker and push. Or what do I want to say? The pillowy part of the quilt and the flattening part of the quilt. And the things I love about machine quilting is when I get that loft and then I crush things down in the area around it. So one of the things maybe I want this band right here to really pop out. So in order to do that I can take a ruler and I can mark in some pretty tight little lines here. And what those tight lines will do is they will go ahead and squish down this medium gray fabric. And that will cause this to punch up. And because I want that to punch up, let me show you after I get these straight lines in here. What can happen. There, that gives me a nice little series of straight lines because I want this to loft, maybe this is where I want to put in a circle and another circle, and another circle here. And then on this side I’m going to also do my straight lines. And when I’m doing my straight lines, I literally use the edge of my presser foot or the edge of the free motion foot to mark those straight lines in. So this is just telling my brain that this area is dedicated to straight lines within my quilting, right?

I also might want to do some fill in this section. So maybe I want to show myself I want to do some smaller circles in this area. I don’t have to fill it all in to tell my brain that everything outside of these three big circles is going to be small circles. So I’m just going to crush this in to loft out those three big circles as we go. The same would be around working around the feather. So that’s a neat trick. But what if you don’t like to draw at all?

Well let’s back up a step. We have some fun printables. Those are found in the description below the video. And with the fun printables, what you can actually do is you can use some of this transfer wax based tracing paper. So you could take something like this and you could lay it into, let’s see, I wanted to have this coming down this band right here. So I’m going to set my tracing paper in here. Now one of the things I learned, now let’s give credit where credit is due. John Flynn this goes back to a conversation we had a million years ago around quilting. John Flynn will tell you that if you draw it over and over again, you can quilt it without actually marking it on. But what I’m going to do is I’m going to use this red pencil, er excuse me, red pen so I can tell where I’ve marked. And I’m just coming in here and I’m following the straight lines. And I’m going to mark out kind of this fun Aztec-y straight line motif. And then I’ll be able to show you that just by doing it a few times I have learned kind of the motion. And I’ll just be able to keep it alive like that. And wasn’t quite pressing hard enough. Was off the edge of the table but that’s ok because I can come back in here and just mark it very easily to follow through. And again it’s just telling me that my motifs here are straight lines. So if you’re using that wax paper and you have your batting underneath here, just press a little bit harder. No big deal. I also like to start my stitching often in a corner or a seam allowance so you can’t see my starts and stops. And then these straight line style motifs are just going to be straight lines. And one of the things I learned in my machine quilting years ago is when we’re doing something with a motif, changing directions about every three or four designs is important. So let me show you what that means here. We’ll look at it right here.

So let’s say I wanted to play because I have some circles and straight lines here. Maybe I wanted to do kind of a clamshell. So maybe I’m going to do one, two and three clamshells. And one of the things I want you to practice on a little bit is not lifting your pen or your pencil. Because if you’re doing it without lifting your pen or pencil, you’re really doing a motion you can stitch on. So now I’m going to switch directions. One, two, three, switch directions. One, two, three. You see how I’m doing that. I’m just bouncing from spot to spot. Maybe I need to switch directions here so I don’t stitch myself into a corner. And I’m just working this. And I don’t have to always stop at three. I can always bring it in an extra arch if I need to get back to where I’m going. When you’re playing with arch style designs, and this will be one of the first motifs we really practice, it’s never a bad idea to throw in a circle every now and again just for fun. Keeping things interesting and changing the size of your arches as you go through. And you can tell that I love to draw. And I just want to sit here and scribble and scribble the whole time through. But I think you’re getting the point with the marking off of the designs, right?

Well maybe I also knew that I was coming in out of my feather through here. I’ve got some circular stuff going here. I’ve got my straight lines. I’m thinking change directions again. So I could either take my ruler and spend the time marking in the straight lines or I could even just do like an SL and circle it. And that means straight lines for myself. And then what I would be doing is I would stitch a line and then I would use the edge of my presser foot. And I’ll show you that when we have the machines up. And I would use the presser foot to just keep echo quilting or the Hawaiian style quilting that I would be doing as I go around. So you might even want to have a belly band as you come across here or something. And you might want to just let yourself know this is where you can play. Whatever is working. We’re going to do some free motion quilting in there. And that just allows me to know.

