Designing, marking, and quilting the feathers on Nadine’s quilt

I had several requests on how I did the feathers on the quilt shown in my Design Wall post earlier today, so I decided I would just write a separate post on the entire process and answer the questions that have come up as I go. Maybe this will give you some new ideas – or you can let me know of a better, faster way to do it! ūüôā

This is a long post, so if you aren’t interested in this type of stuff mosey around and look at something else!

This quilt is a BOM from a local quilt shop that was pieced by a customer, Nadine R. I have¬†this same BOM¬†that is not quite finished yet in a brown colorway. There are 13 blocks spread around the quilt top with a lot of wide open space for quilting to really show up. On this one, I really wanted to stay pretty close to the 20’s style of quilting, so wanted to do feathers as well as some gridwork. I wanted the feathers to be the primary focal point in all the open spaces, so wanted them fairly large-scale and also symmetrical from side to side and top to bottom of the quilt. That meant I couldn’t do them freehand because there is NO WAY¬†I could do that! If I had a computerized machine, I could do one-fourth¬†of the quilt, “record” my quilting, then just flip and position if for the other three parts…some day maybe! LOL

I don’t have a picture of the whole finished quilt top to show you but here is basically half of it. It is loaded sideways, so the head and foot are to the right and left. Obviously, I didn’t think the quilt was a candidate for floral wreaths or more traditional motifs like that, so I had to make my own motif.

I first taped several 18×24 sheets of sketch paper together, enough to cover 1/4 of the quilt top – the part from the center of the sides to the center of the top (or bottom). I laid the quilt top over my kitchen table so that a corner (1/4 of it) was showing. I placed the paper over that, then drew the outlines of the blocks, the yellow sashing,¬†so that I would know exactly how much space I needed to fill with my feathers. Once I got my “paper quilt” drawn out, I removed the¬†quilt top from under the paper.

I put a large sheet of plexiglass over the “paper quilt” and started drawing feathers to play with layouts. Note that I am no feather expert at all so have to make a lot of drawings to come up with something I really like (erasers are my friend!). Also, my plexiglass didn’t cover the whole 1/4 of the quilt, so I had to draw my feathers in sections.

Here are some examples with my critiques along with the pictures….

In this photo you can see that I am working at either the top or the bottom of the quilt. Also my plexiglass covers from the edge of the paper on the right (a little past center) and goes only to the edge of the feathers on the left. That leaves about six to eight inches of space not covered on the left. My first thought was that I wanted to do some curved crosshatching in a motif of some kind, then the feathers. I scribbled around with my markers, but never could get anything that I liked to use the curved crosshatching in, so I scratched that idea.

This was my second idea. One thing to consider is that I take pictures as I draw. I can’t remember what I drew the time before, much less two times before, so the documentation helps. I really liked the differences in the feathers at the bottom of the center part here…the small, large, small, large feathers. You will see that later. I also didn’t like the uniformity of the feathers at the top of the center portion. Just not as interesting. You will also see the feathers stop away from the left edge again – at the end of my plexiglass! The diagonal lines are the beadboard-style crosshatching¬† I am planning on using. This picture pretty much gave me a framework design for the center section, so…

here¬†I have moved the plexiglass over so that now it goes from the edge of the block on the left to the center. You can also see some orange dry-erase outlines just outside the feathers. I wanted to leave enough room for the crosshatching or beadboard to show, so I wanted to contain the feathers within a certain area. That line kept me corralled. This design is better but I think I played with it a time or two more before I came up with my final design for this section….I don’t have a picture of it, so I don’t remember! LOL

Here I have moved to the sides of the quilt. The bottom section I was working on is now to the right at the top of the picture. I drew a “skeleton” of the spines to work with using the plates, pie dishes, and bowls you see in the picture.

Here is my first sketch for this side. Not totally thrilled with the feathers, so I did more drawing. You can also see the on the right where my plexiglass ended and I couldn’t draw any more feathers.

Another try, but still not pleased with the way the feathers look, especially on the upper side of the spine near the center (to the left).

