Improv wedge Free Motion Quilt // Black and white quilt // Closet Case Patterns
Sewing Projects


Making stuff has started to feel like a real addiction. I’m not exactly slapping at veins looking for a good place to stick my handsewing needles, but I definitely feel compelled to always have a few projects on the go, for those moments when my idle hands are twitching nervously by my sides. I’ve realized it’s a good idea to break up garment sewing with different sorts of projects for a few reasons: one, a girl only needs so many clothes, and two, breaking up your routine with a new challenge is great for getting the creative blood moving.  If you’re not constantly moving forward you’re dead, like a shark, or a relationship, or that train from Snowpiercer*.

It’s with all that in mind that I started work on my first “real” quilt last year. I made a super simple baby quilt for my sister a while back, but it wasn’t anything to write home about and I decided to try something a little more involved for my second go-round. While I was teaching at Fabrications in Ottawa, I picked up a number of options for a graphic monochromatic quilt. I think one of the most intimidating things about quilting is choosing all those coordinating fabrics; there is a real art to it, and I have profound admiration for all you quilters who just have that magic eye for picking disparate patterns and colours and making it work. I was feeling wimpy, so I went black and white since it takes all the guess-work out of it.

I can’t remember where I saw the idea for the pattern itself, but it’s super simple and it’s a great introduction to improv quilting. Basically you cut your yardage into strips (mine were about 15″ wide) and then cut random wedges out of that strip in varying thicknesses; some skinny, some fat, some in between. For this reason I think it’s probably more efficient to buy actual yardage rather than working from fat quarters. As you start piecing everything together, you want to alternate wide side to skinny side, trying to keep the long strip you’re building as straight as possible. Once your strip is the desired length, you’ll use a quilting ruler and a rotary cutter to even out the sides.

Once I had all my strips finished, I spent a lot of time mildly freaking out about how to quilt it all together. I considered having it done professionally on a long arm machine, but since it’s just a small lap quilt for tv time it kinda seemed like overkill. I thought about doing simple vertical lines, but after making my quilted Tamarack jacket, I wanted to explore more complicated quilting techniques. This is when I  decided to teach myself free motion quilting,

My new/vintage Bernina had a free motion quilting foot, and at this point I consider myself a fairly advanced seamstress; how hard could it be? I watched lots of videos and got myself all psyched up and then sat down with some practice swatches.

Humbled. Dead humbled. Hubris, plain and simple.

If you don’t know what free motion quilting is, let me explain: you are essentially freestyle drawing on your quilt with your needle. To do this, you lower the feed dogs on your machine, use a special foot, and then go to town. In order for it to look like anything other than a dog’s breakfast (ie. have a steady stitch length and smooth, graceful line without any jagged corners) you must use  consistent pressure on your foot while simultaneously moving the fabric at a consistent speed. You need to be able to see a few steps ahead since it goes fairly quickly, and you need to be able to smoothly manipulate a huge piece of fabric around on your machine while everything else is going on. It’s basically ninja level sewing. Or sewing alchemy. And it’s not something you’ll master after a few practice swatches.

I get down on my knees and kiss the feet of all you free motion masters who draw the most beautiful designs on these cumbersome, annoying to manipulate beasts. And I listened to you and took your advice: I put on rhythmic music, had a glass of wine, tried to tap into the calm, zen part of my brain. I wore kitchen gloves so I could get a better grip on the fabric. And let’s just say, it was not the most refined sewing experience of my life. There was sweating, swearing, and boozing; I was really upending patriarchal ideas about what a woman sewing really looks like.

That said, for my first attempt, I’m quite pleased. It’s certainly not perfect, and there are about a squillion wonky corners and bits where the stitch length goes from like, 1-6mm in length, but it was fun. I get the appeal. And hopefully I haven’t discouraged any of you interested in this from trying it; it’s probably the most creative and “free” you’ll ever feel sewing. Even if you’re panicking about the freedom while it’s happening.


My deep apologies, but I have no idea what the fabrics are since I started this way back last year and didn’t keep any of the printed selvedges. I started to find the black a little too dark and oppressive so tried to minimize its use as the quilt progressed; I actually wish I hadn’t used the solid black at all, since it reminds me a little too much of A Beautiful Mess circa 2012.

