How to Machine Quilt: Tips for a Successful Feather Stitch

The feather stitch is one of the most popular free-motion quilting designs. But it can also be one of the most difficult to master. Two quilt artists who have done that are Heather Thomas and Ana Buzzalino, so today I'm sharing their tips with you.

the feather stitch quilting motif
Free-motion machine quilting with the feather stitch,
by Ana Buzzalino.

The feather stitch can be used as a quilting motif by itself or used as an all-over pattern.  Here are Heather's basic instructions excerpted from the October/November 2011 issue of Quilting Arts:

The Basic Feather Stitch

1. Begin at the bottom of the feather. Stitch one side of the spine by making a line that is a very slight "S" curve.

2. When you reach the top of the spine, stitch a teardrop shape. Once you have completed the teardrop and returned to the top of the spine, form the first half-heart by stitching out and up, and then back down again.

3. Continue stitching half-hearts all the way down the spine until you reach the bottom. Now stitch back up with another gentle "S" curve that is just a bit away from the first side of the spine. As you near the top of the spine, gently angle the line so that it meets at a point with the first side of the spine (right at the base of the teardrop).

4. Start stitching half-heart shapes down the remaining side of the feather, striving to keep them the same size and shape as the half-hearts on the first side.


Ana also advises starting from the bottom of the feather's spine, and adds these helpful suggestions:

1. Practice first by drawing the arcs of the feather on paper; the shape is like a candy cane or half a heart.

draw your quilt motif
Ana shows how to practice the quilt motif by drawing
before machine quilting.

2. Draw the spine onto the fabric lightly with a mechanical pencil, chalk, or wash-away marker. Then lower your feed dogs and use an open-toed machine quilting foot (darning foot) to better see your stitching and stitch the spine. Start at the bottom, work your way up to the top, and then trace the line back down again so you start the feathering at the bottom.

3. Once you have completed the feathers on one side of the spine, echo stitch back to the bottom in order to start working the other side of the spine.

4. The angle at which the feather touches the spine is about 45 degrees. Try to keep your half-heart or candy cane shapes angled that way.

machine quilting the feather stitch
With half the feather complete, Ana points
out how she echoes the outside scallop
of the shapes to stitch her way back to the bottom
of the spine.

5. Keep a journal with stitch samples so you can refer to your designs again and again as you practice and improve.

Ana demonstrates her technique step-by-step on 'Quilting Arts TV' episode 913 – Contemporary Approaches to Quilting.

Here's another tip: Did you know you can access full-length episodes from many different seasons of 'QATV' (plus other popular quilting instruction videos) with one low-cost subscription to Craft Daily?

Learn more about all the options and video choices on the Craft Daily site.

P.S. Have you tried the feather stitch? Leave your tips–or questions–below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Machine Stitching, Quilting Daily Blog

2 thoughts on “How to Machine Quilt: Tips for a Successful Feather Stitch

  1. I free-motion quilt on a single needle machine. I start by drawing the spine in the shape and space, but then top…bottom…or alternating side to side….it all depends on the size of the space (how wide, and and how long), and how far into the quilt the feather is that I am making (how hard it is to move the fabric).