This was my final version of the sides. Once I got something I really liked, I began using my Golden Threads quilting paper and a regular lead pencil to trace over the plexiglass drawing. You can see the roll of paper to the upper right of this picture.

This is what the Golden Threads paper looked like with the feathers and block outlines penciled in. I have learned from experience NOT to use pencil on the paper you are going to actually lay over the quilt top and quilt through – the pencil lead can be forced into the thread and fabric making it appear dirty. Don’t do this!

I keep these pencil versions in a file in case I want to use them in another quilt later.

The Golden Thread folks recommend taking your quilting design to your DSM with enough layers of Golden Threads paper to make copies for the entire quilt, then follow the lines with a threadless needle. I have trouble seeing and following the tiny holes when I am quilting, so this time I used the blue Mark B Gone water-erasable pens to mark four copies of the designs for the sides (two for each side, mirror-images) and top and bottom. Time consuming, but it worked.

Here is a picture of the Golden Threads paper, marked with the Mark B Gone marker, pinned down on the center side section of the quilt, ready to begin quilting. Can you imagine trying to follow little tiny holes and “hit the lines” for backtracking on those feathers?¬†Not me!

I also used my “framing” lines to help line up the paper so that it would be where I wanted it on the quilt. In a couple of cases, where the quilt was not quite square on all sides, I had to fudge those lines some and they didn’t match exactly.

Here I am quilting some of the feathers on the left edge. The sashing¬†line does not match up exactly with the sashing on the block, but it still has plenty of room and won’t be noticeable over all.

I have removed some of the paper so you can see how it looks when removed and with the paper still on parts.

When quilting I don’t worry about staying exactly on the lines, just reasonably close. You can see I strayed quite a bit on this, but I won’t even be able to tell it once the paper is off. The design will still be close enough from side to side and top to bottom, that our eyes shouldn’t be able to discern a difference. This is the very center portion of the sides.

To do the actual quilting, I go fairly slowly (my machine is stitch regulated, so that helps!) and I hold the paper down as I go with one hand and quilt with the other. This seems to give me more control over the machine.

I use rice bags (actually, rice socks) as shown by Sharon Schamber to give a little resistance when I quilt. My machine is older and once in a while wants to stray on its own. This helps to control that quite a bit! I have also removed some of the paper.

Here is the finished quilting, with paper removed and threads buried. There are still some tiny bits of paper in some of the places, such as the spines, where thread overlaps, and I will have to go back and remove those. I tear most of the paper off, use my fingernails to remove what I can, then vacuum it all off the top.

Also for those who have asked, I do these feathers the “hump-and-bump” or “over-the-top” way, which means there is backtracking over part of every other feather. No, they are not all exactly on the line. I am a human, not a machine, plus remember the mind of its own¬†that my Gammill has? That sure adds a little extra hiccup here and there! If I go slowly, use the rice bags and a little bit of resistance, the backtracking goes much better for me.

Total, including taking photos, burying threads, removing paper, and dealing with the kids’ requests, this side took me about an hour and forty-five minutes. Not super fast, but with an end product I am much happier with and proud of than attempting them freehand and having to rip them out!

This same method can be used for those who quilt on their home sewing machine. I never did feathers this way (because I didn’t know how to do feathers!) but I did do letters from the alphabet, animals, and other motifs using this method prior to getting my longarm. When you want to repeat a pattern and have it pretty much the same, this is a good way to do it.

Also – if this had been my quilt, I probably would have just used the Mark B Gone pens on the quilt top (after testing them first!), but I would have still had to transfer the design a total of four times accurately to cover the top.

I hope I have answered all the questions. If this raises more, just ask about it in the comment section and I will get back with you!


6 thoughts on “Designing, marking, and quilting the feathers on Nadine’s quilt

  1. Thank you for posting your technique. Your final feather design is amazing and is beautiful on your quilt. Thank you again for sharing.

  2. Thanks.. I was wondering how you marked all that. I have the golden thread paper but have not used it. I hate removing paper..Yours looks like it removes nicely so I may just give it a try.

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