Sometimes I sit down at my sewing machine with my freshly layered quilt top and I get stuck. How should I begin? Usually at the center–but what should I quilt? What if it looks horrible–who wants to rip out free-motion quilting? Nobody. But I don’t want to live with a bad quilting choice either. And I really don’t want to do much marking–I love when my free-motion quilting isn’t perfectly consistent–I want it to look like a human quilted it–not a computer.
I usually piece together scraps from my quilt top into a sample piece–usually about 18″ square. This goes together quickly, and then I have something to practice on. I can try different thread weights and colors and make sure my tension is perfect. But I still get stuck when I put the actual quilt under the needle.
I’ve always taken pictures of my quilts in progress. It occurred to me one day that I could print one of these pictures and draw my quilting designs right on the image of the quilt with a pencil or marker. I pin the quilt top to my design wall and take a picture–almost always with my phone. No need for anything fancy! I print two or three copies on regular cheap inkjet paper–filling the whole page. I print using the “draft” setting on the printer–not only does this save ink, but it also prints a lightened version which makes it easy to see my drawing lines.
Then I start doodling away. I can plan the quilting for the entire top–and see how the quilting designs in different sections interact with each other. I can also work out the tricky spots–like corners and intersections–before they come up under the needle. I never worry about scale or try to make these drawings perfectly match what I plan to quilt. I just want to get a good idea of what I might do before I start sewing. Once I have a plan that I’m happy with, I just pin the photo up where I can see it when I’m sewing–and off I go with the quilting!