String of Pearls Updated Pattern Now Available

I am on a roll this week! I just completed all of the updates to String of Pearls which is now available in four sizes from table topper to queen. I have a confession to make: I really like writing patterns and figuring out the quilty math!! Oh yeah, making the quilts is fun, too! 🙂


The PDF version of String of Pearls is available in my Craftsy pattern store. If you make a quilt from any of my patterns, be sure to share your progress in my facebook group: Quilt With Christa. It thrills me to no end to see how you are putting your own spin on these designs!


Christa’s Soap Box – Modern Quilting Validation

It’s no secret I’ve fallen head over heels for modern quilting and the community that surrounds it. Because of this vibrant movement, I’ve probably made more meaningful quilts in the last year than I have in the previous ten years combined! This weekend my tastes were validated when 3 of my modern quilts took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons in my traditional guild’s annual quilt show. 🙂

20140404_ribbon_buttonsRibbon winners got to wear these buttons of pride while walking around the show!

I’ve been a member of the Desert Quilters of Nevada going on 18 years now. It’s a lively group, full of encouragement and support. Even though I’m one of the youngest of the 400+ member group (and have been ever since I joined nearly 2 decades ago), the guild has offered me a place to share my quilts, practice my teaching skills, and attend amazing workshops and events.

20140404_stringofpearls_dqnString of Pearls by Christa Watson, 1st Place – DQN Pieced Category 2014

DQN is very open minded when it comes to the latest happenings in the quilt world. They have a very healthy art quilt subgroup and they’ve even recently started a modern “circle.”

I’m super excited that they’ve invited me to teach String of Pearls at this year’s annual quilting retreat. But I’m even more jazzed that the theme of the retreat is going to be “It’s a Modern World.” I mean, how cool is that??

20140404_dqn_modern_x_2ndModern X by Christa Watson, 2nd Place – DQN Modern Category 2014

At the show it was fun to see people walk by Modern X and do a double take. One gentleman I spoke to, a long-arm quilter by trade, couldn’t figure out where I started and stopped my lines of stitching.

When I told him I quilted long lines from one edge of the quilt to the other on my Bernina, he said you couldn’t really do that type of uninterrupted straight-line quilting on a long arm. (Score one for the domestic quilters!)

20140404_dqn_spiralling_3rdSpiraling Out of Control by Christa Watson, 3rd Place – DQN Modern Category

And I have to admit, it was super validating when Spiraling Out of Control took a 3rd place ribbon. This is probably my most favorite quilt to date and one where I really stretched myself doing stuff I’d never tried before. I always try to remind everyone (including myself) that I don’t enter my quilts in shows to win ribbons, but it sure is like icing on the cake when they do!

I have to give a final shout out to this fabulous quilt below which is NOT mine. It was made by one of my students who began it in my Charming Chevrons class last year. I couldn’t have been more proud to see that ribbon hanging on it!

20140404_dqn_grey_chevy_stuGray Chevy by Suzanne Mayfield, quilted by Brenda Alcorn, 1st Place – DQN Modern Category

Suzanne kindly credited me in her description as the pattern designer, so in some small way, I even got to be a part of this award-winning quilt, too!

20140404_chevy_tagWell, now you know what this means – it’s time to go make more quilts!

String of Pearls Wins Honorable Mention at MQX Pacific Northwest

I am humbled and in awe. I just found out that my quilt, String of Pearls won an Honorable Mention at MQX Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon. This show focuses on machine quilting using all different types of machines, domestic or professional.

String of Pearls

String of Pearls by Christa Watson

Of course I’m kicking myself for not actually attending the show. Next year!

String of Pearls was entered into the category “Machine Quilting the Modern Way.” I owe a huge thanks to Angela Walters and The Gadget Girls for sponsoring this category. I can’t wait to get my quilt back to see what prize I’ve won!

Although I won’t be able to see pictures of the other quilts until after the show, I was able to view a list of the award winners here.

String of Pearls

Detail of Swirls and Pearls Quilting

I am thrilled to be in such good company. Seriously, I feel as elated as if I’d won Best of Show! The three lovely ladies who took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the same category are all professional long-arm quilters that do amazing work.

