Tips and Tools Tuesday – Machine Quilting, Part Six, Hot on the Trail

Years ago, our daughter and son-in-law had a couple of hound dogs named Jake and Jessie. They were a mix of Redbone Hound, and Black and Tan Hound. Hounds have a well-deserved, great reputation for being good hunting dogs. They can follow the trail left by critters with uncanny accuracy.

A rabbit, for instance, usually runs anywhere from 100 to 200 yards ahead of any dogs that are chasing them. That way, they can double back, run in circles, and go through some tight places to try to confuse the dogs who are trailing them. A well-trained hunting dog is invaluable to a hunter.

For this post, imagine the quilting design is a trail left by a rabbit and our hound is trailing it. We’re following the hound on the trail, going around, and through, and back over where we’ve just been, trying to get to the end of the trail where we hope to find the rabbit.

In  Tips And Tools Tuesday – Machine Quilting, Part Four, Creating A Design, I showed you how I discovered the stitching trail for this square that would allow me to complete the design with an uninterrupted line of stitching.

Today, I’ll share with you, a design that I created for the triangle portion of the Flying Geese units in the Sawtooth Star blocks. And, how I moved from one section to another without stopping to tie off threads. WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! I am including a TON of photos, but, that is so that you can see step by step how I make up a design, and why I’ve done some things the way I have. I don’t want you to read this post, start drawing a design, and think, “Is this what she meant?” So, tons and tons of photos.

Here is the design that I came up with to fill the triangle.

It may look a little intimidating to you right now, but, hang in there with me and I’ll show you just how easy it is to stitch a design like this. It’s easy when it’s broken down into smaller, achievable parts.

Before I go any further, I just want to stop here for a minute and talk about free-motion quilting. Free-motion quilting does NOT have to be free-handed. If you draw lines on your quilt, drop your feed dogs, and use a free-motion foot to stitch on those lines, it’s still free-motion quilting.

Here ‘s what I did to make the template. I cut a triangle out of paper, the same size as the triangle in the Flying Geese unit in the quilt block. Then I folded it in half and cut it apart along the fold.


I drew 1/2 of the design that I had doodled. I knew I couldn’t draw the entire design and keep it symmetrical. And, I needed it to be. I liked the look of these loops, but, I didn’t want the motif to look like a flower. Plus, I felt like the area needed more quilting than just the loops. So, I added some curls in the center ones and another loop inside each of the larger ones.


In the quilt I was making, sometimes two Sawtooth Star blocks were sewn side by side. The Flying Geese units, then, form a square. Since each half of the square would contain this design, I needed the lines to match up. (I have included a photo of a table topper that I quilted free-hand. I traced around a spool of thread for the center of each green “house” piece, but did the quilting around each center circle free-handed. In each diamond shape, I made four dots in the center of each for registration marks to quilt around.  Each loop is NOT identical to its neighbor.  But, there is so much going on with all of the quilting that it all just blends together in a pleasing pattern. As, you look at the over-all quilt, any inconsistencies in my quilting, and there are many, are not really noticeable.) I wanted to share that example with you so that you don’t think you HAVE TO trace every part of every design onto your entire quilt. I only did it in this quilt so that the patterns at the places where two blocks meet would align to make one seamless design. Trace it all or just trace parts, it’s up to you. For me, following the lines of patterns I had traced helped build my confidence and get me more comfortable with free-motion quilting.

Now, back to the template making.

I folded this triangle exactly in half and, using a pair of scissors, cut it out.


Notice how the section on the left has some white paper showing? That’s why I didn’t rely on my drawing skills for the needed symmetry. I, also, cut notches in the center circle at the base of each line.

I did not, however, make notches at the base lines of the loops inside the larger loops. Cutting notches at the base of these lines, leaves too little paper in between and makes it too flimsy.

I also cut notches in the inside loops. I left some of the paper so that I’d have  some form of reference to line up the template on a seam line.

Draw a line on a piece of paper that is, at least, twice the size of your template.

Align the edge of your template on this line and trace the pattern. Fold the paper in half on the straight line, and cut through both layers around the pattern.


