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Yesterday’s and Today’s Charm Quilts

This week’s blog topic is charm quilts.  While some of you may think we’re talking about these:

 And we are…later on in this blog.  However, technically and historically quilts made from these wonderful pre-cuts aren’t charm quilts.  So, what are charm quilts?

Well, they actually began with buttons.

From 1850 to 1870 it became very fashionable for young ladies to collect one-of-a-kind buttons.  Lots of buttons.  Hundreds of buttons.  A young woman would string all these buttons on a “charm string” with the hope she would meet her “Prince Charming” before there were 1,000 buttons on the string. 

Quilters took this idea and altered it to fit their fabric narrative.  It became very chic to make a quilt out of hundreds or thousand pieces of fabric, with no two pieces of material alike.  Quite often these were also called “Beggar Quilts” since the women making these quilts would ask their friends and relatives for pieces of fabric.  The US Postal Service became a vital part of these quilts and the lives of their quilters.  Packages of scraps were mailed across the country regularly, resulting in eagle-eyed quilters eagerly monitoring their mailboxes.

There were two loose rules concerning the quilts.  First, no two identical fabrics were allowed; and second, generally these were one patch quilts – only one style of block unit was used.  Sometimes hexagons were chosen (this one was pretty popular).  Skillful quilters could turn the hexagons into Tumbling Block units or stars.  Sometimes simple squares or rectangles were used.  Triangles and diamonds were also incorporated into these quilts. The four-patch quilt block was second in popularity to the hexagon, although sometimes you had to squint to recognize it.  Often the quilter would be picky about the fabric she begged or borrowed.  She would want as many lights as darks or mediums so when she pieced the quilt, a pattern would begin to show. 

Some charm quilt designers really bent the rules and used one consistent light throughout the quilt so a distinct pattern would show. The use of this single light fabric unified quilts and made all the colors play nicely together.   Most of the charm quilts were made from prints, although some quilters did use solids if needed. 

By the third quarter of the 19th century, fabric manufacturers had caught on to the Charm Quilt fervor.  They began to offer bundles of small scraps, with no two being exactly alike, for purchase.  But by the beginning of the twentieth century, the Charm Quilt’s popularity began to decline.  It was revived in the 1920’s-1930’s, when the Great Depression set in, and every scrap of fabric was used to make utility quilts.  It waned in popularity again in the 1940’s and onward as women entered the work force and quilting itself took a hit.  In the 1970’s, our Bicentennial revived interest in quilting and with the new-found fascination in the art, many old quilt patterns once again flourished, including Charm Quilts.

From the 1970’s to present, quilting itself has held steady in the number of quilters as well as its popularity.  When the Millennium was on the horizon, lots of quilters found the idea of making a Charm Quilt out of 2,000 unique fabrics just the challenge they were looking for.  While I didn’t do this myself (I was way too busy teaching school then to even think about undertaking this challenge), I personally know several quilters who did. 

By the year 2000, with quilting design software flourishing and  a wide variety of fabrics in almost every palette available, new patterns were developed, and these quilts were much more sophisticated than their late 19th century Charm Quilt counterparts. 

With the major rule of “no fabric can be used more than once”, I think lots of quilts which aren’t normally considered Charm Quilts can fall into this category. 

For instance, Dear Jane may be considered a Charm Quilt.  While the blocks and the border triangles are all different, a “true” Dear Jane never uses the same fabric more than once.  The same theory goes for a Dear Hannah Quilt and one of the many Farmer’s Wife quilts.  If a quilter makes a quilt and no fabric is used more than once (except for a consistent light), it falls in the category of Charm Quilt.

Today, the definition of a Charm Quilt gets a little foggy.  If a quilter mentions “Charm Quilt,” most of us (myself included), tend to think about these wonderful, little pre-cuts

And the quilts made from them.  Indeed, many of the patterns for these 5-inch and 2 ½-inch squares use the term charm quilt in the title. And technically, if no two fabrics are the same in these packets, it’s a true charm quilt.  So let’s take a look at these charm packs and see how easy they make any quilt’s construction.

Let me be upfront and tell you, I love these charm packs.  They give you one 5-inch or 2 ½-inch cut of most the fabrics in a line – the only fabric which may be left out is one in which the print is so large would lose its integrity is such a small space. 

If you’re thinking about using one of these to make bed-sized quilt, remember:

For 5-inch Charm Pack Quilts

456 5-inch squares or 11 charm packs for a full-sized quilt

480 5-inch squares or 12 charm packs for a queen-sized quilt

600 5-inch squares or 15 charm packs for a king-sized quilt

The largest quilt you can make with one 5-inch charm pack is 27-inches x 31 ½-inches.  The largest quilt you can make with two 5-inch charm packs is a 40-inch square quilt.  Of course if sashing and/or borders are added, the quilt will become larger.

If you have a quilt pattern you think would be 5-inch charm pack friendly, it’s super-easy to figure out how many 5-inch squares you may need.  Simply divide the length and width of the quilt by the finished square – this means instead of dividing by 5, you’ll divide by 4 ½-inches, allowing for a ½-inch seam allowance taken in when piecing the quilt.  So, let’s say we want to make a quilt 45-inches wide by 62-inches long. 

For the width, simply divide 45 by 4 ½, which comes out to be 10. Now we deal with the length, which is 62-inches.  When we divide 62 by 4 ½, we get 13.77778, which we will round up to 14. 

Then we multiply 10 and 14, to come up with the number of 5-inch squares needed.  This gives us 140 (if you remember your geometry, we just used the formula to find the area of a square or rectangle).  This doesn’t mean we need 140 charm packs.  Most charm packs contain 42 squares.  Divide 140 by 42 to get 3.333333, which we’ll round up to four.  We would need four 5-inch charm packs to make a quilt 45-inches wide by 62-inches long.  There are a couple of issues to keep in mind at this point.

  1.  Read the label on the charm pack do determine exactly how many squares are in it.  Once you determine the area of your quilt, it’s that number you divide by, not necessarily 42.  Most  charm packs have 42 squares, but not all of them.
  2. If you can’t find the number of charm packs you need, always remember you can add length and width to your quilt by incorporating sashing and borders.

Let’s take a look at the little guys now – the 2 ½-inch charm pack.  Sometimes these small packs are called mini-charms.  Moda calls them Candy.  I have to admit, after I first saw these in my LQS, I wondered what in the world anyone could make with these.  Pieces of fabric this small usually found their way into my circular file.  I didn’t even keep scraps this small in my applique bins.  However, I found out these mini-charms had lots of uses and were pretty cool pre-cuts.  First, let’s look how they fit into quilts. 

Admittedly, it would take a lot of these small squares to make a quilt – even a crib size – although a doll quilt or mini-quilt would work well with these.  But just to see how many packs of 2 ½-inch charms it would take to make a crib quilt (which is normally 36-inches wide by 46-inches long), we can apply the same area formula used with the 5-inch charms.  First, let’s figure out the finished size of the 2 ½-inch charm.  We do this by deducting ½-inch from the unfinished size (1/4-inch seam allowance on each side):  2 ½ – ½ = 2.

36-inches divided by 2-inches = 18

46-inches divided by 2-inches = 23

18 x 23 = 414

Like it’s larger counterpart, most mini-charms also have 42 squares (be sure to read the label to make sure).

414 divided by 42 = 9.857143 or 10 packs of the 2 ½-inch charms to make a crib quilt.

Also like its larger counterpart, you can add sashing and borders to add to the length and width. However, at this point, you gotta be thinking, “If I have to add sashing and borders to a quilt made solely from mini-charms, they’ll have to be small, too.”

And that is true.  To stay in proportion, both the borders and sashing would have to narrow.

What I have found these small squares are great for is block units.  Many, many quilt patterns call for 2 ½-inch squares. If they’re incorporated into a scrappy quilt, you’ve reduced the cutting time.  They are also wonderful to use in Cathedral Quilts as the center color and perfect for Postage Stamp Quilts.  And if the sashing in your quilt is 2 ½-inches unfinished, a pack of the mini-charms would make great cornerstones.

There is an additional use for both of these charm packs in my quilting world. I use them a precursor to large yardage orders. As much as I love my LQS, sometimes I have to order fabric off the internet.  If I must order significant yardage, and especially if what I order needs to coordinate with fabric I already have or harmonize with a current décor, and the mini-charms or 5-inch charms are available in the fabric line I need, I will order the charms first.  Fabric colors are often altered by web pages and computer screens.  When I have the charms in hand, I can accurately decide if the fabric will work.  If it doesn’t, I’m only out a few dollars verses the perhaps hundreds of dollars I would have spent for yardage.

Of course, now the question is what do I do with these charm packs once I’ve ordered yardage?  If they can’t be incorporated into the blocks themselves, I can use them in the borders or perhaps the applique, if the quilt has applique in it.  But my favorite way to use them is this:

These wonderful charm packs are available in all one solid color.  I can order a pack of white or another neutral, match those up with my other charms and make half-square triangles.  I really enjoy doing this.  After a difficult week in the office, Friday nights with a glass or two of wine, some mindless sewing and Netflix binging are just what I need.  Once I get all the HSTs made, I can arrange them into quilt squares (the number of different quilt squares which can be made from HSTs is nearly endless).  I can sew all of these together in rows and make a small quilt which I can send to one of the charities I sew for.

I hope this blog has done one of two things (but hopefully both).  First, challenge you to make a “true” charm quilt at some point during your quilting career.  This is a great way to organize your stash or arrange fabric swaps with quilty friends.  Second, I hope it allows you to see the potential of “today’s” charm quilts with pre-cuts.  The math isn’t hard, and it allows for a lot of creative potential.

_____________________________________________________

I am sad to tell you, this will be the last week my blog will be signed by Sam and me. Sam went over the Rainbow Bridge at 1:46 p.m. on June 17, 2022. The weekend prior, I went to the mountains with the grand darlings for one night. As soon as I returned on Saturday, he began to go down hill pretty quickly.

Sam was 22 years-old, which in human years equals 154. He just celebrated his 22nd birthday April 15. I’ve had three cats in my lifetime and he was absolutely the smartest of the three. His routine began at 5:30 a.m. He would meow to be let out of my bedroom to use his litterbox. Around 6, he’d amble back in and meow for me to get up and feed him. If I didn’t budge by 6:30, he’d get louder. Whatever room I was in, he wasn’t far. And if anyone walked into the kitchen, he’d stalk them in there and stare a hole through the cabinet which held his treats until you gave him some.

By 9:30 p.m., he was staring me down in my studio, because that was our “couch time.” I’d turn off my machine, stop whatever I was doing, and we’d park ourselves on the couch for an hour, watching television and eating one last snack before bed — usually yogurt. I’d open a container and give him a couple of teaspoons in a separate dish.

He wasn’t much of a mouser, but in all honesty, we didn’t have many mice. He did love a good steak and shrimp, but wouldn’t turn his nose up at a nice piece of poached chicken, either. I hope, if animals do go to heaven, Scooter and Garfield have met him there. I hope all three have all the catnip they can deal with.

Sam’s blankets are put up, his bowls are washed and stored. His food has been donated to the local animal shelter.

But the pawprints on my heart will never be erased.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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SewCations

It’s that time of year again.

Time when – if gas prices don’t gouge the fun out of life – at some point this summer, bags will be packed, tickets purchased, hotel rooms reserved, and we’ll bail out of reality for a few days of non-reality at a beach, resort, mountains, or some other vacation destination.  Most families realize this means tucking swimsuits, a few days’ worth of clothing, toiletries, needed medications etc., into bags before heading out. 

For quilters (and their long-suffering significant others) these getaways produce an entirely different quandary:  Can I take any quilting and if so, how much can I take?

This is the subject we’re talking about today.  And this “sewing-on-the-go” blog is a little different from other quilting-while-traveling blogs.  This blog touches on how to pack your quilting for vacation, not a quilt retreat.  Having done both, I can tell you each is different.  When I pack for a quilt retreat, the car is loaded down with projects, machines, cutting mats, ironing stations, scissors, and enough quilting notions and fabric to open a small LQS.  Packing my quilting up to take on vacation is an entirely different animal.  For one, I’m sharing my living quarters with at least one non-quilter (the hubs), and quite often my daughter’s family and my son’s (all non-quilters).  So neither the rental house nor our vehicle can be filled with tons of my “stuff.”  There has to be room for arm floaties, boogie boards, fishing equipment, and the like. 

