Wednesday 8 June 2011

How I Mark My Curling Border Feathers – Tutorial

Kathy asked me recently how I mark the veins in the feathers in the borders of some of the quilts I have posted.  She asked if I used any special tool or circle template to mark the feather veins. 

My answer is no, nothing special – just a regular old piece of chalk.  But I do have a nice case for the chalk which makes holding it a lot easier as the piece gets smaller.

So I thought I would share with you how I do the free flowing curling feathers in the border of a quilt.  I found some pictures of a quilt I completed for a customer in 2006 where I had taken photos at various stages of the quilting of the border.  (If you want to look at pictures of the finished quilt, please visit my web site)

I quilt freehand, and I usually like my feathers to be free flowing and not following a rigid or consistent pattern as I think it looks prettier that way.

The first thing I do is chalk in the feather vein.  There is often some rubbing out and re-doing of the chalk until I am happy, and I check that I like how the feathers will curl around into the side borders.

If you look at the first picture of the quilt (below) you can see the veins are not all regularly spaced and some just curl around, and others go out and in before curling around.  I am aiming for balance, but at the same time, deliberately making them slightly different – so they are flowing naturally.  Sometimes it can be harder to make them look naturally balanced than it would be to do consistently curled feathers in equally spaced units.

Note how I have done a line of tacking – if there had been a seam for this border, I would have ditch stitched it, but as there was appliqué, I needed to stabilise the quilt before commencing the intense feather quilting.

Once I have the feather vein stitched in.  I start at a ‘v’ in the vein and quilt the top side of the feathers. 

However, you can see in the second picture that I didn’t start at a ‘v’ but just began at the corner - remember I did this quilt quite a few years ago.  I no longer do it this way, as starting at the ‘v’ looks better.

At each ‘v’ I do a teardrop, and quilt around the curl, then backtrack along the vein and continue.

Once I have finished the top side of the curling feather, I go back and quilt the bottom side of the curling feather.

As you can see in the last picture, I have also varied the length of each feather slightly.  Depending on the look I am trying to achieve, or the style of the quilt, I will deliberately do this as it can make the feathers look more interesting.

Note - I don’t do this if I am filling the whole border, where the feathers need to come down to the edges of the border.  Like in this quilt the feathers have a different, slightly more formal look.

If you want to look at more recent versions of my curling border feathers, have a look at my quilt Stars and Diamonds or a customer’s Hexagon Quilt.  Also, here is an example on Janet’s quilt where I marked the quilt in the same manner, but put pebbles in for the vein. 

After reading how I do the feathers you may want to look at the curling feathers on these quilts a bit more closely as they are slightly different.


  1. Thanks for the tutorial!! They are gorgeous!

  2. Wow, that sure is neat. Thanks for the tutorial. I'm amazed at how perfect you do these feathers. I hope to be able to do those one day when I grow up. Ha!

  3. Thanks! I love the natural flow to your feathers.
    So you just use regular chalk, no fancy schmancy marking pens...but what about on white fabric?

  4. Thank-you so much for this tutorial - your feathers are always stunning!♥

  5. Fabulous tutorial!!! I do have a question on the chalk...what do you do on light or white fabric?

  6. Just found your blog - your quilting is gorgeous. I am a home machine quilter - hope to duplicate the beauty of your feathers using my little machine. ;)