Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Feathers Galore!

I love quilting feathers - they are elegant and rich in a quilt, and add a touch of gracefulness. I was asked how I "make feathers" on a recent morning in a quilt shop, and so I gave a quick demonstration... followed by a request to repeat the information. The easiest way to do that is to put it here on my blog. Note that the drawings here are "quick and dirty" -- they have not been cleaned up and smoothed out, because I wanted to get them done. Take a look, and the next time you need to figure out what to put on a quilt.... think about feathers!

These are "formal feathers" which are a bit more elegant than "folk art feathers." You'll see the difference between formal and folk art feathers at the bottom of this entry. Formal feathers require you to back-track on a stitch line.

Step 1: Define the center line for the feathers (the "spine") and the edges that will contain the feathers.

Step 2: Start by making a gentle swoop out and back -- think "half of a heart" (sort of)... You want the feathers to be gracefully curved. This comes with practice. Don't use straight lines on your feathers!

Step 3: Make the second feather. Swoop back with a second "half of a heart" and meet at the top of the first feather.

Step 4: Your needle (hand or machine) is now blocked in and you can't draw another feather... until you back-track across the feather you just made. If you are making feathers by machine, stitch back across the top of the feather you just made, being ever so careful to keep your stitches on top of the first set. This takes some practice, but you will improve with every feather you make. If you are quilting feathers by hand, just slip your needle between the layers of fabric and make it pop out where feather 3 will start.

Step 5: Back-track across the top of 2 and swoop around to make feather 3. Again, think "half of a heart." Some people like to draw all the feather tops and then come back and draw the swooping lines -- they use a penny or a quarter or a quilt spool to draw half-circles, like a row of little hats, along the outer edge of the border line. If that works for you, great. I find it harder to do it that way because my "swoops" don't always want to fit under those little hats!

Step 6: Now that you've done feather 3, go back and draw feather 4 -- half a heart, swooping up to meet the top of feather 3... and then you'll backtrack across the top of the feather you just drew, and finally, draw feather 5.

Step 7: Keep on drawing those feathers... and when you get to the end of the spine, make a little teardrop.

Step 8: Start over at the bottom of the feather spine and draw the feathers on the other side of the spine. You should always draw or stitch your feathers in the direction they move -- don't try and draw them going backwards; they will end up misshapen (unless you can think in reverse better than I can!).

When I am finished, I like to add an "outline" about an eighth of an inch away from the edges of all of the feathers -- it helps define the plume, and it also helps hide any unevenness.

Part of the beauty of feathers is that they can be drawn in an inexhaustible set of shapes and sizes. You can have a straight spine, no spine, a wavy spine, or spines that look like trees, with branches on them. Your feathers can be big and chunky or thin and delicate. You can add little decorative twirls between the feathers. You can make the tops of the feathers rounded... or the shape of a heart... or square. You can do whatever you want!

Here is an example of how to put feathers into a triangle shape. Start by drawing a spine -- you don't have to quilt the spine, but you have to know where it is. In this case, I added a "branch" on the spine. Start at the bottom and begin to add feathers. When you get to the end of the spine, make a teardrop and then start again at the bottom of the spine, on the other side of it. Continue to add feathers and more feathers until the area is full of feathers. Voile!

Okay - but what about the "non-formal" feathers - the folk art feathers? Those are easy to make, and certain quilts will call for them instead of formal feathers. They are more "thready" on a quilt because both sides of every feather are drawn and quilted.

To the right is a quick drawing with the folk art feathers on both sides of a non-existent spine -- the feathers on the left side are fun and silly and imaginative -- perfect for some quilts!

Have fun trying out different feathers. Keep a pencil and paper handy for practicing feathers - you'll be an expert in no time at all!
Happy sewing -
Sue Garman
(c)2008 Susan H. Garman


  1. Sue thanks for the wonderful tips on making a feather design. You make it look so simple but I am still the faint of heart.. day I hope they look as great as yours.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful is something I will reference and practice, practice....

  3. Thank you! How wonderful to share!! Also, I admired your quilt of the month posted on The Quilt Show I upgraded my membership so I could "challenge" myself with your blocks! You are very talented!! Quilted Blessings! Kari