I have to par it down.  Decisions must be made.  Priorities must be set. 

And this is what I hope today’s blog does for you – help you figure out what and how to pack for vacations which may include lots of fun and sun—but also for your sanity includes quilting (because most of us can’t go a week without quilting). 

The first item up for discussion is space, both in your car and in your rental.  If you’re driving separately in your own vehicle, you’ve got a lot more wiggle room with this.  Your car can literally serve as a “quilting annex” where you can swap out items as needed.  If not, compromise is in the vehicle equation.  Is there room for a machine or could it cause too many disruptions?  If I really want to bring a sewing machine on a family vacation (and I only did this once and only because I was on a deadline), I have a small travel machine which takes up less space than a lot of tackle boxes (which I may or may not use to my advantage when my husband’s slew of tackle looks as if he’s opening a bait shop).  If space for your quilting supplies is limited, you may want to only take hand sewing, which can normally  fit into one bag.

Best case scenario, you have tons of car space.  You can take whatever you need to satisfy any quilting itch you may have on vacation.  However, the next point up for consideration is the space in your hotel or home rental.  We all know quilting can be a “big” hobby:  It needs a lot of room.  If you’re vacationing in regular hotel rooms, spreading out a machine and all needed supplies may encroach on other folks’ need for space.  If this is the case, even though you may be able to fit tons of your quilting supplies in your car, it may not be the best (or kindest) thing to spread them out all over your hotel room.  Air BnB’s and rental homes may offer more space.  If it’s just you and your significant other, this would probably work just fine.  However, if multiple people are going – especially if there are kiddos involved– you should consider if all your supplies will remain safely in place or if there’s a possibility someone could decide to play with your scissors or rotary cutter.  It may be best to limit the supplies to ones you can safely keep in your room when you’re not around. 

Finally, the last thing to consider is time.  Will you have the time to quilt?  Some vacays are definitely laid back.  Sand and surf.  Mountains and brooks.  You are there to unwind and refresh.  There is no itinerary.  You can get up when you want to, laze about or go find something to do.  The option of sewing is available, and it isn’t confined to a few minutes here and there.  Other vacations aren’t like that.  Vacations spent with family or vacations spent at family homes are different.  Often spare time is spent with folks you don’t see often, and they want to engage you.  Other trips involve cruise ships or flights or group trips where everything is scheduled.  Sometimes if this is the case, it’s better to either take small hand sewing projects or none at all. 

After weighing the space available in both your vehicle and your lodging and giving your itinerary careful consideration, you decide you can bring some quilting to work on.  Best case situation, you can bring a sewing machine and have the space and time to get up close and personal with some long-delayed projects or languishing UFOs.  Here’s where you build a literal portable quilt studio to take with you.  It’s important to take a critical look at your home sewing area and determine what you must have and what you can live without for a few days.

  1.  Sewing table.  Will you have room at a dining room table or some other area at your hotel/rental home to situate your machine?  If you have a portable sewing table you’ve fine-tuned to your back and neck needs, you may want to bring that, especially if you think you may have hours of sewing time ahead.
  2. Chair.  I know this may sound like a little thing, but nearly all quilters have a chair they sit in to sew which accommodates their height, back, and neck.  Is it vital you take this chair with you, or can you make do with a chair there?  If you opt to go with a chair at your lodging, you may want to take a cushion for your rear and back– especially if the chair isn’t padded.  Most of the time, this is the compromise between taking your sewing chair and using one where you’re staying.
  3. Cutting Station.  In my opinion, it’s always best to do “large” cutting (i.e. cut out the quilt) before you leave to go on vacation or quilt retreat.  I tend to do my most accurate cutting at my home cutting table (because I don’t have to bend) with my large cutting mat.  This means you only need to pack a small to medium-sized mat to do small cutting and trimming, and can use a space available (such as a desk or countertop) where you’ll be staying.  Pre-cutting before leaving also means you can leave large rulers and rotary cutters at home and only need to pack a small cutter and a few small rulers. 
  4. Ironing Station.  One of the great things about rental houses and most hotel rooms is they come with their own ironing board and iron.  A small pressing area (such as wool mat) may be the only item you need to pack.  If applique is part of your quilting vacation equation, you may also want a small iron for quick touch ups or to prepare finished edge applique.
  5. Miscellaneous Items.  These include scissors, rotary cutter and blades, extra sewing machine needles, the manual to your sewing machine, the cord to your sewing machine, pins, pincushion or container, stiletto, thread, Wonder Clips, and spray starch/starch substitute.
  6. Project Boxes.  These should contain cut out quilts, the pattern, and any special notions or thread.

If you find yourself not wanting to haul your sewing machine and everything it entails with you on vacation, hand sewing and hand quilting are easier to deal with and take up less space – unless you’re taking a king-sized quilt to bind.  Hexies, English paper piecing, regular hand piecing, hand quilting, or hand applique are great take-along projects which take up little space.  Honestly except for one or two trips, this is my go-to “quilt-fix” for vacation.  I can fit everything I need in a large-ish bag and I’m out the door.  Projects and/or current blocks can easily fit into two-gallon sized Ziploc baggies.  Beeswax, thimble, several packets of needles in various sizes, small scissors, fabric glue, fabric markers, and thread can nest in a small bag.  This is the bag I take:

This bag was a gift from my son and daughter-in-law. Not only is it a great bag, it also has the Harry Potter theme going on.

There are pockets along the inside to fit all my hand sewing notions in and project bags and small boxes go in the middle.  There is usually enough room left over for my iPad or Kindle.  If you’re hand quilting a quilt, this may mean a second bag depending on the size hoop you use and how big the quilt is. 

Normally, my hand applique goes with me on any trip, no matter how short or how long.  If I have several small quilts, such as table toppers or wall hangings, I’ve found vacation is a great time to bind them.  I can sit and watch TV or talk with friends and family without having to concentrate on my sewing too much.  These go into my suitcase last so I can pull them out first and have them available to work on. 

As I’m winding this blog up, there is one more quilty vacation concept I’d like to throw out – don’t take any quilting with you.  I know, I know…this seems pretty radical for a quilter who would rather quilt than eat, but hear me out.  Time away, whether it’s a day, a week, two weeks, or month, is all about recharging and relaxing.  It’s a time to hit the pause button on your life and spend the time with family or friends.  It’s a time to explore and see new things.  Taste new foods.  Drink new drinks. 

Maybe it’s time to hit the pause button on your quilting.  Maybe it would be a good idea to recharge your creative juices, drool over quilts on Pinterest, or sketch some new ideas.  Visit some quilt shops for inspiration.  You may come back a rested, ready-to-get-back-in-the-studio quilter brimming with new ideas.  If you feel kind of burned out, this may be exactly what you need to do.  Leave your quilting at home, or if you do bring it, give yourself permission to not touch it unless you really want to sew.

It’s up to you.

Anyway, as you’re hitting the road or flying the skies, be careful and take good care of one another.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Caring for Antique Quilts Part II and Caring for Your Special Quilts

As promised, this week’s blog continues our discussion on how to take care of your antique quilts, as well as how to treat your own special quilts that you’re making. 

The next step is support and repair.  No matter if you plan to display your quilts or store them (more on how to store them in a bit), some antique quilts need a little help on the repair side of things.  If there’s a hole in the quilt, it’s real tempting to find a current fabric which blends in with the quilt top and sew it on.  While that is an option, it is one of the last resorts.  All repairs should be done by hand, as this will result in a more accurate and inconspicuous “fix” than one done by machine.  And repairs done by a quilter may be different than those done by a professional conservator.  If the quilt is truly a family heirloom which has been handed down from generation to generation, holds a special place in your heart, or is a serious financial investment, my advice is to call the National Quilt Museum, the International Quilt Museum, or the textile curator of your state’s history museum and see if they can recommend a local conservator to undertake those repairs. 

For small repairs, a single strand of silk or matching cotton thread (no larger than 50 weight) will work best.  Don’t use nylon or polyester filament, which can cut into antique fabric.  If applique pieces are loose, stitch them back down with the smallest stitches possible.  For areas that are frayed, tack down a sheer fabric over them to prevent further damage.  Cut a sheer overlay the same shape and size as the damaged area and baste it on (sheer overlay such as crepe line or tulle can be found in the wedding fabric sections of some fabric stores or can be ordered online). 

However, if there are badly damaged areas in the quilt, you may need to make some hard decisions.  Badly damaged areas, such as the one below:

Need sturdier support than a sheer overlay.  A cotton percale works well.  Baste it a piece to the front of the damaged area, and also baste a piece of cotton percale to the back of the quilt in the same location.

If the quilt has several large, badly damaged areas, the only resort may be to cut down the quilt.  Yeah…ouch…that hurts.  But if there is a lot of damage to a quilt, sometimes the blocks can be salvaged and framed, or a smaller quilt can be made from what is left.  This can be a heart-wrenching decision.  Give yourself some time to think about it before applying scissors to quilt. 

If your quilt is missing pieces, consider the final results before deciding to replace them.  Leaving the space uncovered and allowing the backing show is often preferable to adding fabric from a different time period. If you do decide to replace missing quilt pieces, don’t remove the old damage fabric, but place the new fabric over it.  If it’s binding which needs repaired, sew the new binding over it – don’t remove the old. 

 If you have an antique feed sack quilt or a quilt with Civil War era fabrics in it, your repair options broaden a bit.  There are still feed sacks and Civil War fabric available.  These would be preferrable to other material.  Added bonus is both types of material have abundant Reproduction Fabric available.  A close match or even an exact one may be possible. 

The fourth step is to decide how to store or display the quilt.  The first step in either one is don’t store or display your quilt if it’s dirty.  Sometimes molds and insect larvae can hide in the stains and will become big problems if they’re not removed.  The second step is to store the quilt in an area with a controlled temperature, controlled humidity, and out of direct light.  This means attics, basements, and sometimes closets don’t work well for quilt storage (many modern closets are temperature and humidity controlled).  Cedar chests (unless they’re new) aren’t particularly good storage options either.  After a while, cedar chests lose their ability to repel rodents and bugs.  Chests and trunks made of wood or lined with paper give off an acid which is harmful to some dyes and fibers and actually can create an acidic environment, not to mention limit air circulation.

Since air circulation is mentioned, let’s park it here and discuss why it’s important.  Any storage method which cuts off air circulation can produce harmful by-products the longer the quilt is stored in that specific container.  This means that plastic bags and regular cardboard boxes are also out.  The cardboard acidifies pretty quickly, and this acid is harmful to the quilt’s dyes and fibers. 

How should you store your quilt?  There are several options:

  • Acid-Free Boxes and Paper.  There are cardboard boxes which will remain acid-free indefinitely, as well some acid-free tissue paper.  These boxes are large enough to hold a quilt or two.  Fold the quilt, making sure there are some acid-free tissue sheets tucked in the folds. 
  • Fold them in well-washed cotton sheets or fabric.  This will protect them from dust and light, as well as any abrasive surface.  For smaller quilts, pillowcases may work.  Larger quilts don’t work well in them because they must be folded too many times to fit in the case.   This puts a great deal of stress on the quilt. 
  • If the quilt is folded for storage, refold them frequently to prevent any permanent creases.  I always do this the first weekend of any month – this is just an easy way for me to remember to do it. 
  • Roll the quilt on a tube.  I mentioned storing quilts this way in my blog: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/07/28/in-praise-of-pool-noodles/comment-page-1/. For an antique quilt, cover the tube in a clean cotton sheet or fabric and roll the quilt onto the tube with the right side of the quilt facing in.  You probably will also want to cover the rolled quilt with another sheet or cotton fabric to protect it against any dust.
  • Store them on a spare bed.  Hands down, this is the best way to store antique quilts.  Laying them flat on a bed will not stress any seams or stitches and the quilts will be in a climate and light controlled area.  You may want to place a clean sheet between the quilts and add a sheet on top to protect the surface of the last quilt. 

Displaying your quilt is always a great option.  You may choose to display your quilt all year, or if the quilt is a little on the fragile side, only at certain times.  Regardless, you want your display area to be climate controlled and not near a heating vent or fireplace or in direct sunlight.  It’s probably best to avoid any area near a kitchen due to oily dust.  Remember to check the quilt regularly to see if it needs vacuuming (as described under the cleaning section of this blog).

