Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Free Motion Quilting: Doodle on the Wall?

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I was doodling on my shop's bathroom walls. Yep, totally giving it a bit of free motion design to liven it up.


The walls are the same boring brown as the rest of the shop. Or at least the same as the other walls were. Most of the walls in the building were painted a cheery, but soft color of yellow. It turned out fabulously, but the brown was dark enough that it took several coats to cover it up and there just wasn't time to paint the bathroom as well.


Of course, now that we're open 6 days a week and I want to have some sort of life away from the shop, there isn't time to paint it now.



You may remember some of my painted window escapades at our shop's original location. That doodling was an absolute blast and was just calling out for me to doodle on the wall. What's the worst that could happen? I have to actually paint over it?!


There's a big difference between doodling on glass with window markers and drawing on an actual wall that's not part of some graffiti encrusted urban area. I knew I didn't want to use the window paint as it was rather difficult to manipulate and get an even line of paint. Let's face it, writing "Go Team!" takes a different line than a curvy, graceful feather.


Paint pens are pretty easy to come by these days, and I figured I'd use them, but I was nervous about making mistakes and I'm fairly sensitive to paint fumes. So I put it on the back burner of my mind and let the idea percolate a bit.


We installed a large chalk board in the foyer of the shop and decided against using chalk markers to write on it after seeing that some of my chalkboard labels on bins in the shop were 'ghosting' when I wanted to remove the so-called chalk.


Bingo! The perfect use of those chalk markers was on my wall! It does wash off to some extent, and is available at most craft stores. I got mine at Michael's.


So I began drawing with a fairly fine pointed marker. Meh. The fine line blended in and didn't give me the bold graphic line I wanted. So I got a wide pointed chisel tip marker. I was leery of it at first as it had a similar tip to the window marker that had given me trouble. It worked like a champ.


What about making mistakes? Well, I realized that the earlier attempts with the fine tipped marker looked pretty sad next to the thicker lines and I was happy to report that I was able to wash it off. Now, the wall is painted with a fairly slick paint, maybe a semi-gloss, so I don't know that this will work on all paints, nor after a bunch of time passes. Try this at your own risk, but I am so happy with the results.


Bonus, I get my free motion quilting practice in as I doodle my favorite designs. I absolutely think frequent doodling is a great way to improve your quilting skills.


 What do you think? Am I crazy for drawing on my walls? I did think of getting some plexiglass on the wall first, but then decided to go for it. I'm glad I did!

You can see more pics of these walls as I go on my Instagram account. I'm a little more active on there these days, snapping a picture when I can. I take forever to write up a blog post. Follow me there.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Creativity: On a Wing and a Prayer

"You can't just wing it!"

Yeah? Watch me.

I should have feathers, I 'wing it' so often.

In fact I fly often by the seat of my pants!


No cage for this bird, I'm taking flight!

Sure, there are some things that you can't just wing. Taxes for instance. To bring it to quilting, it's highly likely that winging a complex pattern of angles and measurements is bound for unexpected results, if not downright disaster.

Disaster being relative of course, as this is just quilting, not brain surgery.

Speaking of the brain, it's common to refer to people like me as right-brained and people who are more analytical as left-brained. Turns out that research doesn't support the idea of using one side of the brain over the other.

Because I do tend to wing it, (and my memory is poor) I don't tend to use left or right brain terminology, instead I like to refer to people tending to be more like an artist, or more like an engineer. Yes....because I can't remember which side is supposed to be which.

I talk about this artist/engineer concept often in my free motion quilting classes as I find that there's usually a correlation that affects how easily someone picks up free motion quilting.

I'll talk about that in another post, but today I just wanted to sing the praises of being able to let the artist in our brains have some freedom. In part it's because you can't just 'wing it' when it comes to running a business (yes, I've tried), especially that of a retail business and in the quilting industry as well. I've been squashed creatively. Well, except for the pretty awesome row I created for my shop's participation in the Row by Row Experience this year. Any rail fan will recognize the 611 steam engine.

