Free Motion Monday – Developing a Quilting Plan

Many quilters have a stack of quilt tops because they aren’t sure what type of quilting design to use to complement the piecing.  “How should I quilt this?” is a question we all struggle with at times. When developing a quilting plan, it helps to first analyze the sections of your quilt, then decide which designs will fit in those sections.

Divide and Conquer

The first step in developing a quilting plan is to identify the different parts of your quilt top.  These may be different block designs in a sampler, or simply the center and borders of the quilt.

My example today is a Cactus Wreath (pattern by Cozy Quilt) that a customer asked to be custom quilted. The photo shows how I mentally separated the main areas of the quilt.

developing a quilting plan longarm ideas

Section 1 is the corner motif while section 2 is the darker ring formed by the log cabin blocks. Section 3 is the side border area and sections 4 and 5 are the central motif and the background.  Finally I would treat the outer border as another distinct section when developing a quilting plan.  I often let the fabric colors dictate the quilting sections since I generally match thread color to the fabric.

Pair a Motif to the Pieced Block

As I am considering the sections of a quilt, I imagine the different quilting designs I have practiced.  These motifs include a variety of feathers, flowers, leaves and filler designs.  For this Cactus Wreath, I chose a large flower for the center section, with curly-q filler in the light background areas.

infinite flower free motion quiltingfloral motif quilting design









In the corners, I quilted a leafy vine that extended through each piece of the log cabin block.

developing a quilting plan for corners


free motion quilting leaves









For the frame created by the log cabin blocks, I extended feathers in the dark sections, a ribbon swirl in the medium areas, and a flame-stitch flower in the light sections.  A full explanation of my flame flowers is in the post Flame Variations; a tutorial for the ribbon swirl is in the post Simple Designs for Strip Blocks.

ribbon quilting on quilt borders


free motion quilting various designs







Sometimes I write down my ideas with notes about thread colors and keep that posted near my longarm so I can stick to the plan.  Although I have been known to change my mind in the middle and stitch something completely different! Spending some time developing a quilting plan will generate lots of ideas for your quilts.

Comment below with your favorite quilting motif. Is there a block design that you struggle to fill?


Sale on my book – Monochromatic Quilts!

Howdy quilters! Monochromatic Quilts (made with just one color family) do not have to be stale or boring. Let me inspire you with my book, Monochromatic Quilts: Amazing Variety.

Monochromatic Quilts: Amazing Variety by Andi Stanfield and Mary McElvain

I am having a sale.  Purchase a signed copy  for 25% off with free shipping!


Quantities are limited…once the signed copies are gone, the sale is over.

Start with Blue River

monochromatic blue free motion quilting

I shared the quilting designs from one of the quilts, Blue River, in these Free Motion Monday posts. See the details in In the Water, and More Blue River.

Grey Skies takes a Modern turn

Another favorite design from the book is a modern quilt with neutral fabrics called Grey Skies.

I am itching to make another version with some pops of color!

Log Cabin blocks in ombre tones

Do you like working with subtle shades of one color? Try Yellow Suns, in any color way…

Chain Blocks give you lots of layout choices

Or if you like to play with chain blocks, Green Frost is a fun option.

Don’t miss this special sale – 25% OFF a signed copy of Monochromatic Quilts: Amazing Variety, with free shipping! While supplies last.


UFOs…how long is your list of unfinished (quilt) objects?

I made my first quilt in 2004 from a Terry Atkinson pattern. I liked the Alexander Henry fabric so much that I made a pieced back so it is truly a reversible quilt.  Then I started the Underground Railroad sampler. And a quilted jacket.  Then a peek-a-boo quilt with lots of prairie points.  Those three projects, and at least a dozen more, are piled in a closet.  Unfinished objects are a fact of life for most quilters. Why do projects turn into UFOs?  What can we do to manage this ever-growing problem?unifinished objects in my quilting room                                                                  (a pile of quilt tops waiting to be finished)

How Unfinished Objects are born

One reason quilters have a double-digit list of UFOs is Shiny Object Syndrome.  I blame the fabric companies.  Every three to six months, new fabric lines are released, with fabulous new patterns to tempt us to buy the latest and greatest stuff.  Most quilters have limited time to sew but we think we can piece a king size quilt from one inch strips in a single weekend.  All these enticing projects mean we flit from one project to the next in the hopes that with a little bit of effort spread across many projects, something will eventually get finished.

