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Dragons: From In the Beginning

Tori McElwain for Quilting with Darla

I was given the privilege to make this amazing Dragon quilt by my local quilt shop! Fabric is by Jason Yenter for In the Beginning Fabrics.

The shop owner of Sew Easy Sewing asked me to piece this quilt sample and quilt it for the shop. I was given permission to do anything! So, I played! I’d love to tell you about each piece of the quilt and how I chose to quilt each dragon differently. I hope this can help inspire your choices in your own free-motion quilting!

Just a little background first. I have been quilting for 20 years (since I was 9). I have been free motion quilting for the past 3 years, and only 1 of those years have I been quilting on a longarm sewing machine. All of which the shop owner knew.

This quilt is an amazing example of my skill level on the longarm quilting machine in this moment. It will be an amazing snapshot in my quilting story and look at how beautiful those colors are!

I was so excited to put together this pattern! It includes 2 panels, a custom-made border fabric for the Dragon line, as well as matching fabric for the piecing around the center panel. The fabric line and panels come in both blue and red.

Overall, my goal was to help the fabric stand out and specifically to help the dragons come off the fabric. So, for each dragon, I outlined their bodies including their arms, legs, and wings. To help them stand out even more I quilted in the background to help add texture to each scene and to help lay the fabric down around the dragons.

The first dragon on the top and far left is guarding its treasure! I quilted some purple pebbles in the coins, wood grain in the treasure chest and meandered in the shiny cave in the background. I used a deep purple embroidery thread to add some shine! I framed each dragon the same, with stitch in the ditch as well as echoing the edges a 1/4 inch away from the edge and circles in between with black cotton thread for texture; keeping the focus on the dragon.

The top middle dragon was also in a cave, however it was smoky/steamy and blurry in the blue version of this panel. I lined the cave floor and traced the crystals. To accentuate the smoky effect, I added what I call sea shells in an attempt to illustrate the movement of the air. I used a turquoise embroidery thread again to add some shine!

The third dragon on the top of the quilt probably turned out the best with the most simple quilting idea. I outlined each brick in black cotton thread and it brought the broken wall behind this rearing dragon to life. I added a different kind of swirl to mimic the blue fire with the embroidery thread. If you look closely, you will also see the same swirls in black cotton thread over the black area directly beside the dragon. Wow! This dragon is just jumping off the fabric in its flaming glory!

On the bottom left we have my favorite dragon (but to be fair its a VERY close race!). It is looming in a forest. This background was a challenge. The first thing I did after outline the dragon was to outline and add texture to the trees. I created a knot in the wood and went from there. I love how the textured tree in the foreground helped bring the forest to life! I covered the litter on the forest floor with small seashells and meandered in the tree tops to help the eye distinguish the trees from the forest floor.

I brought back the purple embroidery thread for the bottom middle dragon. This one is also guarding the treasure! The outline on this dragon was tricky, but I think I made the best use of the thread. This effect of outlining the front leg and foot makes the dragon step right off the fabric. Watch out for this guy! I incorporated the pebbles in the treasure again and meander in the background of the cave. I love the shine that the embroidery thread adds to the purple dragons!

The last individual dragon on the bottom right of the quilt was a tricky one. It has a cliff, cave, steam, and a knight! I chose to use 2 different color cotton threads to create swirls around the dragon and the knight. This was my first time attempting small swirls in pictures. Loved the idea, but could have used a bit different blue (colors were limited thanks to COVID).

The center panel, the star of the show, took me on a journey. The blue version of this panel is a bit blurry compared the the red version, which is perfect to work some quilty magic on. I started by outlining the Celtic knots with black, they did not need much more than that. Then I outlined every brick in the castle while I contemplated what to do in the sky. with 4 different colored cotton thread, I made swirls around the main dragons, like the clouds and smoke in the sky. I then attempted to recreate the mountain range that blended in almost too well.

I will have to work on my mountain ranges, but the overall effect of making the dragons stand out was perfect. I then grabbed that beautiful turquoise embroidery thread and traced many of the blue flames that trickled into the scene. It helped bring the blue fire out and gave it a stronger feeling that the land was on fire.

To accentuate these themes and the swirling themes in the other fabric, I added the same border to all the black strips in the pieced sides. I also added a swirl in each square. The border was a mystery to me so I mostly let it be. I echoed the flames around the edge 3 times to simulate the heat signature that rises off of fire with black cotton thread. The backing was chosen by the shop owner, with much encouragement from me! It looks like an old tapestry one might find hanging in a castle.

If you're wondering about my tension, it was mostly great! Even when switching between cotton and embroidery thread. The only part of the back that really showed the front thread was the bottom purple dragon. I forgot to check the tension. Whoops! We are only human and the front looks great!

I absolutely love how this came out! If you'd like to purchase this fabric, I suggest going through your local quilt shop!

Happy Quilting!

Enjoy the slide show below

Tori McElwain:


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