March 21, 2011

Feather Tips for Christa...

What does it take to be an expert machine quilter or feather free motion quilter?  It takes 500 hours of machine quilting feathers to get to the title "proficient Feather Quilter" and  10,000 hours of quilting feathers would render the title "Expert Feather Quilter".  I am an expert at ENCOURAGEMENT. 

So this is how I got started...

I was always intimidated by the process of quilting feathers, or any machine quilting design.  I don’t do well with patterns and pre-drawn pictures.  If you don’t mind that, there are a gazillion books with patterns that you can sketch on tracing paper and apply to your quilt and follow the lines.  When you are done, you simply tear off the paper and voila…

I on the other hand, am a purist, and enjoy learning free movement and ideas.  I don’t mind that no two feathers may look alike.  So with that pep talk in my head, a forged ahead.

I first went online and looked at how people described the feather process, and I realized that there are many ways and they are individual to that person.  There was however a common theme… some went up one side and down the other, whereas others went up one side, stitched back along the spine and went up the other side.  So of course I tried them both.

Now there are some technical terms for feathers.  There is the Root of the feather – the beginning/base of your feather design (e.g. the part you would grab if you were going to tickle someone, or the part of the quill that you use to dip in the ink.)  NOTE:  if you are drawing feathers in a circle/wreath, there won’t be a root.

Then there is the spine of the feather.  This is the middle line that is the “back bone” of the feather. (no pun intended…smiles).  This is the line that you may draw first and then go back over it before you begin the second side.

Then there is the part that is called the Barbs. This is the puffy pieces that extend on either side of the spine.  These barbs go up and out away from the spine and the base/root.

Before you begin quilting feathers, keep the following in mind. 
1. make sure you have your new needle.
2. You must be in a comfortable position.
3.  You should have a few bobbins ready.

and LASTLY BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY....remember to breathe.


Decide what direction you want your feathers to go.  Up to the left or right, straight along a border, or wherever your hand goes.

Take your trusty sketch book, or scrap paper and try out some of the pictures you see. 

Start by drawing your spine.  It can be slightly wavy.  Then begin by creating your barbs on one side, going in a continuous motion up and down.  (Remember this helps to create "muscle memory".)
Next, try to go along the other side from the top, without tracing back down the spine.

Then do another, where you go up one side, trace down the spine and begin at the base up on the other side.

Now on your fabric you will do the same thing.  You will start by stiching a wavy line along the fabric, in the direction that you have chosen.  this creates your spine.

Then start on one side and make loops that go from the bottom of the spine up and over, back to the spine.  Repeat these loops, by starting at the beginning where you just ended, going up and over again.

While making my feathers I would sometimes go back over the line that I finished.  It is also known as backtracking. (Double stitching that happens when the shared line between feathers is quilted twice.  The first time is to complete the upper side of the first feather, and once to complete the underside of the next loop.)

Over time this did not work for me and I chose to have seperate loops.
When you are making your loops, remember that you are stitching out and away from the spine.

Here are more pics of my practice and things that I noticed.

Remember to just have fun....Hope this helps...happy feathering...


  1. Great tutorial! Love your drawings and explanations, very informative. I might get the courage to try this!

  2. Yeah me too!!! Thanks so much!! I haven't really given it a chance, I think I made 3 sketches and sewed one set on a piece of scrap fabric. Maybe I need to give it more time... ;-)