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?


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?




Free Motion Monday – Shadow Quilting

Shadow Quilting Designs

I invented the term “Shadow Quilting” to refer to the places where I use free motion quilting to copy the block design in the negative space of the pattern.  Of course I saw a beautiful example of this somewhere on the internet last week and now I can’t find it! In my search for additional examples, I visited Judi Madsen’s blog, and she wrote a whole book on this technique. Look for Secondary Designs with Judi Madsen, due out in December 2016.

Shadow Quilting, using block designs in negative space, is gaining popularity in modern quilting circles.  Negative space and alternate gridwork are core principles characterizing modern quilts as defined by the Modern Quilt Guild. I am delighted when I look closely and find replicas of patchwork illustrated solely with thread.

Shadow Quilt a Checkerboard

Checkerboards are an easy design to “shadow.”  Once the grid lines are stitched, you can choose from many designs to fill alternate squares.  I like the simplicity of lines or spirals.

shadow quilting checkerboard diagram

Shadow Quilting with Shapes

In the quilt I am currently working on, there are bold triangles and diamonds in the border.  I decided to use these elements to anchor the free motion designs in other areas.  I first stitched the shape, then added the swirls inside and finished with the outside fill.

shadow quilting with shapes fmq-shadow-designs-fabric

shadow quilting diagrams

Another example from Judi Madsen’s gallery is the Tree of Life quilt.  She created frames in the negative space, then filled them with grids and flowers.  Judi is a master at using rulers with her free motion quilting, and she stitches shadow blocks in many of her quilts.  As with any skill you want to improve, it takes practice, practice and more practice!

Free Motion Quilting – Piano Keys

A simple example of Shadow Quilting is a piano key border.  This can be as simple as straight lines, or more intricate with arches.

fmq-piano-keysfree motion quilting piano key borders

What patchwork blocks are in your quilts that can be mirrored in the free motion quilting?  Please send pictures to so I can build a gallery of inspiration!

More you might like:

From Sketchbook to Finished Quilt

My “graffiti” style

Download a practice workbook of free motion quilting designs HERE.


Free Motion Monday – Quilting Designs in Triangles

spiral quilting pinwheel block

I have been trying some new patterns using the Angle Play templates.  Angle Play quilts feature strong graphic lines formed by half-square and half-rectangle triangles and lots of pinwheels.  It’s time to think of new quilting designs in triangles! A Basic … Continue reading

Free Motion Monday – Figure 8 Quilting Design

Loops are an easy free motion quilting design that adds great texture to a quilt with lots of straight lines.  I chose a figure 8 quilting design for a recent customer quilt.  The quilt pattern is Stacked Coins and she used men’s shirts to create the blocks.  This is a keepsake quilt for children to remember their father – what a touching gift!

free motion quilting figure eight

Free Motion Quilting is like Writing in Cursive!

The figure 8 quilting design looks like a line of Ls. I have to remind myself to keep a steady pace with the stitching so my tension doesn’t get wonky on the back. You can adjust this design to fit any space.  It would be equally effective in sashing strips or a border.

free motion quilting loops

Audition Quilt Designs Before Stitching

When I loaded this quilt onto my longarm machine, I knew what the background would be since the customer had requested echoed pebbles.  Of course, stitching white thread on a white background can be tricky, but it is a fun free motion filler design.

The primary blocks took more thought.  Many of the shirts were plaid so there are alot of striaght lines in this quilt. I had several ideas so I drew a quick sample of the Stacked Coins pattern in my notebook and auditioned these designs.

free motion quilt sketch stacked coins pattern

Maybe a basic grid of wavy lines?  What about a single feather?  Check out more free motion quilting designs here.

No, I really liked the loopy Figure 8 quilting design. I chose a light blue, slightly variegated thread that blends nicely with all the colors in the shirts.

For the outside border, I kept it simple with straight line quilting in a matching navy thread.

stacked coins quilt longarm quilting

Would you have chosen a different free motion quilting design?  I’d love to see your work! Email photos to and I will add them to my project gallery.