Do you know what this means? It means that the results of free-motion quilting on a Bernina (or other domestic machine) can be just as good as quilting on a professional long arm machine.

Quilting Swirls

Free Motion Quilting on my Bernina

I have long thought that quilting on a “home” machine doesn’t have to be computer-perfect, yet it can still add amazing texture to your quilts. Now I’m doing my part to spread the word to others. I hope this idea will take hold and grow as more people discover the joy of quilting, no matter which type of machine they choose to use.

String of Pearls

String of Pearls by Christa Watson 64″ x 64″
Completed August, 2013

Because I like to make my backs as interesting as the fronts, here’s my “Shades of Grey” backing for this quilt:

String of Pearls BackAnd a closeup to see more yummy quilting:

String of Pearls Back Detail

Updated 10/11 – Thanks so much to Joni from Oregon for taking a picture of my quilt hanging at the show!! It even has a ribbon on it – (squeals of delight)!

String of Pearls, Honorable Mention, MQX Portland 2013

String of Pearls, Honorable Mention, MQX Portland 2013

Favorite Tools – Lint Roller

I have found a lint roller comes in very handy when trying to get my quilts ready for presentation. Whether it’s to display locally, or to ship to an out of state show or publisher, I want my quilts to look good! (The picture below shows my String of Pearls quilt.)

Lint Roller

Favorite Tools – Jumbo Lint Roller

I found this awesome jumbo lint roller at my local discount store and it works wonders for covering a lot of area. It’s basically large sheets of masking tape perforated together and rolled around a tube. Such a clever idea!

First, I lint roll about half of the quilt top. I can catch enough lint and stray threads that I only get halfway through before I have to rip off a piece of tape. Then I can do the other half.

Lint Roll

Clean Threads with a Lint Roller

Same thing for the back – I roll it half at a time. Voila! A pretty quilt that is (mostly) free of thread and lint. 🙂

If you like these types of blog posts, you can read about all of my favorite tools here.

More String of Pearls Quilting Inspiration and a Correction

I can’t believe my String of String of Pearls Quilt Along is coming to a close. Next week I will post a binding tutorial to finish it up. This is definitely my favorite quilt so far.

Park Bench

This is what a park looks like where I live in the desert – rocks, bushes and a tiny patch of grass!

I am so proud of all of those who have quilted along with me. I will be holding a special giveaway for all quilt along participants, so stay tuned for details about that next week. If you’ve just found about this quilt along, not to worry. You can still add it to your to-do list any time you like. 🙂

Below are a few inspiration pictures from flickr and from other blog followers. Aren’t they wonderful?

String of Luck

String of Luck by Leigh Anne of Ellas Cottage

UpstairsHobbyRoom Quilting

Beautiful Quilting by Sandy (lattiegirl40) of UpstairsHobbyRoom


TravelingQuilter’s Texas Pearls and Quilted Swirls

Perfect Swirls

Kathy’s perfect swirls – see her amazing backing on flickr!

Floral Quilting

Georgia’s beautiful floral quilting – you would never know she’s a beginner!

I am putting together the design for my next Quilt Along now. I will have complete details along with the sewing schedule shortly after String of Pearls ends, but for now I’ll give you a hint – think Modern Christmas!

Speaking of String of Pearls, I made a correction to the binding cutting requirements. It will require 13 scrappy strips (2.25″ x 21″) rather than 12 as originally planned. The original kits should have enough fabric, but if you run short, just shoot me an email ( and I’ll be glad to send you an extra strip. I threw in a little extra fabric into the current String of Pearls kits, so those will be fine for sure.

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. 🙂


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!

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String of Pearls Update – More Spiral Quilting Pictures

I thought I would post another machine quilting update in between the “official” String of Pearls quilt along posts. You can see last week’s machine quilting tute here. I will demo how to quilt the negative space with swirls and pearls quilting next week, using FMQ!

