The Free Motion Quilting Project: Can I Create a New Free Motion Filler Design Every Day for a Year?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Can I Create a New Free Motion Filler Design Every Day for a Year?

Welcome to the project! My name is Leah Day and this year I've challenged myself to come up with a new free motion filler design every day for a whole year.

Why am I doing this?

I had been quilting for 4 years and in July 2009, right in the middle of working on the giant quilt "Release Your Light" I realized I was filling up almost the whole quilt with only 2 free motion filler designs: Stippling and McTavishing.

Worried that someone would notice that this huge quilt was filled with only 2 designs, I scoured the quilting world for more. There had to be more designs! There just had to be!

And I did discover 2 more: Pebbling, and Paisley. But still that seemed very limiting.

A quilt is a piece of art and the free motion filler designs add an element of texture and thread to the surface of the quilt that nothing else can. A quilt is simply not a quilt without the quilting stitches.

Think of the filler designs as texture created by a painter with a paintbrush.

Only instead of paint, quilters are creating that texture with thread.

Look at any beautifully quilted quilt: your eye is not drawn to the applique stitches, your hands do not reach out to touch the places where pieces match. It's the quilting that draws us in, takes our breath away, and separates a nice quilt from a spectacular quilt.

I searched for a book to teach me creative free motion filler designs. I didn't find one.

Maybe I wasn't searching hard enough because when the idea of this project came to me, I couldn't get it out of my head.

To give myself the freedom to sit at my machine and's the most amazing feeling in the whole world.

It's so easy to get bogged down during the final weeks or months of finishing a quilt. Big projects can take years to complete, and the desire to start fresh is a constant temptation.

What do I hope to get out of this project?

Honestly, I want to become a better quilter. I'm young enough to know that I'm pretty good, but old enough to know that pretty good isn't good enough, if you know what I mean.

I want to start planning my quilts with 5-10 different free motion designs and I'm definitely planning to use all 365 designs when creating my quilts (though maybe not all in the same quilt!)

This project is going to give me a reason to sit down at my sewing machine each day and play. It's also going to give me a reason to carry a camera and snap photos of things that make me think in thread.

Of course, every project or challenge must have rules and guidelines to follow.

But let's not get too bogged down with rules or regulations. Let's go quilt!



  1. Leah ~
    After just seeing the latest movie "Julie and Julia" stumbling upon your blog makes me think about the similarity. I have made a couple of quilts and have even tried my hands at meandering a baby quilt once a number of years ago. Now, I sit here with another pieced baby quilt that has been anally layered with backing and batting and pinned almost to perfection, and I find myself afraid to start free motion quilting on it. It's not that I'm not artistic, it's not that I don't remember it being so much fun and filled with freedom...I'm just afraid of screwing it up after working so hard on the other components of this quilt. I want to do a meandering stitch that includes a vine and leaf pattern. That's why I've been searching on-line and came upon your videos, etc. Can you help me? I have always told myself, "what's the worst thing that could happen if I do this?" When I answer that question, then I ask myself "can I live with that?" Usually the answer is yes. Today I rolled up the left and right sides of the quilt and put quilt clips to hold the rolled edges in place, I moved my sewing machine to the dining room table to afford me more room for the whole process of quilting it, and I even bought myself two different color thread options (yet another decision to make, however). Why am I stuck?

    Deb S.
    Dewey, AZ

  2. Leah, I'm with you! One of the most important things I learned from Karen McTavish is training my brain to quilt by doodling. My new year's resolution was: A doodle a day. Some days, I do two. I mostly use a sketch pad, but if I have to travel light, I use one of those magic erase boards (you know the ones where you draw, lift the sheet, and the pattern is erased? I photograph the drawing before I erase it. If I'm home, I use a whiteboard and do the same thing. I have created some cool quilting motifs this way. I don't want to divert you from your task, but I can suggest a couple of free motion filler books that freed me from SMS-- Same Motif Syndrome. :-)

    I'm looking forward to catching up on your journey, but glad I'm kinda of close to the beginning.

  3. Hi Deb,

    I understand your feelings completely. It's scary to try something new and risk completely ruining a quilt. But here's the question I want to ask you:

    Is the quilt really going to be ruined?

    Seam rippers exist for a reason! I've done my fair share of ripping and trust me, after 8 hours of pulling stitches out, the last thing you want to do is make another mistake, but mistakes happen! It's not the end of the world, and certainly not the end of your quilt.

    Here's my advice for your quilt: practice first. Yes, you can quilt it, but somethings you need a little warm up to get your free motion mojo flowing!

    When I'm working on any quilt, I always keep a fat quarter sized practice quilt basted up next to the machine. Just take 2 ugly fat quarters and a scrap of batting and you're in business.

    Use this scrap to test out your free motion. If you don't like the effects you're getting, try another design, try using quilting gloves, try turning your feed dogs back on - sometimes that helps with thread tension.