Remember to cut notches at the base of the main lines while it’s folded. Unfold the template.

I made this first template out of ordinary printer paper because it folds easily and makes sharp creases. It is, however, too flimsy to use for tracing onto a quilt top. So, I traced the pattern onto a piece of card stock. You could use part of a cereal box, an old greeting card, or some other heavier paper if you don’t have some card stock. I have used card stock as my template for tracing a pattern onto a quilt. It works, but if you use an air-erase or water-erase marker to trace your design, just know that the edges of the template will absorb the ink. They will become soggy and you will no longer have a crisp pattern edge to trace around.

For this reason, I make a plastic template of my quilting designs. I have used template plastic that I’ve purchased at a quilt shop. But, most often, I just use old lids from food containers, such as, yogurt, butter, ice cream, and cottage cheese. Check out this post for tips on using plastic lids for templates.

Okay, you’ve got your template made, now it’s time to practice. For the illustration below, I used a fine-line Sharpie and drew a Flying Geese unit on paper. I centered my template in the triangle and lined up the lower edges of it, just as I would line it up with the seam line in the quilt top. I traced around the template making sure I traced the inside edges as well.

This is what it looks like when traced onto the paper or quilt top.

I draw the connecting lines either free-handed or using a ruler. I line up the ruler with the “valley” between the loops and the notch in the center half-circle. When it’s time to mark your quilt top, choose a marking utensil that can me removed.  To mark my quilt top, I used a FriXion pen that contains an ink that is removed with the heat of an iron. You can use a chalk pencil, a water-erasable marker, an air-erasable marker, or any other marking method that you prefer.

For the center and side loops, I just center the lines between the half-circle notches and draw them in.

Then I add the curls.

Now that the pattern has been traced in each triangle around the block, it’s time to start quilting it.

In the previous machine quilting post in this series, Odds or Evens, I explained why the number of lines in your design is important. This triangle design has two lines of stitching. It goes from Point A to point B and back to A. There are no quilting police that say you HAVE to complete a design before moving to the next one. If your stitching is traveling from another part of the quilt to this triangle, follow the black arrows from the corner to the inner loop of the design. If you are only stitching the design in the triangle, start on the seam line at the lower right, inner loop. Stitch in the direction of the black arrows until you reach the outer, left loop. (The extra black arrows are only for traveling to the next corner. Ignore those for now.) Begin stitching up and around the loop (red arrows) toward the center half-circle. Since you will be stitching back over some stitching lines, you will notice some thread build-up in those areas. (Note: Less build-up will be noticeable when using a higher weight thread, such as a 60wt vs a 40wt.)

When you get to the seam line at the end of the outer, right loop, tie off your threads.

In these illustrations, I’ve drawn black arrows and red arrows. If you want to travel from the corner design, to the triangle design, to the next corner design, and so on, trace all of the designs (with some type of removable marking tool) around the block. Stitch the black arrow lines first, then reverse the direction of stitching and stitch the red arrow lines. You can stitch all of the areas around the quilt block with only one start and one stop.

The thick lines in the right of the photo indicate the lines that were stitched in the corner design before traveling to the side triangle.

Even though a design may look complicated, it can be divided into a few different trails to follow in order to quilt all of the lines. Like that rabbit, you can double back “travel” back over previously stitched lines to get your needle to the next section to quilt.

A good practice exercise would be to trace each design in the middle of a piece of copy paper. This will provide room for your hands to move the pattern under your needle. With no thread in your machine, practice “quilting” the design. Remember, you will be marking designs on your quilt with a removable marking tool, so if you don’t stitch exactly on the lines, don’t worry about it. You can erase those stitching lines and no one will ever know.

Tracing designs on fabric and quilting them over and over again using a free-motion foot, will build muscle memory for you. Practice on traced lines for a while. Then try quilting the same design with only a few registration marks to guide you. You will be surprised at how close your free-handed quilting resembles the traced pattern.

I hope this helps take a little bit of the mystery out of how to do some custom quilting on your next quilt project.

You can download these pattern templates for free. Just click on Spiro-Star and Curly Loops Templates to download them today.

Give it a try.

Today is a good day to track that rabbit!


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