So I've stepped away from the computer, accounting, and huge piles of paper in order to maintain my sanity and to let my creative spirit come out to play. Just a little bit, at least. Every day I now make time to wing it in my studio.

Two of my projects are totally wing friendly. First, I've started doodling on the boring brown wall in my shop's bathroom with a white chalk marker. (Chalk marker, because in theory, I can wash it off. At least enough to paint over it.) Yes, the bathroom is getting a custom mural of quilt doodling!

Just doodling when I can.

The second project I'm pretty proud of so far. I'm making a linen slip cover for a wingbacked chair in my shop. It's the non-shopper/handwork chair. Not the husband chair, just the waiting chair. It's had a large cream and green toile slip cover over it for ages. Every time someone sits in it, the thing shifts and looks bad.

So I made the slip cover fit better and then began using it as a very rough pattern to create a new cover out of linen. By rough I mean slap the cushion onto the fabric and trace around it with a blue marking pen. Sloppily, messily.

Guess what? It worked! More importantly, it's been getting done instead of just sitting there, waiting for me to be able to 'do it right' as that might happen never.

Just a ruffle and some finish work and this chair will look so much better.

And folks? Getting something DONE is what got me into quilting in the first place. It feels so good to have something done, even if it isn't perfect, in a time of a never ending to-do list. My season of chasing around little ones and a house that comes undone constantly may be nearly over, (The kids are still quite the mess makers!) but the never ending undone stuff has just changed to different stuff.

Think about it.... are you letting the need to make something "right" keep you from getting things done? Sometimes close enough is perfect. As my husband sometimes says, "gooder enough." Yes, he knows that drives my inner grammar nazi crazy, one part of me that is decidedly left brain. (Let's leave my overuse of exclamation points and .... out of things, shall we?)

There's a reason why improve piecing, scrap piecing, and folksy wool applique is on the rise. These things allow for less precision and more winging of various aspects of it. Life can get horribly rigid, regimented, and judge-y. Fight it by allowing yourself to enjoy the less than perfect process.

Free motion quilting looking not as good as you want? Give yourself permission to just wing it and play with it. I guarantee you'll get better and some projects will get done!


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

More Template Options for Low Shank Machines: Blue Dahlia

When it comes to quilting with rulers on sewing machines, Low shank machines are at a disadvantage as the lack of clearance behind the foot limits your choice of rulers. There's only one maker of 3mm quilting rulers......

Or at least there was only one! TopAnchor, my favorite maker of fancy, specialty rotating templates has begun having her popular designs cut in a 3mm thick version. I've used her 1/4 inch thick templates all along on my high shank Janomes and I love how easy it is to position the anchor post from the top side of the quilt and without pin tips sticking up. (Because if a pin sticks up, I'm going to be the one to put my hand on it.)

I set up one of our smaller low shank Janome machines (7050) with the Janome ruler foot combination and shot a video using the "Blue Dahlia". It's a bit long (22 minutes) and also gives a little peek around my new studio/classroom in our shop, newly relocated to 2414 Wards Rd. in Lynchburg VA.


I love that this option exists now! In the video I used the 6 inch version of the template. All of Janome's low shank machines are small machines with a regular sized harp space, so using the 9 inch template is a little harder to use. Not impossible, but harder. Certainly harder with a camera between me and the machine! But there are quite a few larger throat machines in other brands that have low shanks.



I show in the video how to make the double dahlia, but I have also done a triple dahlia years ago in bright colored fabric on linen (with the high shank version) that was absolutely stunning! I'll have to see if I can find it. The markings are on the template for both the single and double version. These templates are now available at Amy's Quilting Adventures.


Whew...nope, no dice on finding that design. I had to dive deep into the archives looking for it, so I'll just post this adorable pic of my now 10 year old at 4 years old in the dress and bloomers I made her back when I had a "mommy blog." Isn't she adorable? So twirly!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Row by Row On the Go 2017

I'm off for a few days for our annual family reunion. This year we're in West Virginia.


