The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #26

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Question Thursday #26

It's Thursday which means it's time to answer your questions about free motion quilting or...well...anything to do with quilting in general!  Remember to post your questions in the comments section of any post or in your own blog post you're linking up to the Quilt Along and I'll try to answer as many as I can on Thursday.

The first question comes from Patricia H. on Facebook:

When you are quilting a pattern, is it important to keep it uniform in size?

Full question: For instance, if you are quilting feathers, should each feather be pretty equal in size? Or hearts, spirals, etc?

This is a great question and it seems like there would be a simple answer - keep everything the same size / same number of rings / same number of echoes, etc.

But then I stopped for a minute and looked at a few of the quilts hanging on my walls.  Filling a quilt with texture is a unique, rather organic technique.

Sometimes a design will fit and fill easily, where a single set of repetitions will fill the area perfectly:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Sometimes, however, you will have to bend and twist your shapes in place.  Sometimes some shapes will have to have 10 echoes where the others around it have 5.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Hot Candy - notice the shapes with multiple echoes and the shapes with only 1?
As for size, keeping everything the same size and shape does look good.

But varying the size and shape is also necessary to fill the space consistently.  Sometimes a leaf, spiral, circle, or heart MUST be bigger because that is the space it needs to grow into a fill.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The catch here is scale - notice how that shape is bigger, yet the scale has remained the same.

The shape is big, but the distance between all the lines of quilting is still consistent.  The shape is not denser or looser than the rest of the quilting, which means your eyes won't catch on it when you look at that area.

So I guess the answer here is this: pick a scale - how wide your stitching lines are apart - and maintain this.

Worry less about the size and shape of every single little heart or spiral or feather.  Sometimes they will have to be bigger, sometimes smaller in order to fit into the space properly.

The next question has to do with hanging quilts from Mary Sue in the comments of yesterday's post: 

How do you hang your quilts?

Full Question: how do you hang quilts that you don't want to add a sleeve to & don't want to place quilt hangers all over you house (do to the fact you never know what size you may put up there next)?

Well...I kind of do have stuck hangers all over my house Mary Sue!

When it comes to hanging a quilt, if it's intended to go on the wall, I stitch on a hanging sleeve.  The best instructions to follow on this area AQS's guidelines for hanging sleeves for their competitions.

Even if you don't want to compete, I'd still say this is the best method for creating a hanging sleeve and for having a reliable, workable way to hang your quilts in your home.

As for displaying quilts, consider this option:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I've hung a huge curtain rod on this wall of my guest bedroom.  It's actually bigger than I need it to be (too big to even shoot a photo of fully), so I can hang a larger quilt and smaller quilt at the same time off the same rod.

For quilt TOPS, yes, I'm guilty of just tacking them to the wall with thumb tacks.  It's part of the benefit of using extra fabric in the borders - you can mistreat those corners all you want because they'll just get whacked off at the end before binding.

Of course, even if you've covered every possible wall in your house with curtain rods, you will likely run out of space within a year or two of making quilts.  Right now I have two massive curtain rods set up, so at most I can display only two of my big show quilts, and at the last count I have around 6.

So it's good to also learn how to store your quilts properly.  I'll share a post about storing quilts later this weekend because there's definitely a right and wrong way to do this when it comes to wall hangings and show quilts.

Now let's answer a question from Danielle Hudson about this week's post on painting a quilt:

If you paint your quilt, will the paint eventually crack over time? 

Full Question: It just seems that a quilt is so flexible, that it would. Does it make the fabric really stiff where the paint is applied?

Here's my personal experience: The photo above is actually the back of Release Your Light (she's double sided which means she can be hung displaying the front or back).  Her front side looks like this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Before painting and quilting, this was once a large white bed sheet.  Her hair and body were hand appliqued in place, but all the other colors - the yellow, orange, red, and black - all of that background and border color was created with Shiva Paintstiks.

This quilt was created an painted in the summer of 2009, so it's been 3 years.  I pulled her out of storage and put her on the wall a few days ago and took a hard look at the paint and surface appearance.  As of right now, there's no sign that the paint is cracking or fading.  It's honestly just as soft and supple as it was the day she was finished.

But understand that Shiva Paintstiks differ greatly from Jacquard Luminiere Textile Paints.  Each paint works differently and will age differently.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Hot Cast  was painted thickly with Luminiere Paints, but has only been completed for 1 year.  I unrolled her today just to check and looked closely at her molten vein lines and the columns surrounding the goddess.  As of today, there's no sign of any cracking, and when I touch the paint, no, it's not hard, but still very pliable.

Touching both of these quilts, they do not feel hard and stiff from the paint.  Yes, there is a noticeable feel to the paint (you can tell the difference of a painted area from a unpainted area with your eyes closed), but it's not so stiff and hard that I'm worried it will one day crack and crumble off the fabric.

