Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Chat with Grandma on Stippling

Well this week has been a real doozy for me.  I got the joy of spending my week on "standby" calling every night at 5:30 and every morning at 10:30 to see if I would have the honor of coming in for Jury Duty.  Last night I finally got a reprieve-  and a day early.. Imagine that.  That combined with all the other crazyness that ensues when one's very first book was supposed to hit the shelves... wait did she say supposed to?  That is right,  this weeks bad news was brought to me by my dear publisher who had the unfortunate task of reporting that my book, along with all the other November releases is stuck on a dock in Seattle and news of an impending strike means that there is no guarantee when they will release it.  BOO!  I am sorry to say if you pre-ordered my book it will be a bit longer than initially promised- which is a real bummer.   All that (and more) led me to forget to get this post ready last night.... so this is turning out to be more of a friday evening chat  for most of you, and I apologize for that.... Here is to hoping next week brings me better news!!

The topic I chose for Grandma and I to chat about this week is stippling.  Stippling or a curved meander stitch as some of you may call it is undoubtedly the most common stitch pattern used in free motion quilting.  That is a indisputable fact.  You will see the curved puzzle piece like patten squiggling across most of the quilts you come across- and for good reason.  You can fit stippling into almost any space and it is a fast and easy stitch to cover your quilt with when it's mastered.  When being the operative word.  Because it is so very common it often gets put in the "basic" category which gets commonly thought of then as a good place to start as a beginner.  I argue that theory.   Here is why- stippling, though beautiful, is not a design most of us have ever tried to doodle before free motion quilting came into our lives.  I love to doodle, and that love started well before my thoughts of free motion quilting, but I had never tried to doodle stippling.  I had doodled many flowers, leaves, words ect- but stippling, no.  So when trying to learn a new skill like FMQ why add to the complication of it all by trying to stitch something that you have no muscle memory for.  Muscle memory is what makes a quilter- being able to stitch the designs (or draw them) fluidly without much thought is what allows a quilter to shine, to think of all the other things that need managing when quilting a quilt, to think of how best to use or combine the design with others for a custom look.  So when starting I recommend trying writing your name in cursive, or stitching something you can easily draw on paper without your pen tip leaving the paper while you draw it.  If you can draw something easily and without thought in a continuous line fashion you can likely quilt it!  Had I started with stippling I would have surely frustrated myself... my first quilting practice squares are filled with daisies and words in cursive.  I suggest the same for any beginner.  It allowed me the time and space to get used to everything else I was doing and gave me pretty results that boosted my confidence.  After all, what is better then that for learning a new skill?  

Even if you take my advice and don't begin with stippling, eventually you will want to learn it as it is so very versatile.  Nothing is quite it's equal in the quilt stitch world- though there are many designs that are almost as versatile.  Stippling is a design that comes with a set of rules, 2 rules really.  Keep your lines curved and don't cross over your previous stitched lines.  Though only two rules seems simple enough they can both be quite hard not to break- when you stitch yourself into a corner with no room to move back out without crossing lines it becomes quite tempting-  and when your brain gets stuck and doesn't know where to go next inevitably you will end up with a jagged point instead of a nice curved line.  Really nice looking stippling moves in all directions and keeps the space between stitched areas fairly consistent, as well as the scale of the design being consistent.  It is a stitch that one can pick up fairly quickly, but will spend a lifetime mastering.  Luckily the opportunity to practice it always presents itself often as it is such a very useful stitch that works in so many great ways.  Below are some pictures of stippling in some of my previous quilts and projects.
stippling in the green area

I made this wall hanging for Grandma Pat and it hangs in her bedroom. 

this is the back of the quilting I did on a tote bag for a friend, similar quilting to Grandmas quilt with the stippling on the outside

the back of the tote bag has more stippling

 I have a chapter on stippling in my new book Free Motion Quilting for Beginners (and those who think they can't) which hopefully will make it's way off the docks in the Seattle are and off to stores and your mailboxes very very soon.  I asked Grandma what she thought about Stippling and if she had any wisdom to share... Here is what she had to say.

"When I made the transition from hand quilting to free motion quilting, I started with stippling. The advantage of stippling is it gives a chance to experience the feel of the rhythm it takes to achieve a nice even stitch. The problem I ran into was wanting to control the rhythm instead of just letting it flow. I was so determined to do it well that I became very tense, and as a result my curvy lines weren’t so curvy. The tension in my hands and arms caused a jerky reaction and my curves had lots of sharp points. Once I learned to relax and let the fabric flow smoothly beneath my hands I accomplished a nice stippling pattern.
One other problem I encountered in the beginning was working the stippling into a corner where I couldn’t continue on. I would need to stop and start someplace else to continue. The way I found that works best for me is to work in small sections. Even if I am stippling the entire quilt top, if I break it down into sections I can usually avoid getting trapped in a corner. I try to work in a section about 12 to 18 inches square and mentally get a picture of that area so that I end up in a  place that leads me to the next section.
Remember to relax. That is really the key to all free motion quilting. If you aren’t relaxed your stitches are not going to look even. Most of all enjoy the process. "

Grandma Pat

That was some great advice from Grandma.  Hope all of you find this Friday chat, which turned into a  Friday night chat, with Grandma and I about Stippling.  If you have any quilt related topics you would like us to weigh in on then please let me know in the comments below.  I will be picking winners for the patterns I am giving away on my facebook page so please head over there to comment and hopefully win if you haven't already.  Have a Happy Friday!


  1. Oh no!!! How frustrating! Hope the ship doesn't get held up for too long.

  2. I just read your story on the Martingale post - how wonderful that you get to share quilting with your grandmother!!! I have often wished the same - my grandma was a wonderful quilter but lived several states away & died when I was 18, long before I started quilting. Still, she is my inspiration & I am blessed to have one of her quilts. Best wishes on your new book adventure!!

  3. I just found your blog and I love that you have you and your grandma's chats are available here. I will really appreciate the input from both of you! Good luck with your book! Greetings from Australia!

    1. Thank you so much, we plan to keep them coming, so hopefully you will come back and read more of our thoughts!