Square Spirals QuiltingI will go more in-depth explaining how I quilted the square spirals in my pearl blocks. Quick tips – match your threads to your fabric so they blend. Use a new needle when starting your machine quilting. Don’t stress about it being perfect and for heaven’s sake, don’t try to make them all the exact same width, LOL!

First, stitch in the ditch around the inside of the block in a matching thread color (I used Aurifil 50 wt cotton thread for most of the colored quilting – love it!). I used a walking foot/even feed for all of the straight quilting and rotated my quilt each time I turned a corner. However, you could use a free motion foot instead to avoid the turning.

Forming the SpiralsNext, without breaking thread, transition into the spiral shape. Sew a mostly straight line until you are anywhere from 1/4″ to 1/2″ away from the edge. Stop with your needle down, lift your foot and rotate your quilt. Put your foot down again, and continue with the next line of quilting. (Remove your basting pins as you go.)

Square Spirals

Keep rotating, making smaller and smaller square spirals until you reach the center of the block. Lock your threads at the end by stitching a series of 6-8 teeny tiny stitches. Or, for you diehards, leave a tail, make a knot by hand and pop it into the batting (called tying off by hand.)

Finish the SpiralsClip your threads and move onto the next block, repeating the chunky spiral quilting. Vary the space in between each round of quilting. Ignore any stray threads and fuzzies for now; we will clean that all up with a lint brush when we are finished. 🙂

More Square SpiralsJust for fun, make a few of them wonky! Remember this is your quilt – make it your own.

Wonky Spiral

Isn’t the back starting to look fun?

Pieced BackingRemember, work at your own pace and please share pictures of your WIPs on flickr. 🙂

Here is Connie M’s gorgeous finished quilt. Can we say teacher’s pet? Three cheers for quilting it herself!!

Large Spiral Quilting

Large Spiral Quilting by Connie (carrotcat8 on flickr).

Christa’s Quilt Along 6.5 – String of Pearls Straight Quilting

I am “sew” excited for this week’s lesson! We are finally to my favorite part of the quiltmaking process – machine quilting. Before we jump straight in, please read my intro to FMQ tutorial here. It explains a bunch of beginning basics that I find helpful.

Spiral QuiltingThere are three important things I want you to keep in mind as you are quilting:

  1. First, I am extremely proud of you for making it this far! Machine quilting is not for the faint of heart, but I promise you, if you stick with it, you will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with knowing you did it yourself!
  2. Second, I love to quilt the heck out of my quilts. It usually takes me more time to do the quilting than the piecing, basting and binding combined. With that said, how much time you want to spend quilting is entirely up to you. Make it your own, and be proud of your work!
  3. Third, don’t get hung up on inconsistencies in your quilting, or any wonkiness that may occur. After all, we don’t want our quilts to look like they were made by a computer, right? Embrace the imperfections that come with a hand-made piece of art. 🙂

Now, let’s start quilting! It took me a total of 12 hours to do all of the straight quilting for String of Pearls. That’s only about 1/2 the quilting – more to come in the next lesson!

Step 1 – Stitching in the Ditch (6 Hours – ugh!)

Ok, so even though I love quilting, stitching in the ditch is a little boring. However, it’s one of the most necessary steps of good machine quilting. SITD anchors your quilt and provides stability so that your more exciting stitching designs can shine!

Stitch in the DitchUse a walking foot or even feed for straight quilting. (My new Bernina came with built-in even feed). Insert a brand new needle and test your tension on a practice scrap before you start quilting. I recommend using a pair of machingers gloves to help grip your quilt.

Stitching in the DitchI started by stitching the outlines of all of my black “strings”. I took a few minutes to look at the piecing design to figure out how to make as few starts and stops as possible. The lines in red below show my stitching path for each row. I used black thread and quilted on the black fabric side of the ditch.

Ditching DiagramI started quilting one of the middle rows of the quilt first, one row at a time. There were a total of 6 rows to quilt, 2 sides per row. When I got to the end of one side of a row, I rotated the quilt and came back up the other side. It took about an hour per row to quilt.

Hint: put on a nice audio book while quilting and try to only finish 1-2 rows per day, or per quilting session. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish!

