The Free Motion Quilting Project: 29. Fun with Quilting Motifs

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

29. Fun with Quilting Motifs

Judging from the comments I've received lately, this new version of Express Your Love is pretty popular!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

One thing that is making her stand out so beautifully is the extra layer of design I added to her face and body. What is this exactly?

free motion quilting | Leah Day

I call this a Motif - it's a drawn design that's added over the quilt fabric and then outlined to define the shape. This type of quilting is marked because you only want THAT design in THAT space and exactly THAT way. It's very specific, often symmetrical, and not something you could stitch free hand (no marking).

How does this differ from all the designs we've learned so far this year? All of the designs we've learned so far are Fillers - free form designs that can be memorized and stitched without marking.

So really the big difference is Motifs are marked, Fillers are not. Motifs are planned ahead and designed to accent your piecing / applique design specifically. Fillers are planned in the sense that you pick a texture you like, but not marked because you stitch them "free hand" and allow your memorization of the pattern to fill the space completely.

I really hope this isn't confusing. I've so far never touched on motifs at all on this blog, though I use them an incredible amount in my quilting design. Just for reference, Duchess Reigns has hundreds of individual motifs from the goddess in the center to the interwoven ring around her, to the lion heads in the corners.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

She also has multiple filler designs which are stitched around the motifs to give them definition and add more texture. The two can be used separately or together. Personally I think well planned motifs surrounded by beautiful filler designs is the best combination, but you could easily quilt a quilt all with marked motifs or you can quilt a quilt entirely with fillers.

So understand we're not suddenly changing the rules here. We're just adding a new tool for our toolbox - planning a design you mark on the surface of your quilt.

Now enough gabbing! Let's watch the video to see how this works!

Click Here if the Video Does Not Appear

In this video I'm drawing motifs into the quilt by hand just based on what I want to see in the quilt, but you can also use quilting stencils to create awesome quilting motifs instead. The best class I've ever taken on this technique is Design It, Quilt It taught by Cindy Needham. Click here to get Cindy's class for 25% off the regular price.

Now if you're just getting started and want to follow along with this version of the quilt, you can click here to order a Printed Fabric Panel.

I'm also quilting this version entirely with Isacord Silky White thread, and those little weird nugget thingies on the end of my pins are actually Pinmoors, pin anchors used for basting with straight pin.

So whatcha think? Are motifs opening up a whole new world of quilting designs for you? Share your ideas or questions in the comments below!

Let's go quilt,



  1. I'm hoping my quilt top arrives this week as I can't wait to get started. I've got practise sandwiches all over my room and doodle on bits of paper when on the phone at work!

  2. Did you ever quilt your pieced version of " Express Your Love" where you were using French Fuse as a foundation and all the sections were appliqued onto your background?

    1. I'm honestly not sure! I know that sounds bad, but this project really got away from me in so many ways. I still have two or three left unfinished downstairs. It's one of those projects I'd really love to finish up completely, but each quilt still has quite a lot of work left.


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