Tips And Tools Tuesday – Machine Quilting, Part Four, Creating A Design

When I was in Elementary School, I loved art class! We got to color, and draw, and paint, and make things. It was fun! I wasn’t thinking that someday I might use the things I was learning. It was just fun!

Do you remember some of the things you did in art class? (I’m not talking about eating glue.) I mean, the things you drew, or painted. There is one particular assignment that I remember doing. At first, I thought it was impossible. But, the more I looked at it, and studied it, the more I realized that I could complete the assignment.

It was this. Draw a house. A simple house.

Well, I could do that.

But, the teacher put a stipulation on HOW we were to draw it. Once we touched our pencil lead to the paper, we could not pick it up until the house was drawn. We had to figure out how to draw that house with one continuous line.

Here’s how I drew that house.

Now, there are many, many ways to draw this house depending on where you start.  According to the arrows, you can tell where I started, but, do you know for certain which way I headed from there? You can also, figure out where I ended, but, do you know which trail I took to arrive there? Tough to tell, ain’t it?

Machine quilting a design is very much like this art exercise. You just have to find the trail.

Now, I just want to stop here a second and explain something to you. This is a free-motion design. Stitched with a free-motion foot. No walking foot, no feed dogs. Free-motion. But, free-motion does not mean it has to be stitched free-handed. I do a lot of tracing of designs before I stitch them. I use some type of marking tool that can be erased or washed out after the quilting is done. Sometimes I just trace some registration marks to help keep the elements of a design more consistent. Many times, I trace the entire design and stitch right on the tracing lines. (Well, as closely as I can, anyway.) I just don’t want you to feel like you have to look at a design and try to duplicate it free-handed. That’s why they invented erasable markers! Free-motion and free-handed are two very different things.

In Machine Quilting, Part Three Deciding on a Design, I talked about being a sleuth. Searching a design for the route, the path, the trail.

On your quilt, or in your blocks, you can stitch any design your heart desires. You can also, start and stop fifteen times in order to stitch that design, but, who wants to do that?

I want to share with you, a design that I used in a recent quilt. The quilt is made with ,16″ finished, Sawtooth Star blocks. Squares and Flying Geese units.

I was doodling, trying to come up with something to fill the 4″ corner squares.  Something simple, yet, would fill the space. Here’s what I came up with.

It sort of did what I wanted it to, but, I wasn’t happy with the empty spaces on the sides.

So, I added some more curves. It reminds me of drawings I used to make with my Spirograph set.

Ooh, I liked that!

But, then, I was in a pickle. The original drawing has a trail that is easy to follow. Start at a corner, curve to the next corner, and so on around the square. Now, there were two separate drawings with two separate starting and ending points! I had to find the trail that would lead me along every line and bring me back to the starting point.

Before you look at the trail I discovered, examine the photo above and see if you can find one.

This design is made with only two different curves. I cut out a sample of each from my drawing, and traced it onto card stock. Notice the purplish edges of the card stock. Card stock is paper, which is porous and absorbs the ink from the air erase marker I used. This makes the edges soggy and wastes ink. I used the card stock cutout as a template to etch the pattern onto template plastic. So I collect lids from butter tubs, ices cream tubs, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc, and cut templates from them. I use the pointy end of a compass to scratch the line of the pattern into the plastic and then cut them out.

We love to hike. There are beautiful State and National Parks close by where we can walk, hike, and just enjoy the beauty around us. Why did I interject that bit of information in the middle of this machine quilting post? To illustrate a point. Our favorite hiking area is DeSoto State Park. Little River Canyon is in that park. There are trails that follow along the rim, and others that go deep into the woods. Sometimes when we are hiking the Red Trail, we intersect with another trail that explores a new area of the park, and then, brings us back to the Red Trail, which eventually leads back to the car. While sleuthing my quilting design, I relied on the explorer side of my personality, to find a route that would let me stitch each trail without stopping and tying off my thread.

Here’s how I did it.

I started in the lower right corner. I stitched in the direction of the arrows shown. When I got to the third intersection, I took off onto the other trail.

After I’d fully “explored” that trail, I got back on the first trail (indicated by the dotted line) and followed it back to the beginning.

Just like drawing that house with one continuous line, I stitched the design without stopping.

It is a simple design, but fills the space nicely, and provides a trail on which to stitch from one section to another.

I hope these posts are helping you to look at machine quilting as something that is doable. As in piecing a quilt top, start small and simple. Quilt small areas first. A 16″ Sawtooth Star block with a 2″ border would make a nice table topper, and the perfect place to practice these patterns.

Hmmm, I feel a pattern coming on. 🙂

Today is a good day to practice this machine quilting design. Draw it on paper, then move the paper under your un-threaded sewing machine needle as though you are quilting it. Just to get the feel of how you would move an actual quilt.

Next time, I’ll show you how I traveled from one design to another around each Sawtooth Star block.

Happy creating!


4 thoughts on “Tips And Tools Tuesday – Machine Quilting, Part Four, Creating A Design

  1. Roseanne says:

    Hi Diane! I love the description you provided about finding the trail. I am new to FMQ and am always on the hunt for continuous line stitching patterns. I am a visual learner so your arrows are very helpful. I know I can definitely stitch that, and that also is one of my favorite blocks. I’ll got back and read the earlier posts in the series as well as the later ones, plus I’m going to PIN the idea for others. Perhaps I should follow you, don’t you think?! ~smile~ Roseanne

    • lookoutmountainquilter says:

      Hi Roseanne!
      I’m so glad it was helpful! I LOVE FMQ. The design possibilities are endless! Also, thank you, in advance, for the PIN! I appreciate that so much!
      Big smile,

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