Fern Tutorial-For Beginners With Experience and Beyond!
I am passionate about teaching free motion quilting-I really want anyone interested to know that they CAN quilt their own work! I am always looking for motifs and projects that help beginners feel competent and to put them on the road to loving free motion quilting.
Ferns are surprisingly easy to quilt, definitely in the realm of possibility for anyone with a bit of free motion quilting experience. I’m going to walk you through the process of how to quilt this delightful motif. But first, here’s why you might want to learn:
I added a fern to my “Morning Breeze” because I do have ferns in the shady areas of my lot-and because I just love to quilt them!
I featured them prominently in my “Mom’s Lily Bed” because her lily bed had lilies and ferns. I guess I really do have a love of ferns!
The best way to learn these is to draw them until you’re comfortable, THEN quilt them. Just follow along step-by-step below and you’ll be on your way to adding ferns to your projects!
Okay so let’s start. Ferns can be inserted into odd shapes or in a border. For simplicity I will show them in a border setting. The first step is to mark the center of the border so that you can quilt in the spine of the fern.
Marking is a whole issue unto its own. Choose a method that will leave clear marks that can be easily removed. Also, keep in mind that it’s harder to quilt this on a bigger scale-start out with a border of less than 4″. Three inches is ideal.
Anytime I do feathers, ferns or anything with a spine, I pull out my Wave Edge ruler. It just makes it so dog gone easy to draw in the spine. If you do feathers or ferns at all, you’ll want one of these. I lay it down atop my marked center line so that it straddles the line evenly on both sides.
Now the spine is ready to be quilted. I am very opinionated-I like a double-sided spine. If you choose a single line spine you may end up with a “centipede” look.
Ever notice at shows that the feathers on quilts with a single spine look snakey/centipede-like from afar? That’s because you need that gap down the spine’s center to avoid that thready look. A double spine will fix that.
Start to free motion quilt the right side of the spine about 1/8″ or so away from the marked center. You may mark it but I usually just go ahead and stitch it without marking. If you keep your eyes on the distance between the center and the line you are stitching, it is more likely to be even. Really. If you look at your needle you are much more likely to be herky jerky.
Each side of the spine is a separate pass: start the right side, stitch all around the quilt and end upon the place you began, break thread. Then do the same thing for the left side.
DO NOT STRESS about the spine being perfect. When it’s all stitched with the frond part, your eye will be magically drawn to the tips and you will not notice the less-than-perfect spine. Really. I have an example at the end of this post.
Finally, we get to start the fronds! See that line I’ve drawn? You are going to be doing that same motion over and over. It’s a “lazy s”. Or some like to think of it as “start with a v up and away from the spine, turn right and then turn left”. Get that shape in your head and draw it until it’s pretty.
Echo that shape back to the spine. Notice how the end of the second pass “tucks” back into the spine? That’s important.
Let’s do it again. Same motion, same shape.
Echo that pretty little thing back to the spine and “tuck him in”.
Just keep doing this. If your angle gets off, just correct it on the next one.
The motion and sound of your machine is a quick little run to the tip, nano second pause, quick little run back to the spine, nano pause, quick little run to the tip, nano pause, quick little run back to the spine, nano pause.
Now, this is just me, but I like to throw in a rogue frond. If you want to do this, have one curve back over the others, then echo him back.
Oh, another rogue guy! Let’s have him curve down. You have permission to run your lines over each other! That’s what rogue fronds do!
Now I’m back to “normal” fronds.
I’m loving this. Funny thing is I can quilt them better than I draw them and many students are the same. But remember-draw these over and over until you’re comfortable, then quilt them. Life is so much easier that way!
You will continue filling in the right side until you meet back at your beginning frond; then break thread.
Now let’s start the left hand side. I am right handed and the left hand side is more difficult. You will find that one side is harder than the other. This is true for everyone! Don’t worry about that-it will come.
Quilt a similar path on the left hand side, all the way around until you meet your first frond again and break thread. Keep that pretty little shape and angle. If you get off just correct it on the next frond.
Don’t rip out a frond just because it’s not perfect-keep going-it will blend in. Remember, frond lines can run over each other-it’s allowed! Remember to “tuck” the ends of the frond back into the spine.
I showed the left hand side with all “normal” fronds so that you could have a better idea which kind you like better.
And just to prove my point I made this sample. Look closely and you will see that the spine is tortured with uneven stitches and a jerky path. Also, especially in the upper portion, the stitching is not even at all. But I think it looks pretty good! By choosing a thread color that is close in value to my fabric, the imperfections are well disguised, kinda like Spanx for your quilting!
Key Point here: If the tips of your ferns are pretty, your eye will not notice imperfections along the frond or spine.
