How to Free Motion Quilt an Easy Circle Border

Kimberlee Tanner

In a quest to actually finish all our quilts (it’s hard to snuggle under a quilt top), we are sharing a new free motion quilting motif with you each month. These are simple motifs that can easily be tackled by a beginner. Grab a practice quilt sandwich and some extra thread and try it out. You may just find a new favorite quilting motif!

This month, we are learning how to quilt a circle border.


Where to Use the Easy Circle Border

Since I’m calling this design a border, it is probably obvious that borders and sashing work great for this design. Since it creates a string of circles, long skinny elements are easily and quickly filled by using this circle border.

It also works great in any sort of sashing or would work the same to fill larger rectangular shapes.

While I call this free motion quilting design a circle border, you can easily adapt it to be an all over design. I would still quilt it in rows, which makes it easy to do on either a long arm quilting machine or on a domestic sewing machine.

The best thing about this design, is that while it’s circles, it’s very forgiving. Since we are going around the circle shape lots, none of your circles have to actually be round. By the time you go around 4-5 times, the effect will look round even if the individual components are not. That makes this a very beginner friendly free motion quilting design. Due to the density of stitches, it will also hide varying stitch lengths as you get used to keeping them more even on your own.

Preparing the Practice Quilt Sandwich

We’ll be using about 12-14″ square quilt sandwiches for our pieces. This size is small enough to practice a new to motif and not be overwhelmed by bulk, but still large enough to get a feel for the full pattern. It’s also a size that we can usually find scraps for. If you hang on to leftover batting from quilts, we love to use them for practice sandwiches. I recommend practicing on solids when you can as it allows you to see your stitches better and know where you can practice more to improve. If you want to save even more fabric, when your practice sandwich is full, simply throw a new piece of fabric on top and start over. You can do this until you have 3-4 layers of top fabric.

One thing to keep in mind when practicing, your quilts will likely be much larger than your practice sandwich. Remember to vary the scale and practice your designs larger as well so that they don’t end up super small when you move to the final quilt.

Doodle, Doodle, Doodle

Before you head to the sewing machine to stitch out a new free motion quilting motif, pull out the paper and pen first! Taking the time to doodle the design builds up muscle memory, gets you comfortable with the movement, and also helps you to identify a quilting path. Then when you get to the quilt top, you’ll know how to move around and fill in tricky areas. If you need something to occupy your hands while watching movies or tv, (or a work zoom meeting), keep a sketchbook handy and doodle out new free motion quilting motifs. This also works to keep a journal of ideas and quilting patterns you know which can make deciding how to quilt your projects much easier!

How to Quilt the Easy Circle Border

There are really only three steps in this design.

First draw a small line from the edge of whatever shape you are looking to fill (you can also skip this and start directly with a circle if starting in a corner).

Next, quilt a circle. Try to keep it fairly round, but it’s okay if it wonky or flat on one side, we’ll fix that with the next step.

Now you are going to go around that same circle a few more times. I usually end up going around 4-5 times. Don’t try to sew directly on your previous line, you are going to make a nice little cluster of circles.

Then make a small line headed out of the circle.

That’s it. Now just repeat the same steps over and over until you have filled your shape.

If I’m using this as a fill or all over design, I like to make a little bigger space between the circles and alternate them across the space. This tends to give a better distribution of quilting so that there aren’t big empty spaces.

When practicing this free motion quilting motif, don’t forget to go up, down, and backwards. If you want the connecting line to be straight through the piece, you can also mark a line in the middle of the area to follow.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Happy Quilting!

Kimie and Missy

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