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personalized gifts for him for birthday How to Design a Wholecloth Quilt- Renae Allen’s “Quatro Décennie” decorative pillow shams
Updated: 2020-03-29 21:46

I love wholecloth bed quilts. Do I have the courage to make one? Not quite yet, but maybe something smaller, like a pillow, if I practice and practice my free-motion quilting. Renae Allen makes it look so easy! Here she is to show us a bit about the design and quilting of Quatro Décennie, a beautiful wholecloth quilt embellished with intricate hearts, feathers, and fills. –;?Jo?

My “Quatro Décennie”?project began with an invitation to teach domestic machine quilting at HMQS (Home Machine Quilting Show). The show requested at least one quilt for the teacher display area. Since I was teaching quilting feathers and fillspersonalized gifts for him for birthday, I decided to use my BERNINA 820 and make a new wholecloth design featuring those techniques.

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The HMQS theme for 2013 was “That’s Amoré” (That’s Love) so keeping with the theme, I named my quilt “Quatro Décennie,” which means “four decades” in French. It was my husband’s idea because we are in our fourth decade of marriage.


Four hearts were a must and I added plumes in the corners. For the center I chose a circle of feathers?and framed the design with a gently curved feather border. My Feather FUNdamentals class included?three kinds of feathers and I decided to use formal feathers for this quilt. These feathers require backtracking when stitching, but they are so pretty it is worth the extra effort. I used seven different fills from the Fills with Skill class: Echo, stipple, spiral, pebbles, straight lines and the wineglass pattern (Diane Guadynski’s “Diane-shiko”). The fill patterns are small because I learned the hard way a that a large, curved meander makes feathers disappear. A tight fill flattens the backgroud so the feathers pop.?


I designed the pattern using pencil, paper, a scanner, and Adobe Illustrator on my computer. I started with one quarter because a symetrical wholecloth can be designed in quarters and then rotated 90 degrees. I played around with different feather patterns, the shape, scale and placement until I was satisfied with the overall look.

Printing and Marking

When my design was ready to print I paid the county recorder to print one half of the design on the large format printer they use for maps. I traced the design onto my fabric using a blue washable marker and my homemade light table. My light table is a large piece of used glass with smoothed edges, two under-the-counter florescent lights, and bread pans or cans to lift the glass off my counter. It works great!


Pin basting achored the layers and then I quilted the feathers. I added an echo around the each feather design. The echo lines accent the feathers but also provide breathing space between the feathers and the fill. Retracing the echo line is a great way to travel without a stop and start. It is also makes a good boundary for quilting the fill.

Planning fills at the beginning as part of the quilt design is a good idea. I was certain I wanted straight lines on the border, tiny stippling inside the hearts and plumes, and the small wineglass pattern around the inside edges. I marked a 1/2 ?inch grid for the wineglass pattern with the blue washable marker when I transferred the feather design. However, I decided on pebbles, additional echo lines, and the spirals as I quilted.

Each fill creates a different texture. For instance, the pebbles clearly define the center circle. Quilting two?fills around the hearts and plumes forms a secondary design.

Tip: Tiny fills look better and quilt smoother with a smaller stitch. This means running the motor a little faster or moving your hands a bit slower. If using the BSR (BERNINA Stitch Regulator), reduce the stitch length and it will automatically adjust for a shorter stitch.?


The thread I selected was Superior Threads’; So-Fine in a color slightly darker than my fabric. I quilted with a Topstitch needle on fabric from Moda’s French General line. The batting is Quilters Dream?100% wool which gives nice loft in the feathers without using trapunto.

Bernina 820

I loved quilting “Quatro Décennie” on the Bernina 820. This machine has a nice consistent stitch, lots of power, and a large bobbin. The tension is easily adjusted and the twelve-inch arm gives plenty of room to manage the quilt. I use the BERNINA Freehand System and the foot pedal needle up and down features constantly so I don’t have to lift my hands off the quilt. The excellent lighting is very helpful for stitching tiny fills and backtracking feathers.

Many of my quilts are gifts to those I love. However, I think we will keep this one at our house a while and just enjoy it!

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Adding festive decorations can help to add a holiday feel to your kitchen this winter, just be careful where you put them. Putting anything on your microwave or cooker is not a good idea and could be a potential fire hazard!