Christa’s Quilt Along 7.5 – Modern Trees Machine Quilting Part 2

I’ve been enjoying the lively discussion that my recent soapbox post on machine quilting has generated. In fact, I can talk quilting all day long!

Speaking of machine quilting, I have a little warning here before we start. You know I can go a little crazy with the quilting because it’s my favorite part of the process. Although this is still supposed to be a tutorial on how to quilt your own quilts, please don’t feel like you have to quilt them to death like I do (though I would love it if you became just as obsessed about FMQ as I am)!

Quilting Modern Trees

Quilting Modern Trees on my Bernina

My hope is that by seeing what I do, it will inspire you to quilt it yourself and maybe try one or two of my ideas. Think of it as a fashion show – it’s great to see all the flamboyant clothes and makeup on the runway but you wouldn’t exactly wear the same outfit as the models when you go to the grocery store, right?

FMQ Plan

Christa’s FMQ (Free-Motion Quilting) Plan

So anyway here it is – part two of machine quilting Modern Trees – quilting the background fillers. It took me a total of 9 hours to quilt all the backgrounds over a 2 week period. I only quilted about 1 – 1.5 hours per day so it never seemed too overwhelming.

Note: I quilted all of my background with a cream colored Aurifil cotton thread, 50 weight in both top and bobbin. I used up a complete spool of thread (the large 1300 M size). I counted my bobbins this time and used 5 of those. (My Bernina bobbins are higher capacity, almost 2x the size of a regular bobbin.)

 For start-up help: read my Intro to FMQ post and my Domestic Machine Quilting Tips.

Step 1 – Practice First (30 Minutes)

No matter which design I quilt, my process is the same. I start of with a couple of scrap fabrics with batting in between to test my design first before I quilt on the real quilt. I’m checking the thread tension and getting a feel for how to form the design.


Practice on Scraps First

My machine will save my stitch settings but I’ve often found that I have to tweak them each time I start to quilt. For example I may need to tighten or loosen the top or bottom tension slightly. Sometimes I need to adjust the amount of presser foot pressure applied to my machine (check your manual to see if your machine has this feature – not all of them do). I’m not sure if heat or humidity affects things but it’s always good to stitch on a practice piece before each quilting session to make sure things are looking good.

Step 2 – Quilting Mini Modern Baptist Fans (3 Hours)

This design looks a little bit like piles of snow drifts which is what I was going for. It’s stitched on a smaller scale than a traditional baptist fan motif and I certainly didn’t worry about trying to keep the rows uniform. Modern machine quilting without marking is very liberating for me! I stitched this design on the bottom third of the quilt.


Mini Baptist Fans Diagram – They look like little rainbows!

The diagram above shows how to form the design. It’s a good idea to sketch out the designs on paper first so you can “go with the flow!” Remember – you are going for an organic look here, not perfection.🙂

I quilted the first row along the bottom edge of the quilt first, then gradually worked my way up the quilt row by row, quilting from right to left, then left to right as needed. My piles of snow have anywhere from one to four rows of ‘humps’ depending on where I was trying to go. When I bumped up into a tree, I simply quilted around it to get to the next row, or I went back the other way.

Quilt Roll

Quilt rolled and scrunched under the machine.

Here’s a picture showing the entire quilt rolled up into the arm of the machine. This is a small enough project that I was able to reach completely to the other side of the quilt.

Step 3 – Quilting Snowballs and Snowflakes (3.75 hours)

Practice FMQ

More practice!

Here’s a sample piece I made up using some leftover scraps from another project. I wanted to make sure the scale of my quilting worked so you could see the snowflakes hidden among the snowballs and see how the quilted star would turn out. The contrasting thread is just for practice – I always blend my threads in real life so you see the texture of the quilting, not the threadplay!


Pebbles (Snowballs) Quilt Diagram

The snowball circles are called pebble quilting which is a very popular modern quilting motif. They are time consuming but they are very forgiving to stitch and add incredible texture. Think of quilting loops but without the spaces between the loops. And don’t be afraid to quilt around your circle several times or backtrack to get to where you need to go.