If you chose to hang an antique quilt, use the rod and sleeve method.  Put a hanging sleeve on the back of the quilt (this is handsewn on and won’t damage the quilt) and hang it from display rod.  The length of the sleeve along the top of the quilt allows the weight to be distributed evenly, so no one section of the quilt is stressed more than another.  Experts recommend not to hang an antique quilt more than six months and then rotate it out.

There are lots of pretty quilt stands available, and it’s fine to display your quilts on them.  For antique quilts, you may want to use the entire stand for one quilt.  Lay some batting over the horizontal dowels to create a padded surface, and then lay your quilt over that. 

The last step to take is to record the treatment and use information.  Recording information about a quilt is helpful to future owners of the quilt who may wonder about its use and care.  And you may need to reference this information for yourself at some point, too – especially if you find yourself possessing several antique quilts.  There is some specific information you should write down, beginning with everything historically you know about the quilt – where you bought it, anything about the original maker, etc.  It’s also important to record:

  • Tasks you have completed for each quilt, including cleaning or repair.  Include the procedure used, supplies and the dates.
  • Before and after photographs are great reference points.  This can show how cleaning and repairs affected the quilt’s appearance.
  • If you displayed the quilt, when you displayed it, and how you displayed it.

And these are the ways you take care of yesterday’s quilts.  Quilts which were probably made with a great deal of care and attention to detail.  These are heirlooms which came our way through wills, letters of intent, or (in most cases) a lucky purchase from an antique store.  But what about our quilts – the quilts we make which we hope will go on to last several lifetimes.  There are some procedures we can go through now to protect tomorrow’s heirlooms today.

Much like conserving antique quilts, taking care of our own special quilts is a bit of work.  But let me preface that by saying not every quilt we make is destined to be a future heirloom.  I have a few but can count those on one hand with fingers left over.  I would much rather have my quilts used up and loved to death.  However, I’ve made some for special people I really want to take care of.  The steps will sound a lot like taking care of antique quilts.

Step One:  Wash Your Fabric Before You Start Your Quilt

I realize there are Color Catchers, and these can be used after the quilt top is completed and quilted.  However, let me remind you, a future heirloom is a special quilt.  Pre-washing your fabric pretty much assures there will be no crocking or fading from the fabrics.  If dark colors or batiks are used, I strongly suggest you go here:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2017/09/01/to-prewash-or-not-to-prewash-thats-the-question/and read my blog on how to prevent colors bleeding on one another.

Step Two:  Stay as Organic as Possible

Cotton fabric, cotton thread, and cotton or wool batting.  These items have mostly a neutral pH balance and can maintain that if cared for properly.  If you use glue, make sure it’s of archival quality (such as Sew Line) and pH balanced.  If you need to mark your quilt, be wary of any markers that cannot completely be removed (such as Frixion pens). A water-soluble marker, Roxanne’s pencils, or a Hera Marker are your best bets.

Step Three:  Care after Quilting

Once the quilting process is completed and before the binding is put on, square your quilt up.  If the quilt isn’t square (even though it may look trued-up to the visible eye), the un-squaredness of it may become more apparent over time.

Step Four:  Wash Your Quilt After the Binding is Complete

Wash the quilt to remove any glue or markings.  Be sure to use a pH balanced detergent such as Quilt Soap, or one of the detergents mentioned for cleaning antique quilts.  Allow to air dry. 

Step Five:  Store or Display the Quilt Properly

Store or display the quilt using the same methods suggested for antique quilts.  If you chose to store the quilt, be sure to check on it every few months to make sure it’s okay.

Step Six:  Record the Details

I tend to probably go overboard with this.  I journal about the process I go through choosing the pattern, the fabric, and the issues I have in construction.  I include sales receipts and other miscellaneous information the future owner may find interesting.  Bottom line, the minimum information should include how to care for the quilt, how long it took to make it, your full name, the town it was made it, etc … the same information you would put on a quilt label…which by the way, make sure the there’s a label on the quilt, too.

This last tidbit of information comes from a person who has quilted over thirty years, made numerous quilts, given a lot of those away, and have some designated special quilts for a few special people…

You don’t have to give the quilt away the moment it’s complete.  Making a special quilt – a future heirloom – is an investment of both time and money, and both are equally important.  You’ve spent a good chunk of your quilting time making this special quilt.  You may have pulled some of the fabric from your stash, but I’ll bet you also spent some money on additional fabric to make the quilt “just perfect.”  I personally think it’s completely appropriate for the recipient to respect both the money and the time involved.  If you think the person who will receive the quilt can’t do this, or the quilt may be put in a situation it could be destroyed (such as an unruly pet or living situation), it’s perfectly acceptable to hold on to that quilt until you feel the time is right to give it away.  I have done this.  I have no regrets.

However, once you give the quilt away, release it. It’s gone.  You have no control over it.  If you find out it’s been mistreated, grit your teeth and bear it, but don’t allow the situation to impede any relationships.  It’s not worth it.

Just don’t make them another quilt.

I hope this lengthy blog series helps those of you who have old quilts in your possession.  My antique quilts bring me a lot of joy – especially my Sunbonnet Sues.  I just wish they could talk.  I would love to hear their story.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours … and take care of those old quilts and the future heirlooms you’re creating today!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Caring for Antique Quilts

Well….the Met Gala is over. 

I did not receive my invitation this year…again.

I know what you’re thinking.  “What does the Met Gala have to do with quilts?!”

In and of itself, nothing.  But if you watched the Red Carpet introduction or caught some of the news headlines afterwards, this iconic dress

Made a sudden, and in most cases, unwelcome appearance on the carpet.  This iconic dress is the one Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy.  The dress is as iconic and once-in-a-lifetime as Marilyn herself.  It was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum for $4.8 million in 2016 and is worth at least $10 million today.  And Kim Kardashian wore this dress on the Red Carpet at the Met Gala.

The following day Twitter and YouTube were lit.  I mean completely on fire with conservationists and dress historians who were livid – not so much at Kim – but at the museum for loaning the dress out.  The rhinestones on the dress were hand placed on a chiffon fabric which is highly flammable. So flammable that now the fabric is no longer sold.  Marilyn had to be sewn into the dress and it was made to fit her and her only.  In the following days, many heated discussions went on about the harm Kim did by wearing this dress. The dress was too long.  The hem drug along the floor.  The dress had to be manhandled in order to get it on Kim.

Which brings me back to quilts – sort of.  Hang on.  I promise we’ll get there.   Historically and currently, textiles must prove they’re worthy of preserving.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume and Textile Department receives no federal funding.  The building it’s housed in does receive 10% of its funding from New York City, but what’s inside has been purchased or loaned from public appeals and fund raising.  The Gala is put on to help fund and preserve collections – and part of the collection is clothing and costumes and textiles (RE: quilts).  And as far as art collections go, textiles are pretty low on the totem pole with almost any museums.

Why?

Because historically sewing these items was considered women’s work and women’s work has always (and still is in many cases), not valued as much as the other art forms (thus Kim could pay to “borrow” Marilyn’s dress and wear it willy-nilly with no thought to the consequences).  Yes, many museums have a textile section, but generally these are much smaller in comparison to other collections and a great number of the items have been donated.  Conservation and preservation may be spotty and incomplete at best and non-existent at the worst.  Thank God the United States has several quilt museums that do a wonderful job at taking care of these uniquely American art forms. 

So, with all that buzzing through my head this week, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us have antique quilts in our collection and are we doing enough to properly take care of them?  And are we taking the right steps in preserving tomorrow’s heirlooms we’re creating today? According to various quilt conservation web sites, there are six steps we need to work through in order to give our antique quilts a long and well-preserved life. 

The first step is analyze the quilt.  This is important because determining what fibers were used in constructing the quilt will help us make the best decision on how to treat and clean the quilt.  We tend to think of quilts as being made from all cotton fabrics, but this is not always the case – especially after 1910.  It was then the fabric market was flooded with man-made material.  The fabric which makes up the quilt depends on when it was made, the region it came from, and the financial background of the quilter.  Quilts can be constructed from wool, silk, sateen, velvet.  Quilts from the late sixties and through the seventies may contain polyester material – a time when it was almost impossible to find 100% cotton fabric.  Knowing the fiber content is the first step in conserving our antique quilts.  If we know the type of fabric, we know how to treat it.

The construction method is also important to know.  Is it hand pieced or machine pieced?  Is it hand quilted or machine quilted?  Is it a combination of both?  Is it tied?  Is it all applique or is it pieced or a combination of both?  A hand quilted or a tied quilt usually requires a bit more delicate handling.  And while you’re analyzing the construction, be sure to look for loose or missing stitches and weak or frayed fabric, especially around the binding or along fold lines.  Identify decorations such as embroidery (hand or machine), painted or inked work, and metallic thread.  All of these figure into the construction method and it’s important to take note of these things. 

Lastly, identify soil and stains.  One glance at an antique quilt may tell you nothing more than it’s dirty and needs a bath.  However, if you can identify stains, you know how to correctly treat them – it’s kind of like doing regular laundry.  An oily stain has fuzzy edges.  Water-based stains can form a ring.  Dirt or soil can be caked on.  Aged starch discolors some fabric.  Fold lines are often yellowed.  While not all of the stains can be removed completely, it’s critical to identify them because in some cases they can cause continuous damage to fibers and dyes or attract insects.

One thing I have found helpful at this point is to make a rough sketch of my quilt.  On this sketch I draw the soil and stain locations and number them.  Beside the number I list what I think the stains are.  This is invaluable as you try to clean your quilt because what you use on a water-based stain is different than what you use on an oil-based stain.

Once this is done, the next step is cleaning the quilt.  And this can really open a can of worms.  Many quilt conservationists believe washing a quilt can take ten years off its life.  But many times washing a quilt is one way to get rid of stains which can shorten a quilt’s life more than ten years.  However, it’s important to remember not every quilt needs to (or should) undergo an immersive water bath.  There are options.

If the quilt smells musty, consider airing the quilt.  If you have a room in your house which is well ventilated and you could spread out the quilt and allow it to air out undisturbed for a few days, this is the best-case scenario.  You’re avoiding direct sunlight, bugs, and temperamental weather changes. 

If you don’t have a spare room, the next best thing is to allow the quilt to air all day outside.  Lay a sheet on the grass, ground, picnic table, etc., to protect the quilt from the surface.  Do not, under any circumstances, hang the quilt from a clothesline.  This pulls on the fabric and stitches, causing severe stress along the folded area.  After the quilt is spread out, also lay a sheet on top of it.  This will protect it from leaves, pollen, and the occasional paw print from a critter.  Turn the quilt over several times during the day.  One day of outside airing may do the trick, but if the musty smell lingers, a second or even third day may be needed.  If more than one airing day is needed, be sure to bring the quilt in at night and then put it back out the next day. 

If the quilt is lightly soiled or you think it’s too fragile for washing, vacuuming may be your answer.  If the quilt is lightly soiled or just dusty, it’s easy to think a quick shake of the quilt outside may take care of the problem.  However, shaking can put stress on stitches and fold lines.  Vacuuming the quilt is the better option.  If this is your choice, the first idea to dismiss is the way you vacuum floors or upholstery.  Yes, you can use your regular vacuum cleaner, but you need to place a square of fiberglass or nylon screen (you can get this at your local hardware store) on the surface of the quilt.  Place the upholstery attachment on your vacuum hose and begin to vacuum.  Just allow the attachment to touch the screen and don’t press down.  Be sure the dust is not being redistributed on the quilt surface from the collection bag and don’t vacuum over any painted designs which are peeling or cracking.

Wet cleaning is tricky option.  If there are deep stains, heavy soil, water damage, or old starch discoloration, you have two choices:  You can either learn to live with the stain or you can wet-clean it.  If you opt to wash the entire quilt, part of it, or only in stained areas, know any type of wet cleaning is not easy and has the possibility of damaging a quilt beyond repair.  Quilts become heavier when they’re wet, which strains the fabric and can cause stitches to break.  They’re also heavier for you to handle, which can strain your back, knees, and arms. 

However, wet cleaning offers some benefits, too.  Dried out fibers may become more flexible.  Cotton and linen fabrics which may be acidic as a result of aging or improper storage can regain their neutral pH.  Fold lines and creases may relax in the water, improving the overall appearance of the quilt.  And while not all dirt and discoloration may be removed, they will at least be lessened. 

