Contemporary Quilting: How to Personalize Your Free-Motion Designs

In “Fancy Goldfish” Susan quilts bubbles and waves to create a more realistic background for her fish.

Machine quilting has come a long way from stitching in the ditch to secure the layers of a quilt together. Using free-motion quilting techniques it’s easy to create contemporary quilting motifs. You can stitch shapes that are flowing and circular or geometric and angular. The sky is truly the limit!

The variation within free-motion quilting gives us the opportunity to customize our quilts and to add another element of design. Machine quilting can subtly create texture or it can be bold and bright. Inspiration for contemporary free-motion motifs can come from anywhere and everywhere so it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start.

Take the plunge; personalize your quilting style with these tips from expert quilter Susan Brubaker Knapp:

Find motifs to suit you and your work. My work is usually realistic, so many of my quilting motifs are, too. If your work is mostly abstract, you may want to develop motifs that are contemporary and non-representational.

In “The Gift” Susan adds another layer of texture to the background with a free-motion quilted pebble design.

Build a repertoire. For years, I used some of the same motifs over and over in my work. Maybe you do, too. That’s fine, but it can be boring, it doesn’t challenge you, and it doesn’t add much to your work. Having a wide range of motifs at your disposal can help when it comes time to decide how to stitch an art quilt. Keep your eyes open at all times for possible motifs, whether you are walking a city street, gardening, or in the grocery store. If you are worried you might not remember the design inspiration, make a quick sketch, or use the camera on your smart phone to take a photo.

Keep good records. You might consider purchasing a sketchbook or blank book (without ruled lines) and starting a diary of quilting motifs. Or create stitched samples of your motifs and save them in a book, or on a big quilt. After doodling lots of different designs, I refine and ink the ones I like best onto unlined 4″ x 6″ index cards. Then I punch holes in the cards, and place them by category onto binder rings. When I’m thinking about how to machine quilt a new piece, and nothing immediately comes to mind, I can always consult this little book. – SBK

Inspiration is out there. Once you learn how to recognize it, you can start building your own repertoire of contemporary quilting motifs. Start honing your skills by exploring Susan’s favorite designs in her video 52 Free-Motion Quilting Motifs and Fillers. Once you see how easy it is, you’re sure to be encouraged and ready to immerse yourself in the inspiration that surrounds you!

Happy quilting!

Brenna's Signature

P.S. Where do you find your free-motion quilting inspiration? Leave a comment below to share your sources of inspiration.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Free-Motion Quilting, Quilting Daily Blog