I ended up bias binding off the edges with some pretty striped cotton I found locally at Effilioche, and I pieced the back together from stash scraps; the darker fabric is a dark grey chambray, and the middle part is some striped shirting. I used a classic cotton batting in the sandwich, and did the safety pin game to get it all together, but wish I had used spray adhesive instead since the pins were really annoying to quilt around.

It’s the perfect size for keeping warm on the couch, although it’s currently covered in dog hair and I am terrified about washing it since I am fairly convinced all my weird stitching is going to become unravelled.

I’ve already started scheming my next quilt and I am feeling really inspired by the Best in Show winner at Quilt Con. Obviously that pattern is wayyyyy too complicated for me (I just don’t have the patience), but I love the palette, so I am going to do a simple freestyle triangle quilt using solid colours in that style. I’m dreaming of a linen quilt so I ordered a bunch of samples of Kaufman Essex linen and am trying to figure out a more specific palette.

Have you ever made a quilt before? Have you mastered freestyle quilting? Tell me your quilting stories!
* Seriously, the most perfect action/sci-fi movie ever made. It’s so weird and awesome. I am going to rewatch it now that I’m thinking about it.

  • K_Line

    This is stunning. Seriously – I cannot see the flaws (and that’s all that matters!)

    • Thanks love! The nice thing about a quilt this busy is it hides all your boo boos, haha.

  • First, that is AWESOME!

    I love making quilts, and dove into the deep end pretty quickly. (Speaking of 2012, that’s apparently when I finished my first quilt: I’ve never tried an elaborate freestyle quilting pattern on the machine – I tend to stick with straight lines or simple sparse shapes. My favorite application was an attempt to make giant plaid patterns with the quilting stitch:

    What I’m saying is if you want to talk quilts, I’m here for you.

    • Stunning!!! It took me a minute to realize you had pieced that all together!

  • This is AMAZING, Heather!!! You should be so proud! I have tried free motion quilting a couple of times and I agree, “humbled” is a great word hahha. Anyways, I love the fabric choices, very chic and fun. I look forward to seeing your future quilts, I hope you will blog about them too!

    • Thank you Erin! I’ll definitely b e blogging about my quilt adventures – it’s a whole new world! Lately I’ve been feeling way more inspired by solid colour quilting so I think I’ll take a break from the patterns for a while.

  • Preach on about that first attempt free motion quilting. I was also a sweaty hot mess complete with cussing. It gets easier the more you practice, muscle memory.. Your finished quilt looks great. Love your monochromatic choice, simple and bold at the same time.

    • Good to know! I’d like to do it again, but I’m kinda hoping I can borrow someone’s long arm for my next go round because I wnat to make something bigger and I can’t imagine quilting a queen sized one on my little machine.

  • “I’m not exactly slapping at veins looking for a good place to stick my handsewing needles” I literally laughed out loud. You are hilarious, and I stared at that diamond quilt for about 5 minutes in disbelief that someone had pieced that together! I tried to sew a quilt in high school. For some reason, I thought sewing squares together to make something 2D would be easy since I had experience making clothing which is 3D. I didn’t use a walking foot, hardly any seams matched, the batting was too lofty, and it was easily the worst project I’ve ever made (and I’ve had my fair share of bad ones). Haha. I was so young and stupid! I never tried free motion stitching, but I’m positive mine would turn out no where near as good as yours! You should be so proud! It looks great, and I love the contrast of the black and white!

    • Thank you Megan! And I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit – if someone as uncoordinated as me can free motion quilt, anyone can 😉

  • No Heather, I will not veer off the path of garment sewing, so don’t tempt me… but…but… the quilt you made is so very gorgeous and perhaps I’m best off commissioning one… or I do have that lovely fabric in my stash just waiting to wrap itself around my chilled knees. Perhaps there is a quilt in my future! Just love yours, what a coup to have got your first one under your belt and freed you up for more 😉

    • Thank you Lesley! This was actually pretty fast as far as quilts go…. I would guess the piecing took a few evenings, and then maybe another two nights to quilt and bind it.

