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Quilting Feathers
by Backtracking over Your Stitches

You love antique quilts...the quilting...the feathers.

You drool.

Quilting feathers by backtracking best captures the feel of hand quilted feathers. Let's learn how to do it.

What is Backtracking?

Backtracking is the double stitching that occurs when the shared line between feathers is quilted twice; once to complete the upper side of the first feather and once to complete the underside of the next. Backtracking with very fine thread does not produce visible thread build up.

Thread Choice Matters

For the needle...

You'll need to use a fine thread for quilting feathers this way.

YLI's 100 wt silk thread works perfectly. (Superior Threads has recently introduced a new 100 wt Silk Thread called 'Kimono Silk'. I have not used it yet and will report my results back here when I do. However, I have never been disappointed with any of Superior's threads and expect their new silk thread will be the same excellent quality.)

Aurifil's 50 weight cotton on the orange spool may also work for your needs.

Just remember, finer is better because there's little thread buildup so that your backtracking stitches won't show.

Test heavier thread first to determine if the backtracking is too obvious. Variegated thread is usually a poor choice--stitching twice on the same line muddies the colors of the variegated thread.

Matching your thread color to your top results in less visible thread buildup, but can be harder to quilt with simply because it isn't as visible during quilting.

Quilting feathers with monofilament thread (YLI and SewArt are my personal favorites, both are nylon) also works well because the thread is so fine. However, you will be more aware of the texture that your quilting produces then of the quilted line itself.

For the bobbin...

As for the bobbin thread, in our Generations Quilt Patterns we recommend using either 100 weight silk or Aurifil 50 weight cotton or Superior Thread's Bottom Line, a 60 weight polyester, as appropriate choices for your bobbin.

Quilting the Feathers

Stitch the spine so that when its complete your needle is in the spine at the root where the first feather begins. You will swoop out and away from the spine, first stitching the underside of the feather, then curving around to stitch the upper side ending with your needle in the fabric at the spine.

Quilting feathers by backtracking over your stitches

If you need to stop to adjust your hand position this is the place to do it and not in the middle of a feather.

Do not cross the spine line. It will look messy. If you are having trouble ending at the spine then stitch almost to it before you begin your backtracking.

I can't stress this enough. More practice means more control.

Now backtrack...

Begin the next feather by stitching out and away from the spine on the same line of stitching--this is the backtracking. Follow the design line of this new feather as it separates from the previous one.

And repeat...

Continue in this manner until you reach the feather at the very tip or end of this spine. After completing this feather your needle should be just touching the tip/end of the spine.

Echo quilt to return to the root...

Now echo quilt around this line of feathers to return to the root of the design. Echo quilting is done by stitching a uniform distance away from a previously quilted line. In Generations Quilt Patterns the echo quilting is stitched approximately 1/8“ away from the feather itself.

Repeat to fill the other side of the spine with feathers. And again, after the last stitch of the last feather at the tip, echo quilt your way back to the root of the design.

Echo quilting is a versatile technique. It allows you to travel to different parts of the design. It also reduces the number of starts and stops.

It also emphasizes the feathers by adding more contrast between the puff in the feathers to the echo quilted area immediately surrounding the feather. Use a wool batt (we recommend Hobbs 100% Wool) to further enhance the contrast.

My Best Advice to You

This method of quilting feathers takes the most practice.

I can't stress this enough.

Practice improves your quilting by improving the confidence you have in your skills. It also creates a “muscle memory” that your body relies on as you quilt.


Your feathers will thank you for it and your friends will drool!

Go to Quilting Feathers with Spaces

Return to Quilting Feathers Introduction - A How To Guide

Return to the Generations Quilt Patterns Home Page

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