Machine Quilting Practice #9: Free Hand Feathers

Summer is almost over and so are our machine quilting practice sessions – only two more weeks to go! We have spent the last four weeks practicing random free motion background fills, including stippling, echo quilting, loop-de-loops and teardrops. We are now moving on to a new technique – one that I hadn’t tried prior to these sessions – and working on free hand feathers.

I have machine quilted feathers many times, but they were always marked on the fabric beforehand. So, other than learning how to backtrack in order to stitch them by machine, they were pretty much like quilting any other motif. What we are going to try this session is machine quilting them without marking.

You may find it helpful, as I did, to at least mark the vines or spines of the feathers first. You can either draw your own or trace my Vines for Free Hand Feathers. If you are working on individual practice sandwiches, you will need an 8″ square of fabric for the top and slightly larger squares of batting and backing fabric. If you are working on a nine-block sampler quilt, you should have two empty spaces left. Mark the vines on one of them. For more information, please read the Instructions for Preparing a Machine Quilting Sampler.

Set up your machine for free motion stitching by lowering (or covering) the feed dogs and installing a darning or free motion presser foot. Begin at the base of one of the vines. Pull up the bobbin thread as described in Beginning and Ending Machine Quilted Stitches and take the first small stitches by moving the quilt slowly under the needle. Continue moving the quilt under the needle and following the marked vine to the other end.

At the end of the vine, stitch a tear drop shape.

Working on one side of the vine at a time, stitch from the base of the teardrop and form the shape of a half-heart, overlapping part of the teardrop and returning to the vine.

Continue in this manner, forming free hand feathers along one side of the vine, until you return to the base (pardon my novice computer drawing skills).

Re-stitch the vine a second time up to the teardrop, and quilt free hand feathers along the opposite side. Remember to keep the quilt in the same orientation as you stitch. Practice moving the quilt under the needle and stitching in every direction as you form the half-heart shapes.

Repeat these steps for the remaining vines until the design is complete. Congratulations, you did it! It’s a lot easier than it looks, isn’t it? I’m not typically a fan of “free hand”, but I was very pleased with the results. I hope you are too. We conclude our machine quilting practice sessions next week with a free-hand free-for-all: zendoodles!


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