Now let’s play with a few other motifs that we can utilize. And here’s a fun way to do this. I’m just going to slide this so you can all see it at home a little bit better. Now in an area like this, I’ve got a lot of different things going and I’m not sure what I want to do. So another dear friend of mine, Krista Whithers, showed me this trick. A long time ago I was at her long-arming studio and she had a cool big piece of plexiglass and a dry erase marker. And I thought, this is fantastic. But she also trained me put some blue tape around the edges, especially if you’re using clear because sometimes you’ll accidentally draw off of your clear template and get it on a quilt which we don’t want to do. So now what I’m doing is I’m kind of moving this around and I think to myself, Oh, well I’ve got this section right here that I want to audition some things in. So I’ve got a straight line that I’m going to mark in here. And then what I want to do is I want to be able to make this into another straight line series this way. So what those will be are some of those pucker spots. And because that’s a pucker spot, now I know that maybe I want to do another series of straight lines and straight lines this way. And then I can begin my arches or my swirls. And what’s fun about this is I can literally look at it and if I don’t like the way it looks when I’m all done, I could come back in and just wipe it right off and audition in the exact same spot. So this is where we practice it and if we fall in love with the design then we come back in and we’re going to chalk it in anyways. So let’s say we’re doing our swirls here so I want to do something that swirl-like but not like those swirls. Now that is a tongue twister. I think Dr. Seuss might have been an uncle of mine. So now I’m going to start in this corner and I’m going to come around and I’m going to practice more of my comma-shape swirls. And what’s fun about that is it allows me to come up and back. And this is more of that ocean wave style swirl or hook swirl. These are also often very used along the edges of the feathers. So what this is doing is kind of giving me an idea of what’s going to fit into that area. And then once I fall in love with it and I know what I want to do, I’m going to move it to the side. And while I’m still looking at it, I’m going to think, Ok I wanted to chalk that straight line here. And then I’m going to chalk a straight line here and here as I go through marking all of this off to be the lofting zone. And then I decided I was going to do those clamshells we were doing earlier. So just a few of those markings will tell me because this is a motif I practice. The more and more I practice individual motifs while machine quilting, the easier it is for me to jump into these new spaces as I go. Here I wanted to do a larger flowing comma swirl we called it. And I came back around this way and arched underneath. And you may not be able to see this real well at home but I can see it real nice. And this just gives me the opportunity to set my angles exactly the way I want. And begin figuring out my quilting process.

So I work through the entire quilt like this choosing the different areas that I want to do the different kinds of machine quilting. If there’s times where I’m stuck in a spot, I just leave it blank. I am going to work the machine quilting itself from the center out. So I’m not, even though I drew my feather first I’m not going to quilt that first. But I know to leave that space open for my feather when I get there. Get it all laid out and all designed. Make sure we’re happy with it. And then we get ready to load that machine. Get those feed dogs dropped. Get that hopping foot on. And spend some fantastic time just free motion machine quilting these individual motifs all throughout the project.
Alright now the class is almost over. I do have an important homework assignment for you while you’re getting ready to be trained on some of the individual motifs. Find your motifs. Find what you love. Look at every quilt with a new set of lenses. Look at the stitching itself and figure out what you love. I love circles. I love bubbles. And what you can start to do is you can obviously print this stuff out off the internet. But you could always just take and remember, without lifting your pen or pencil off the paper, you can just start with a blank piece of paper and you could practice doing your swirls. You could practice doing your arches. You could practice changing directions. Remember not lifting the pen or the pencil. And as you get this down, once you find a motif that you really like, don’t be afraid to come back in and trace that thing to death like I was saying. So we’re just going to work through here. So maybe I like the way this comes together. Then choose another color, like your red pencil, and go right back to that same starting spot and practice tracing the feel of the motif as you go so that you can get the direction changes, you can get the motion changes. And we also have that circle practice for you in our basic of free motion machine quilting where I want you to go ahead and practice just doing your circles, big circles and little circles. Because we’re going to start breaking those circles down into a lot of different shapes and a lot of different parts for you. So gather those motifs and those designs. And also, as I said earlier, I love this book. Angela’s got pages and pages in here of different doodles and different ways to break up the quilts. And there’s a whole section I’m flipping to, there they are, all of these fantastic different motifs. So check these out. And also while you’re going through all those other motifs, you know we’re building this all just for you. I really would love it if you would put in the comment section below the motifs that you’re finding. The motifs that maybe you’re struggling with. And I will do my best to break them down for you on this quilt, right here at Man Sewing.

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  • Mary Reade

    HI Rob, Fantastic as always, I have 2 boys quilts almost ready to quilt and you have inspired me to be a little more adventurous. Can’t wait to get started!!

  • anita

    great advice can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m pretty new to quilting any advice on what design to learn after stippling I have that one down and I want to try some swirls and waves

  • Frances Smith

    I have a dresden plate quilt (King size) that I’m not sure what kind of motif would be best. Since the plates are kind of busy, should I sew over them or just do stitch in the ditch and/or echo?