  • Kat

    This is so beautiful. you paired up your fabrics so well and the balance between the black and white is so impactful but pleasant. I have a family full of quilters and have always sworn up and down that I did not have the dexterity for all the precise cutting and fiddly bits, however this seems managable enough to dip my toes into the other side. Great work.

    • I love this pattern exactly because its anti fiddly. Good for people like me with short attention spans hahaha

  • I dipped my toe into quilting by trying some quilted placemats after I found the most adorable Christmas fat quarters. Granted, I got bored after finishing two (we really needed them, we’d just moved and didn’t really have any good placemats) and now I have four unfinished Christmas placemats in my WiP pile, and it was the simplest quilting ever, but they’re cute. I’ll probably make a few more in different fabric. Maybe eventually I’ll try other quilting too, who knows?

    • Finish them for Christmas this year!!!

      • That’s the plan! Or, you know, one Christmas some day…

  • Genevieve

    OMG! so beautiful! I like you, thought “how hard can it be”…for a very experienced seamstress? Right? Right!!! On my first…well 1 of 2 quilts, that I quilted free motion style, I was laughing so hard I both almost pee’d myself and had tears running down my cheeks from laughing so hard! I was having so much fun that I couldn’t contain my joy and just laughed the whole time. So many wonky stitches, but every time I lay this quilt over my lap…there is pure joy! Congratulations on such a beautiful quilt!!! <3

    • Oh man, that is the BEST reaction ever! How great is a hobby that makes you cry in joy while you’re doing it?!?!

  • I seriously love this SO much!! I’ve made about 4 quilts but all squares or basic triangles and definitely no FMQ. It scares the shit outta me haha!! You’ve done an amazing job. Congratulations xx

  • Pamela Bosch

    I think it came out beautiful! I know you said you were worried about washing it; a lot of the time I just put my handmade quilts in the dryer on no-heat/air fluff. I have a cat and he sheds so it’s a good way to get off pet hair and not expose your stitches to an agitator. I also just tried free motion quilting and it was a nightmare, but I think more practice will help.
    Sewing clothes and quilts are so different and adapting is hard, I’ve been quilting for 10 years and just recently took up fashion sewing and my big adjustment is seam allowances. Quilting is always the same but with clothes, it’s changes on every pattern!
    as far as picking out colors for your next project, look for pre-cuts! you get a whole line of fabric that’s perfectly coordinated and if you need a background, white always makes things pop. Cotton and Steel recently came out with an Alice in Wonderland line which is gorgeous.
    And on a personal level, I’ve been following you blog since last November when I listened to your interview with Abby Glassenburg (I know that was last spring but I found Abby’s podcast in September). I will build up the guts to buy the Ginger Jeans pattern soon, I promise but right now I just need to figure out seam allowances!

    • Hi Pamela! So happy you’ve discovered garment sewing. Hopefully most of the patterns you’re using clearly identify all your seam allowances so it’s not such a big source of anxiety 🙂

      Great tip to get rid of dog hair!!! Going to try that today.

  • Tanit-Isis Sews

    This reminds me so much of my first free-motion attempts (a quilted skirt) last year! It turned out well, but SO SCARY.

    This is gorgeous, and looks like it will be perfect for you. What a fun technique!

    • I think its only as scary as you feel intimidated by chasing perfection… once I accepted the janky corners I started having more fun.

  • Connie Turner

    Heather Lou, this is gorgeous and it makes me feel not quite so intimated by quilting. Free motion is not easy at all. I admire your skill at it.

  • Your quilt turned out really nicely! That quiltcon quilt is insanely detailed and I bet they used paper piecing to get all those angles to work out perfectly. Definitely something to aspire to!

    • Honestly the really involved quilting has little appeal for me. I like to feel like I’m making quick work of something, but ya never know where the sewing addiction will take you 😉

  • Mary Russell

    Really, really nice. You’ve inspired me to try making a quilt. I’m not sure how you would possibly make a free motion queen size on a regular sewing machine.

  • Krista

    I’m laughing out loud at “it’s basically ninja level sewing”, because it totally is :-). Kudos to you for giving it a go