The way I got the tortured fronds was by going slowly. You want this stitching to be quicker than say a stipple. With a stipple you have to think about where you are going. With this pretty little thing, you know your shape. To get that pretty curve, go a little faster.
Enjoy and let me know how it goes! I linked this up to Nina Marie’s blog’s Off the Wall Friday.
thanks so much for the tutorial Jenny! I just got a sit-down quilter and am loving it. I’m not ready for feathers, but this seems to be a good alternative. It’s so pretty and there is room for my less than perfect fronds – lol!
You’re welcome Lina-Kaye! Yes, this is a good pre-feather motif-enjoy!
Thank you. I once did ferns but I wasn’t much happy about them. I found them boring. Now I understand: the point wasn’t elongated as yours, this is what makes the design so interesting. I’ll remember it for next time.
Great Chantal-glad that helped! A lot of times it’s little, easy details that make the difference.
Susan Lane says
Thank you for sharing what you do! Great tutorial. I have to give it a try! I know I can use them in my quilts.
You’re welcome Susan. Do try them-it’s a fun motif!
Great tutorial Jenny! Thanks for sharing! :)
Glad you enjoyed it Laura!
Jenny, another outstanding lesson. Your mastery of technique is what makes your work stand out in a crowd. Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us who stand in the background and admire.
Blush-thank you Marcia. But don’t stand in the background though-go forth and quilt! Garments too! Hope I get a moment to make some garments this summer…..
Love your tutorial! Thank you for sharing it! Never would have thought that drawing it first would help me sew it better, but it does! Hugs! :)
Thank you Reg. Drawing is key-I always draw my new motifs before attempting to quilt them. It’s not about drawing them well either, it’s about seeing that shape and understanding the path. Have fun with this one!
Marilyn Robinson says
Thanks, Jenny! Can’t wait to get started drawing this over and over until I get the courage to try quilting it. ;-)
You’re welcome Marilyn. Once you understand the path and the shape, go ahead and quilt it!
Oh thank you for this. How I love the idea of sewing over my mistakes. And I think that little tuck back into the spine is the key to a good looking fern. One question – if I want to make just one fern rather than a whole border, do I start back down the left side after I reach the top, or do I break thread and return to the bottom to start the left side?
You’re welcome Joanna. Good question. I break thread and start again at the bottom. Even Diane Gaudynski does that!
Excellent tutorial. I think you covered all points…..the good, the bad and the ugly!!!! LOL!!!!
LOL! Thanks Doreen-yup, it’s all there!
Barbara Victorino says
Great tutorial and easy to follow!
Thanks Barbara! See you next week!
Judy Warner says
Great tutorial, Jenny! Inspires me to give it a try as it looks like so much fun. If you are just doing one, it looks like you top it off when you get to the top of the second side…….
Thank you Judy. Yes, I do end it there, break thread and start the second side from the bottom. Our brains just do not do well working feathers or ferns from the top.
Love the idea of quilting ferns as they have always been a favorite plant. Thanks for providing a road map for how it is done!
Oh thanks Gwyned! Ah, so you love ferns too-have fun quilting them!
Thanks for this tutorial. I’m going to Pin It, as I have a quilt just waiting for this free-motion design.
Afton I’m glad you enjoyed it! Pin away – please just include the site link.
Thanks so much for showing us how to do this, it looks so beautiful on your quilt and I wondered how you did it. I’ve been practicing on paper and can’t thank you for showing how it’s done, I’m off to quilt it.
Great Jackie-glad you enjoyed it! Quilt away!
Amazing!! I am a new FMQer, but I think I can do this!! Can’t wait to give it a try. Thanks for the great tutorial.
You are welcome-I hope you enjoy quilting ferns. They are just so forgiving and fun to do!
Dorothy Minett says
Jenny…thank you so much for sharing your fern tutorial. I’ve done a few on a sampler and now I will give them a go on my new quilt. They are not as hard to do as they looked…they are actually good fun.
Oh they are fun Dorothy! So glad you tried them and liked them-now have fun with them!
Wilma L Vawter says
I have just found this site, rather by mistake, but what a profoundly beneficial find it is!! First of all, thank you for sharing this beautiful process. I am new to the whole idea of machine quilting and never dreamed I would be able to do this sort of work. After seeing your tutorial, I think I can! I am going to try. Very exciting!
Oh Wilma you can do this! With a little bit of practice you can begin to quilt at least some of your work and it is SO fun!
Wilma L Vawter says
I am eager to start of the ferns. Is there a way I can print the material?
Hi Wilma, sent you an email.
Gary Iglesias says
Wow, you make it sew easy,can’t wait to get started. Thank you
You will love fmq ferns!