Commenter Barb mentioned machine quilting thread, and lo and behold, I found that exact thing in the local Alco store, and amazingly enough, it made a huge difference in the thread breakage while free-form machine quilting. Such a difference that I was able to finish the second Pinwheel Baby Quilt (which is cute, though every bit as not-as-effective-with-the-print-border as I thought it was going to be) with a minimum of bad words.
That encouraged me to start the Figgy Pudding quilt (free pattern here: http://www.unitednotions.com/fp_figgy-pudding.pdf). It's the most unusual quilt top I've ever assembled (not that I've assembled all that many), and it's gorgeous. It was complex without being difficult- the instructions are written very clearly and are easy to understand and follow. And it is oh-so-striking, with the trees sort of free-floating above the rest of the quilt top. I won't try to explain how that is accomplished- check out the instructions for the particulars.
I chose more fallish colors (rather than Moda's Christmas theme) and am thrilled with how it's coming along. I decided to assemble it in sections, quilt them individually, and then sew the sections together. My machine quilting is still nothing that would impress real quilters, but I have progressed a great deal in the last couple of weeks. The progress pics show block assembly, a section pinned for quilting, and one quilted half. I also wanted to show my non-quilter solution to quilting lines that are far far far too uneven to be allowed to remain visible: sharpies. I just dotted along the thread lines with the closest matching marker on hand, and voila! Nearly invisible quilting.
Next up at the machine: a *bee* themed quilt for an honorary granddaughter's Christmas present, and quilting the froggy quilt top (also a Christmas present). On the needles: 2 projects I can't show or talk about yet. In the ears: I finished the Librovox recording of The Man Who Knew Too Much and didn't love it (the casual racism of the time is hard to listen to, though I would listen to Martin Clifton read the phone book). I started Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, and laughed out loud twice while jogging. And that was just in the first chapter. I'm going to love this one.