When we get back home, I'll be short 2 out of three kids (Yay for grandparents!) and working on some quilting projects as well as getting ready for our first time participating in the Row by Row Experience. This will be our first time in this huge, summer-long event.


Beginning June 21, 2017, visit any of the participating shops and receive a free pattern for a row in a quilt. Combine your rows in any way to create a unique quilt that represents the fun you had traveling to the stores. Travel with friends, discover new quilt shops and have fun collecting rows!

Create a quilt using at least 8 different 2017 rows from 8 different 2017 participating RxR shops and be the first to bring it into a participating shop to win a stack of 25 fat quarters (6-1/4 yards of fabric!). Use that shop’s row in your quilt and win a bonus prize!

I designed our row in the midst of moving the shop last month. I decided on featuring the 611 Steam engine as it steams through Lynchburg and past our house in small town Virginia as well. My family are pretty big rail fans, especially the boys. We even saw this historic train get underway as it was towed to North Carolina three years ago to get restored and refitted. It fits the theme of "On the Go!" perfectly for us.


If you are on the go  for Row by Row this year between June 21 and September 5th, make a point to visit us in Lynchburg VA. We are one of three participating shops in the area, making it well worth the trip.


This row was fun to work up as an applique project. I prefer turned edge machine applique, so that's what I did for most of it. When it came to the tiny pieces, I did switch to fusible raw edged applique, but the row can be done in any applique method you prefer.  The freight car is pieced, then appliqued.

You can pick up the free pattern at Sew Simple, or you can purchase a kit to make the row as shown.

I am looking forward to meeting more quilters this summer and getting back to my studio for both classes and more of my own quilting projects to share here on the blog.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Amy's Quilting Studio Adventures

It's been a whirlwind here in Lynchburg Virginia, home of Sew Simple of Lynchburg, my Janome dealership and creative sewing center as we prepared to start our second year in a brand new location. The original owner had the shop behind his house on a fairly well-travelled road, but we wanted a better location and more space.



We opened June 1 to several customers waiting for us to open the doors, and while things still needed some minor tweaking, I felt like the place looked pretty good. Above is just part of the shop.

 But behind the public places of the shop, things were chaotic at best. New homes for a lot of our stuff just hadn't been found yet, and there were a lot of boxes. My new studio/classroom was no exception, though I did let people take a peek.

Below I recorded the before shots and even shared them on Instagram, just to motivate myself to get it done.


These big tables are for my students. Can you even see the tables? A total disaster, I tell you.


Pile of white batting we pulled of the wall of the old place. It will be turned into a pinnable design wall as soon as we have a chance to pick up some insulation board. I think we overdosed on the wonder that is Lowe's Hardware when we kept going back for more paint.


Even though we ordered a new Horn storage cabinet, the mess was monstrous. Honestly, some of the mess didn't belong in this room, so that's where I started, getting everything out that didn't belong.



We got a new register too, but didn't get it programmed in time for opening day. We put up with the ancient one for the first week, but I did succeed in moving it to the office in the meantime.

Now it is neat and tidy. At least until the next creative vortex takes over. Below is my Janome 8200 in its Horn cabinet.


Then my cutting and storage area. If you carefully, you can get a peek of my shop's first ever Row by Row pattern. If you travel in Virginia to collect your free row patterns, make sure to visit me in Lynchburg.


Below, you can see a lovely little Janome machine I've set out to do some videos on some new specialty templates made for low shank sewing machines by TopAnchor. Very excited about hiving this option now for those folks with a low shank machine.


Here was no getting around the fact that I had more stuff than I had room to store the stuff, so we ran off to Lowe's (forgetting the insulation board) and got another shelving unit. We love these sturdy units. I love that my hubby put it together for me.


So now my studio/classroom is ready for me and my students. It's fairly small even though we took a wall out between two smaller rooms to make this space happen. It's perfect for the smaller classes I like to do, where everyone can get attention by the teacher.