Another reason for lengthy lists of unfinished objects is that life tends to interrupt.  As the saying goes, quilters plan and God laughs.  I have good intentions of finishing the block of the month from 2007, but then my neighbor asks me to make a baby quilt for a friend.  I can’t turn down a commission, so the ten-year-old BOM goes back into the closet while I make the baby quilt.  Deadlines and paychecks tend to be strong motivators!

quilt blocks on the design wall


Managing the list of Unfinished Objects

There are many ways to shrink that list of UFOs.  Most involve equal parts self-discipline and extrinsic motivation, i.e. rewards.  For some dedicated quilters, making a list is all the motivation they need.  Seeing each project written in black and white allows you to prioritize.  Joining an online forum and declaring your intention to get things finished provides accountability. I was part of a group on Ravelry that committed to buying fat quarters for each other as a reward for finishing one of five stated projects during a three month period.  Even though I did not need any more fabric, I did work hard to join the winner’s circle!

My local guild also runs a UFO challenge.  At the beginning of the year, everyone listed twelve unfinished projects. Each month, the program chair drew a number and if you finished that item on your list, your name is entered into a raffle.  Big cheers erupt during show and tell when someone finally shares a FINISHED project!

Sign up for the Loose Threads newsletter and receive a bonus UFO tracking sheet!

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Ripping out seams – is there anything to like about it?

We all make mistakes. No one enjoys it, and certainly not when someone else points out our flaws!  But we know when something we have created is not quite right.  An essential tool for every quilter is the seam ripper.  Whether you own the classic blue version, an ergonomic style or an elegant wood-turned piece of art, the act of ripping out seams means we have to face our mistakes.

Various seam ripping tools seam ripper from OffTheWall Quilt






Look on the bright side…at least with thread and fabric, our mistakes are temporary.  The seam ripper is a beautiful tool, a chance to improve our work.  Once the seam ripping is over, no one even has to know it happened!

When do you rip out seams?

  1. Rip out the seam if your seam allowance is wrong.

    One crucial element in quilting is the seam allowance.  Sometimes the fabric pieces are not aligned, so there will be a weak spot in the quilt since there are very few threads holding it together.  Rip it out and start over!  If your seam allowance varies from the standard quarter inch, your block will end up too big or too small, which affects the ovreall size of the quilt and the amount of fabric you need for the project.  If your units don’t meet the specified dimensions, go ahead and rip them out.

  2. Rip out the seam if your points don’t match.

    Granted, this is open to interpretation.  I am actually a fairly lazy quilter, and lots of points get chopped off in my quilts.  Some quilters have higher OCD tendencies and strive for the utmost perfection in their piecing.  Their seam rippers might get more use than mine and that is perfectly okay.  Take a look at your quilt blocks from a few feet away – if you still see the mistake, rip it out and try again.  Some quilters live by the rule that if you can’t see it from a galloping horse, then it doesn’t matter!

  3. Rip it out if you just don’t like it.

    Sometimes our fabric choices don’t allow the block design to shine.  Maybe you cut an animal motif in half and the wrong end of the horse shows up in the center of your block! Even if a quilt block is constructed well, the seam ripper may be called upon for aesthetic reasons.  This is purely a personal decision, but life is too short to put up with “meh” quilts.

How do you use a seam ripper?

Yes, you can actually rip out seams the wrong way!  Don’t worry, the worst that can happen is perhaps an extra hole in the fabric or a slower process.

Keep the blade flat against the fabric.

The blade is sideways as it slides under the line of stitching, then you turn the blade upwards and it cuts the thread. My friend Mel has a great tutorial on using a seam ripper.

Use a small rotary cutter.

rotary cutter and seam ripper

Yes, a rotary cutter can quickly rip out seams!  I demonstrate in this video from my Facebook page.

Seam rippers are like doctors: we appreciate having them close by but we hope we don’t see them very often!

Inspired by Leah Day

Have you heard of Leah Day?  I discovered her blog years ago, shortly after she began the Free Motion Quilting Project, an effort to create 365 free motion quilting designs.  Leah Day makes beautiful quilts and is an inspiration to me as an independent quilt business owner.  I was thrilled to be a guest on her podcast, Hello My Quilting Friends.

Free Motion Quilting

Everyone loves a challenge.  Facebook is covered with 30-days-to-better-abs and 100-days-of-art.  We see similar efforts in the quilting world – in fact Angie of GnomeAngel is launching another #100days100blocks to make Tula Pink’s City Sampler in May 2017.  Back in 2007, Leah Day took the challenge idea to the max with 365 days of different free motion quilting designs.  As you can imagine, it was practically impossible to share a new design every day so the project stretched out for more than a year.  Leah generously shared a video tutorial of how she stitched each  design, and that gallery is still available.

I turned to Leah Day’s Free Motion Quilting gallery when I made my Rainbow Twister.  To keep things interesting, I used a different design for each column of blocks. I loved adapting her free motion designs to the pinwheel shapes of the twister blocks.

quilting inspired by Leah Day

See the twelve designs I chose here.

