Declare Your Quilting Independence…with Free-form Flowers!


"Sunbonnet Sue at the BBQ" (22" x 26") from A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue

Happy July 4th weekend to all our American friends! As you can see, that all-American girl, Sunbonnet Sue, has caught the spirit. She’s the July entry in my book,  A Year in the Life of Sunbonnet Sue, co-authored with Christine Porter, and she’s got eleven specially themed friends, one for each month of the year, complete with full-sized patterns and instructions. Ask for her at your favorite quilt shop, or–for an autographed copy–email me via

So…What do you have planned for the long holiday weekend?  Why not take the opportunity to try something “freeing” and EASY at your sewing machine…like the liberating free-form flowers that bloom on my wall quilt “Still Life #1″ (shown below)? They are a snap to make and are a great way to use up your scraps. Use them on blocks or pillows, to embellish garments or totes, to create a free-form Baltimore Album-style quilt or your own original “still life”…the only limit is your imagination.

Detail of "Still Life #1"

1. Cut an irregular four-sided shape (not a square or rectangle) for the flower center.

2. Sew a scrap of “flower” fabric to one side of the flower center. Make sure the scrap overhangs the edge of the flower center on each end. Press the seam away from the flower center.

3. Trim the two side edges of the flower fabric to follow the edges of the flower center. Trim the top edge at any angle you like.

4. Using the same process, proceed counterclockwise around the flower center, adding a flower-fabric piece to each of the remaining three sides. Press and trim as you go.

5. “Shape” your flower by trimming each of the four corners at a random angle. Spray lightly with spray starch or fabric sizing to stabilize.

Detail of "Gustav's Dream"; the entire quilt measures 20" x 27".

You can make the flowers any size you like. Experiment with hand-dyed fabrics, batiks… even velvet or dupioni silk. I typically fuse the flowers to the background and secure them with a machine straight stitch and decorative threads, but feel free to explore other options. Embellish your blossoms with beads or buttons.

In “Gustav’s Dream (shown at right), I made the flowers extra small, and tied them in place with gold metallic thread. For more about this quilt, see the article “Flower-Powered Quilts Reap Huge Rewards” in the August issue of The Quilt Life magazine.

Do you have a favorite technique for making flowers for your quilts? A special quilt you’ve made with a floral theme? Post a comment by noon (PDT) Friday, July 8, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing to receive a copy of Rodale’s Successful Quilting Library: Favorite Techniques from the Experts. The book features “Still Life #1″ on the cover, and includes my chapter on the free-form flower technique, with additional tips and ideas for using the finished blossoms. It also includes chapters on favorite techniques of such well-known quilters as Mary Stori, Ami SimmsSally Schneider, Karen Kay Buckley, Karen Combs, Sharyn Craig, Anita Shackelford, and more. The winner will be announced in my post on Friday, July 15.

That’s it for now. ‘Til next time, happy stitching!

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59 Responses to Declare Your Quilting Independence…with Free-form Flowers!

  1. Pingback: Friday Photo(s): A Fresh, Award-winning Take on Free-Form Flowers |

  2. Judy, SC says:

    Funny, the flower quilt you taught at Boone, is next on the shelf of UFOs. This will not be any time soon. Current project is ‘Crystal of Indigo’ by Kyoto Yoshida in QUILTMAKER Issue 118 only in 30’s fabric. Want to replace May Sunbonnet with some kind of baseball Sue let us know if you track down the Sue goes to Yankee Stadium.
    Judy, SC

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Judy, I’m working on tracking down that baseball Sue this weekend. She is so cute: baseball bats in the borders and home plate in each corner! I’ve been sewing up a storm these past few weeks, working on quilts for the new book. The summer is flying by! Keep me posted on how those UFOs are doing ;-) Hugs, Darra

      • Judy, SC says:

        Does sound like a cute Sue. Wish I was working on something. Been kicked out of my room for a week to install new double window and paint. But it is a good time to clean all those little baskets of things I had to move out of the way. Wish summer was flying here – hot and humid and more humid. Looking forward to new book. Judy, SC

  3. Jane says:

    Since I love applique, my favorite flowers are made from appliqued petals around a circle for the flower center. You can make daisies or sunflowers, just by varying the sizes of the center or the petals.

    And I love how you used Sunbonnets in the themes of each month. The month of March had me – coming from a household of males (husband and sons) who are all basketball fans!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      I’ve got to admit, Jane, as a huge college hoops fan, I think “Miss March” might be my favorite too. Your method for making fabric flowers sounds so-o-o-o-o versatile. I love techniques like that! D

  4. Judy McNeel says:

    I love the fabric you used for the campfire in the July Sunbonnet quilt! The pieced flowers are definitely something I’m going to try–I love to learn new techniques.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Judy, If you saw that fabric on the bolt you would have to laugh. Ugly as sin…but perfect in little bits. Have fun playing with the flowers, and good luck in the drawing! Darra

  5. Katie says:

    Love the idea of Sue’s as an individual wall hanging for each month – I have an 18 month old granddaughter that I could see her loving these.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Katie, If you haven’t already, click on the A Year in the Life…link in the post. It should take you right to the book on the Martingale site. I believe you can view a gallery of all 12 months of Sue there. We had so much fun making those little quilts; bet you would too! Darra

  6. Sarah Bidigare says:

    I just started work on my first flower-themed quilt last week! It’s the “My Secret Garden” from Cindy Lammon’s book “Gathered from the Garden.”

