Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fun with Feathers

Ever since I started quilting – not quite 2 years ago – I have aspired to being able to quilt feathers.  They lend elegance and movement to a quilt; they’re traditional if they need be but look great on almost any style of quilt.  The variations seem endless as are the places where they can fit.  They can be the main motif or they can be the filler – whether of an area or of a border.  They’re also hard to get right and take LOTS of practice.  Even Leah Day in some of her earlier videos lamented not being able to do feathers.  Then after however many hundreds of designs, she started adding more feathers and admitted that practice was what made the difference.  Although there are countless stencils and the like, feathers really are meant to be free handed and the organic aliveness of them comes through if you do them that way.  I mark at most the central spine.

People whose feather techniques I most admire are Diane Gaudinski, Karen Mctavish and Sharon Schamber, although the latter 2 do mostly longarm.  There are lots of videos and tutorials out there – one has to dig through them and try them all out to see what seems to work best for one’s particular style.

Feather sampler -  the numbers are referred to in my discussion below

So I prepared a feather sampler (shown above) of all the ways (numbered) I know and have tried to stitch feathers. It's obvious I am a beginner, but I am having fun with this.

Feathers 1 and 2 are done the way Diane Gaudinski does them: each complete feather frond done separately.  In number 1, you have to backtrack all along the feather back to the central spine before starting the next one.  Well, as you can see, I have LOTS more backtrack practice to do.  In fact, Diane recommends one use 100 weight silk thread so all the backtracking is less noticeable.  I have some silk.  It’s a dream to work with, looks great but costs 4 to 5 times as much as Isacord, Mettler and Sulky threads I usually use.  It would depend on the piece, whether I want to pay that much for thread.  In number 2, you make each feather a short distance away from the previous one.  Definitely easier although keeping the gap even is challenging.

Another way to make feathers is to only backtrack over a portion of the top and then make a second feather before returning to the spine (#3).  I think it looks better and it’s easier to do. 
Recently I got a book called Hooked on Feathers by Sally Terry.  Instead of backtracking over the top, you hook outwards and create the second feather partially around the first. (#4).  This is definitely easy, looks nice and is great for building confidence with feathers.  The book is well done and gives some great ideas for variations, such as feather based motifs.

Most of the instructions call for making the spine from the bottom up and either breaking thread or backtracking down or echoing down before starting on the feathers.  To avoid all that, I start at just short of the top end of the spine and stitch to the bottom.  Then most people will stitch up one side and either backtrack down the spine or echo around the outside of the feathers – which I did in feathers 1 – 4.  However, I have discovered you can do both sides at once: do one feather on one side and then the feather on the opposing side.  That’s how #5 and #6 were done to show that how the feather is created doesn’t matter.

Any straight edge can serve as a spine – you don’t have to stitch one.  #7 and #8 show how you could do a filler design (I wobbled at the end of #8, because I was so close to the edge and slipped).
Finally, if you vary the feather shape into a spiral or a leaf, then you can create neat plant fronds (#9), which I can see using on quilts where feathers aren’t quite the right theme.  I also did both sides at the same time on this one and backtracked over the top of every other leaf.

I am working on a quilt for friend and have been trying out the Hooked on Feathers approach (photos below).  Despite many wobbles, it’s looking fine.  Now, I am trying to figure out how to quilt the last rows and the borders.  Maybe more feathers?  Anyway, would love to hear from others their experiences with feathers!
Corner motif that uses "hooked on"feathers

Feathers in the inner star and one outer row.  Leah Day's design Matrix Rays in between.

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