At the end of the student tables is one of my free motion quilted words. I think it's perfect for my space and the color looks pretty great against my light turquoise walls. Let's hope it's a phrophetic word for this space!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sanity Stitching: Free Form with Rulers

I put my foot down yesterday (with myself) and made sure that I got some sanity stitching done. Remember my post about Sanity Stitching? Quilting keeps me sane, so it has to be part of my life or the crazy comes calling.

Contrasting thread and fabric isn't for the timid. All the bobbles show.
Besides, anyone who does free motion quilting needs to keep that muscle memory going with practice. I felt a little rusty.

Love these QP Curve rulers. So nice in the hand.

I wanted to do a little ruler work, but didn't have anything pieced to work on. Plus I didn't want to try a full-fledged project while stitching on the sales floor of my shop. I wanted something guilt free, not another WIP or UFO. So I did a little free-form ruler work. That sounds fancy, doesn't it. Well, it's not. I just slapped down a ruler in a few places and then quilted a few shapes. Not much to look at maybe, but it fed my soul.




I made a sandwich with a dark blue solid and got out some thread I had been itching to try. I love my Glide thread (some is now listed in our online shop too! More to come.) for my free motion work, but as a sewing machine dealer, it's always good to have plenty of choices in thread, so I've been looking at bringing in threads from Wonderfil Specialty Threads.


This is Spaghetti, a 50wt Egyptian cotton thread, but I've got others I want to try too, all picked up while at Quilt Con East. It's also in one of my favorite colors, of course, turquoise. So pretty.



I made some circles with a Simple Circles template too. See that puzzle piece shape? Something like this is important to have on any template that is an interior shape. You want to be able to put the template around the foot and then take it off without having to cut the thread.



With the piece in, you've got a smooth place to slide the foot against. Though that's less important than being to take it off and on.


Then I just played however I wanted. I'll mess around with this a little bit more as I have time. If I have time, that is. Moving a shop isn't the easiest or most time efficient thing to do!


Speaking of the shop, this coming Saturday we begin the move. I'm really excited about this as I'm sure I've mentioned a bunch. I'll have a studio/classroom that is separate from the sales floor so that will help me do my creative thing whether sewing, quilting, designing, or teaching.

This isn't a show stopper of a piece, but I'm enjoying having some quilting fun, and if I get sick of it, I'll pass it on to the hubby to use as testing fabric for machines. Guilt-free quilting.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

3 Key Steps to Find Your Creative Flow

I posted last week about finishing the Ombre Triangle quilt I had been working on, or rather off and on, for far too long. I had shared how it felt like the project was just dragging along and I think the big dissatisfaction I had with it was that I was never really able to get into the creative "flow" that I usually find when I quilt.

Do you know about "flow"? Call it being in the groove, absorbed in the process, or whatever, but it's that state of being when you are focused on a project and lose all track of time. It's addictive to be in that state, so I guess I'm in withdrawals a bit.

When you're in the state of flow, the ideas and the execution of them are in perfect harmony. This is a fabulous state to be in when creating a new pattern, improv piecing, free form applique, drawing, painting, whatever. Things just flow from brain to hand and it's just all....flow-y. Angels sing in the background, the seam ripper is forgotten and you get stuff done.

I did find a bit of that state yesterday while working at our new shop location, painting the walls a cheerful, sunny yellow. I think the color is called "peaceful calm." Seems appropriate to me. I stayed until 11pm painting!


When you're outside of the creative flow, you can still be creative, but it can seem disjointed and harder. More like work and less like fun. Less creative too. It can feel forced.

If you are a creative soul, and I bet you all are, you know what I mean about flow. Sometimes it seems magical and elusive, but it is also something we can cultivate.

How do we cultivate flow?

Well, there are folks who are much better on this subject than me, but I know the first thing is to give ourselves permission to create and experiment. Yes, that sometimes giving ourselves permission to fail.