The dangers of wet cleaning an antique quilt are about the same as washing a quilt you just finished.  Dyes can run. Inks can dissolve.  Any glazing is removed.  Silk quilts are especially vulnerable to wet cleaning due to their production process.  Metallic salts are often added to silk to increase the body of the fabric.  Wet cleaning removes these salts, leaving the silk extremely fragile. 

So, wet cleaning is really a crap shoot.  You have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of it and decide if it’s worth it.  And if you decide wet cleaning is the route you want to take, there are a few steps to go through before you immerse the quilt.

  • Blot test the darker colors – Drop a few drops of water on the darker colors and allow the water to absorb and sit for two to three minutes.  Blot with a clean towel.  If no color appears on the towel, you’re good to go. 
  • Test the same way with the detergent you plan to use – More on detergents shortly.
  • Check for weak or damaged areas – Sometimes these may not hold up to the washing process.  The added weight may stress them out even more.  Consider “mending” the holes by tacking net or tulle over them.  Can you sew down loose patches or applique pieces?  If the backing has some compromised areas, hand stitch some fabric over those spots to support it.

There are two ways to wash your quilt – the bathtub or the washing machine.  In the past, we were told to avoid top-loading washers due to the agitator.  Even on delicate cycles, the quilt could get wrapped around the agitator and this could cause added stress on the cloth fibers and stitches could pop.  Some of the new washers no longer have agitators, so now many top loaders work just fine.  Use a delicate cycle, cold or warm water (not hot…never).  Once the water has drained from the washer’s tub, lift the quilt out and roll it up in a sheet (if it’s a bed-sized quilt) or towels if the quilt is smaller.  Get as much excess water out of the quilt, then lay flat to dry.  Do not hang or drape over a drying rack.  This can cause stress on the fibers and the stitches.

If the bathtub is chosen, be sure to clean it first to remove any oils from body wash or shampoo.  If the quilt is bed-sized, it will be heavy after washing and difficult to remove from the tub.  You may want to enlist the assistance of a fellow quilter or other friend to help you get it out of the tub.  Since most bathtubs are not “quilt-sized” (and if you have one that is, I am super jealous), the quilt will have to be folded to fit.  As one section is cleaned, you’ll need to refold the quilt to expose another part.  It’s much easier to do this when the quilt is still floating in the water, as the water will help support the quilt and you won’t have to tug and stress your back or the quilt.  Once the quilt is repositioned, drain the water, refill the tub, and proceed until the entire quilt is cleaned.  When you’re satisfied with the process, fill the tub with clean water to rinse out the detergent.  Then drain the tub one more time and then gently press the quilt with your hands to get out as much water as possible.  The quilt will be heavy (especially if it’s a bed-sized quilt) and it’s a good idea to have some help at this point. Lift the quilt out of the tub, supporting it to take as much stress as possible off the fibers and stitches.  Lay it on a sheet and roll the quilt up in the sheet to get rid of as much excess water as possible.  Lay flat to dry. 

With either washer or bathtub, the job is easier if you vacuum the quilt before either process.  This can get off quite a bit of dirt and soil, so the washing won’t be quite so arduous.  Stains should also be treated before washing.  I think every quilter out there has his or her own favorite stain remover.  I can tell you what I prefer, but you will want to do your own research to see what works best for you.  I start with the gentlest remover and then proceed to the harsher ones. 

  1. A make-up sponge, water, and blue Dawn dish detergent.  I use a sponge because they won’t do as much damage as a brush – even a soft toothbrush
  2. Hydrogen peroxide and a make-up sponge
  3. Oxyclean Max and a make-up sponge

Try using an up-and-down motion with the sponge instead of a rubbing it across the surface.  If the stain is heavily set or the soil is caked on, you may want to try removing the stain several times before washing.  Rust stains are particularly difficult to remove.  The only thing I’ve found which will remove most of those stains without harming a quilt is Rit Rust Remover.

And whatever you do, avoid straight chlorine bleach like the plague.  It can harm fibers.  If chlorine bleach seems like your only answer to remove a stain, dilute to three parts water to one part chlorine bleach.

Now let’s talk about detergents.  We’re used to laundry detergents which do lots of things to our clothes.  They can brighten colors and whites.  They can lift and remove stains.  They can infuse our laundry with scents which last for weeks.

You don’t want any of that in your quilt.  The object of washing a quilt is to remove the dirt, stains, and soil and return the quilt back to a neutral pH.  An all-natural detergent is best.  Charlie’s Soap, Quilt Soap, Mrs. Meyer’s, Orvus, Lacey, and Quilter’s Rule are all wonderful detergent brands to use. 

Avoid any detergent that’s loaded with chemicals or brighteners.  The object of all detergent (which is a base) is to turn a stain (most of which are acidic) into a salt so it washes cleanly away.  You will also want to reduce the amount of detergent used.  The rule of thumb is five tablespoons of liquid detergent to 4 gallons of water.  This ratio of detergent to water will clean the quilt, but won’t be so sudsy you have to rinse the quilt numerous times.

If, after you take all of these wet-cleaning steps, there are still stains on the quilt you can’t seem to remove, there is always the possibility of dry cleaning the quilt.  Before any quilt conservator faints (because dry cleaning involves chemicals and chemicals aren’t good for antique quilts), let me add this is the very last resort, you want to shop your dry cleaner, and it may not involve the entire quilt – just the heavily stained area.  You would only employ the dry-cleaning process if the quilt was stained with oil, grease, paint, or tar. 

Let’s talk dry cleaners first.  Google dry cleaners in your area which work with wedding gowns.  Those dry cleaners are used to handling heirloom textiles and may be your best bet in a successful quilt dry-cleaning process.  Whoever you decide to entrust your antique quilt to, be prepared to communicate clearly what you need, and if they can’t promise to do what you want, move on to another dry cleaner.  Specifically, this is what you want them to do:

  1.  Pre-treat the soiled area.  This may be all you need to remove the stain.  If the pre-treatment leaves a circle, the entire quilt will need to be dry cleaned or wet cleaned.
  2. Ask the cleaner to use a clean supply of solvent in the dry-cleaning machine.  Dirty solvent can redeposit even more soil on your quilt.
  3. Request shortened cycle times and cabinet drying to lessen the stress on the quilt.
  4. Specify the quilt shouldn’t be steamed, pressed, or treated with any finishes after cleaning.
  5. Ask that the quilt be rolled on a large diameter rube rather than folded after cleaning.

So far (fingers crossed), I’ve had wonderful results washing my quilts.  There is only one I had to work with a dry cleaner with.  I purchased a Sunbonnet Sue quilt several years ago from a thrift store at North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  At some point, this sweet quilt hit a flood zone, because you can see where the flood water marked the quilt.  I washed it twice, and regular wet cleaning improved it.  Fortunately there is a dry cleaner in my area who is familiar with treating heirloom textiles, and he was able to get a bit more of the stain out without harming the quilt.  At this point, I think “it is what it is” and the stain will remain – lighter, but still visible.  A testimony in part to the quilt’s survival.    

This is a lengthy topic, so I’m breaking it into two parts. Next week, we will continue to discuss how to care for your antique quilts as well as how to treat the heirloom quilts you’re making today so they last for generations to come

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Going Around in Circles

I love old cars.  My preferred vintage automobile is a 1965 Mustang.  What do old cars and quilts have to do with each other?  Bear with me for a few paragraphs and I’ll explain.

I’m a retired high school educator.  If you took any of my classes, invariably at some point, you would write a research paper.  I was trying my best to get these kids ready for college.  I had a student who was as passionate about old Volkswagen Beetles as I was about old Mustangs. 

Her research paper covered the history of the VW Bug and for her senior project, she and her father rebuilt a Volkswagen from the frame up.  She drove it to school the day she presented her project.  Years later, I am still in awe of the paper and the project.  It was one of those rare occurrences when the teacher learned far more from the project than the student did. 

I learned the Volkswagen Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porche (yes…that Porche…the same one who created the snazzy sports car).  He wanted the car to appeal to everyone, so he did a little covert research.  He would station himself outside at a café or park at a table.  On the table he would place shapes … squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, etc.  Then he would ask the folks passing by which shape they liked the most.  The majority of them liked the circular forms.

Thus, the rounded shape of the VW Bug was born.

The tie-in between old cars and quilts is this:  Circles.  Automakers like circles.  So do quilters.  Circles are attractive shapes no matter what you’re making (like cookies…most cookies are circles…so are pies and cakes).  Circles are everywhere – the bakery, in the middle of some flowers, the sky, the playground, cars, jewelry, architecture, etc.  Circles are the third most appearing shape in nature (the first is the hexagon). Half-circles appear as arches in architecture.  Chances are, no matter if you’re a piecer or an appliquer, you’ve made or seen quilts with circles.  Circles can seem challenging, no matter if you’re piecing them or appliqueing them.  However, don’t let the absence of corners or points intimidate you.  If you know how to handle the curves, circles are no harder to applique or piece than their square-ish counterparts.  This blog will deal with applique circles.  I’ll write one on pieced circles later.

We worked with raw-edge applique circles earlier this year (go here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/04/13/the-final-steps-in-raw-edge-applique/ ).  Generally, these circles are straight forward:  Draw the needed size circle on the fusible, cut it out, fuse to the wrong side of the fabric, cut the fabric circle out, fuse into place, then either zigzag or buttonhole stitch around the circle.  Larger circles with gentle curves are easier.  Small circles with tighter curves sometimes have to be sewn one stitch at a time. 

Finished-edge applique circles – no matter whether if they’re to be sewn down by hand or machine – seem to have nearly endless construction possibilities. 

Seriously.

Endless. 

In this blog, I will attempt to cover ten ways to make these circles, but keep in mind there’s probably more ways to construct circles than I have in this blog.  Every time I think I have learned all the methods available, I find out there’s more. 

Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles

These circles come in two sizes – small-to-medium and large.  Karen also has Perfect Ovals, if you need a more elongated type of circle. 

These forms are made from heat-resistant plastic.  The original set of circles contains 15 different sizes (7/16-inch to 2-inches), with four plastic templates of each size. 

The larger circles are also made from heat-resistant plastic and range in size from 2 ¼ to 4 ½-inches.  Besides use in applique, these are great for constructing the Mariner’s Compass and as a template for Drunkard’s Path. 

Perfect Ovals (which are great for making flower petals), are made from heat-resistant plastic, and each pack contains 20 ovals in 10 sizes, two of each size. 

This system is the circle-making-method I was introduced to when I began applique. I take the plastic circle disk, and trace around it on the wrong side of the fabric. 

Then I cut the circle out.  Don’t cut directly on the drawn line but leave about a ¼-inch fabric margin around the line. 

Thread a needle (helpful hint:  hand quilting thread works GREAT here)  and hand sew a running stitch around the circle, between the outside edge and the drawn line. 

Insert the plastic disk in the center of the circle and pull thread up around it. 

On the wrong side of the fabric-covered disk, and using a small paintbrush, I dampen the edges with starch or a starch substitute, then press with a small iron. 

Once the fabric has cooled, I remove the plastic disk.  I may have to re-shape the circle a little, if removing the disk makes the circle a little wonky.  Between any needed reshaping and sewing then it down, the circle comes out about as perfect as possible.

Like everything, Perfect Circles/Ovals have their pros and cons. The pros are:

  • You can make more than one of the same sized circle at a time.
  • The heat-resistant plastic is sturdy and holds up to some serious abuse.
  • These can be found on Karen’s website, at your LQS, and on quilting websites.
  • They’re not terribly expensive.
  • Karen Kay Buckley’s products come from a woman-owned business.

The cons are:

  • You are limited to the sizes available in the packages.  If I can’t match the size Perfect Circle to what I need, I either go with the next size up or down.  However, in some quilts, this is not possible.  I’ve needed some fabric circles as tiny as 3/16-inch and the Perfect Circles are not this small.
  • You are limited in how many circles you can make.  The original Perfect Circles have four of each size and the larger Perfect Circles have two of each size.  If you’re constructing a quilt with lots of circles, it may take you a long time to make the number of circles you need.
  • Whether you’re making three circles or thirty circles, this process takes time.

Applipops

These little circle-makers are the new kids on the block.  Applipops are a set of nesting metal washers.  They’re easy to use.  You find the washer which corresponds to the size circle needed, then find the washer one size up from this, so the two will nest snugly together. 

Cut a square of fabric larger than the washers and place it right side down in the larger washer.  Insert the smaller washer inside.

Trim away the excess fabric.