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Sarah, This is too much of a coincidence! I know exactly the quilt you are referring to. I was Cindy’s technical editor for that book. She is quite a talented designer, and her book is filled with wonderful quilts. Have fun! Darra

  7. viv says:

    I like the flower idea. Book looks great. Hope to win!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Viv, Glad you like the free-form flowers, and hope you give it a try. Good luck in the drawing! Darra

  8. Sue Leenders says:

    Hi Darra,
    Found out about your blog from Mary Stori. I love to use the random piecing method, you use. I was your aide at Quiltfest in Jonesborough TN about 10 or 12 years ago. I enjoyed the day so much and look forward to being a regular reader of your blog.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Sue, I have such wonderful memories of Jonesborough and Quiltfest! I’m glad you found us here at See How We Sew. Once we get our Gallery up, I’ll look forward to seeing what you’ve been working on. Darra

  9. Sandi Fisher says:

    The flowers are so cute! I make lots of quilots for my guilds’ community outreach program. Some are going to have these darling flowers!!!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Sandi, Your guild is so lucky to have you; your greater community too. Keep me post on how the flowers work out for you. Darra

  10. Joanna says:

    Raw edge applique is my favorite method. I think it reflects my laziness. I’ve gotten into wool applique. It is so forgiving. I’m going to use your tutorial and see what I create. I love the idea of a still life.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      I’ve been captivated by still lifes too, Joanna. The smallest I’ve made, using buttons for flowers, was a 3″ x 5″ mini. It appears at the bottom of our April 1 “Welcome” post with a few other of my “(quilter’s) block-buster pieces. (See my May 6 post for the skinny on those). Wool applique sounds like fun. Just may have to give that a try. Darra

  11. Colette says:

    Love the flower idea…would love to try it out!!!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      I hope you do give them a try, Colette. They are so-o-o-o-o easy, and you can do so many creative things with them; anything that you might do with traditionally made and appliqued flowers. Hope you’ll share your results once we get our Gallery up and running. Darra

  12. MichelleJ says:

    Love the flowers – and the Klimt version is great!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Thanks, Michelle. It was made for a challenge issued by my co-blogger, Jennifer. The idea had been rolling around in my head for so long, it was fun to finally give it a shot. Darra

  13. Sandi says:

    My favorite method of putting flowers on quilts is piecing. I’m not much for applique, and yo-yos aren’t my thing, either.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Sandi, Until I started making these free-form flowers, I stuck pretty much to pieced flowers too. I CAN hand applique, but it’s really never been my thing. I love seeing those gorgeous appliqued quilts, though, and am happy that there are so many outstanding appliquers out there to make them! Darra

  14. I have to agree with SarainStitches – buying floral fabric is my favorite way to get flowers in my quilts.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Janet, There is just something about those florals! I love having fresh-cut flowers in the house, and had a lovely wildflower garden when I lived in the NC mountains. I’ve been kind of lazy since I’ve lived in the Bay Area; beautiful (and reasonably priced) bouquets are just too available. But I do keep making flower-themed quilts, and stockpiling those floral fabrics. Hope you are having a lovely 4th! Darra

  15. Linda G. says:

    Love seeing different techniques! My last quilt with flowers was for my daughter’s b-day; sunflowers appliqued on a tropical background – a king size quilt which took forever but was one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve completed! I want to try this! Thanks for the opportunity to win! Linda at

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Linda, I’ve never made a king-sized quilt; congratulations on seeing such a huge undertaking through to the end. I’ll bet your daughter was thrilled! I do hope you try the free-form flowers. They are so much fun! Let me know how it goes. Darra

  16. Sharlene K says:

    I’ve made flowers using the yo-yo method; am using this method to make flowers for bridesmaid clutches. Thanks for the opportunity to win the book!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Another yo-yo fan, and what a great way to use them! Hope you’re having a good holiday weekend, Sharlene, and good luck in the drawing for the book. Darra

  17. Connie Hendryx says:

    What a fun project! Thanks for offering one of us to win this great prize….

