How to Draw Free-Motion Quilt Designs

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Drawing your own free-motion quilting motifs is a wonderful way to put your creative signature on your quilting work of art. You can find inspiration for your designs from the quilt itself, from nature or from the work of other quilters. By drawing patterns which you custom fit to your quilt, you can give it the perfect finishing touch.

Things You'll Need

  • Pencil
  • Graph paper
  • Quilt top
  • Ruler
  • Light box (optional)
  • Wash-out blue quilting pen (optional)
  • Sewing machine
  • Powder or corn starch (optional)
  • Choose a quilting motif for the open areas of your quilt. The open areas can be nonpieced blocks or the centers of pieced blocks which are large enough to require quilting--in general, spaces of more than 4 inches across need quilting. To choose an appropriate motif, look at examples at your local quilting store, in quilting books or dream up your own.

  • Adapt your quilting motif. When drawing stitching lines for free-motion machine quilting, make them as continuous as possible to avoid breaking the thread. Your quilting will be smoother and more durable through upcoming years of use. One way to avoid starts and stops is to sew over previous stitching in some areas. For example, if your motif is a feathered heart, first draw the heart, then, without breaking the line, continue to the outer feather design, restitching the curve of each feather to begin the next feather. Try to avoid a design requiring double lines of closely spaced stitching, as any stitching variation from the lines will be obvious. Instead, adapt the design into a single line of stitching.

  • Measure the area of the quilt where your design must fit and draw the area outlines to size on the graph paper. Draw your design within the outlines, allowing about 1/2 inch to spare on all sides. If you are using an intricate motif which does not fit your space, enlarge or reduce it on a copy machine. For example, if your design is 12 inches across, but you need a 3-inch motif, reduce the design by 75 percent; if your design is 12 inches but you need a 6-inch motif, reduce it by 50 percent.

  • Transfer the motif to your quilt top. If the areas you will quilt are light in color, you can use a light box or a sunny window. Tape your design to the glass, then position the quilt top over it. Trace your motif with a blue wash-out quilting pen. If your quilt top is too large or the fabric is too dark to see through, copy your drawing so that you have one copy for each area where you will quilt it. Pin the design in place on the quilt top and, using your quilting foot, feed dogs lowered, and an unthreaded sewing machine, transfer the design by stitching over it, through the paper and fabric below. If the needled design on your quilt top is difficult to see, try dusting it lightly with a powder puff or corn starch to define the needle holes.

Tips & Warnings

  • Take care to keep your fingers clear of the needle when you are using a free-motion quilting foot on your sewing machine.

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