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Quilt it Freehand

The patchworks seamlines were the only quilting guide for this freehand quilt.
The quilts title, The Perfect Existential Object, is handwritten on the tan block.
A classic quilting frame allows the author to see the whole quilt at one time.
The patchworks seamlines were the only quilting guide for this freehand quilt.

The patchwork's seamlines were the only quilting guide for this freehand quilt.

by Joe Cunningham
from Threads #73, pp. 50-54

Nowadays precision and symmetry are commonplace in both machine and hand quilting, thanks to the many tools and devices available for measuring and marking. The demand among quilters for exactitude arises from their desire to quilt designs that complement the symmetry in the precision-pieced quilt tops that are so popular today.

Freehand quilting
  With the patchwork's seamlines as the only quilting guide, the author dispensed with marking "The Perfect Existential Object" (69 by 70 in., 1997) and quilted freehand instead.

But this insistence on precision quilting hasn't always been the case. Quiltmakers of the last century took a much freer approach, sometimes intentionally infusing their quilts with irregularities and asymmetry. And instead of casting their quilting stitches in a subordinate role to the patchwork, these quilters were likely to go their own way with tiny stitches meandering across the quilt top, heedless of its patterns, freehand-quilting everything from simple outlines and floral shapes to large-scale borders and overall fan patterns. I've always liked the beauty and spontaneity of their quilting, so after years of meticulously marking and stitching symmetrical designs, I decided to give freehand quilting a try.

One step at a time
Even though I had plenty of seams in my piecework to use as guideposts, the idea of quilting with no marks to follow was more intimidating than I expected. It was disconcerting to think about starting a line of quilting wherever it pleased me, and I was so afraid of making mistakes that I had to wean myself slowly from the security of designs drawn on the quilt top. I began with outline quilting, which I quickly learned didn't need to be marked since the seam I was outlining was only 1/4 in. away from my needle. I couldn't wander more than a millimeter or two from the line before the stitching looked severely lost, and by the time I reinserted the needle, I was back on track aligning my stitches with the nearby seam.

Next came small blocks- With confidence gained from freehand outline quilting, I decided to venture further away from the security of seamlines while staying within the boundaries of a single block. Stitching diagonally across small squares in alternating directions didn't seem too scary. I only needed to decide in advance how far apart the diagonal rows should be, then do my best to maintain that distance--which, it turned out, wasn't difficult at all.

Quilt these designs freehand
Outlining Diagonals
1. Outlining (Click to Enlarge)
Stitch 1/4 in. from seamlines.
  2. Diagonals (Click to Enlarge)
Establish one long diagonal line, then quilt additional lines parallel to first line. If neeed, insert pin to mark the needle's "destination" at end of line.
Hanging diagonals Feathers
3. Hanging Diamonds
(Click to Enlarge)
Apply all diagonals in one direction, then quilt crosshatching lines in opposite direction.
a. Use angle in piecework to guidelin's direction. b. Use seamine to guide first set of lines.
  4. Feathers (Click to Enlarge)
Quilt two parallel lines to establish feather's half-heart on either side of line.
Fans Clamshells

5. Fans (Click to Enlarge)
To quilt one set of concentric arcs:
a. Quilt one quarter-circle arc.
b. Quilt additional arcs one needle length apart. To create neighboring sets of concentric arcs: Beging new set of arcs with quarter-circle positioned at base of previous set. Remaining arcs in each set will be 3/4 circle or more.

  6. Clamshells (Click to Enlarge)
Establish first row of half-circles, then quilt additional rows of half-circles offset on centers of previous half-circles.
Basket weave set on point

7.Basket Weave Set on Point (left)
(Click to Enlarge)
To create this variation on traditional basket-weave pattern quilt large diagonal drid then fill each square with parallel lines.
a. Establish long diagonal
b. Quilt additional diagonals
c. Establish perpendicular line then, quilt additional lines.
d. Fill squares with parallel lines that are perpendicular lines in neighboring square .

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Comments (10)

SteveGolden SteveGolden writes: lovely designs
Posted: 9:51 am on March 8th

KathJ KathJ writes: I've always had troubles hurting my fingers when trying to make something complicated. Now I am ready to quilt with no wounds at all!
Posted: 5:21 am on February 25th

MonetViera MonetViera writes: I love this patchwork technique
Posted: 12:53 am on December 7th

WillowMchenry WillowMchenry writes: Nice designs!!!!
Posted: 6:17 am on November 13th

ErinGoodwin ErinGoodwin writes: These look lovely!
Posted: 7:58 am on September 11th

GutterCleaner GutterCleaner writes: Wow, some of the quilt designs were completely new to me. Thanks for teaching me new stuff I guess.
Posted: 8:35 am on August 3rd

GutterCleaner GutterCleaner writes: Wow, some of the quilt designs were completely new to me. Thanks for teaching me new stuff I guess.
Posted: 8:35 am on August 3rd

EdwardJenkins EdwardJenkins writes: Great display .. Really good work
Posted: 2:14 am on July 31st

MollieJ MollieJ writes: Thanks for the tips!
Posted: 9:57 am on July 9th

AWriterInFact AWriterInFact writes: As is so often the case, this was just what I was looking for - I just didn't know I would find it here! Thanks.
Posted: 9:31 am on January 15th

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