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Funny thing about those flowers is, once you start making them, it’s hard to stop. I find I keep thinking of variations I want to try. Have fun with them, and good luck in the drawing! Darra

  18. Cheri Lazanis says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to win the book. I am new to quilting and love free form.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      It’s always wonderful to welcome a new quilter, Cheri. You are beginning at a fabulous time: so many great fabrics, helpful tools, good books and teachers, and creative techniques. I hope you’ll make See How We Sew part of your quilting life. Darra

  19. Karen in Breezy Point says:

    Fun flowers!! Thanks,
    Karen in Breezy Point

    • Darra Williamson says:

      You are most welcome, Karen. I never knew blogging could be so much fun! Hope you are enjoying good weather for the 4th in Breezy Point. Darra

  20. I guess if it went by volume, yo-yo’s would be my favorite method but I really enjoy trying all different techniques and ideas.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Betty, I’ve never done yo-yo flowers myself, but I just may need to give them a whirl. I always love them when I see them, and–based on what I’m hearing here–they are quite popular! Darra

  21. eileenrh says:

    Sounds like a fabulous book! Thanks for the chance to win it.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Eileen, That whole 15-volume “Successful Quilting Library” by Rodale was wonderful. Unfortunately the books are out of print now, although I do occasionally see different ones showing up at used book stores, used on Amazon, or “hiding” on a quilt-shop shelf. Good luck in the drawing! Darra

  22. Linda gerig says:

    years ago I made a quilt that had flowers pieced in it. I still have not put it together. thanks for reminding me of this quilt. Linda gerig

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Linda, As you might have discovered in reading the comments in my co-blogger, Jennifer’s, recent post (The “Algebra of Quilting), you are not alone. I have no idea how many partially completed quilts I have hiding in my sewing room. I refer to them as Works in Progress rather than UFOs; somehow that seems more positive to me, as though they might actually one day be finished! Then again, I’m not sure all quilts are MEANT to be finished, but are just learning steps along the way in our quilting journey. Have a great 4th! Darra

  23. Sharon says:

    Darra, I love your book – Sensational Scrap Quilts – that you wrote many years ago, and have been wishing you would write more. I’ve referred back to it many times. Yes, I have Favorite Techniques, too, and like your free form flowers. I will have to check out A Year in The Life of Sunbonnet Sue. I’ve been wondering what you were up to. I’m glad to find where you blog, and will be checking in from time to time..

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Sharon, I’m glad we’ve “reconnected!” Looks like we go back a long way together ;-) I’m spending more time these days focusing on my own work, including writing my own books (rather than editing those written by others). Chris, my Sue co-author, and I are working on another book right now. It will be published next fall by Martingale. This one isn’t about Sunbonnet Sue, but hopefully will be just as popular. As for this blog: I am having a ball with it! Darra

  24. Carolyn H. says:

    I collected orchid fabrics for 8 years,then mom and I made her treasured quilt.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Carolyn, I’ll be that quilt is just beautiful…and how wonderful that you made it with your mom. We’re currently working to add a gallery feature to our blog that will allow readers to post photos. Please watch for it; I’d love to see this quilt. Darra

  25. Donna M. says:

    I love to do yo-yo flowers and add buttons to the centers!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Donna, Judging by the response, yo-yo flowers are a popular option. I love the idea of adding buttons to the centers! Darra

  26. Marina says:

    We are so glad to know about this blog. We posted about your Sunbonnet Sues in April: see . Also, thank you for the flower tutorial !

    • Darra Williamson says:

      We’re so glad that you like us, Marina…and the feeling is mutual. We’ve just started to update our list of favorite blogs, and you’re on it! Thanks also for the great coverage of A Year in the Life… Chris and I have had so much fun with that girl! It’s hard to have a favorite, but I think I agree: Miss March has something special. I’ve found another sports-related Sue inspired by the book on the Quilters Club of America site. In that one, Sue goes to Yankee Stadium. I’ve got to track that down and get some details about the quilt and quilter, msimpson. Any friend of the Yankees is a friend of mine! Darra

    • Jennifer says:

      Hello Marina,

      Blogging sister Jennifer putting in her two cents–LOVE your Sue post! The chain gang Sue is hilarious and very reminiscent indeed of “Oh Brother . . . ” Hey, I love the calendar Sues that Darra and Chris designed, but I also ADORE the versions where Sue “steps out” so thanks for sharing those fun ones as well. Just visited your blog recently via our reciprocal links and I’m enjoying it tremendously. You feature fabulous quilters and quilts.


  27. says:

    Actually my favorite method of having flowers in my quilts is to buy floral fabrics! haha But I have decided to save and try your technique. They are easy, whimisical, and just plain fun. Thanks for the give away opportunity. Sarah

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Glad you’re going to give my flowers a go, Sarah. Not as easy as floral fabric (brilliant, by the way!), but almost…and lots of fun. Good luck in the drawing, and happy 4th! Darra

  28. Barbara Bubser says:

    Hi Darra,
    Thanks for posting this flower technique. I just bought your Sunbonnet Sue book after seeing you on the Quiltshow.
    Happy 4th of July,

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Happy 4th to you too, Barbara, and thanks for purchasing my book! My British co-author, Chris Porter, and I had quite an interesting conversation about Miss July…as you can well imagine ;-) Darra

  29. Carolyn Brien says:

    This post brings back memories of the cruise I went on to Alaska where you first showed my how to make these flowers……..great memories…….

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Hi Carolyn, Good to hear from you. Funny, I was just going through some photos yesterday and found some from that cruise. Could use a bit of that “cool” here today! Darra

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