Joanie’s Favorite Machine Quilting Technique

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Heirloom Machine Quilting

Heirloom Machine Quilting or as I call it Refined Free-motion Quilting

used in my chosen style – Elegant and Sophisticated.

I did not feel that I should move on from the lessons on the techniques and styles of machine quilting without sharing what I have learned about the quilting style that is so recognizable in my work. Here is an introduction to”refined free-motion quilting” so that you can do this too if you want the “look” for some or all of your quits.

The what I do is to use a regular sewing machine set up for the free-motion technique

but I refine my focus and supplies to achieve the why I do it,

to give my quilts an elegant and sophisticated style.

Detail images:

What is Heirloom Machine Quilting?

First, the name was coined by Harriet Hargrave who pioneered the use of home sewing machine for replicating the look of hand quilting of antique quilts. This technique is based on the look of the heirloom quilts of the past, yet differs significantly because most of those beautiful older sisters were quilted entirely by hand. Combining lightweight thread, a tiny needle and a bit of practice with the  free-motion technique increases your ability to easily stitch advanced designs.

I like to call the use of this technique refined free-motion quilting because the scale of the work is reduced. With the machine set up for free-motion quilting (with the feed dogs lowered and a darning foot installed on the machine) this technique can produce a decorative, deeply sculptured quilt surface.
•   With Heirloom Machine Quilting, decorative quilting motifs are drawn on the quilt top.
•   The lines are followed with a row of stitching using very lightweight thread.
•   The background area around the motif is often filled in with patterns that include grids, echo, and stippling.
•   This dense stitching flattens the background space, allowing the motifs to stand out. 

Great intricacy and impressive designs can be achieved in a fraction of the time that it would take to quilt the same piece by hand.

Miniature  with bobbin

This miniature quilt, Miniature Elegance, was a finalist in the 2015 American Quilters Society Show in Paducah. It measures 14″ wide by 17″ tall. It is a replica of a full size quilt in a miniature size.


Mini Elegance_2_Close Copy

Here is a close up of the quilting motifs, the string of beads border pattern and grid which is just less than a 1/4″. Extremely tiny stippling flattens the background allowing the motifs to stand out. 


mini with bobbin

This is a shot of a practice quilt I made to audition the elements I thought I wanted to use for my quilt, Miniature Elegance. A bobbin is shown in the photo to put the scale of this work in perspective. The outlines of the motifs that I used for the final quilt were drawn slightly farther apart, allowing a bit more puff which helps them stand out from the background.

I know that for some of you, this is not your style, you may feel intimidated by my work, or you might just be happier with much simpler results.  Please stay with me here on my blog, the machine quilting lessons and advice I give can be applied to any project, using much simpler design choices and can be adapted for heavier threads used for more utilitarian quilts. If you like my style, it is just a matter of learning the right stuff, the appropriate supplies and technique.

The fabric I chose for Miniature Elegance is Radiance by Robert Kaufman. It is 45% silk and 55% cotton. I created an original pattern on paper, centered the fabric over the design and marked it with a water soluble blue quilting marker. I used a manufactured embroidered ribbon as the outer border which is quilted around the motifs. The piece is quilted with 100 weight silk thread and I used a size 70 Microtex (sharp) needle.

A few Design suggestions for an “heirloom style” quilt layout:

  • Choose a theme.
  • Coordinate fabric, pattern and quilting designs.
  • Customize images, lettering, and dates.
  • Include background fillers.

Thanks for joining me, I appreciate your interest and hope this may spark your desire to try this technique. There is more information on the topic on my website, in my books and in the DVD workshops. If you feel your friends, family or quilt guild would benefit from this insight please invite them to join.  I’d really appreciate it!

Whats Up for next week?

I begin a series of post on the most Frequently Asked Questions about machine quilting  that I get over and over, and how I have discovered the answers may not be the important solutions you need.

Until then, as I wrote in French using the Heirloom Machine Quilting technique, 


Fais de beau reves! or Sweet Dreams by Joanie Zeier Poole 2005

Fais de beau reves! or Sweet Dreams by Joanie Zeier Poole 2005


Did you see the page full of machine quilting help in the form of Printable Tips?

Machine Quilting Tips!

Look on this page for printable Machine Quilting Tips!

Dashed-line-99CC99Read more About Joanie, her Career Highlights, or print Joanie’s Short Bio.
Can’t wait for a blog post of all of this advice? Explore helpful info already on the website: Glossary of Frequently used Machine Quilting Terms, How to Prepare for a Class, Quick Start Guide to Marking and Resizing Quilting Designs, Printable Charts for Quilting Facts, The Tips Page, and announcements of  Upcoming Events.

Dashed-line-99CC99Never miss an issue of this free e-zine, Joanie’s Life Changing Machine Quilting Lessons. Just watch for reminders from Joanie on her Facebook page or to receive a reminder sent to your inbox, use the sign-up form at the top of the sidebar on this page. 

The information, illustrations and photographs on this blog copyright Joanie Zeier Poole unless otherwise noted. No reproduction in any form is permitted without permission. All rights reserved. Please ask permission for using any content and give credit when sharing what you have learned. Heirloom Quilting Designs was founded by Joanie Zeier Poole in 2000, a new millennium with a new dream for the future!

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  1. WOW!!! Your work is incredible! And you show that attention to detail truly pays off!! Beautiful 🙂

  2. Your thanks are the encouragement I need to continue.

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