Then with a small paint brush and some starch or starch substitute, thoroughly wet the edges of the fabric.  Immediately press the fabric edges in, towards the center of the Applipop.

Once the metal washers have cooled (because they will be really hot), you can pop them apart and admire your circle.

The Applipop Pro Set (which is what I have) makes eight circle sizes – 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, 1 1/4 “,1 1/2″, 1 3/4″,  and 2”. 

Here are what I consider the pros and cons of the Applipop Method.

Pros:

  • Because the Applipops are constructed from metal, they conduct the heat from the iron really well.  This means your circle edges are sharp and don’t get out of shape easily. 
  • I find these easier to use than the Perfect Circles…and this is a difficult thing for me to admit, because I adore Karen Kay Buckley.
  • They come with a holder, so it’s simple to keep them organized and all together.
  • This method is pretty fast so you can make your circles quickly and easily.
  • If you have lots of scraps, this method works well to turn those scraps into super-nice circles.
  • Applipops is a woman-owned business.

Cons:

  • You can only make one size circle at a time unless you have the Applipop Pro Set or two sets of the regular Applipops. 
  • While the metal conducts heat well, it also retains heat—which means you need to let everything cool completely before removing the Applipop.
  • They are pricey, the costs running anywhere from $35.00 to nearly $60.00 depending on what kind of set you purchase and where you buy it from.  However, unlike heat resistant plastic which may warp over time and use, the metal lasts forever. 
  • You are limited to the sizes available.  Unlike Perfect Circles, the Applipops have bigger “jumps” between sizes.   To get the needed size, it may not be possible to use the next size up or down – there may be too much of a difference.
  • It’s easy to get pleats on the front of your circle if you’re not careful.

English Paper Piecing

This method is definitely “old school.”  You’ll need some card stock, a pencil, a pair of paper scissors, a hole punch (optional), needle, thread, starch or a starch substitute, a small paint brush, small iron, and something to make your circles – a compass, a circle template, drinking glass, coffee cup – any circular shape which is the same size as the needed circle. 

On the card stock, draw a circle the same size you need for your project.  I use a hole punch to make a hole in the template.  The hole makes it easier to remove the template from the circle after it’s made. 

Place the template on the wrong side of your fabric and trace around it.  A small piece of double-sided tape may come in handy here to keep the cardboard template in place.

Cut out the fabric circle about ¼-inch away from the drawn line.  With a hand sewing needle and thread, sew a running stitch between the fabric edge and the drawn line.  Insert the cardboard template in the fabric circle and gently pull up the thread so it gathers around the cardboard and tie off the thread to hold the shape.  With the paintbrush, apply starch around the edges of the fabric.  Using a hot iron, press the edges until dry to help the circle hold its shape.  Allow to cool.  At this point, personal choice can be used.  If you want to make enough cardboard templates for every circle, you can leave the templates in until you’re ready to applique the circle down.  If not, you simply pop the cardboard circle out.  Here’s where the hole in the middle comes in handy – you simply insert a seam ripper, a stiletto, or my personal favorite – The Purple Thang – and remove it without a lot of fuss or the fabric circle losing its shape.

For reference, this is a Purple Thang. It’s truly a great all-around sewing tool and they aren’t expensive.

There are a couple of ideas to be aware of with this method.  First, if you have any kind of scan and cutter, such as Brother Scan and Cut or Cricut, many times these can be programed to cut the size circle needed.  You can make an entire 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet of circles with a touch of the button and repeat the process until you have all you need.  If you have an Accuquilt cutter, there are circular dies, but the sizes are limited. Still, it’s faster than cutting everything out by hand.  Second, it’s awfully tempting to use left-over lined index cards or those cardboard inserts that come in magazines or clog your mailbox. 

Please don’t.

The ink from the ruled lines or the advertising inserts may transfer itself to the fabric when you wet the edges with starch.  And that makes a mess ask me how I know.

Here are what I consider the pros and cons of the English Paper Piecing Method.

Pros

  • You get the exact size circle needed.
  • You can produce as many as you need in an assembly-line fashion.
  • If you have some type of electric scanner and cutter, you can produce as many templates as you need with a touch of the button.  Easy and accurate. 

Cons:

  • Most of the card stock templates will only hold up to a few uses, so you must plan on making lots of templates.
  • This method is probably takes the longest because there are so many steps you must undertake by hand.  Even if you have a scanner and cutter, this type of circle-making takes time.
  • I don’t think you get the crisp edges with this method that you do if you use Applipops or Perfect Circles.

Apliquick/Glue and Orange Stick Method

If I have to make a lot of circles, this is my preferred method.  I find it both quick and accurate.  I will add a caveat to this:  I’ve used this the Apliquick technique for a long time.  If you’re new to this method, you may find it takes a little while to get used to it.  For this method, you’ll need some fusible interfacing or stabilizer, the Apliquick tools or two orange sticks, a circle template in the size needed, pencil, scissors, iron, fine grit sandpaper or a sandpaper board, and a glue pen such as Sew Line.

On the non-fusible side of the interfacing or stabilizer, draw the number and sizes of circles needed.  Cut out on the line.

Fuse the circles to the wrong side of the fabric, leaving about ½-inch between circles and let cool.  Cut the circles out, allowing for about ¼-inch fabric margin around the circle. 

Place the circles on the sandpaper (this helps keep them in one place while you’re turning the edges) and using the glue pen, add a line of glue to the stabilizer.  Hold the circle in place with the Apliquick tool that looks like a fondue fork or one of the orange sticks.  Use the other Apliquick tool or second orange stick to turn the edges over and press so the fabric sticks to the glue. 

It works better to do a small section at a time and it’s okay if the fabric on the wrong side of the circle has some pleats – these won’t show on the right side.  You may need to smooth the edges just a bit with a fingernail.

Pros

  • You get the exact size circle needed.
  • This method lends itself to assembly line production
  • It is scrap-friendly
  • It’s fast

Cons

  • If you don’t have a few of these notions already in your applique toolbox, this method can be a bit pricey.  I don’t recommend purchasing the Apliquick tools until you know you really like this method and will use it.
  • This method takes a while to get comfortable with.  If you need lots of circles quickly, you may want to use a technique you’re familiar with until you’ve practiced a bit.

Needle Turn

Tale as old as time … that’s what needle turn is to applique.  This is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest hand applique method out there.  You will need a circle template in the size needed, a fabric pen or pencil, applique thread to match the fabric, and applique pins. The method is simple.  Draw a circle the size needed on the right side  of the fabric.  Cut it out, with about ¼-inch margin of fabric around it. 

I also draw the circle on the background fabric as a reference. It’s helpful.

Pin or baste in place.  Then using the needle turn method, applique into place, making sure to follow the drawn line.

That’s it.  Easy-peasy.

Pros

  • This probably the easiest method of circle production
  • It requires no fancy-smancy tools
  • It’s a fairly quick method of circle-making.

Cons:

  • If you don’t constantly follow the drawn line, the circle will come out wonky.  Most of the time if I use this method, I will also draw the circles on my background fabric.  This way I have both the line drawn in the circle fabric and the one drawn on the background fabric to go by.
  • The edges of these circles are not as crisp as the ones made by the other methods.
  • I find making small circles via needle turn difficult and no matter what, they don’t come out smooth.

Freezer Paper

Most of us appliquers are familiar with the freezer paper technique.  Either we’ve used it ourselves, or we’ve heard enough about it to be familiar with it.  That said, I’ve never been particularly successful using freezer paper in the circles.  I always use it on top of the right side of the fabric.  For this method, you’ll need freezer paper, pencil, paper scissors, a circle template in the size needed, and an iron. 

Using the circle template, draw the size circle needed on the non-waxy side of the freezer paper.  Cut out and press to the right side of your fabric.  Now cut out the fabric circle out, leaving about ¼-inch of margin. 

Pin into place on the background fabric.  Using the freezer paper template as a guide, turn under the fabric and applique down (the same way you would for needle turn). 

Pros

  • Most of what you need should already be in your applique toolbox
  • Most freezer paper circles can be reused several times before the waxy underside loses its “stickiness.” 
  • You can “assembly line” several circles at a time
  • This method makes any size circle possible

Cons

  • Like needle turn, smaller circles are more difficult to make smoothly
  • You must follow the form of the freezer paper circle closely or your circle will turn out wonky.  Like with needle turn, if I use this method, I also draw the circle on the background fabric as an additional guide.
  • The edges are not as crisp as with other methods

Lined Circles

I use this method the least, because I find it only works best with large-ish circles.  Lined circles use a piece of sew-in interfacing and a sewing machine.  For this method, you’ll need a circle template the size of the needed circle, medium weight sew-in interfacing (you can use fusible interfacing if careful), a fabric marker, your sewing machine, and hand sewing supplies.

Using the template, draw the size circle needed on the wrong wide of the fabric and cut it out, with ¼-inch fabric margin.  Then with the same template, draw a circle on the interfacing and cut it out, again leaving a ¼-inch margin. 

Place the fabric circle and the interfacing circle right sides together.  Using a small machine stitch, sew around the drawn circle. 

To turn the circle inside out, cut a small slit in the interfacing and use that to turn the circle. 

Once the circle is turned right-side out, press it.

Pros

  • You can make a lot of circles fairly quickly
  • Most the supplies are probably already in your quilt studio.  Those which may be needed are inexpensive.
  • You may find sewing the circle on top of a piece of stabilizer will result in a smoother edge.

Cons

  • I have only had success with this method on large-ish circles.  Smaller ones tend to get eaten by the feed dogs or are too fiddly to sew well.
  • Sew-in interfacing works best.  Fusible can be used if you press carefully and make sure the fusible side is next to the wrong side of the fabric.  Otherwise you’ll fuse the circle to your ironing surface.  And it’s easy to get wrinkles you can unfuse with fusible interfacing.

There are a few “non-traditional” methods to make circles.  I’ve always said outside of the LQS, a quilter’s best shopping spots to find things to use are office supply places and hardware stores.  For circles, you may want to plan a visit to your local hardware.

Metal Washers

These are the types of metal washers I mean:

If you like the Applipop method, but find they don’t come in the sizes you need, a stroll down the nuts, bolts, and washer area in your local hardware may produce some substitutes.  These can be used in the same way Applipops are, however, there are a couple of factors about regular washers to keep in mind if you chose to use them.  If push comes to shove and you can’t make them work with the Applipop method, you can still use the metal washers, just treat them the same way you would Perfect Circles.

  • Make sure the washers are made from stainless steel.  The washers will get wet from the starch used and regular washers will rust.  Stainless steel ones won’t.
  • These washers may be thicker than the Applipops.
  • The inner circles on these washers are smaller than Applipops and the outer rim is fatter.  Make sure they’ll nest properly.

Pros

  • You can make lots of circles in all different sizes
  • This is a fairly inexpensive method, and the washers can be reused

Cons

  • You may have difficulties finding stainless steel washers which will nest
  • The thicker washers may not give the desired look.

Mylar Washers

Mylar washers look like this:

And some of them are heat-proof – which is not the same as heat resistant.  Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles are heat resistant – meaning you can use an iron on them, and they won’t melt or warp (at least not for a long time or unless they’re in continual use).  Heat-proof mylar washers may melt or warp from the direct heat of an iron.  So how do we use them to make circles if we can’t use an iron?    Use the same method as Perfect Circles, but instead of pressing the edges with an iron, saturate them with starch or a starch substitute and let dry overnight.  If I use this method and need my circles in a hurry, I have employed the aid of my blow dryer.

Pros

  • This is a relatively inexpensive way to make lots of circles in all sizes
  • These are easily assembly-lined
  • Mindless prep – plan to binge watch something while constructing them
  • Mylar washers can be reused

Cons

  • May not produce as crisp of an edge as desired
  • Circles may need re-shaping after the washers are removed
  • Must be completely dry before removing the mylar washers

Nails

I’ve used this method before I discovered how to use Apliquick to make small circles.  This is a great way to make lots of tiny circles.  As with the metal washers, be sure to use a nail which won’t rust – such as aluminum or stainless-steel nails. 

Aluminum Nails

For this method, you’ll need nails which have the same size head as the circle you need, aluminum foil, starch or starch substitute, and nails.

Cut the circle the size of the nail head, plus ¼-inch.  Completely saturate the circle with starch or starch substitute. 

Cut a square piece of aluminum foil large enough for the circle to rest on, plus about ½-inch margin.  Lay the fabric circle on the foil.

