It’s a Red Letter Day: Embellish your favorite letter with colorful free-motion stitching

Free Motion quilting letter

Free-motion quilting is a diverse and varied art—it can be used in large quilts, small projects, and as embellishments for home décor elements. Join artist Karen Ponischil as she uses her love of text and free-motion stitching to create relief letters for a modern home.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a love for fonts and letterforms. My favorite project when I was studying to be a graphic designer was creating letterforms using Albrecht Dürer’s book Of The Just Shaping Of Letters as a guide. After creating the letter S from his instructions, I was hooked. This project made me see letters not just as text but also as works of art. The latest home décor trends include using oversized letters and monograms as design elements. I created the following project as a gift for my niece’s new home. Along the way, I rediscovered the beauty of the letterform and added my own embellishment with free-motion quilting.

What’s your type?

In simple terms, a font is a graphic representation of text, a set of displayable or printable characters. There are many categories of fonts, but we’ll be focusing on the most common: serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have little lines or embellishments at the ends of each letter. These embellishments make the individual letters more distinct and easier for our brains to recognize quickly. Therefore, serif fonts are easier to read. Times Roman and Garamond are examples of serif fonts. The word serif has origins in the Dutch word for line. Sans serif fonts have no lines or embellishments. The word sans is French for without. Sans serif fonts are letters at their simplest: they work well for headlines and are the best when creating a free-motion monogram. Futura and Helvetica are examples of sans serif fonts.

Examples of font stylesFont styles, such as italic, bold, extra bold, and condensed, are variations on a particular font. For these projects I prefer to use a sans serif font such as Futura Condensed. I chose this font and style because it is a particular favorite of mine, and one of the more popular fonts. It is long, narrow, and elegant, with a distinct, modern look. It was designed in the 1920s during the Arts and Crafts Movement. I find the shape of Futura Condensed letterforms easy to trace when stitching, and because they are narrow, condensed fonts save space on the quilt, leaving more room for free-motion quilting.

Follow the Law

Copyright laws are complicated, so before using any images or fonts that are not your own check that they are copyright free or in the public domain. A great resource for exploring free fonts is

free-motion quilting letter D example

“D” • 10½” 10½” | Photos by Jay Wilde



Create the letterform

Free-motion quilting S letter

“VSP” • 10½” x 10½”

1. Choose a letterform or monogram and enlarge the letter or letters to 6″–7″ tall.

2. Print the letter in black and white on a home printer.

3. Firmly smooth the Press’n Seal to the top of the letter printout. Make sure it is securely attached by rubbing the Press’n Seal in and around letter.

Start your free-motion quilting letter project

Trace the letter with white gel pen | Process photos courtesy of the artist

4. Trace the letter on the Press’n Seal using the white gel pen. Trace the edges as closely and accurately as possible. Use a ruler for straight lines.

5. Make a quilt sandwich using backing, batting, and top fabric. Pin at the corners, or spray baste the layers together.

6. Remove the Press’n Seal from the paper printout. A distinct white outline of the letter should be visible on the plastic film. Firmly apply the Press’n Seal to the center of the quilt top.

Free-motion stitch through the Press’n Seal, following the white lines of the traced letter

Free-motion stitch through the Press’n Seal, following the white lines of the traced letter

7. Thread the machine with black thread in both the top and bobbin. Free-motion stitch through the Press’n Seal, following the white lines of the traced letter. Take your time and go slowly when stitching the letter.

Tip: Shorten the stitch length on the sewing machine to 1.8mm when sewing on Press’n Seal to make removing the wrap easier.

Remove the Press’n Seal from the fabric

Remove the Press’n Seal from the fabric

8. Remove the Press’n Seal from the fabric. With the shorter stitch length, it should tear away easily, but if the corners are a little stubborn, use tweezers.

Quilt around the monogram

B letter in free-motion quilting

“B is for Brown” • 12″ x 12″

To quilt most efficiently, I mentally divide the space into four quadrants and work back and forth between the quadrants. I vary the free-motion quilting motifs and try not to repeat a motif too many times. I use all the curvy motifs I know: bubbles, flames, stipples, and more. I always add a few motifs I’m trying to perfect, such as a flower with a stem or curly leaves. When I try a new motif, I draw it on the quilt top with a removable chalk pencil. I keep all the motifs approximately 2″ x 2″, but vary the area by making it irregular in shape.

While the placement of the motifs is random, the choice of thread color is not. I balance the colors of the threads for the overall piece. I use bright colors to accomplish this, and stitch over some motifs 2–3 times to make the quilting lines even bolder.

Quilt around the letter with your favorite motifs

Quilt around the letter with your favorite motifs

1. Begin quilting around the letter with your favorite thread colors and favorite quilting motifs.

Change thread color often for dramatic design

Change thread color often for dramatic design

2. Free-motion stitch 2″ x 2″ areas at a time. Change your thread color often for a dramatic design.

NOTE: I quilt only on the outside of the monogram edge so the letterforms are in relief.

3. Finish the project edge as desired.

Karen’s Tips

colorful threads

  • Arial, Futura, Geneva, and Helvetica are good fonts for monograms. I prefer to use condensed versions of fonts.
  • Begin with simple letters like A, W, or N. These letters have straight lines, making them easier to stitch.
  • The frequent changing of thread colors can be tedious. Plan the quilting design so you quilt all of the designs in one color before moving to the next.
  • To ensure even stitch length, use a walking foot to stitch and transfer the letter to the fabric.
  • For better color coverage, use the same color of thread in the bobbin and top thread.

Karen Ponischil has been stitching as long as she can remember. She went to her first quilt guild meeting with her sister and has been quilting ever since. She is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and three cats. Visit her website here.

This project is so versatile! Consider making a letter or a monogram (as shown in “VSP,” above) as a wedding gift for a new couple! For more great projects delivered right to you, subscribe to Quilting Arts Magazine.

Sew long,

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