We can also set aside time for our creative pursuits. That's probably pretty close to giving ourselves permission to create. No one really leaves a life free of concerns these days. Even if you're retired, I know days can get busy with family, travel, service  and charity projects. There's always the mundane of course; housework, bills, etc. For most of us there are the concerns of work, kids, maybe elderly parents and other things that can keep us busy.

You are of no use to anyone if you don't give your soul what it needs. So make time to dabble in your creative pursuits and get into the flow of what makes your heart sing.

[Full disclosure, that might be the most hypocritical thing I've said in a while. I have not prioritized my time to do my creative thing. Hubby even gave me a lecture on it today, he might not have been happy about that late night painting thing....]

Flow is also aided by setting aside a place to be creative. A separate studio is a pretty sweet thing, but it could also be having a grab and go set of tools and materials for a more portable project. It could also be a nice walk or trip outdoors for creative inspiration.

One of the things I'm super excited about our new shop location (to open June 1!) is that it has proper spaces to separate different activities. A workshop for the hubby and his sewing machine repair. (Seriously, you should see the explosions of dust and sometimes glitter that occurs when cleaning a machine! Don't neglect to get your machine properly serviced.) An actual office, a space for the kids when they are in the shop (just in time for summer vacation!), and my favorite, a classroom/studio.

The classroom/studio will make it easier to have classes of course, but will also be my studio. Where I can do my creative thing without having to keep it sales-floor presentable. No stomping upstairs tenants either! This will help get a semi permanent video arrangement set up so I can do more videos.

Funny aside, I got an email the other day from a cosmetics company that referenced my number of YouTube followers and proposed working together on sponsored content. Clearly he hadn't actually looked at my videos or he would have seen that my face is only seen in a few videos! Nope. Not gonna happen.


So there's just 3 things you can do to find that flow in your creative pursuits. What things do you do to find your flow and in what activity are you most likely to be doing when you are in flow?


By the way, I flipped my ombre triangles quilt over to inspect my machine binding and fell back in love with it. The back shows the chunks I grouped the 60 degree triangles into for quilting. Gotta love quilts with pretty backs.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Free Motion Quilting Finale

Look! I'm making binding, which means I must have finished quilting something. Yay me! Ombre Triangles is done. (I think I need a better name for this project.)


This poor quilt had so much start and stop quilting that I kept forgetting how I wanted to quilt it between sessions, so it lost its cohesive look. But I had fun playing around with these triangles and groups of triangles. Some were done as diamonds, others as hexagons, but all pretty different.


Most of it was ruler work, with the QP Edge (12") but I also used a QP Curve #8, and a free hand scroll-y, flower fill especially around the edges. Then I threw in a few other things just to keep it interesting.


This whole quilt was done in one fabric, V&Co Ombre, and I was able to trim up the extra backing for my binding, which left it mostly as the darker teal color.

I always struggle when it comes to stitching strips of binding together. I get distracted, sometime from others around me, other times from my ditzy brain. So I've taken to ironing one end of each strip (each strip oriented the same way) at a 45 degree angle. This helps me make the angled seam point the same way and makes sure I sew the strips together properly.


Don't you hate it when you pull the strip open and you've done it wrong? Maybe you've stitched right side to wrong side? Maybe I'm the only one whose botched it more times than I want to admit?

Then I open the crease and I've got something to follow for a good straight 45 degree seam.


Now, if I had turned my binding around so the bulk of it was lying to the right, I could have used these handy dandy markings on the needle plate (see red arrows below). Janome machines have a mess of helpful lines on the needle plate! Sometimes I forget they are there though....bad Janome dealer, shame on me!


Then I switched to a different foot 'sole' for my integrated walking foot, aka the Accufeed Flex System. Love these built in walking feet that are completely removable. This foot combination has a 1/4 inch guide on it.


Of course, by the time I got to the binding, I was beyond ready to do something else and didn't audition the binding around the quilt very well and ended up with this....


