Christa’s Quilt Along 6.6 – Swirls and Pearls FMQ Tutorial

Are you having fun quilting your String of Pearls quilt yet? I know I am! For today’s lesson, I am going to demo “swirls and pearls” quilting – the motif I quilted in the negative space (the grey areas) of my quilt.

Swirls and Pearls

Swirls and Pearls Quilting

I chose this design because I like how the swirls echo the idea of the square spirals in the square blocks. And of course, I had to throw in some pearls (or pebbles), too! In fact, this motif would also work as an allover design across the surface of your quilt. Remember, take these ideas, play around with them and make them your own. πŸ™‚


Free Motion Quilting Tools

I recommend using a free-motion slider and machingers quilting gloves, along with a topstitch needle and a darning foot to get started with free-motion quilting.

I quilted with So Fine 50wt polyester in the grey areas, and Aurifil 50wt cotton thread in the colored squares and the black areas.

Hint: Be sure to read my intro to free-motion quilting tutorial here.

It took me a total of 20 hours to finish quilting this week. (I loved every second of it!)

Step 1 – Sketching and Practicing (About an Hour)

The biggest mistake I usually make in my quilting is not “auditioning” how the quilting designs will look first. Sometimes there’s a huge difference between what I see in my head and what I can actually stitch out. So first, I start doodling on paper to get a feel for how the design will flow.


Sketched Diagrams

Once I’m happy with my design, I will quilt a practice piece (“sandwich!”) using the same fabrics, batting and thread as my quilt. I can work out any thread or tension issues here, before diving into my quilt.

Practice PiecePractice FMQ


I tried to recreate the same negative space as in my quilt so I would know how much area I need to quilt and the approximate scale.

Step 2 – Quilting Swirls and Pearls in the Background Blocks (10.5 Hours)

First, I quilted all of the full “blocks” of negative space in between the pearl squares. It took me about 25 minutes per section so I spread it out over several days. After about 1-2 hours of quilting, I need to get up and do something else. Remember – you can’t rush art!


Start near a corner or side.

Hint: use a blending thread color so you see the quilting texture, not the thread!

I started and ended each section of quilting by stitching a few tiny stitches in place. It wasn’t a big deal to cut thread between each block section. After quilting about 2 blocks worth, I found my rhythm.

Filling In

Fill in all the Spaces

I randomly filled in the spaces with both large and small swirls, with clumps of pearls sprinkled in whenever I needed to fill in smaller gaps. It’s fine to back-track (quilt over previous lines of stitching) to reach the next section of unquilted space.

Step 3 – Quilting the Partial Blocks (4 Hours)

I waited to quilt the partial blocks around the edges for the end. I thought I might quilt something different here, then decided against it. I liked the uniform look of swirls and pearls throughout the entire background.

Quilting the Negative Space

More Background Quilting

Once I got to the outside edges, it gave me momentum to keep going, since I was nearly finished! I quilted right to the edges. Some of the design will be covered by the binding and that’s ok.

Swirls and Pearls FMQ

Swirls and Pearls FMQ

At this point, I decided I needed wanted to add more straight quilting to the black areas connecting my pearls, aka the “strings.”

Step 4 – Adding more Straight Quilting (4.5 Hours)

Using my my even feed (walking foot), I quilted about 1/4″ to 3/8″ away from the seams using the edge of my foot as a guide. I did not try to line things up perfectly as I prefer a more natural, organic, not-made-by-computer look. Follow the same path as shown in my straight line quilting tutorial, but quilt away from the edges.

More Texture

Adding Texture to the Strings

After getting this far, I figured I may as well add one more line of quilting around each pearl square. It only took an extra 3 minutes per block, including starting, stopping and clipping the threads each time. Yes, I rotated each side and smooshed the quilt out of the way when needed – the extra throat space on my machine came in really handy for this.

Outline Quilting

Outline Quilting

Here’s sending you a big high-5 when you finish quilting! Remember to share pictures of your FMQ progress at Christa’s Quilt Along on flickr.

Quilt Along Schedule – links will be active at the completion of each step:

String of Pearls Quilt Along

Grab my Quilt Along button!

<div align="center"><a href="" title="Christa's Quilt Along" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="Christa's Quilt Along" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

43 thoughts on “Christa’s Quilt Along 6.6 – Swirls and Pearls FMQ Tutorial

  1. kerrihunterhomesewn says:

    I loved this QAL I am up to the stage of basting and quilting and have to find some time to get these steps done!! Thank you for such a fantastic tutorial ( I’m a visual learner) so the pics really help. πŸ™‚

  2. Jeannie says:

    I have been following your blog which is inspirational. I noticed you use supreme slider on your 710 machine. May i know what size is it? I notice it doesn’t sit well at the left corner, does it bother you while you do quilting? I bought my 750 few months ago and I am still learning to drive it.

  3. Rachaeldaisy says:

    What a fabulous quilting pattern!!! Just so beautiful! You make it look so easy but I think if I tried I’d get tangled up and it would be a scribbly mess pattern instead of swirls and pearls.

  4. Sarah says:

    I love it! I was planning on just doing straight line quilting because it’s very hard to wrangle a quilt through my tiny little machine…but now, I might just hold off until I get my new machine later this year. If I can manage to wait, that is!!!

  5. Kathleen O'Grady says:

    Your quilting is AWESOME! I want to be able to quilt like that so badly! I know that I just need to practice, practice, practice. My problem is finding the time when I work 50+ hours a week out of my home. One of these days I will have more time. So in the mean time I enjoy seeing wonderful creations by other people. Love your blog and your talent.

  6. treadlemusic says:

    Loved the ‘tute’…..well done! Don’t ya just love all that texture!!???? Great idea to incorporate the pearls with the swirls (my fave motif, too!). You have inspired me to give this addition a “whirl”!!! Hugs………

  7. Carol Wilson says:

    That’s the most beautiful quilting I’ve ever seen. Your demos are as clear and helpful as Eleanor Burns’ directions are and that is the highest praise I can give anyone. Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to us.

    • Christa says:

      Thanks for the sweet compliment! She was one of the first personalities I ever watched on TV and I loved how thorough she was! I met her at Road to California a couple of years ago and I’m gong to take a lecture from her next year so I hope to learn more!!

  8. madebychrissied says:

    Dropped by from MQI N&T Thursday. I haven’t been taking part in this QAL but I so enjoyed reading your post and seeing your fmq process, your swirls and pearls are exactly right for this quilt and your work looks fab πŸ™‚

  9. Georgia says:

    Beautiful! I am guilty of using white thread for everything. I really need to get out of that habit. This has definitely been a learning quilt for me. You have done an excellent job in explaining each step along the way. Thanks so much!

  10. Sue Moore says:

    I can’t wait to get to the quilting part. I’m a bit behind (read a lot behind) but I’ll get there! Love your quilting!

Leave a Reply to Kathleen O'Grady Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s