Quilting Motifs: Botanical Foregrounds and Backgrounds

Detail of “Don’t Surrender” by Karen Ponischil

Do you feel like your negative space quilting needs a facelift?

Have you become bored or dissatisfied with meanders and basic quilting motifs? Karen Ponischil had a similar experience that she outlines below. Her solution? Imitate natural shapes in her quilting. One of the things I love most about this technique is it’s adaptable to anyone’s style. Read on for Karen’s inspiration and grab a copy of the June/July 2019 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine for her full instructions!

“Don’t Surrender” • 40" x 40" | Photos by Hornick Rivlin Studio unless otherwise noted
“Don’t Surrender” • 40″ x 40″ | Photos by Hornick Rivlin Studio unless otherwise noted

For those of us who aspire to showing our work, it is thrilling to get an email from a favorite venue: “Congratulations! Your quilt has been juried into our show.” All of our hard work has really paid off! Next, we complete the paperwork and ship the quilt. At the exhibit, friends take pictures and post them on social media. Everything is great.

Then the day arrives when the quilt is returned and you eagerly read the judge’s critique and comments. Does your heart fall? Mine did recently. I saw all the positive scoring and feedback, but the only comment I focused on was, “Using something other than meandering in the background would GREATLY add to this piece.”

Criticism—no matter how constructive—can be a hard pill to swallow.

So after I considered it for a long time, let the negativity go, and just finally just got over it, I thought, “Yep! The judge is right.” So, what could I have done differently? What background quilting motif could I have used that would have made the piece more interesting and enhanced the design?

Inspiration photo of a gingko leaf | Photo courtesy of the artist
Inspiration photo of a gingko leaf | Photo courtesy of the artist

As luck would have it, later that day I was dusting the frame of a favorite botanical print while still thinking about quilting motifs. I stopped and began to look closely at the illustration of a tulip and examined the lines that made up the drawing. I wondered if I could recreate this type of line drawing with my machine. This would definitely make an interesting focal image and, if replacing a meandering background, give the viewer something more to discover when examining the piece closely.

After researching botanical line drawings and illustrations, I felt confident I could create the same feel using my own photos as a starting point. I first practiced making a feature or foreground image to perfect my technique—which I later framed in an embroidery hoop—and then I moved on to adding a similar quilting motif in the background of a large quilt.

“Gingko” (in hoop) • 9" diameter
“Gingko” (in hoop) • 9″ diameter

Try This!

This technique is addictive.

  • Display a stitched sample in an embroidery hoop for a unique wall hanging.
  • Start with a traced image on fabric, a few inches larger than the hoop, and layer it with batting. (To decrease bulk, work without a backing fabric, stitching the image through only a top and batting.) Stitch the image.
  • Place the stitched image in the hoop. Trim the excess batting to the edge of the hoop. Leave at least 1″ of the top fabric.
  • With a heavyweight thread, use a running stitch around the circumference of the excess top fabric. Pull taut and knot, hiding this on the back side of the hoop.

Karen Ponischil is a fiber artist by day and nurse by night. She has been stitching in some form as long as she can remember. Her studio is in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and pets. Visit her website to learn more.

Want to know more about Karen’s amazing quilting motifs technique? Read her full article in the June/July 2019 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

Sew long,


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