Leah’s designs inspired the quilting on Blue River as well.  I created the quilt with negative space to showcase the free motion designs. Get the details from my posts about water and my Blue River quilt.monochromatic blue free motion quilting

Hello My Quilting Friends Podcast

I was delighted to be a guest on episode 19 of Leah Day’s podcast, Hello My Quilting Friends.  I admit to a huge fangirl squeal when I got the invitation!  Having followed Leah’s blog for so long, I felt like I knew her and we had a great conversation about quilting, especially choosing color and design.  Listen here!

Leah has worked very hard to grow a quilting business, which is inspiration for my own entrepreneurial quilting journey.  Her video tutorials are fantastic and she offers wonderful quilt-alongs that showcase both piecing the top and quilting it as well.  She definitely delivers the total package!

I hope to meet Leah Day in person sometime.  She inspires me with her pursuit of the craft, especially her Goddess series.  What do you find most interesting in her work?




Blossom Blog Hop April 3-7, 2017

blog hop pictureSpring has sprung! Visit these awesome quilters and sewists to see how their creativity is blooming!


Monday, April 3, 2017
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Friday, April 7, 2017

Why have a Blog Hop?

My blog hop friends are women I met last year at the Sew Pro convention.  We posted a recap of the inspiration we found at that event in the Sew Pro Stars blog hop in November, 2016.  We have kept in touch through a private Facebook group that is focused on growing our sewing-related businesses.  There have been hints about another Sew Pro. I am anxiously awaiting more details! The quilting and sewing communities are full of kind, generous, talented, creative wonderful people and I am thrilled to partner with this group again as we bring you some fun spring projects.

But Wait, There is More!

You can win!  Many of the blog hop hostesses are offering giveaways on their blogs, so be sure to visit everyone.

PLUS, you can enter win a finished quilt!  Blossom blog hop prize

The Rising Stars quilt was a group effort, with blocks coming from makers across the country.  The LeMoyne Star is a classic block made easy with half-square triangles.  Here is my guide to HST.

Enter the quilt raffle by following each person on Instagram.  Yep, to qualify for this sepctacular prize, you have to be on Instagram.  You haven’t tried IG yet?  Oh man, download the app and prepare to be inspired!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

I will be back on Friday to share my Blossom mini quilt tutorial.  Have a great week!

Working at a Fabric Store

Confession…quilting doesn’t pay the bills yet, but I am still hoping!  In the meantime, I have a part time job at a local shop.  3 days a week, I am the friendly face you see behind the cutting table, ready to help in the stash acquisition phase of your project!  Here are some funny things that I see while working at a fabric store.

pixabay stock photo fabric

Do you make any money?

The number one question that people ask is how I can take a paycheck home when I am surrounded by fabric. Doesn’t it get spent right away? Probably the same answer that the ice cream store clerks might give you, “I’ve built up immunity.”  Just kidding! My trick is that I only work while my daughter is in school, so I am usually rushing out the door for carpool duty at the end of my shift. No time for shopping!

Is it boring?

No, rather than getting bored, I’d have to admit it can be OVER-stimulating to see all the wonderful new lines of fabric and start dreaming of new projects.  All I have to do is grab half a dozen bolts of fabric, planning to cut fat quarters, and that will guarantee a line forms at my cutting table.  But truly, I prefer to cut a multitude of eighth yard pieces for a customer than try to occupy myself tidying bolts for the seventy-third time.

Biggest Surprise Working at a Fabric Store?

Shoplifters!  Really, who does that?  I want to believe that quilters are the best of humanity, but I suppose there are all kinds of people, honest and dishonest, in any group.  I was shocked the first time I found an empty bolt shoved behind other fabric, in a totally different area, and my co-workers told me that someone must have taken whatever was left. Granted, this is a large store and the shelves are set up sort of like cubicles so we don’t have line-of-sight over all the merchandise.  But still, I wish people would just do the right thing, even when no one is looking!

Do you get paid to sew if you are working in a fabric store?

This may be true in some shops, but in my case, I am just a clerk.  I stock and re-stock fabric, provide basic customer assistance and cut fabric for customers.  There is an employee who quilts on location in the shop – she gives lessons on the longarm and quilts samples in-store sometimes.  As employees, we can make samples for display but that is done on our own time at home.  And truthfully, I have a huge UFO list so I don’t volunteer for that task!

Best part of working in a fabric store

The best part of working in a fabric store is FABRIC!!!  Even though I don’t take much home with me at the moment, I am inspired every day.  I love helping customers find just the right fabric for their project, especially if they are trying to match something and I can suggest a fabric that makes their eyes light up.

