Christa’s Quilt Along 7.4 – Modern Trees Machine Quilting Part 1

This week we will begin quilting our modern trees. Take a deep breath. Relax. You can quilt it yourself and have fun while doing so! I like to quilt on my Bernina but you can apply similar techniques to whichever type of machine you have – even a long arm.

Quilting Modern Trees

Machine Quilting Modern Trees

I’ve broken up the quilting into two sessions so it’s not such an overwhelming task. Today we will stitch in the ditch (SITD) around all the trees and then “decorate” them with quilting. Next time we will tackle the background quilting.

To get started, you can read my Intro to FMQ post here and my Top Tips for Quilting on a Domestic Machine here. It took me a total of 4 hours to quilt what I have shown below.

Step 1 – Stitch in the Ditch (1 Hour, 15 Minutes)

Use a thread that blends with your background fabric, such as Aurifil cotton thread, size 50 in cream. I used the same thread for both the top and bobbin. I started with a brand new quilting needle size 80/12. Be sure to bring the bobbin thread up to the top of the quilt before starting and take a few tiny stitches to lock your threads. Gradually increase the stitch length over about 6-8 inches. Use a walking foot (or even feed) and use a slightly longer than normal stitch length.


Outline quilt each row of trees.

Stitch around each row of trees from left to right or right to left, depending on which feels most comfortable, pivoting when needed. See the diagram I followed above to quilt the top half of the trees from one side to the other. Turn the quilt and then finish the row by quilting the bottom half of the outline. This way you only have to end your threads once per row. If your quilt is well basted, you can start on whichever row you like. Repeat for all rows.

Quilting Modern Trees

Quilting Modern Trees

When nearing the end of a row of stitching, gradually decrease the stitch length to lock the stitches in place. Bring your bobbin thread up to the top by taking one stitch in place, pulling your quilt away from the machine and clipping the bobbin thread leaving a tail. You should be able to tug on the top thread until you see a loop of bobbin thread, then pull it up to the surface to clip off (or knot them by hand and bury them in the batting).

Tip: Try to quilt on the side of the ditch where your thread matches your fabric. Sometimes this will be on the low side, or high side, depending on how you pressed your seams. If you pressed them open, you can stitch in the middle of the ditch.

Step 2 – Quilt the Trees (2 Hours, 15 Minutes)

Have fun with this part and make it your own! I stitched 5 different quilting designs on my trees, using 7 different colors of thread. I quilted all of one color before switching to the next color of thread. They were all quilted free-form with no marking. Use any or all of the designs I show below on your version!

Aurifil Thread

Matching Thread Colors

Tip: stock up on smaller spools of colorful threads to build your stash. Each tree only used a small amount of thread and since it’s cotton, I can always use the leftover colors for piecing.

Below is a detail of each quilted design, along with tips on how to stitch it. The trees were all quilted with an open-toe free motion foot so I could see what I’m doing. Look slightly ahead of where you will be stitching and practice on a few scraps first to get the rhythm before you try it on the real thing. I kept each tree oriented in it’s original position and gently moved the quilt from side to side, or slightly up and down, depending on the design.

Cursive L's

Cursive L’s

Cursive L’s – begin quilting at the top of the tree. Move your quilt fluidly to form loops back and forth that look like cursive l’s. Try to hit the sides of the tree with each loop without meandering onto the background. (It’s ok if you miss!) Gradually increase the scale of each loop until you reach the bottom of the tree. End your stitching at a seam intersection, lock your threads and clip close to the quilt (carefully).

Wavy Parallel Lines

Curved Parallel Lines

Curved Parallel Lines – Starting at the top, gently stitch rows of curving parallel lines back and forth across the tree. (They don’t have to be even!) Try to hit the edges of each side as you go without spilling out onto the background. It’s a good idea to trace the design with your finger, or draw it with pencil on paper first, to get your “flow” going.