Place the nail head on the circle.

Then crimp the aluminum foil around the nail shank and let dry overnight. 

Pros

  • You can make lots of circles at the same time
  • This method lends itself to assembly line prep
  • This is a good way to make lots of small circles
  • The nails can be reused
  • Again…plan on something to binge-watch

Cons

  • Watch out for the nail points…
  • The circles may need reshaping a little after the nail is removed
  • The fabric should be completely dry before removing the circle from the nail

With both the mylar washer method and the nail method, I plan to let my starch-saturated fabric at least dry overnight.  This means a little more advanced planning if you use either of these methods. 

From left to right: Perfect Circle Circle, English Paper Piecing Circle, Applipop Circle, and Apliquick Circle
From left to right: Freezer paper circle, lined circle, and needle turn circle

Just like with the VW Beetle, circles are great shapes to use in a quilt.  They are used in so many applique quilts.  You see them in flower centers, grapes, oranges, and berries.  They appear as bubbles and balls and balloons – and the list goes on.  If you applique at all, chances are, you’ll have to make some circles at some point.  With so many different methods available, I encourage you to find the method which works best for you and perfect it as much as you can.  However, I think it’s also important to have several methods in your applique toolbox.  I use different methods depending on the size circle I need to make. 

Just remember, if circles could make a car famous…imagine what they can do for your quilt.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Stuck on Glue

Today’s blog topic is glue – more specifically, fabric and sort-of-fabric glue (I’ll get to the “sort of” later).  I know this sounds like one of the most boring topics I could possibly write about concerning quilting, but hang with me because there’s a lot more to glue than just stick-to-it-ness.  And if you’re strictly a piecer and don’t think you’ll ever use glue because you think glue is only for applique, you may be wrong about that.  There are a few great ways to use glue when you’re piecing. 

First, let’s talk about what glue is. According to Simple English Wikipedia, glue is a sticky material (usually a liquid) which can stick two or more things together. Glue can be made from plant or animal parts, or it can be made from oil-based chemicals.Throughout our lives, we come in contact with all types of glue, from the basic Elmer’s School Glue which saw many of us through our elementary school crafting projects, to a type of adhesive called mastic which may hold our flooring securely in place.  As people who work primarily with fabric – most specifically cotton fabric – our glue world is filled with all types of glues, some which work great and others that are not-so-great.

The first time I heard the term fabric glue was in a beginner’s quilting class around 2000. Before I made only garments – most specifically, heirloom French garments or smocked clothing for children.  Glue was not used, mentioned, or suggested for either of these.  When the quilting teacher threw out fabric glue as one of our optional notions, I was just a tad skeptical.  I was a purist.  Sewing involved pins, needles, fabric, and thread.

Not glue.

However, as I learned to love applique, I also discovered fabric glue could be a great, little tool to have tucked away in my sewing kit.  It worked a lot better than pins – even the applique ones.  If an applique piece was glued down, I didn’t have to wrestle with my thread getting tangled up around the pin heads and points.  I could adhere all my pieces at once and then spend lovely hours hand sewing them into place.  Short of needle turn or back basting appliques, glue worked with everything else from machine to hand stitching.  In less than a year I went from turning my purist nose up at fabric glue to embracing this notion with a religious fervor. 

But…

The chemistry teacher and the heirloom sewing instructor in me continued to have a tickling worry in the back of my mind.  Could glue damage my fabric?   Not immediately, of course, but in the years ahead, could it in some way harm my quilts?  In my quilting world I have two types of quilts – the type which is “used up,” and the type I want to last forever (or at least as close as it can get).  The kind of quilt I want to get “used up” are those made as play quilts, snugglers, lap quilts, and some bed quilts.  Even a few wall hangings.  Quilts which are reduced to a pile of loose fabric and stitches have obviously been appreciated, loved, and used almost every day.  The wall hangings which become hopelessly faded means the person adored having them on a wall in their home. `

Yet there are a few quilts – quilts which I’ve put a lot of time and effort in or made specifically for a really special occasion – I want to have as long a shelf life as possible.  These are the quilts I’ve made for births and weddings or as memory quilts for grieving loved ones.  Some of these quilts have been entered in shows and took home ribbons.  I’ve dubbed these quilts my “heirloom collection” and I hope they’ll be around (intact) for many years to come.  Needless to say, I don’t want anything – from fabric markers to glue – to come back and leave holes or spots.  And while much has been written about the pros and cons of fabric pens and pencils, not a great deal has been recorded concerning the long-term ramifications of fabric glue on quilts.

And to be honest, in my research, I found literally nothing about any long-term ramifications of fabric glue on quilts.  What I have done in this blog is pull together what I know about heirloom garment preservation and what I know about pH balance.  I’ve combined that with the most popular fabric glue brands and have hypothesized about the glue and fabric future. 

One of the issues I covered as chemistry teacher was pH.  This two-letter term is thrown out on everything from shampoo to cosmetics to feminine hygiene products.  We tend to think of the term “pH balance” as something which only pertains to the human body.  To a large point, this is correct, but lots of man-made substances also have a pH.  This term stands for the potential of Hydrogen, or the concentration of the hydrogen atoms in a substance.  Scientists have a pH scale which runs from 0 to 14.  Any material from 0 to 6 is considered acidic, and the closer the pH is to 0, the more acidic it is.  The number 7 is neutral – neither acidic nor alkaline.  Anything from 8 to 14 is alkaline, and the closer the number moves to 14, the more alkaline (or base) it is.  Just the term “acidic” lets you know any substance with a pH from 0 to 6 would probably be bad to have near your quilt.  And this is correct.  It would seem you would want to run as far away from the acidic scale as possible with any fabric – to the point anything with a 14 pH would be great for your fabric. 

This is also incorrect.  Strong alkaline or base substances are just as bad as strong acidic ones.  Quilters need products with a 7.0 to a 7.45 pH balance to protect their quilts against any harm.  Lucky for us, cotton fabrics, thread, and batting are largely neutral.  Even if you’re a pre-washer, by the time the detergent is rinsed from the fabric, it’s back to a 7.0-ish pH.  Battings can be a bit iffy, because the pH balance may be directly affected by how the batt was finished. 

The heirloom French sewing instructor in me is constantly referring back to one of the reasons we spend so much time and effort in making something:  we want it to last and be handed down for generations.  A good chunk of my sewing instructions dealt with the preservation of the garment, how to care for it, and the correct way to store it.  These topics dealt with pH balanced soap, padded hangers, folding the garment in acid-free tissue paper, and storing in acid-free boxes.  While quilts are vastly different from kids’ heirloom clothing, the principles remain the same:  the less the quilt comes in contact with anything acidic, the longer your quilt will survive and be passed down for generations to come. 

Which brings us back around to our topic of glue.  Generally, it’s the applique quilter who uses glue more than any other type of quilter.  We use it to hold patches in place and to secure turned under edges for finish edge applique.  It’s used in some freezer paper processes and definitely in Apliquick-type techniques.  The one characteristic of all of the fabric glues used in quilting is this:  It’s meant to be a temporary bond.  So none of the glues we will look at are permanent fabric glues.  They all should wash out with water.  However, even if they are water-soluble, it’s important to know if they leave any residue, and if so, what could this do to your quilt.

Aleen’s Tack It Over and Over

This glue can be used for a myriad of crafts, not just quilting.  You coat the back of whatever it is you need to adhere to fabric, and set it in place.  Even after the glue dries, you can reposition the applique patch if needed.  I have used this glue and it is thick.  I usually dilute with a little water (about a 1:1 ratio).  It is acid-free and will wash out.  It’s also non-toxic.

Let me be frank at this point.  I use Aleen’s glues for lots of craft projects.  Quilting generally is not one of them. If I need to move an applique piece I’ve glued down, I have found the Tack It Over and Over does leave a residue, even if I’ve diluted it.  And the residue can be difficult just about darned near impossible to remove completely. 

Roxanne’s

Let me also be honest here:  I love this glue.  It comes in almost any type of application possible.  Roxanne’s has glue in bottles with little spouts, glue in bottles with a needle-tip, glue in tubes with a sponge-tipped dabber, and (my very favorite) in glue stick form.  It is pH balanced (as are Roxanne’s fabric pencils) and dissolves completely in water – your quilt doesn’t feel stiff after washing.  I like it because it holds your applique piece in place pretty firmly – including the glue stick.  I have found it can be difficult to move a patch if you’ve used any of the liquid glue forms.  However, if the glue stick is used, the applique can be repositioned easily.  It contains no chemicals, dyes, or waxes and dries quickly.  Roxanne’s Glue Baste-It is a popular quilting notion and most quilt shops (and even some big box stores) keep it in stock.

Sewline

Sewline is technically not a glue stick – it’s a glue pen which you can easily refill.  It is water-soluble, and while the glue is blue, it does dry clear.  The pen form can be easier to control than a glue stick.  Sewline is advertised for use with English Paper Piecing, but this is my go-to glue for the Apliquick applique method.  It doesn’t gum up your needle.  It will hold applique pieces in place, but I’ve found it doesn’t have as strong of a bond as Roxanne’s. Sewline is archival quality and pH balanced – meaning if you use this glue in your quilt, you don’t have to worry about it harming the fabric short or long-term.  It contains no chemicals, dyes, or waxes.  The pen is easily refilled, and the leftover glue tubes are great storage places for needles.  Sewline is very affordable and found in a lot of quilt shops and on Amazon.

Quilter’s Select

This is also a glue pen, which means you can refill it.  This glue is colored yellow, but it does dry clear.  It is completely water-soluble, but I have no idea if it’s pH balanced or not – my research never distinctly said one way or another.  This is my second  choice for Apliquick.  I have found this glue a bit more “gummy” than Sewline, but the bond is stronger and seems to hold the applique pieces down better.  It is advertised for both English Paper Piecing and applique.  I’ve only found this glue in quilt shops or quilting websites.  It is not on Amazon. 

Bohin Glue Pen

This glue pen is pink, but dries clear.  Those of you who have worked with Apliquick may recognize it as one of the technique’s glue of choice.  This glue pen is refillable, and the glue is completely water-soluble.  It is pH balanced and contains no chemicals, fillers, or waxes.  I think it glides on easier than the Sewline or Quilter’s Select, and the bond will hold applique pieces firmly in place, but you can still reposition them without too much trouble.  It’s comparable in price with the other two glue pens

Apliquick Glue

Apliquick has used two different types of glue under their name brand.  Until 2017, they used a yellow, refillable glue pen much like Quilter’s Select.  Now they have a wider, non-refillable glue stick (not pen).  This glue stick is about 3-inches long and 5/8-inch wide and is transparent.  This is a pretty soft glue stick, and it takes anywhere from five to eight minutes to dry.  It doesn’t leave your fabric stiff and it’s easy to push a needle through.  However…if you’re used to a glue-pen or longer glue stick, you may find this glue uncomfortable to hold as it is really short.  It costs around $20 for two tubes, so it does hit the pricey range for glues. Many Apliquick aficionados have told me the glue stick doesn’t last as long as the pen – since the tip is wider, you use more glue.  However, it’s pH balanced and is easily removed with water.

Fons and Porter Glue

This type of glue is available in pen form and can be refilled.  It glides on as blue, but dries clear.  It’s water soluble and costs about the same as the Sewline, Bohin, or Quilter’s Select.  I could not find out if this glue is pH balanced or of archival quality.

Sew Daley Glue

Sue Daley Glue comes in two forms.  The first is a glue pen.  This one goes on pink, but dries clear.  Amazon buyers gave this glue 4.6 stars out of 5 and touted that it was great for working with English Paper Piecing.  The second type is in a squeeze bottle with a tip, making it easy to use for finished edge applique or needle turn. 

I could not find out if this glue is pH balanced, but it is water-soluble.  And for you Lori Holt fans, this is her preferred glue.

Jillily Glue

This glue is acid-free, pH neutral, and water soluble – so it checks all the boxes quilters need to feel good about using it.  It has a tapered top, which allows you to put the smallest drop possible on your prepared edge applique.  The tip is made of nylon, so it won’t rust, and it can twist off if you need to clean it.

I had never heard of this glue before researching this blog, so I have never used this glue in my studio.  A Google search on this product returned no reviews (not even on Amazon).  It appears to be a wonderful product and definitely has no longevity issues.  It was developed by Jill Finley, who is a Master Designer for Aurifil Thread and a Bernina Ambassador, as well as a fabric designer for Riley Blake. 