Now, if this had been an actual solid fabric, I could have easily adjusted that last binding seam that joined the ends. But that ombre was making its move to another color where I wanted to do it. In the end (ha!), I worked it out as far away as I could without having a noticeable change of color between the two strips. (Totally should have done the "No Tails Binding" by Linda Hungerford.)


I like using Roxanne's Glue Baste It for putting ends of binding together. I pressed my 45 degree angle, added a smidge of glue in what would be the seam allowance, hit it with the iron for instant drying, then opened it up and stitched along the crease. Once I stitched, I popped the seam allowance open, trimmed it to 1/4 inch, pressed it open, and stitched it the rest of the way.

Next, I'm machine stitching this guy down by stitching in the ditch. Then I'm off to one of many things on my to-do list. So many things I want to make. I want to make a little girl's dress to show off a new fabric line in the shop, there's a bag I want to make from another line, I want to make a sloth pillow.... the list goes on and on!

Plus, there's moving to do! We're coming up on our one year anniversary of owning Sew Simple and to celebrate, we're packing everything up and moving down the road almost one mile to a better, bigger location. I'm so excited!


Goodness! Look how dark my hair is. I need some highlight, stat.

One of the things I'm loving about this move is that the new location has no overhead tenants. So many videos have gotten ruined by thumping feet. I think they must be little gymnasts. Also, we will have a separate classroom space from the rest of the sales floor, which will give me a better chance to work on projects. Finally, I think we're just about ready to take another giant leap of faith and look for our first employee or two. I just can't do it all, even with my wonderful husband's help.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How to Choose Quilting Designs


Whether you use a walking foot, free motion, free motion quilting with rulers, hand quilting, or a combination of more than one of these techniques when you quilt your quilt, there are a lot of factors that can come into play when choosing designs. This is why "How do I Quilt This?" type classes are so popular and why this question can cause even the most experienced quilter to cringe (especially if asked in an email without any photos!).

I divide quilting designs into 4 major types:

Overall Designs- These are designs that do not pay attention to the piecing. Similar to a pantograph used by a longarmer, these are great designs for utility, bed and comfort quilts.

Block and piecing designs- These are designs that are based on the piecing. Designs for blocks, squares, triangles, borders and sashing.

The piecing here determined the quilting.
Fills- These smaller designs are for filling in spaces between other types of quilting, adding texture and interest along the way, sometimes they are even used as larger design elements in the quilting.

The Celtic Square design used here is both a motif and a block and piecing design and is surrounded by dense fills to make it pop.
Motif Designs- These are the ones we love to see in fancier quilts; the scrolls, feathers, floral motifs and more that are major parts of the design of a quilt in of themselves.

Don't confuse the types of designs with the type of quilting. There are designs in any of these four categories that can be done with a variety of methods of quilting. Tiny fills are usually free motion, much of what I do with rulers could be classified as block and piecing designs, and large swaths of straight line quilting all the way across a quilt could be done several different ways, but would still be considered an overall design no matter the method used.

Sometimes the design chosen decides the method of quilting. For example, a tiny, curvy, dense design is not likely a good candidate for walking foot quilting.

There are other times that the type of quilting (hand quilting, walking foot, free motion) the quilter wants to do, will help the quilter choose designs that work better for those methods.

Sometimes a design works well for several types of quilting and the quilter will determine which method to use. I could do straight line square spiral design with a walking foot, but since I love using my rulers, and especially if it's a big quilt, I'd choose to use free motion ruler work. You might choose differently.

Someone might choose big stitch quilting to add interest to a quilt and do it by hand, while another quilter, maybe with less time to spare, would set her machine up with some monofilament thread in the top of the machine and use a "hand-look quilting" stitch. Can you guess which method I'd choose? Leave your guess in the comments below.

The four types are not overly segregated and mix and mingle quite often. While overall designs are usually loners, typically, motif and fill designs work together and are pretty much mutually necessary. Block and piecing designs are good mixers in a quilt, and I think are the unsung heroes of quilting.