Wavy Diagonals

Wavy Diagonals

Wavy Diagonals – Start off to the side near the very top of the tree and quilt a series of gently wavy lines down and back up the tree. Backtrack (stitch over previous lines of stitching) in the ditch when moving to the next line. Try to keep them more or less diagonal. However, you can alternate diagonal directions on your next tree, or use the same wavy lines stitched parallel to the base of the tree.

Tree Bark

Tree Bark

Tree Bark – Starting at the top, quilt a small clamshell or semi-circle shape from one edge to the other (left to right in my example). Backtrack about halfway up your previous line of stitching and this time quilt another clamshell off to the other side (right to left). Repeat by backtracking again, stitching another clamshell (to the right again). Increase your scale as you quilt down the tree. It’s really helpful if you trace this design with your finger or sketch it out first to practice the movement.

Zig Zags

Zig Zags

Zig Zags – Start at the top and try to quilt a roughly straight zig zag line coming down the tree. Stop each time you zig or zag but don’t break thread. Instead, fill in each triangle shape with echoing lines of zig zags. Backtrack as needed to start the next zig or zag and fill in. In the picture below, I’m backtracking down the left side of the tree to get over to the last unquilted section of the block.

Filling in the Zig Zags

Filling in the Zig Zags

Step 3 – Quilting the Trunks (30 Minutes)

This step is purely optional. When I finished quilting my trees, the trunks stood out a little more than I liked because they were unquilted. It only took me an extra 2 minutes per block to go back and add quilting details to the trunks, including starting and stopping.

Quilt the trunks.

Quilt the trunks.

Starting on one side, stitch across the ditch area between the triangle of the tree and the rectangle of the trunk. Back stitch one or two stitches,  then quilt a wavy line down about 1/3 of the way from the edge. Stitch one or two stitches over and stitch back up. Stitch over one or two more stitches and stitch down once again. Lock your thread at the end as described above.

Quilted Trees

Christa’s Decorated Trees

Isn’t this fun? I’m ready to go start on all the background quilting for next time.🙂

Quilt Along Schedule: All links will be active when the post is published.Modern Trees

If you are quilting along with me, please be sure to share pictures of your progress on my Christa’s Quilt Along flickr group.

Grab my Quilt Along button and share the love!

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26 thoughts on “Christa’s Quilt Along 7.4 – Modern Trees Machine Quilting Part 1

  1. Loretta says:

    I love the quilting designs for the trees. When you change thread color for each tree, are you using the same color in the bobbin or cream to match your backing fabric? Thanks for the great tutorials.

    • Christa says:

      For this quilt, I went ahead and tried cream in the bobbin to match my back. It was pretty tricky because I had to get the tension nice and even so that little dots of cream wouldn’t show up on the front.

      Usually though, I like to use a busy back to hide my thread and switch out the bobbin colors along with the top thread color.

      • Loretta says:

        I have a white tone on tone snowflake backing so I will use white thread and I hope I can get the tension right. I have done some machine quilting and I have always used a busy backing but this quilt did not lend itself to do that.

      • Christa says:

        Just be sure to practice on some scraps first until you are happy with how it looks🙂 If worse comes to worse, you can always match your top & bobbin thead and have a prettily decorated back, too!

  2. Margaret A says:

    Your trees are so pretty! The variety of quilting designs really adds so much. Your stitches are so uniform and lovely – you make the FMQ look so easy!

    • Christa says:

      You got it – either back stitch or take a series of very tiny stitches (about 6-8) slowly increasing until you get to the length you want to stitch. Repeat the process again at the end.

  3. Susan G says:

    This is really great. I love the idea of quilting a different pattern in each tree. It is so helpful to see good close-up pictures of quilting, and your tips are invaluable.

  4. maggielou says:

    thank you for sharing your quilting. I Love it when someone actually shows how to quilt the blocks not just the negative space on a quilt.

  5. Debbie Mullins says:

    The trees look great, really love the different design in each tree. Was wondering why you aren’t using the BSR?

    • Christa says:

      Great question! First off, my machine didn’t come with one and it’s not worth the price for me to upgrade. I tried using one once and it didn’t “feel” comfortable. So I just stick with what I know.🙂 I hope that helps!

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