Need some practice with free motion designs?  I have a free workbook for you!

Free Motion Monday – Stars and Stripes

Happy Independence Day!  Here in the U.S. of A we celebrate our country’s birthday on the 4th of July, waving the Stars and Stripes and proudly displaying our patriotism in red, white, and blue.  That patriotic feeling extends to the quilting world in various ways.  My charity of choice is the Quilts of Valor Foundation whose mission is “… to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.”  When I am finishing a QOV, I include stars and stripes in the quilting designs to convey the gratitude I have for the servicemember who will ultimately receive the quilt.

quilts of valor disappearing nine patch

Adding Stars to your quilt

Most of us learned to sketch a simple five pointed star as a child which makes it a great starting point for free motion quilting. Combine the five pointed star with meandering lines and you can finish your patriotic quilt in a jiffy.

stars free motion quilting

Maybe you are feeling SPARKLY!  Quilt a straight-line star, similar to an asterisk (*) and branch off any line to move to the next space.  Sparklers can be lined up, then offset in a border, or stitched in a more random fashion.

asterisk star free motion quilting

Quilting Stripes

Adding stripes to your quilt is quite fashionable.  Straight line quilting can add modern flair to your quilt, especially when you include an unexpected pop of color as LeAnn/shecanquilt does.

stripes free motion quilting

If you want your stripes to mimic a flag, just wave~~~  put a gentle curve into your stitching line. Remember to keep the edges straight.

Stars and Stripes

Here is an example of both designs in one image.  Start with a classic star and exit to the top right to begin the stripes. Vary the spacing as desired, then travel to a new starting point.

stars and stripes free motion quilting

I have several more patriotic quilts waiting for some free motion quilting.  These stars and stripes will surely find their way to fabric soon!

Related Post: See how I quilted the Swoon pattern for a QOV.

My Summertime table runner is the perfect place to try out free motion quilting designs!

3 Reasons why I love EQ7

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links

How does the tactile experience of quilting fit into the high tech world of computer design?  Electric Quilt developed a software package that has become my favorite tool for designing quilts.  What began as a long process of sketching with graph paper, drafting multiple copies for coloring and then pages of calculations has become an enjoyable online process.  Notice that I did not say it was faster, mainly because I get lost in the process and end up creating seven versions of a quilt in the time it used to take me to design just one!

Let me share the top 3 reasons why I love EQ7: coloring, yardage calculations and free motion quilt sketches!
reasons I love EQ7 color auditions


#1 : EQ7 helps you audition colors for your quilt

EQ7 has a great selection of colors, in both fabrics and solids.  You can spend many hours coloring your favorite quilt pattern with just the click of the mouse.  You can also upload pictures of your own fabric stash!

solid palette EQ7palettes in EQ7 solid or fabric

I start in the block library to find a quilt block, then I select the coloring tool and play until something strikes my fancy.  Remember to save everything to the sketchbook as you make changes, so that you can come back to the version you liked best!

Need more help learning to use the EQ7 program?  Check out Beaquilter’s tutorial library or the Electric Quilt website!

#2: EQ7 calculates fabric yardage for your project

I am a former math teacher, so working out all the calculations to figure out how much fabric my next project requires never scares me too much.  But, any time you can speed up the process means that much more time for quilting!  This is another reason I love EQ7.  Once I design a quilt with a certain block size, and set the border size, the computer does the rest of the work.

EQ7 cactus blossom quilt designEQ7 calculates fabric yardage for my project





Using the print preview option, I can see that this quilt will need 2-1/4 yd of green fabric, 5/8 yd pink fabric and 5/8 yd of a light background fabric.  Of course, once I set foot in the quilt store, those yardage estimates may increase by 50-100%…stash acquisition is an investment opportunity, right?!?

Related: there are several books about designing quilts with EQ7.