    Having your machine set up on a flush surface is key. Checkout my video on setting up your quilting space at:

    I'll be honest with you: I didn't get good at free motion overnight! I had to quilt my way through 2 very ugly quilts that just ended up being learning quilts. No, they weren't ruined, but they aren't something I'm going to win awards for either.

    Practice. Listen to Nike and "Just do it!" You'll do fine, and if you do ruin your quilt, you can always blame me ;-)



  4. Hi Aleeda,

    Yes! Doodling is extremely important! I've started doodling every morning religiously to create new designs.

    I agree about making the same motifs over and over, but sometimes slight variations can create a whole new look and texture.

    All I know is the more I create, the more ideas I get for new designs!

    Happy quilting,


  5. Do you have plans for all the quilting Samples you are making? They are so beautiful! I see a book in your future!

  6. Angie - Currently I keep the 4" squares organized in a notebook. Whenever I need to pick a filler design for a quilt, I page through the book of designs!

    It almost feels like a painter choosing which paints to use.

    I do want to publish the designs in a book so that everyone will have the ability to page through a variety of designs and choose the best texture for any quilting situation.

    If you know any publishers, send them my way!


  7. I love this idea. I'll be following your blog for sure. I can't wait to do a quilt and start machine quilting a block a day... Wonderful. I'm wondering what kind of sewing machine you use. I have a Juki TL98Q with free motion foot with a completely round bottom on the foot. I see your foot is only half a foot, which is gives a great viewing area. Did you modify your free motion foot.

  8. Hi GailM - Yes, I quilt on a Juki TL-98QE and yes, I did modify the foot.

    Take a pair of pliers and bend circle back and forth until it breaks off. Then file the sharp edges down until they're smooth.

    I also ripped off the little bar across the top of the foot that makes it hop on the quilt. That was a very annoying feature that I could not stand!

    Don't be afraid of modifying, ripping, or "breaking" things in order to make them work better for you. I couldn't see anything around the original foot, but with it ripped in half, it's the best thing in the world.

    Happy quilting,


  9. What a great idea for a blog! Thank you for everything, I think I will try free-motion quilting again soon!
    Love from France.

  10. Leah ,
    I have come in on day 28 and already this is a great rescource for both hand amd machine quilters.
    I look forward to the rest of the year and beyond! You make my virtual quilt design a day look pretty ordinary .... your samples may not be huge, but the are real!
    Judy B

  11. Hello there Leah, I have been following you for a little over a week. I love it. You are inspiring confidence. Thank you! I just blogged about you over on my site and I look forward to following you over the course of the year! Thank you for being so generous with your journey!

  12. Hi Leah
    I just found your site and it is great. Thank you for the wonderful ideas. I love to stipple and that is mostly what I do but I would like to do something else. I have tried all different ways of putting designs on the quilt to follow but find I don't follow very well; I would much rather free motion with something other than stipple. I had almost made the decision that my "signature" would be that all my quilts are stippled which would be OK but your patterns open up a whole new arena to play in.

  13. Hi Deb S,
    I often buy baby panels at fabric stores
    and use them for my practice quilt sandwich. I'm not afraid of ruining anything as I haven't spent hours piecing. I practice by quilting different designs in the background and various shapes in the panel. It gives me incentive to try quilting better cause I finish the quilt to have ready to give to someone I know who is having a baby. Hope this helps you become "unstuck". LOL

    Judy R.
    Ottawa, Canada

  14. What a wonderful way to have a quilting pattern library to view when ever you need a pattern! Plus, you have practiced the pattern ahead of time. Thanks for sharing.

    Chris at Quilting Weekly posted this link in the chat.

    Kathy (kquilts)

  15. Thank you for sharing. I am a long arm quilter and I am trying to come up with new ideas all the time. I will be following your blog.

  16. Love your blog! I've been following the ideas off and on the last couple of weeks. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Jacqui in Canada

  17. Hi Leah,

    I look forward eagerly to your email announcing the newest background fillers, so you certainly are not "bugging" me.

    Your generosity in sharing these wonderful fillers is amazing. I wonder if when you are finished you could make a DVD or a printed booklet and market it. I would love to own a permanent record. Barbara in Nevada (this will come through from John because it is my husband's account)

  18. I just spent several hours reading through your's amazing! I've been in a stippling rut, so this is an inspiring resource for me. Thanks so much!!!

    I also quilt on a juki, which I L-O-V-E!!! I think I will be doing a little foot modifying this morning. I've had the same problem with the foot smashing the quilt top, so hopefully I can put an end to that.

  19. wonderful, wonderful! I am starting at Day 1 and practicing on pre-printed baby panels (an idea from a post on this page). I have some measure of fear but will try and be fearless.
    Thank you for your clear video tut found each day.


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