Quilter’s Choice

This is a clear, odorless liquid glue which comes in a squeeze bottle.  It is water soluble, nontoxic, and comes with a precision spout.  Two ounces cost around $10, which makes it a little pricier than the glue pens, and throws it in the same price-point range as Roxanne’s glues.  I could not find out if it was pH balanced or not, and this is the preferred glue of Kim Diehl.  Keep in mind that since Quilter’s Choice is a liquid glue, you must allow time to let it dry before stitching, unlike stick glue or glue pens which require little to no drying time.

I’ve used this glue.

I was not impressed.

The bottle is hard to squeeze and for those of us older quilters who have some arthritis in our fingers and hands, this can be a deal breaker.  I found it dried somewhat stiff and it was difficult to push a hand sewing needle through.  My sewing machine didn’t like it much, either.  My advice, if you have a bottle stuck back somewhere and you want to use it for applique – use the smallest dab possible to adhere your applique pieces.  Like other basting glues, Quilter’s Choice states it doesn’t permanently bond fabric.  However, I did find it was not as water soluble as other basting glues and even after washing, my applique was stiff. 

Nevertheless, this glue does hold one special place in my life – emergency hem repairs.  This glue will hold up to some serious abuse.  When I travel, I always keep a bottle of Quilter’s Choice with me in case I need to fix a hem on the fly.  At home, I’ve grabbed it and did the same thing.  The hem will stay in place for days. 

Elmer’s School Glue

This is the sort-of-fabric glue and before any glue-basting purists turn their nose up at this one, hear me out.  This glue meets every one of the characteristics of a great basting glue.  It’s water soluble and it’s pH balanced.  It will hold an applique patch in place and (unless you’ve applied the glue super-thick), it will also allow you to reposition it if you need to.  The one caveat you must be careful about is it must be the school glue.  Elmer’s has a myriad of types of glue, but the school glue is the one which may find its place in your applique toolbox because it’s water soluble.  Not all of the other Elmer’s are.

Elmer’s School Glue comes in both stick and liquid form.  Personally, I like the purple glue stick best because I can see where I’ve applied the glue.  The white glue sticks go on transparent.  The liquid glue may need a little special handling.  The tip of the glue bottle isn’t exactly conducive to the accurate glue placement needed for small pieces or tight places.  A quilt teacher (who uses Elmer’s religiously) recommended getting these:

Which are available for a few bucks on Amazon.  Fill the small bottle with Elmer’s and the tapered nozzle will allow you to place a drop of glue exactly where needed. 

By far, this is the most economical “basting” glue available, and you can pick this up almost anywhere – from a convenience store to the grocery to the drug store to the office supply place.  You can even purchase it by the gallon.

At this point, I’ve written nearly 3,000 words about glue.  And most of them apply to those quilters who enjoy applique.  However, I did promise to talk about how glue can be used for those who strictly piece.

 It can help you match or make perfect points. 

We’ve all had that one quilt in our lives with lots of points or triangles.  Either the points need to meet perfectly, or the tips of the triangles need to remain intact and not chopped off.  In either situation, most of us pin our fabric in place, slow down our stitching speed and hope for the best.  However, pins can slip out of place.  But I’ve found if you put a dab of glue where the points should match or where the triangle point should be and then heat set the glue with an iron, nothing shifts.  Points come out perfectly and the tips of triangles remain intact.

It can hold the binding in place, so you don’t have to use pins or clips.

Once you’ve sewn the binding to the front of the quilt and folded it over to the back, use a series of glue dabs to keep the binding in place.  I’ve tried this and it works great – there are no clips or pins to tangle your thread around.  For me, a liquid glue worked best. The bond is a bit stronger than a glue pen.  And Elmer’s is my go-to for this technique.

It can hold matched-up paper piecing seams in place.  This works in a similar way as matching points.  With paper piecing, the sections need to line up as accurately as possible.  Use a dab of glue to at the matched seams and heat set it.  Between the glue and a walking foot, your paper piecing should look perfect. 

It makes sewing curves super-easy. 

If you’ve made blocks with curves (like the Drunkard’s Path) you know how tricky it can be to get the curves sewed down smoothly.  It requires a lot of patience and the judicious use of pins.  You need to sew slowly and remove the pins before sewing over them.  I found glue basting the curves instead of pinning them makes life much easier.  The glue will hold the fabric patches in place and there’s no need for stop-and-go sewing to remove pins.

It tames the flannels.  Quilters are used to cotton fabric, which is generally not “slicky.”  Even the high thread counts cottons generally stay in place pretty well.  Quilting flannels are an entirely different animal.  They are not 100% cotton, but have some spandex and rayon incorporated in the flannel.  As a result, flannels are soft, stretchy, and sometimes difficult to hold in place.  I’ve found a glue stick comes in handy with them.  Instead of pinning the pieces together, I glue baste them in place.  This actually works better than pinning.  Often flannel and similar fabrics will “creep” out of place, even if pinned.  Glue basting takes out the “creep” factor.

If you are an appliquer, you probably already have some type of fabric glue in your sewing room.  For you, I hope this blog gave you some useful information about what to look for in a glue and what type of glue – either pen, stick, or liquid –will work best for you.  If you’re strictly a piecer, I hope this blog showed you how basting glue is a good tool to have in your quilt studio, too.  No matter if you’re a piecer, appliquer, or both, just remember it’s important any glue which touches your fabric be pH balanced and water soluble.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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A Moment of Brutal Honesty

Okay…let’s have a moment of complete honesty here….

How many of you purchased fabric during the Covid lockdowns?  Can I see a show of hands?

How many of us have sewn all that fabric up?  Again, a show of hands, please.

How many of us have more fabric than we probably won’t sew up in the remainder of our lifetimes? 

I’ll be the very first to admit, I bought quite bit of fabric during 2020.  And in the spirit of complete honesty, I didn’t need any of it.  I purchased it because I wanted to do something to help keep quilt shops up and running during lockdowns.  The quilting arena had already lost far too many brick-and-mortar shops before Covid, and I didn’t want to see any more of those, or the web-based shops, close.  I did what I could to hopefully keep their bottom line in the black.

I sewed a lot during Covid.  I made hundreds of masks and eight quilts (completed – down to the last stitch in the labels).  But did I make a dent in my Mount Stashmore?

The answer to that is a hard no.  No, nope, not a chance, didn’t happen.  So, I thought for this blog, we’ll take another look at our stash – what it is, how valuable is it, how to manage it, and what does it need to look like.  I know I’ve touched on this topic before, but that blog was written several years ago, and truthfully the subject needs to be discussed again. 

In general, “stash” means a back-log supply of something – money, clothing, craft supplies.  It’s an inventory of items you may need for future use.  Quilters often refer to their “fabric stash” (or just “stash”).  This is the extra fabric we have left over from projects or fabric we’ve purchased because we liked it, or it fulfilled one of the “basic” needs for quilting.  The guidelines for procuring a fabric stash vary, but one very important idea to keep in mind is your stash should be compatible with your fabric storage space.  In other words, your house shouldn’t look like an episode of Hoarders with fabric filling every room in the house.  I know some quilters whose stash is limited to a couple of dresser drawers and other quilters who have floor-to-ceiling-come-to-Jesus stashes.  The amount of stash you have may also depend on what generation you fall in.  Boomers tend to have more stash than Millennials. I’m Generation Jones.  Besides being tech-savvy, adaptable, and more ignored than Generation X, our stash seems to fall somewhere in the middle.  And despite the fact most quilters made or started numerous quilts during lockdown, it seems our quilt output did not keep up with our stash input. 

In other words, most of our stashes are fairly large.  And this begs the question, just how much is all this fabric worth?  In 2014, the National Quilting Association surveyed hundreds of quilters about this very question – how much fabric did they have on hand and on average how much did they spend a month on material?  After crunching the numbers, the NQA stated the average quilter’s stash was valued at $6,000 in 2014.  Allowing for today’s inflation, the average 2022 fabric mini-hoard is worth $6,472.26. 

That’s a nice chunk of change.  While you may think nothing about adding a yard (or two) of fabric here and there, it’s important to keep in mind your stash’s overall worth and how to make it work for you.  Here’s where it’s very important to understand what kind of quilter you are because this will not only affect what kind of fabric you will add to your stash, but also affect how much.

The first question to ask yourself is, “Are you primarily a piecer or an appliquer?”  I realize many quilters (including myself) are quite comfortable working in both categories.  It may be difficult to decide what kind of quilter you are because you like making both kinds of quilts.  The easiest way to discover which quilting camp you fall into is: 1). Look at the quilts you’ve made and those under construction.  Are they primarily pieced or appliqued?  And 2).  Look at your quilt patterns and books.  Are they primarily for pieced quilts or appliqued ones?  Whichever technique has the most patterns, books, and quilts – that’s the kind of quilter you are.  For me, it’s applique.  And how I keep, purchase, and manage my stash will be diametrically different than that of a piecer.

Piecers tend to need and purchase larger pieces of fabric.  It takes yardage to produce pieced bed and wall quilts.  Between the borders, neutrals, focus fabrics, and additional lights, mediums, and darks, several yards of fabric are actively involved in a pieced quilt.  Piecers can use a variety of different fabric forms for the yardage.  Jelly rolls, layer cakes, and fat quarters may be part of a piecer’s stash, as well as traditional yard cuts.  Inevitably, once the quilt is cut out, there are leftover scraps.  How the piecer handles his or her scraps depends on if this quilter also likes to applique.  If they enjoy either machine or hand applique, they may want to keep their scraps.  If not, they may be left with large-ish chucks of fabric they’re not sure what to do with.  I encourage piecers to ask themselves the following questions:

  1.  Is there enough leftover fabric to make a smaller version of the quilt – a wall hanging, cuddle quilt, or miniature – and would they actually do this?
  2. Would they make an “after quilt?” An after quilt is a quilt made from the scraps.  This quilt may not look anything like the original quilt, but it uses up the leftover material.  These make great charity quilts or gifts.  The trick with after quilts is to make them immediately after the primary quilt is completed – otherwise the leftover fabric may languish in their Mount Stashmore for months.
  3. Can you use it to sew a quilt back?  The back of a quilt can be just as creative as the front.  It can incorporate leftover blocks as well as leftover fabric.  It just needs to be four to six inches larger than the front of the quilt.
  4. Do you have an active scrap sorting system?  By this I mean, do you take the leftover fabric and sub-cut it into blocks, rectangles, or strips?  The most common sizes are 5 ½-inch squares, 6 ½ -inch squares, 4-inch squares, 3 ½-inch squares, 2 ½-inch squares, and 2 ½-inch strips.  These are the sizes used in most quilt patterns.  You can use these to make four-patch units or half-square triangles or quarter-square triangles.  When you have enough of these, you can make a scrap quilt…which brings us to this question…
  5. Is there a scrap quilt in your future?  If there is, save those scraps and plan to purchase some white quilt fabric in the future when you can find it on sale.  In my opinion, white fabric makes all the different colored scraps play nicely with each other.

If the answer to these questions is “No,” and you’re not into appliqué at all, honestly you may need to periodically clean out your stash and give some of it away.  This can be difficult.  It’s hard to give away fabric you’ve spent your hard-earned cash on.  On a small scale, there are quilt guilds.  If you are a member of a guild, there’s a good chance there may be a “Freebie” table at guild meeting.  You can leave your fabric there with the peace of mind knowing it will find a good home where it will be loved and used.  If you don’t belong to a guild, try Googling sewing and quilting groups where you live.  If the group has an active charity program, they may eagerly take the left-over stash off your hands.  If neither one of these options appeal to you, there’s always Facebook Marketplace and Craig’s List, which may allow you to recoup at least some of your money.