Hopefully, you have a local quilt store in your area that has friendly, helpful staff and provides inspiration and education on your quilting journey.

Related Post: Shop Hop Guide

New Pattern – Angel Wings

Have you ever seen a knit baby blanket that had a halo and wings? It makes an awesome backdrop for newborn portraits.  I decided to make a quilted version. Introducing a new pattern: Angel Wings.  This baby quilt pattern gives you step by step instructions for a crib-size quilt that would be a lovely shower gift.

Angel Wings quilt in pink fabric

I use alot of 2-1/2″ squares in my patterns, and this quilt follows that trend!  This quilt is so versatile – make it as scrappy as you want! The wings are 2-1/2″ squares while the white “body” is a single unit.  The background can be pieced in small or large units.  You can easily customize the background of this baby quilt pattern to match the nursery colors or a theme such as sports, cartoon characters or hobbies.

I made a second version of the Angel Wings baby quilt in blue, as a gift for a close friend.  This quilt is ideal as a picture backdrop.

Angel Wings as backdrop for baby

You can purchase an instant download right now and get started on an heirloom quilt for the next bundle of joy.

Design your own Sampler Quilt

Sampler Quilts are a great way to showcase your favorite technique or build some new quilting skills.  Many designers offer Block of the Month programs that become sampler quilts.  Maybe you have started a few projects and now have a drawer full of “orphan blocks.”  Don’t wait any longer – it is time to design your own sampler quilt!

Here are two important questions to consider –

Do you have blocks made (or planned) that are one size or a variety of sizes?

Do you have a finished size in mind (lap, twin, queen)?

The answers to these questions will set the course for your sampler quilt journey.  Let’s sit down with my friends* Bernie and Jan to see how they planned their sampler quilts.

Block Sizes in Sampler Quilts

Block size is a key factor in any quilt.  Larger blocks are faster to make, and it takes fewer blocks to finish a quilt.

Bernie says, “I am making a charity quilt. All the blocks will be the same size. I am going to have fun choosing different patterns for each block.”

Jan takes the opposite view. “It will be interesting to make blocks of various sizes.  The design challenge to make them all fit is exciting!”

With a consistent size block, Bernie can use a traditional layout such as straight rows or an on point setting.  See examples of these standard layouts in this post. Jan knows it is more difficult to combine blocks of different sizes.  Working with variable block sizes can be made easier by including negative space or choosing blocks that “play nicely” together, such as multiples of 3 or 4.  For instance, a quilt with 6-inch and 12-inch blocks will combine easily, as will 4-inch and 8-inch sizes.  If you are comfortable with y-seams or partial blocks,  you could certainly build a quilt that includes 6, 8, 9, 10 and 12 inch blocks.

Putting the different sized blocks into rows is one way to solve the challenge.  These flower blocks were 3, 6 and 12 inches, so I made rows of large, medium and small flowers. row quilt with variable size blocks

You can also design your sampler by randomly placing the largest blocks, and filling in with smaller sizes.  Here is an example from the Keepsake Quilting catalog.  Notice the filler blocks use flying geese, pinwheels, or even a plain swatch of fabric.

sampler quilt with variable size blocks

What size quilt do you want?

Size does matter!  Will your sampler quilt be used in a crib, couch, or king size bed?  Are you giving it to a child to snuggle or for a 6-foot tall man in a recliner?  Think about the final destination.  Sampler quilts with their intricate details beg to be admired, so perhaps there is wall space in your home to put this project on display.

Bernie says, “Quilts of  Valor is my preferred charity and they request quilts that are 60 x 70 inches.”

Jan says, “I’ll just play with my blocks and be happy with whatever size it turns out to be!”

Bernie is working towards a specific sized quilt, with consistent blocks.  It will be easy to find 12 patterns to make a traditional sampler quilt.  Jan is taking an improvisational approach to a sampler quilt with various block sizes. Kris shares a similar journey on her blog, Coloring Outside the Lines.

Design a Sampler Quilt

Once you have made the important decisions about block size and quilt size, you are ready to sew!  But where do we start?  Maybe you have a few favorite blocks in mind, like I did for this table runner “My Favorite Stars”:

star sampler blocks

Another terrific resource is the Quilters Cache.  Marcia has organized a library of quilt blocks that include cutting and sewing instructions.  The block patterns can be sorted alphabetically or by size.  When I planned my 92 Stars sampler, I focused on the 9 inch blocks and found over 40 patterns to include in my quilt.

I’d love to see your sampler quilts!  Please email me a photo for our gallery or use hashtag #samplerquilt on Instagram.

Click here to download a plan for a sampler quilt with variable size blocks.