Pebble Quilting

Pebble Quilting

I started my pebbles on one side of the quilt, near the mini fans and filled in all the spaces. When I bumped up next to a marked snowflake motif, I continued by quilting on the marked line and then filled in the spaces around with smaller pebbles so the design wouldn’t get lost. I quilted snowballs sprinkled with snowflakes throughout the middle section of the quilt.

More Pebbles

More Pebble Quilting

I drew a few arrows on my quilt top with a water soluble marker to direct me on which way to get in and out of each section. (I’ll rinse out all the blue marks once the quilting is complete.)

The key to enjoying quilting all of this background is having as few starts and stops as possible, and listening to something fun on your ipod or phone.🙂

Listening and Quilting

Listening to American Patchwork and Quilting Radio – Pat Sloan’s show – while quilting. Too fun!

Step 4 – Quilting the Swirls (1.75 hours)

I must say that quilting swirls (or spirals) is quickly becoming one of my favorite go-to FMQ motifs. They are so fun to stitch and can represent wind, sky, water and lots of different landscape motifs. It’s also easy to scale them up or down to whichever size you need. There’s no wrong way to quilt a swirl!

Here’s the sketched diagram. The marker colors change when moving in the opposite direction. It’s okay to have peaks and open spaces in this motif. It adds to the interest and keeps it from looking like computer generated stitching.


Quilting Spirals and Swirls

Here’s how the swirls look stitched out on the top third of the quilt. Just like quilting the other marked motifs, I quilted the star and words as soon as I bumped up against them. By using a thin cotton thread for quilting, you can backtrack (stitch over) previous lines of quilting as needed without making a mess.

You’ll notice a little fullness that occurs as the motifs are being stitched. By cupping my hands around each area to be stitched, I ease in the fullness and it gets quilted out as I go.

Quilting Swirls

Quilting Swirls

I hope you  are enjoying making Modern Trees and can truly make this quilt your own. It’s so fun to see everyone’s progress on my flickr group each week, especially those who jump in there and share their free-motion quilting designs.

Modern Trees

Modern Trees Quilted by Christa Watson

Here are a couple more details shots for your viewing pleasure:

FMQ Details

FMQ Details – Peace

Remember, you can find step-by-step tutorials for all of my previous quilt alongs here.

FMQ Details

FMQ Details – Noel

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!

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

35 thoughts on “Christa’s Quilt Along 7.5 – Modern Trees Machine Quilting Part 2

  1. Susie at ProsperityStuff says:

    BEAUTIFUL work! Thanks for the helpful hints and tips and explanations on how all this was done. I saw today’s post about the finish on this one. Gorgeous! I’m just getting to the point where the “quilting” part actually feels fun (instead of always being troublesome), so I’m having fun branching out into new techniques with my FMQ. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. thequiltedcat says:

    I love your FMQ! I went ahead and tackled the FMQ on my Modern Trees table runner this weekend. I thought it was a good size project to practice using my little Bernina with FMQ (I have the Activa 145 so a fairly small throat space. Hope to upgrade one day!). Even though I’m still quite wobbly, lol, I can see improvements with each project. Thanks so much for designing and hosting this QAL.

  3. Amy says:

    I love how you break it all down for all to see. And I appreciated that you said it took 9 hours over a two week period as it seems it takes me forever to get quilting done in 30-60 minute increments and it seems we’re on the same wavelength again. Though I am so not keeping track of my hours invested.

  4. Anita says:

    Wow…beautiful…amazing…and helpful too. I always admire quilting, but you’re the first person to show me a picture of how to even consider doing it…I’m very visual and that was great. Thank you…now I need to try some of those tips!

  5. Andrea Hoke says:

    Wow…. WOW!!! This is such a great post – just discovered your blog via “Diary of a Quilter”. You are definitely doing what you are called to be doing. Thank you for doing this Quilt Along. I LOVE your quilt, but love the domestic machine quilting (and the instructions!!) even more!!!! Thank you!!!