Audio Book while Quilting

Quilting and Audio-Reading

It’s ok to stitch over your previous lines of stitching if needed. This is called backtracking and is perfectly fine. Turn the quilt as needed to outline the “strings”.  I used the continuous reverse feature on my sewing machine to stitch backwards at times so that I didn’t have to turn the quilt so much. Just slow down and stitch slowly if you do this. With practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

Stitching in the DitchAbove is a picture of my backing, showing where I got a little off track while following my path. I meant to SITD each row completely, before moving onto the next row. However, I got a little “lost” while turning my quilt. That’s ok, too! As long as you eventually outline all of the blocks, you are good to go.

I only stitched around the outline of the black areas. Stitching around each colored square is part of step 2 below.

Step 2 – Quilting Square Spirals (6 Hours)

I decided it would be fun to quilt a sort of maze or square spiral in each colored block. Before I started on my quilt, I practiced the quilting motion on a few scraps so I could get a feel for how to turn each side of the spiral while quilting. I did NOT try to keep each of the lines a consistent width. More random = more modern!

Spiral QuiltingThere was a lot of stopping and starting and changing thread colors, but it only took about 10 minutes to spiral quilt each block. I used a light grey thread in the bobbin for all of the spiral quilting so I didn’t have to change bobbins each time I switched top thread colors.

Spiral FrontSpiral Back

I like to keep a variety of colored threads on hand to match my fabrics as much as possible. Prewound bobbins are great to use when you only need a small amount of one color. I put them on the top spool pin and they work fine!

Colorful ThreadBecause of the numerous stops and starts, I began quilting each block by stitching 6-8 teeny tiny stitches, slowly increasing or decreasing the stitch length at the beginning and end of each block of quilting.

I quilted all of the same color blocks before switching thread colors. Different shades of the same color can still be quilted with the same thread!

Square Spirals QuiltingFor fun, I mixed it up a little by throwing in a few random blocks with titled spirals. I thought this added a little more interest to the quilt. This will work well with the design I will free motion quilt in the grey background during the next lesson.

Off Center Spirals

Off Center Spirals

Here are a couple of other ideas you can use to quilt your version of String of Pearls:

Quilt straight or wiggly lines over the entire quilt surface using a walking foot.

Straight QuiltingWiggly Quilting

Please continue to share pictures on my flickr group: Christa’s Quilt Along. I enjoy seeing everyone’s beautiful work – I’m sure you’ll be inspired, too!

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

String of Pearls Quilt Along

Grab my Quilt Along button!

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Christa’s Quilt Along 6.4 – String of Pearls Basting Tutorial

Today I will share with you how to baste your String of Pearls Quilt. This is probably my least favorite part of the quiltmaking process, but good basting is one of the keys to good machine quilting. The steps below apply to basting any large quilt.

Step 1 – Preparing the Backing (1-3 Hours)

Pieced BackingPlease refer to my pieced backing tutorial here or here for detailed instructions on how to prepare your backing for basting.

You can either choose a solid colored back or make one from pieced leftovers and scraps.

Be sure your quilt backing is at least 6″ bigger than your quilt top (3″ on all sides). Give your backing and quilt top a good final pressing before you begin basting with safety pins.

Hint: Starching your backing fabric helps prevent stretching and distortion while pin basting. I starch both sides.

Step 2 – Cutting Your Batting (10 minutes)

My favorite type of batting to use is Legacy Wool Batting. I like the extra fullness it gives to the quilt which really makes my machine quilting stand out.

Cutting the BattingUnfortunately batting is too bulky for me to carry in my quilt shop and ship, but you can get it reasonably priced from Amazon here. I have a large table that I can roll out and then cut the batting to size. Your kitchen table or floor may work well for this, too.

Hint: if your batting comes doubled and rolled, fold your top in half while measuring and cutting. That’s less bulk to deal with at one time. Just be sure you don’t cut the folded end off!

Step 3 – Laying out the Quilt for Basting (20 minutes)

Using a large surface area like a set of banquet tables or the floor, lay your backing out face down, wrong side up. Be sure to determine which end will be the top or bottom, especially if you are using directional fabrics or are utilizing a pieced backing design.

