Let’s Talk Feathers

Friends don’t let friends be featherless especially if that friend happens to be a longarm quilting friend – and one with a new machine learning new skills! Time to pull out my teacher hat and share how I make free flowing formal feathers…won’t you join us?

Over The Causeway To Gloria’s House We Go!

My friend Gloria is one of my retreat buddies. She’s the one that will stay up until the wee hours quilting with me while listening to all my silly rambles. And she doesn’t think I’m crazy when I want to throw in a little lime green into the mix of my scrappy quilts!

Gloria recently purchased a used 18″ Gammill with an Intelliquilter (IQ) computer system. She’s been practicing on personal quilts, guild charity quilts and a few quilts from friends, both freehand and computerized. Gloria has been offering me the use of her machine for months now knowing that I’m “longarm-less” but our schedules never seemed to offer a free day. I truly needed a little quilt therapy this week so I crossed the great divide (Galveston Bay) and headed over to Galveston Island for a wonderful day of quilting.

Feathers, Feathers, So Many Types of Feathers!

Our goal for the day, besides just to have fun, was for me to learn how to use a different machine from the brand I have used for well over a decade and for her to get a little one on one instruction on how to make feathers. Sounded like a good plan to us!

One would think that we would jump right into the longarm quilting, but we spent the morning “drawing”. Gloria had this really cool erasable board that we drew on with a special stylus then could erase and draw some more. The pros and cons: you don’t use as much paper but as I like to say “paper never forgets”…I did draw out a few designs on real paper to leave as a refrence for later practice.

Gloria is drawing out her very first formal feather design. Even looking so serious, she truly grasped the concept of the design and the movement as she practiced and practiced.


I was thrilled to see that it truly is just like riding a bike – even after months of not quilting and using a machine that was “new to me” I got back on the horse and had a blast! Yes, this is my happy place, at the longarm.

Longarm Feathers Verses Formal Feathers

AllPeopleQuilt.com has tutorials for hand quilting basics

Feathers have a long tradition as the “stitching” in the quilting process of making a quilt. Years ago before quilters felt the freedom to quilt using machines (domestic or longarm) feathers were hand quilted. Many quilters today still enjoy the relaxation and skill of quilting with needle and thread.

Patterns for feather designs are numerous, one only has to do a search and the sky is the limit!

During our design time at the longarm I explained to Gloria the difference between what is commonly called “longarm feathers” and “formal feathers” – sometimes called “over the top feathers”. Then I stitched out examples of each. And because I was trying to make the point that a quilter has to learn to quilt in all directions I did the longarm feather example “upside down.”

Longarm Feathers have the plumes stitched individually along a spine. A quilter needs to be able to quilt feathers in any direction.

This style of a feather is fun to make and can be formed to fit any shape with a little practice. I generally like to make them as an all over filler design or fill in a triangle shape.

Formal Feathers are sometimes called over the top feathers or back-tracking feathers. This is my favorite form of feathers.


Similar shape as far as the spine of the feathers is concerned, but totally different texture and visual appeal.


Yep, make mine formal over the top feathers please. By the way, the lighting played tricks on the photos – our practice fabric really was this bright polka dot yellow from my stash – you really shouldn’t be surprised (grin).

It’s All In the Freedom of Free-Flowing

Most things in nature aren’t symmetrical – yet even the apparent “perfection” is inspirational

I shared a few basic designs of what I call my free-flowing formal feathers and explained that just like in nature, feathers/leaves aren’t always symmetrical – that it’s okay for them to be different sizes and such. Hum…I forgot about the mimosa tree’s leaves. Sigh.

The point I was trying to make is that when learning to quilt feathers, or any design actually, one must give themselves permission to learn and to make ugly designs in the pursuit of designs that are pleasing. Also, one should not over analyze each little area but instead work on the feel or flow of the design.

Joyfully we started playing on the longarm. Yes. Playing. As Ben & Jerry’s said, “If you aren’t having fun why do it!”  We were just having fun. I drew out some pretend borders and showed Gloria how I quilt the free-flowing formal feathers on a wavy line around an outside border, then I quilted a different design in a narrow border before it was time for her to practice on our pretend “piano key border.”

If it’s not fun then why do it! Learning a new skill on the longarm can and should be fun! Just remember to breath and don’t have a death-grip on the handles!


We took turns quilting on our pretend “piano key” border


I quilted the first set of free-flowing feathers on our drawn in piano key border using the “stitching” line between two strips as the spine and working my way up the design. The next two sets were Gloria’s and I am so proud of her very first attempt! She was even brave enough when I challenged her to go “up” the one border and when she got to the top to do the next set going “down”. A quilter needs to be able to quilt in any direction. I guess I’m a mean teacher as I asked her to do that right off the bat, but Gloria didn’t hesitate one bit – afterall we were indeed having a fun time together.

The next section was a tad wider to represent sashing or a narrow border where we had room for a wavy spine. Again, I did the first one and Gloria did the next two – even adding some extra design elements (artist sketch to resemble veins in the plumes) to the last one.

Practice practice practice….just don’t forget to relax and make it fun

Karen’s Feather Puffs

Somewhere early on in my longarm quilting career, I developed my own specialty when it came to formal feathers – I called it the “feather puff” because I love the way the feathers seem to puff up and add a lot of texture and movement to the quilt. Before it was time to call it a day I managed to get in a little quilt therapy of my own and zoned out as I quilted away my little feather puff filler.

Feather Puffs add a lot of texture to a quilt. This has become my signature go-to feather design

Feathers Are More Fun When Shared

All too soon our day together came to an end as it was time for me to cross that great divide again leaving the island for the mainland. Gloria and I had sew much fun catching up (we realized that it had been two years since I’d been on a real retreat with her), we had enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the island, and had a stress-free time playing on her longarm. I realized once again just how much I miss being able to quilt on my longarm, but one day my machine will come home to a brand new studio. I was thankful for the time on Gloria’s machine and I totally enjoyed her allowing me to put on my teacher hat – it’s easy when you have such an eager to learn student (grin).

Tired but happy. Any day quilting is a good day, but it’s better when shared with a quilting friend!

This is Karen Overton, The Quilt Rambler, thankful for friends, feathers, and the joy of quilting!

Do you quilt feathers? Have a preference of longarm feathers or formal feathers? Are you new to feathers? If so, what are some questions you would ask in your learning session?









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5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Feathers

  1. Roseanne says:

    Good Morning Karen! It looks like great fun was had by both of you, and Gloria came away being more comfortable with both her machine and feathers. I have never tried quilting feathers on my DSM but maybe someday! Happy Saturday! ~smile~ Roseanne

  2. Susan the Farm Quilter says:

    Looks like fun!! One thing I noticed…the frame of the machine looks to me to be really high (looks like both of you are really reaching up to quilt) – did you come away from that wonderful day of quilting with sore shoulders? I may be more sensitive to that since both of my shoulders have been operated on, so my belly bar hits me at my hips/waist. I’m with you on the feathers…over-the-top is my favorite too! It is so much more fun when you have a buddy to quilt with!

    • Gloria says:

      Susan The Farm Quilter, my Longarm is actually sitting a little too low for both of us. We are sitting on a bar stool in order to save our backs. I am hoping to have my machine adjusted later. It really isn’t too bad for me because I am much shorter than Karen. We had a fantastic day and I learned so much.

      Karen, I had a wonderful time and as I said before I consider you an excellent teacher. After all, I took my first quilting class from you many years ago and I still love quilting. Kudos to you for not discouraging this very very newbie many years ago. I had such a nice day.

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