#3: EQ7 helps plan free motion quilting

The final reason I love EQ7 is that I can preview free motion quilting designs before I put the quilt under the needle. I simply print a few copies of the block and sketch my designs on paper first.

reasons I love EQ7 sketch free motion quilting

EQ7 has an extensive library of blocks and it has an EasyDraw function that allows you to create your own block designs as well.  When a single block is printed in grayscale, it becomes the foundation for planning free motion quilting designs.  Sometimes, your original quilting plan may become too complex and having another page ready to sketch helps you find a creative solution.

Related: I had to adjust the quilting designs for a Swoon block.

Why I love EQ7


EQ7 quilt design software helps me choose colors, calculate yardage requirements, and plan free motion quilting designs.  EQ7 is practically a necessity for anyone who loves to design their own quilts.  If you get stuck with color selection or frustrated with the math, let this software help you out.  Computers can make our lives easier and the best part is that we have more time to quilt!

What are your favorite tools for the quilt design process?

Free Motion Monday – Follow the Fabric

Where do you find inspiration for your free motion quilting?  If the quilt contains classic blocks or soft colors, traditional feathers add a touch of elegance.  If there are busy, bold prints then the quilting details may not be noticeable so a simple meander might be the best choice.  And sometimes, you can follow the designs in the fabric itself to create gorgeous texture and whimsical patterns.

applique lantern quilt top

Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links.

A customer brought me a quilt with a variety of prints and said a pantograph (edge to edge design) would be fine.  I looked over the pattern – Lanterns  – and decided it would be more fun, and perhaps less time consuming, to do a bunch of different free motion quilting filler designs.

Free Motion Quilting Design – Traveling Flames
free motion quilting, Tula Pink

One of the prints is a Tula Pink fabric from the Chipper line, featuring this super cute fox.  I outlined the fox, and filled around it with Traveling Flames.  Once you are comfortable with the basic S-curve that makes the center of the flame, you can widen the design a bit and travel in any direction.

free motion quilting traveling flames

Free Motion Quilting – Echoed Spirals

Several fabrics called out for spirals.  In the tree rings pictured above, I traveled between each circle and the spirals were contained with the print.  In this green section, the spirals are almost touching.

free motion quilting, echoed spiral

I stitched a basic spiral, then echoed around the outside 2-3 times before stitching the next spiral.

how to stitch an echoed spiral

Tip: Use the hopping foot as a visual reference to keep the echoes evenly spaced!

With practice, your eye will learn the “right” distance for echoes.  I aim for a quarter inch in most cases.

Do you have a quilt whose fabric is calling you and inspiring some free motion quilting?  Please share in the comments.

Free Motion Quilting – Practice Sketches

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Muscle memory is important for any repetitive task, and free motion quilting certainly qualifies! If you don’t want to spend the time and money creating practice quilting sandwiches out of muslin and batting, then grab some paper and doodle away!

Lori at The Inbox Jaunt has some great doodle exercises and free motion quilting tutorials.

Creating a Zentangle is another way to get into the creative sketching groove and play with designs that can translate into thread and fabric.

sketchbook tools

I bought a 5×7 artist’s sketchbook and some fine-point Sharpie markers to start my mornings with a daily sketch. (Check out my Instagram feed @truebluequilts for #dailysketchbook)  Some days I am in the mood for feathers and sometimes I divide the page to practice different fillers.

Related post: Free Motion Quilting – Starting on Paper

Dividing the page into different widths can help you plan border designs.

sketchbook quilting designs

Or work with circles.

sketchbook free motion quilting

Mandalas are another technique that can expand your creativity as you design a new element for each layer of the image.

Once you have a design on paper, it is time to see how it looks on fabric.  Some people recommend charity quilts or baby quilts as practice pieces, since the recipients are more forgiving.  (This is no excuse for sloppy work!  The comparison is giving a quilt to a non-judgmental child versus submitting your work to a show to compete for an award.)

Related Post: Free Motion Quilting – From Sketchbook to Finished Quilt 

Sketching gets the creative juices flowing and it helps cement a certain design into your memory.  Free motion quilting can start on paper!

Grab a pen and share your artistry with us by using #truebluequiltsketches on social media.