Saturday, January 11, 2014

Part #2: Learning How to Make Freehand Baptist Fans For Hand Quilting

If you read through the previous Baptist Fans tutorial, it's easy to see that traditional fans are made up of lots and lots of the exact same set of arcs. They are carefully marked onto the fabric, side by side of each other, and then on top of each other in a series of endless repeats. It all looks very tidy and well organized.

Making the arcs freehand style is where you can take the carefully marked out of the equation and go your own way although the essential structure remains a constant. I generally grab a piece of paper to start with and draw the basic set of arcs that I'm considering stitching. As before, I'm working with a three arc fan. You can choose to add as many arcs as you like--draw them very close together or even spread them out. It's always yours to customize.
One set of Freehand Arcs
Once again, I'll use a piece of paper to demonstrate how the arcs might look together. In the picture below I drew one set of arcs at a time moving from the right to the left and then starting again at the next row--all without using a template. As you can see, some arcs are flatter, some are taller etc. This is a natural conclusion of working freehand style. As the arcs build across the quilt, this begins to get quite interesting and yes, even a bit frightening, especially if it's the first time you've worked this way! Mostly, I think, because it all seems a bit out of control and we're programmed to resist undisciplined action!

I'll have to admit that the first time I starting stitching freehand Baptist Fans, I was almost in tears a third of the way through my quilt. I was positive I had ruined my quilt. After a good nights sleep and some gritty determination to make myself finish what I had started, I continued on and ended up with something I still love to this day. To me, working freehand is one of the best ways to get your stitching to look more personal and charming. It also removes any pressure to get things 'perfect', which I for one, appreciate.
2 Rows of Freehand Arcs
Working with my Plain Jane quilt (below) I decided to start stitching at the far right corner of the main body of my quilt rather than the very bottom corner. I'll come back and stitch the border later because I think it needs to be stitched in a different color of thread than the blue I'm using for the rest of the quilt. I generally mark the first three fans or so onto my quilt before I start to stitch freehand Baptist Fans. You don't have to--just wade right in if that's your preference. In the picture below, I used a blue wash-out marker, marking entirely without a template. I then stitched those first arcs and moved up to the second row.

From there on, throughout the rest of my quilt, I won't use a marker again unless I really get in a quandary about what to do. (Sometimes a rows get really out of whack and it helps to draw a set of arcs with a marker so you can 'see' it). I just eyeball the distance from arc to arc and stitch away, letting my eye be the judge. If you decide to draw all your fans in the freehand style before stitching, remember, no need to worry about getting perfectly marked, smooth arcs. As you stitch, you will automatically make small corrections to make things appear smoother.
The first hoop of freehand Baptist Fans
When I get the first hoop filled with stitching, then (just like with formal Baptist Fans), I move the hoop to the left and start up where I left off on the very bottom row. It's always good to work in the same general direction, right to left, bottom to top etc. although again, I want to emphasize that there are no rules!

Some people prefer a mix of formal and freehand looking fans rather than (what they consider to be) out and out chaos. Tim Latimer has an excellent example of this with one of his latest quilts where he marked the longest, outside arc and then went back and filled in the rest of his arcs with freehand style arcs. It's a perfect way to get familiar with letting your 'eye' tell you where to stitch next and/or keep to more structured looking rows of Baptist Fans.
Moving over to start the second hoop of stitching
If you prefer not to mark your quilt at all and enjoy a more casual look of stitching, the freehand Baptist Fans are extremely easy to stitch once you get into the rhythm of the design. Another thing to be aware of with freehand fans, is that you can stop at any time in your quilt and change up the direction you're stitching the fans in or even add an extra arc or two to any of your fans. Whatever you think the quilt needs. Really. I'm being serious here. When the entire quilt is stitched, it's almost impossible to see where there's an extra arc or two and imperfect rows only add to the charm. All that your eye really processes is the basic Baptist Fan stitching pattern--the arcs themselves!
Freehand Baptist Fans in my Festival of Trees quilt
What I love the most about freehand Baptist Fans is the fact that the further you progress through the quilt with your stitching, the more 'disorderly' the fans become (you can see a little of this in the picture above). Freehand is not for everyone and I know I still have a long ways to go before my freehand gets completely unique and crazy. Working with freehand stitching does NOT come naturally to me--it wars with the perfectionist side that I keep trying to liberate with my quilting! lol  Ready to try some freehand Baptist Fans yourself? I'll warn you--it really can be a bit addictive.


  1. Thanks for more tips! I have tried the freehand technique, but just couldn't get comfortable making the curves look curvy. I will keep trying.

  2. I do mark my Baptist Fans but maybe someday I will let loose and do some free hand!

  3. I have never done on all over design like that on my quilts - maybe the thought of going through all those seams has held me back from trying it? not sure I'm sure though that if I ever try the baptist fan I will need to draw them on, when I try free hand I get way off quickly!

  4. Have you shown the first quilt you used free-hand Baptist Fan quilting on? I would love to see it.

  5. I've really enjoyed these very thorough posts about Baptist Fan quilting, thanks for taking the time to write them.

  6. Very adventurous of you! It depends very much on the quilt, but I sometimes quilt freehand, although I haven't tried the fans. They look good.

  7. Thanks again for the tips. I think I will stick with a template for now...then when I get brave I will try the freehand...which is funny because most of my hand-quilting is freehand.
    blessings, jill

  8. I thank you for this liberating tutorial! I have always wanted to do a freehand BF but thought that it would be too uneven but really I love the charm of it. I have 3 tops that I want to do this with so I think you have finally convinced me that it is okay. It is my favorite finish on a quilt this pattern.

  9. Genius again! I've done freehand Baptist fans on small quilt but not a large one...maybe this year I'll gather the courage...

  10. Thanks for the wonderful instructions for the Baptist Fan! I think that BF is my fave quilting design. I did one once, and now I have my long-armer do them for me. I was never brave enough to do them free-hand, but I may have to try this on a very small doll quilt. I might be able to do that much hand quilting! (I've got arthritis in my hands, so had to give it up)

  11. great tutorial (both parts 1 and 2). i have played around with freehanding the fan pattern and loved the results.
    it's surprising how quickly one gets good at it.


  12. Very nice! My blog is called humble quilts for just this reason. this freehand quilting certainly mimics many vintage quilts. So charming!

  13. Thank you so much for these tutorials. I am a beginner and didn't have a clue where to begin in marking my top for quilting. Somebody shared your link and I am happy that they did.

  14. thanks so much. i have had two quilts waiting for me to quilt them with freehand baptist fans, BUT ive been afraid to start. i wasnt sure where to start! this will be started this week. thanks for my heave-ho! oh and im doing them in chunky utility stitches! love your blog!

  15. So pretty! Would you work the fans over applique?

  16. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog posts today! I was looking for free-hand Baptist fan quilting design and discovered your blog by chance. Thank you for sharing this!


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