Maybe this is the true test of a textile paint - to dry, but not harden to the point that it cannot take the movement and drape of fabric.

It's almost as though the paint and fabric have bonded, and while the hand of the quilt is different, it's not stiff and hard the way a canvas covered in oil paints feels.

Ultimately the reason I've shared these two quilts and their relative ages is to illustrate the point that I have absolutely no clue what this paint will do long term.

Many times I've been asked questions about materials, like using polyester thread and poly batting, that deal with the longevity of my quilts.  Yes, these are good questions to ask, but I feel that we're all shooting in the dark here.

Most of the materials we're using on our quilts these days: synthetic threads, batting, paint, spray basting, fusible web, fusible thread, etc, etc, etc - NONE* of it has been tested in laboratories to know what works and what doesn't, or what truly impacts the longevity of our quilts.

In a large way, the quilting hobby is driven by rumors, biases, strong opinions, and fear. Yes, we all want to create beautiful quilts that outlive us, but who's to say what will last and what won't?

Case in point is a 60 year old quilt I have that used a polyester blanket as the batting.  The cotton fabric is so threadbare, it will tear at the slightest touch, so it's the thread and batting that are largely holding this quilt together.

Ultimately what guides my hand with choosing materials, like paint or polyester thread, is what outcome I want for my finished quilt.

On Emergence, at this stage there is no other choice for adding more color and vibrancy to the goddess's body.  Paint was the only option here:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The same is true, for me, with polyester thread.  I just CAN'T do this with cotton thread:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Should I bang my head against a wall and continue to use cotton thread, when it breaks every 10 stitches, when it is the ultimate road block between machine quilting my quilts or leaving them unquilted, or should I seek and find a thread that does what I want, no matter the material or the rumors and fear that come with it?

We all ultimately have to ask this question.  Not necessarily about thread, but about every different material we choose to use, out of necessity, out of look, out of ease of construction.

The answer is in what you want to create.

The thing I love most about this craft of quilting is that we can all choose differently - different materials, different techniques, different methods, different quilts - but ultimately, at the end of the day, you've still created a quilt - a thing of warmth and love, of creativity and passion.

So if the idea of painting a quilt terrifies you, that's okay.  We can all choose different roads here, but ultimately, we're all stitching towards the same thing.

Let's go quilt,


* Note: some of these materials have been tested and found to degrade fabric more quickly.  You can read about them here in the article Danger! Chemicals and Quilts.


  1. • • • Hi Leah, I would like to add to your answer for hanging quilts.

    I like to use drapery rings with the clips. They fit perfectly in the 3M Command "Mini Hooks". I can hang them anywhere and they won't mar the walls. I even use them on a quilt that does have a sleeve, because my landlord does not approve of holes in the wall.

  2. Why do you use a 'dry' iron instead of a steam iron?

  3. I'm here primarily as an Embroiderer, not a Quilter at all. Conversely if you look to creative embroidery you will find ample use of fabric paints, Shiva paintsticks(called Markals here in the UK) so there's a whole plethera of knowledge elsewhere, books on the subject and no doubt the internet is also packed with info. Try also looking at the world of scrapbooking/paper arts. We each use the same products in different ways, one group perhaps exploiting what another sees as a detriment. Ideas back and forth. You may find a product changes its name in another specialty, just because its better marketing or sounds exclusive. My current blog posting has a piece on it which is made of paper, contains hand embroidery and yet is based on a piecing technique from the quilting world.... all of those things feed into my creating. I don't see that they should be kept in allocated boxes. As with your painting Leah - you use whatever technique suits the project, simple as.

  4. Unknown - I always use a dry iron (no water, no steam) because I feel that the dry heat does a better job of getting wrinkles out of fabric without stretching or sqewing the fabric. Keep in mind, I also use starch and when used together (starch and steam) it just seems to make a really muggy mess!



  5. I would like to say both a Thank You and a congratulations on your article in the August/September issue of Quilters Newsletter - Free Motion Flowers! Simple concise instructions and great pictures to follow along. I have been a silent follower since 2009, it is a delight to see you popping up all over in print, I am anxiously awaiting delivery of my own copy of 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs. Keep up the good work and remember always that there are many "like-minded" spirits all around you!
    Jan G.

  6. Thanks for the paint info. I guess it would take years to know how it will really age. It's good info to know that after 3 years, your painted quilt has not cracked. that's all I was really wondering. I'm sure ALL quilts become fragile after time. I have one my great grandmother made in a cedar chest I don't dare to use. I just take it out from time to time and admire the beauty. I guess I just need to try for my self and see up close how it changes the fibers. I'm just not that brave yet. Probably something I'd try on a small wall quilt. It does seem to give a very vibrant look.

  7. Once again, so much solid info....thanks so much for your clear answers!

  8. I think this goddess looks fabulous and glowing now.

    When you use these paints, do you always use them "over" quilted thread, or have you ever sewed over areas that have been painted?


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