  6. Lindsey says:

    Your quilting is amazing Christa! It really transformed the whole look of your quilt. You did a lovely job! I am actually going to quilt mine on a long-arm machine next week! This will be my first experience with a long-arm and I am excited to see how I like it versus doing it on my domestic machine.

    Ps: loved your post about fmq you did!🙂

  7. Carolyn Dargevics says:

    I am new to your blog and find your photos absolutely awesome. As for free-motion, I tried and haven’t pursued it. So, I have a couple very novice questions: What gloves are you wearing? Does your machine have a free-motion regulator? The reason I didn’t continue with free motion is because my stitches varied in length and I got so frustrated. A friend suggested a regulator.

    • Christa says:

      Welcome! I’m glad to have you🙂

      I use the machingers gloves which really help give me a good grip on the quilt. I don’t use a stitch regulator – I’ve tried one but they feel funky to me. However, I’ve heard that others have had success with them.

      I can understand your frustration – we all want our quilts to look as good as possible. I practiced on tons of baby quilts and charity quilts before I was comfortable quilting larger quilts and starting to show my work.

      Don’t worry so much about the stitch length – concentrate more on the overall look of the quilting and enjoy the texture it adds to the quilt. My stitches certainly aren’t perfectly consistent. My number one tip is to use a blending or matching thread while quilting – that hides a lot of mistakes!

      I hope this helps.

  8. treadlemusic says:

    Am thoroughly enjoying your tutorials and your upbeat approach to FMQ on a DSM!! Although I use my Sweet Sixteen a lot, I’ve moved back to my Juki TL2010Q. I’ve been asked to do some workshops to promote quilting on DSMs and am looking forward to them. I recommend your blog to many who can’t seem to get beyond the “mental thing”/block about doing their own quilting. It’s not for everyone, but not having a ‘long arm’ is not a valid excuse!!! Hugs……..

  9. Beverly says:

    I found you via Diary of Quilter’s post today and I am now following your blog. Your quilting is beautiful and the tutorials/tips/tricks that I’ve found in my brief perusal are wonderful. I am working on making my first quilt for my dad for Christmas and you’ve given me the confidence that I’ll be able to quilt it myself. (I also know my dad won’t care that it won’t be perfect so that helps too!)

  10. Michele Valdez says:

    Christa! Your quilting is just beautiful! Do you think you could talk to the folks at Craftsy and get your own class so that I could watch you over and over again?!? :o) Also, I have a question….what are your thoughts on using Isacord thread vs. Aurifil thread?

    P.S. I just upgraded from 580 Bernina to a 820! I’m excited to take my mastery classes on this so that I too, can quilt as beautifully as you!!

    • Christa says:

      Ha ha! That is one of my professional goals for sure. I do think I need to get a little bit more well-known first. Hopefully once I get a few more things published I can pursue some online teaching.

      I like both Isacord and Aurifil. The main difference is Isascord is polyster and Aurifil is cotton so mostly it’s a matter of personal preference. You’d want to stick with cotton for piecing, but it’s fine to use either thread for machine quilting. I have had good luck with both.

      Yay for your new machine! I hope you enjoy it🙂

  11. Sarah says:

    Your quilting is so inspiring! Every time I read one of your posts on machine quilting, I pick up something new. This time, I think it’s finally hit home that I can backtrack over my stitches. I’ve had the hardest time remembering that when i’m practicing FMQ. I always panic and stop because I don’t know where to go! Maybe I’ll push past that next time I’m playing around with it. 😎

  12. Joanna says:

    Your quilting is beautiful. I love the words and how you planned your design out. Thanks for showing the arrows because that will help me quite a bit. I want to work on the mini fans – they add a professional look. This qal has been terrific.

    • Christa says:

      Well, if you can wait a year or two I’d recommend the book I want to write, LOL!! But seriously this is a great idea for a blog post. I just bought “First Steps to Free Motion Quilting” by Christina Cameli and I’m enjoying that one. I’ll pick some of my favorite books on machine quilting and write a little bit more about them later🙂

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