Overall Designs- Also called edge-to-edge designs. These are some of the easiest designs to begin with, but not all overall designs are simple. They can be large stippling, other larger meandering designs, or even feathers  as an overall design. You can get ideas for these types of designs by looking at quilts done by longarmers with pantographs. Some can even be quite complex, featuring horses, bears, flowers, stars, etc.

This design could be a filler , fit into a block, or made large as an overall design. You choose!

Block and Piecing Designs- This includes the tedious but many times necessary "Stitch in the Ditch" which can also be done with a walking foot without using FMQ. Once you have a good grasp of FMQ, doing stitch in  the ditch with the darning or free motion foot means no turning of the quilt as you stitch. Block and piecing designs can really enhance the piecing in a quilt.

Here's an easy sashing design.

Fills- Pebbles, smaller stipples, even closely spaced lines of stitching are in this category. Leah Day's site does a great job of categorizing and teaching many, many fills at the Free Motion Quilting Project. She's also produced three books of designs, one of which is From Daisy to Paisley: 50 Beginner Level Free Motion Quilting Designs. Keep in  mind that because of the scope of the project and the stitched samples, these designs are shown quite small. At the small size these are great for filling in around larger motif designs or in conjunction with block and piecing designs. It is up to you to decide at what size you want to quilt these for your quilt! Make them bigger and many can even be overall designs.

Motif Designs- Many of these designs benefit from good planning and marking. There's the classic feather wreath and all of its variations, feathered swags and borders. Some motifs are suitable for block and piecing designs too. Traditional whole cloth quilts are fabulous examples of motif designs coupled with fills. Two wonderful books by Karen McTavish (I have most of her books; they're great) The Secrets of Elemental Quilting  and Whitework Quilting: Creative Techniques for Designing Wholecloth and Adding Trapunto to Your Quilts give great examples of using motifs in quilts along with some great tips.

Some general tips for choosing designs:

Quilt Density: the denser the quilting, the stiffer the quilt. And of course, dense quilting takes longer and uses more thread. Save really dense quilting for wall quilts, fancy quilts, and yes, show quilts. No one wants to snuggle down with a stiff quilt, so for comfy quilts, choose an overall design or fairly simple block and piecing designs.

Abbie is happy I didn't quilt her quilt to death.
One of the big differences between what we can quilt with our domestic sewing machines versus those of the longarm machines has to do with our range of motion. We can only quilt in the space between our hands before we have to reposition our hands and quilt. Those using longarm machines, have a range of motion for stitching that is pretty much the range of their upper body motion. This means the designs we choose either have smaller shapes, well-planned changes of direction, or we have to be really good with our stops and starts when repositioning our hands. Usually, it's a mix of all three factors.

Many quilts benefit from "Stitch in the Ditch", stitching along piecing lines to stabilize the seams, keep things square and subdivide the quilt to keep shifting of batting and backing to a minimum. For the most part this type of quilting is done first and many choose to use a walking foot with the feed dogs up. But, again, once you become proficient at FMQ, doing it in free motion can be a lot faster with little or no rotation of the quilt needed.

Applique quilts can also benefit from stitching around the applique shapes. Ann Fahl's book, Dancing With Thread: Your Guide to Free-Motion Quilting, describes this type of quilting and regular stitch in the ditch quilting as stabilizing the quilt and recommends using clear monofilament for this type of stitching in case the stitches wiggle from one side of the seam or applique to the other.

This applique was carefully SID'd to make it pop.

Large motif designs with inadequate fills around them lose their impact. When properly surrounded with fills, motifs can really pop, making a faux trapunto effect. Couple motifs and small fills with a lofty batting and you've got some great dimension and texture. Larger areas of "white space" are prime real estate for motifs.

Much of this article came from a post I did years ago on "How to Free Motion Quilt: the Designs." You may want to see the line drawings there I did to show examples of various types of designs.