The Free Motion Quilting Project: Quilt Along #20 - Modern Quilting Design

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quilt Along #20 - Modern Quilting Design

Have you gotten on your sewing machine this week and pieced up a stack of angular modern blocks?  I really hope you have!

This week we're going to put all those blocks together to create a quilt top, then mark a design that will break the top into many sections for quilting, and then quilt a few of these lines to get the quilt secured.

Yes, there's quite a lot to do this week so let's get started with the video:

Difficulty Level - Beginner.

Design Family - Foundational.

In this video, I used Pinmoors to baste my modern quilt top because they're easier to put into and take out of the quilt and don't tear up my hands. Click here to learn more about this awesome basting tool!

Now let's break up this tutorial into 3 parts: Construction, Marking, and Quilting so it's easier to digest.  While it might seem like a lot to do, you definitely can get through all these steps in a few hours.

I. Construction.

In the video I really didn't have time to fully explain how to construct your modern quilt.  Here's the most easy, simplified way to put your L shaped blocks together:

1. Cut all blocks and background blocks a single size.

I choose 7 inches, so I cut all my blocks this size, plus about 10 background blocks (just 7 inches of plain white fabric) and about five 7 inch wide strips.  Everything being the same width will make it much easier to put it all together!

2. Arrange your blocks and background.

I'm giving you permission to play here, not torture yourself!  If you tend to be like me and over-analyze a quilt design and endlessly arrange and re-arrange blocks until you're so frustrated you're ready to throw it all in the trash...STOP!

Take a deep breath and throw the blocks on the ground and just go with wherever they land.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
 Now to make the process easier, shift the blocks slightly so they line up with your background blocks and strips like this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
3. Piece together in a logical format.

Most quilts are put together by sewing blocks together into strips, then sewing the strips together into the finished top.  Again, don't go overboard with this!  If your strips end up finishing at different lengths, slice off the longer one.  There's no need to get obsessive about pieces being cut and pieced precisely with this quilt.

So now you have a finished quilt top!  I'll warn you, these are a bit addictive and you might end up making a few more than you expected.  So far I've pieced 3:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
free motion quilting | Leah Day
free motion quilting | Leah Day
This last one is quilted with the design we're going to learn next!

II. Marking.

Now let's talk about the quilting design!  For this quilt, we want to play and experiment with all 5 of the designs we've learned so far this year on a larger scale so the quilt will finish super soft and cuddly.

Of course, there are millions of ways to use multiple designs over a quilt top.  You could pick any one of them and quilt it over the whole top, you could pick 4 designs and quilt 1 in each quadrant, you could quilt a different design in each colored square and a single design over the background.

But for this particular quilt, let's learn how to quilt all 5 designs in a totally random, totally free-form way!

The inspiration for this style comes from Zentangles, which involves first drawing a "string" which is simply a series of lines and wiggles that break up a space into smaller chunks.

Rather than a string, I like to call this a Zen Break for quilting and here's a couple different ideas:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Basically all you do is ignore all the blocks and design you've just pieced and mark your Zen Break lines over the quilt top.  These can be giant wiggles, loops, zig zags, or any other type of line you can think of!

The point here is to break the quilt up into manageable sections that can each be filled with different designs. 

Coincidentally, Cindy Needham taught something a bit similar this month in Sew Cal Gal's Free Motion Quilting Challenge.  You can check out her "divide and conquer" method for mixing feathers with many filler designs right here.

When marking your Zen Break, make sure to use a marking pen or pencil you trust.  For this quilt, I used a Sewline marking pencil, but if it was lighter fabric, I would use a Fine Line water soluble blue pen.

Also watch how close your lines get together.  You really don't want to create a lot of tinsy tiny areas, which will be tricky to fill with large scale designs.

Once you've marked your Zen Break, it's time to baste your quilt!  To review how to baste your quilt with Pinmoors, check out the video from our wholecloth tutorial right here.

III. Quilting.

With a marked Zen Break and basted quilt, it's time to get on the machine and start quilting!  Start in the center of the quilt and follow a line all the way to the edge.  You may want to review the tutorial on quilting on a line right here.

Yes, I believe you should quilt from the center to the outside edges, but if you don't think it matters, quilt these lines however it works easiest for you!

Once all the lines are quilted, take some time to hide all those thread breaks inside the middle layer of the quilt.

Now to make these lines stand out a bit better, and to learn a new awesome quilting technique, let's echo them all!

Echoing is a simple quilting technique where you stitch a set distance away from a previous line of quilting.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
In this situation, you do not mark the echo line, but instead eyeball the distance between the line before and the line you're quilting and try to keep the distance between the two consistent.

Echoing is something that looks very easy, but can actually be quite challenging to master.  It takes time to be able to "see" the distance and program your hands to move the quilt and keep the lines properly spaced.

As with all things with this quilt, don't worry if it's not perfect!  In fact, it may look even better if it's not perfect!

Just stitch your lines, echo them all, remove tons of pins, and then next week we'll begin filling each of these sections with our 5 independent designs: Stippling, Sharp Stippling, Zippling, Circuit Board, and Loopy Line.

Instructions for Linking Up Your Blog:

1. Write your blog post. Publish it on your blog.

2. Copy the link of the specific blog post. This is not just the link to your blog itself (, but the link to the specific post:

3. Click the blue link up button above and paste your link into the box.

Keep in mind that you're posting your progress from LAST week on THIS week's post. This way you have time to watch the lesson, play with the ideas, then post your progress to the next quilt along. I hope that makes sense!

Let's Go Quilt,

Leah Day


  1. OMG, I love the quilting on that last quilt. I've got to get a move on and get my quilt put together! This homework looks FUN! (Although, I think all your homework is the most fun homework I've ever done!)

  2. Can this be quilted by marking the backing and having the quilt top underneath?

  3. Love it! Those pin heads look amazing. Great to stuff in your ears on sewing retreats with snoring roomies too!

  4. I got your email and I bought your book from Amazon. Thanks for the notice on the price break.

  5. I'm in on this one! Got my sandwich done and now the marking and echoing. So excited to have stumbled across your site or I'd not be FMQ'ing today!

  6. What with surgery earlier this month and family calls on my time, I didn't have time to come up with a new quilt, so I did my FMQ on another of the 14" blocks on my DIL's T-shirt quilt. Hope that's okay that I combined FMQ Challenge and project together. Look forward to what you have for us next week.


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