Binder Clip the EdgesUse large binder clips to secure the edges. Painter’s tape works well, too. Make sure the backing is smooth and remove any stray threads that you don’t want in your quilt! You want the backing to be secure, but not taut.


My son helped me layout an earlier quilt with 2 layers of batting!

Next, lay down your batting. If you can get someone to help you lay down the batting without having to move it around too much, that will help. Notice you do not need to secure the batting.

Quarter the BattingIf you are doing this solo, quarter your batting first, then slowly unfold it half at a time and smooth it out as you go. Click the pictures below to see larger details.

Half the BattingFull Batting

Hint: be sure to put the scrim side facing down if your batting has one.

Finally lay out your quilt top and smooth it all out nicely. Again, fold your quilt top into quarters and lay it down wrong side up on one corner of the backing and batting. (And be sure to ignore my messing sewing space as you look at these pictures, LOL!)

Quarter TopHalf Top

Unfold the quilt top so that half of it is showing, then unfold it again and smooth it out. Be sure there is extra batting and backing around all four edges. You will trim this later.

String of Pearls BastingStep 4 – Pinning (1.5 Hours)

Even though I’m short (only 5′!) I can reach about half-way across my tables. If my quilt is bigger than this, I will baste in sections if needed. Starting on one side of the quilt, I like to sprinkle a few safety pins across the surface. (They are left open from the last time I quilted so I only need to close them once).

Safety Pin BastingI pin one quadrant at a time, about 2″ to 3″ apart. The more pins I add, the more stable my quilt is. I try not to pin through any seams. You can use a Kwik Klip basting tool or a grapefruit spoon to help close the pins and save your fingers!

Safety Pin BatingWhen I am finished pinning I will turn over the quilt to make sure I haven’t pinned in any puckers. Now it’s time to quilt!

Recommendation: Be sure to check out Cindy Needham’s online Machine Quilting Craftsy class called Design It, Quilt It. In addition to wonderful quilting instruction, she includes an excellent tutorial demonstrating basting using just one table, pinning one section at a time. It’s excellent!

Please continue to share pictures of your progress on my flickr group: Christa’s Quilt Along. I’ve been enjoying seeing everyone’s beautiful work – I’m sure you’ll be inspired, too!

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

String of Pearls Quilt Along

Grab my Quilt Along button!

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String of Pearls Update – Delicious Eye Candy!

String of Pearls has been by far my favorite quilt to date. Perhaps because it’s really graphic and modern which appeals to me immensely. Or because all of you that are quilting along are doing such a fantastic job! Probably both. 🙂

Block LayoutToday I want to share with you some delicious eye candy showing variations on my String of Pearls. You can use different fabrics, play around with the design, or make it larger or smaller. It’s really up to you!

Here are some other fantastic variations submitted by a few quilt along followers:

Pam A. has put together a patriotic version showcasing some awesome Texas fabric. She sewed hers together slightly differently by sewing the connectors together first, then adding them to the blocks row by row. Way to innovate Pam!

Pam's Texas Pearls

Pam’s Texas Pearls

Sandy from Canada who blogs at Upstairs Hobby Room made her version using Pure Style fabric by Stof Mfg. of Denmark. Notice that she made more blocks – make it your own!

Sandy's String of Pearls

Pure Style Pearls by Sandy

Ann, better known as TheQuiltingCats on flickr, is working on a batik version. Isn’t it stunning? Seriously, you guys give me goosebumps when you share!

String of Batiks by Ann

String of Batiks by Ann

Karen T. selected an assortment of Amy Butler prints along with Kona Solids in Pepper black and Iron grey for her quilt. She says she “cheated” by piecing larger chunks of background, but I don’t call that cheating. I call that innovating and making it your own!

Karen's String of Pearls

Karen’s String of Pearls

And finally, pressed for time, Betty C. made a simplified version omitting the “strings”. She strung together her pearls with lines of quilting instead. I love it!

Betty's Stringless Pearls

Betty’s Stringless Pearls

Nice work people!!