Applique quilters are different.  While, yes, they do need yardage – there’s always background fabrics and borders to deal with – smaller amounts of material are needed for the applique pieces.  Like piecers, applique quilters can (and often do) work with pre-cuts.  The difference between the two quilters starkly shows in the yardages purchased.  Most applique quilters have yards of background fabric in their stash.  For some appliquers, this means creams, ecrus, grays and blacks – the true backbones of the neutral category.  However, we know the definition of “neutral” has changed completely in the last 10 years or so.  This means there may yards of other fabrics (solids, tone-on-tones, and low-volume prints) which can be used as backgrounds.  But by far, the majority of the stash consists of  fabrics for the applique process.  This means an applique quilter’s stash will have every color of the rainbow and then some.  And speaking from personal experience, I can tell you as an applique artist, I look at fabric a bit differently.  For instance, all green material has the possibility of becoming stems and leaves.  This means even unattractive greens may find their way into my fabric mini-hoard.  I can see the possibility in even the ugliest of fabric.  Take for instance this one:

This fabric – as much as it may make your eyes bleed – has wonderful potential for flower centers and petals.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  All the unattractive, unsellable material on the clearance table for a $1.99 a yard?  That can be where I do my best buying.  I can get great bang for a few bucks.  It all has potential if you know how to look at it.  However, here’s where the dark side is – we don’t need a great deal of fabric for applique.  This means we can purchase one yard of material at a time and use it for several quilts.  Instead of our stash being limited to larger pieces of yardage like the piecers, quite often ours is full of one-yard and smaller cuts – and there’s a lot of them.  It’s difficult to manage.  I know most quilters tend to sort their stash either by color or designer.  As an applique artist, I sort by texture and then by color.  Those fabrics which can be used in flowers go in one stack and then are sorted by color. Material which can be used for landscape quilts are in another area and are sorted by fabric for pebbles, bricks, roofs, water, walls, etc.  My Feedsack reproduction fabrics are kept separate, as are my Civil War Reproductions.  Holiday fabrics (which is my smallest stack) are in another area. 

Like piecers, applique quilters have scraps, and these can be our biggest downfall.  Every scrap has the potential to be used in another quilt.  My first applique teacher encouraged us to keep every scrap.

Yes.

Every.

Single.

One.

Since I was a newbie and didn’t know any better, I did.  By the end of my third year of quilting, I had a pillowcase full of scraps of every size and color.  I had so many scraps, I honestly did not really know what I had.  So, one day I dumped them all out on my dining room table and took a hard look at my scrappage.  My eyes fell on a slightly-less than one-inch square of green.  And I thought to myself, “What are the chances I will make one leaf out of one color of green?”

Answer:  Slim to none.

I came to the decision I wouldn’t keep any scraps less than 8-inches square.  I could get several applique pieces from a piece of leftover fabric this size.  I do sort my scraps according to color.  Each color is kept in a separate bin, with special bins for busy fabrics with several colors, landscape fabrics, and border prints. 

Applique quilters need to ask themselves these questions:

  1.  How small is too small?  What is the tiniest piece of scrappage you’re willing to keep?  Decide what that is and stick to your guns – don’t keep any smaller than you’re able to work with.
  2. How much background fabric do you realistically need?  If you’re a typical applique quilter, chances are the number of applique quilts you’ll complete will be fewer than a piecer, because applique (either by hand or machine) takes longer than piecing.  If you can complete two or three quilts a year, then chances are you don’t need yards and yards (and yards to infinity) of background fabric. 
  3. When looking through your applique stash, is there one color you seem to have a great deal of?  Is there a color you need to add to?  If this is the case, you may be able to swap some scrappage with another applique quilter.  She may need at least 25 of your 50 blues and you may need 30 of her brilliant oranges.  A fair swap can usually be worked out. 
  4. Like the piecers, can you use some of your leftover fabric for a quilt back, an after quilt, or a smaller version of the quilt you just made?  Any and all of these will help you shrink your stash and manage it better. 
  5. Do you need to Marie Kondo some of your stash?  If it no longer brings you joy, if the fabric is hopelessly outdated, or you honestly can’t see yourself appliqueing it in a quilt, it’s time to move it to a new home.  Leave it on the free table at guild, give to an organization that may use it for charity sewing, or see if you can sell it. 

So why all the reflection about my Mt. Stashmore?  There are several reasons.  First, I am concerned about quilting’s carbon footprint.  It can take up to five months for cotton fabric (as well as other all-natural, plant-based fabric and silks) to decompose.  Meanwhile, as it’s gradually transitioning to this final stage, it’s taking up space in landfills when it could be used elsewhere.  It’s super-easy to just toss scrappage  — even what I would consider salvageable left overs – in the trash and just keep moving.  There may be another quilter who can use what you have.  The good news is that if you can get your cotton scraps down to small enough pieces, they work well in a compost pile.  If you don’t compost, maybe you have a friend who does.  Bonus in this – if the compost pile is outside in the open, birds may decide your scraps are just what they need to make the inside of their nests all nice and cozy. 

Secondly, we’re transitioning – my husband and myself.  We’re both sixty.  Our children are in their thirties and show no signs of returning home other than to visit.  We live in a 3,200-sf house on about four acres meant for a family of four.  We have no desire to spend our free time mowing the grass, tending the flowers, or cleaning the house.  We’re downsizing.  We haven’t found a new home, but we’re looking…which means we have to move.  If you’ve read my older blogs you know my quilt studio is the largest room in my house and it has an adjacent, large, walk-in closet.  And while my next studio may be just as large as this one is, I have no desire to move all my fabric.  I’m working through my stash as fast as possible. 

Inevitably, the last question is “Will all this stash management hurt my LQS?”  Let’s have another moment of brutal honesty here:  Unless the establishment is a huge fabric only retail outlet, the answer is no.  True fact – fabric stores of all types make the least money on fabric itself.  Generally, most LQS’s are lucky if they break even on quilting cottons.  Patterns, machines, notions…it’s this sort of merchandise or the side gig of long arming or classes which produce more income.  In the future I would really like to see the culture of quilt shops change a bit.  I believe (and this is just my opinion), the quilt community may be better served if shops could see the quilter through to the end of the project. For instance, a new quilter enters a shop and wants to make a quilt.  She or he is still fairly new to the quilting world.  The salesperson tells the new quilter about their beginner classes, which charges a nominal fee.  The quilter signs up, pays the fee, and purchases all the needed supplies from the quilt store.  He or she shows up, takes the classes, and makes the quilt top.  Then the salesperson mentions the store has longarm classes so the new quilter can quilt the new top.  Excited because the top is finished and looks lovely, the new quilter signs up for the long arm class, pays the class fee, and purchases the needed backing and batting.  The quilt is quilted with an easy pantograph design.  Now the salesperson tells her new quilter about a binding class or quilt group who can show the new quilter how to bind her quilt.

Within a period of a couple of months, the new quilter has a completed, beautiful, new quilt in which they’ve put in every stitch.  If the quilting bug has bit – and it usually does by this point – the quilter will sign up for additional classes, purchase additional supplies, show up to add to his or her stash, rent the long arm, and the LQS has become the new quilter’s touchstone for his or her quilt world.  This would help the shop build a strong customer base and produce quilters who can handle every quilting step. 

I know lots of us quilters decide not to buy any more fabric.  We may make New Year’s Resolutions about it or come to this conclusion after purchasing a large haul from a fabric sale.  We believe our stash should go on a diet and reduce itself.  I can say largely from personal experience the decision to completely stop purchasing fabric doesn’t work.  I think the easiest way to deal with your stash is to learn how to manage it.  Determining if you’re a piecer or applique quilter is the first step.  This determination gives you the mental freedom to feel okay about how much yardage you’re purchasing and the ability to not over purchase.  Don’t exceed your stash storage capacity.  If your fabric mini-hoard is growing too large, give some of it away or sell it.  If you need smaller chunks of fabric, see if you can’t do a fabric swap with some fellow quilters.

Like Mt. Rushmore, your Mt. Stashmore is truly a beautiful sight, as long as you don’t let it get out of hand.  Learn to manage it.  The last thing I want to see on an episode of Hoarders is a quilter whose stash has taken over her entire house. 

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Happy Birthday to Us

I think, quilters as a whole, are people who tend to sew their very soul into whatever they’re making.  When I wrote my blog on quilt labels, I told you the label was the holder of the quilt’s story.  It gives dates and locations and occasions.  However, a quilter’s quilts are the mile makers on his or her journey.  They are the beginning, middle, end … the entire plot of the quilty book.  When I look back on my own quilts, I can immediately tell you two things: What I learned from the quilt and the story behind it. 

In so many ways, quilts tell a quilter’s story.  They show progress.  Techniques learned.  How practice made quilt stitches even and color choices better.  When I look at my quilts I remember where I purchased the fabric – was it at my LQS or on a trip to Paducah or Lancaster?  I recall why, where, and who I made it with and for.  They are the silent testimonies of hours spent in my studio with needle, thread, fabric, and usually some Netflix binge-watching and a glass of wine.  They are the result of hours of patient cutting and sewing, ripping and re-sewing.  Second guessing color choices, text messages with my quilting BFFs, and maybe even some swearing and tears thrown in for good measure.  It’s good to look back on those quilts – to see how far I’ve come and realize just how far I still have to go.  I love them, mistakes and all.  They’ve taught me valuable lessons and are the witnesses of many tears (of both joy and fear) and prayers.

I have an equal admiration and affection for quilters.  If you’ve read my earliest blogs, you may remember I didn’t start quilting to make quilts.  I began quilting to meet quilters.  After receiving one of my great-grandmother’s quilts, I wanted to understand these women and what drove them to make quilts.  And in the process of knowing quilters, I fell head over heels in love with quilting.  I still count the women I quilt with (my “unofficial” sisters) among my closest friends.  I quilted with various bees from 2000 until 2012.  It was then several of us High Point quilters got together and formed the High Point Quilt Guild.

Words cannot adequately express or explain what this group means to me.  It’s more than monthly meetings and quilt education.  It’s fellowship of the mind and spirit.  It’s inspiration and education.  It’s a sharing of burdens and fears.  If I am facing one of those painful “life milestones”, these are the folks who call or text first.  I’ve learned so much from each member and have always felt it was a special honor for them to choose me as the first guild president.  

As the calendar clicked over to January 2022, it dawned on us that it was our 10th Anniversary.  And we decided to celebrate accordingly.  Since January is always such an “iffy” month for weather in North Carolina, we planned a party for April.  A call to the church we originally met at confirmed we could rent the fellowship hall and sanctuary for April 2.  Invitations and RSVP cards were sent to all past and present guild members.  Those became a mixed bag of emotions.  The returned invitations allowed us to make sure we had current addresses on all members.  However, in researching some of the current addresses we learned a few former members had passed away.  Some former members we really hoped would attend, did not show up.  Still, when the final count was rendered, almost 70 members RSVP’d in the positive.

Cupcakes were ordered and punch was made.

On April 2, folks began to arrive. Each member – both past and present – was asked to bring five quilts.  These were spread out in the sanctuary for a “Show and Tell.”

Almost 60 members attended.

The Sanctuary was full of quilts.

All of the past presidents except one was in attendance.

There was laughter and hugs and conversations which went on for hours.  Friendships were renewed.  Some former members rejoined.  Some signed up for the spring and fall quilt retreats.  Quilts were admired.  Raffle quilt tickets were sold.

By 4:30, we closed the party down, leaving an exhausted but happy group of anniversary party committee members picking up stray punch cups and emptying garbage cans.  As the last leftover cupcake was stored away and cars were loaded  with quilts, a decision was made:  We needed to do this again on our 15th Anniversary.

A look back on how far we had come as a guild, the quilts we have made, and the friendships renewed, was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  And it made us plan, with great anticipation, what we will do in the future.

Happy birthday to us!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam….and the High Point Quilt Guild

Photos were made by my wonderful husband and outstanding photographer, William Fields. 

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Stabilizers

As promised in my applique blogs, this post is about stabilizers.  Broadly, a stabilizer is a material which supports the fabric while maintaining weave and grain. It also provides body, gives a firmer hand to the fabric, and prevents fraying. Interfacing only provides body, shape, and weight to a specific area. And although stabilizers are used in nearly all types of sewing, quilters are familiar with them for use in two areas:  Applique and Machine Embroidery.  I have an embroidery machine but am a novice when it comes to machine embroidery.  I use my Baby Lock Spirit for making quilt labels and that’s about it.  I am much more familiar with the stabilizers quilters use for machine applique, and it’s those types of stabilizers which are featured in this blog. 

First, stabilizers have been used for centuries.  They’re not remotely recent quilting notions.  Some textile historians believe ancient Egyptians used stabilizers way back in BC.  The stabilizers used then and up until twentieth century were not the familiar rolls or sheets of the material we recognize as stabilizer.  No, back then stabilizers were made from everyday common food items such as sugar, honey, flour, eggs, gelatin, and water.  These were used in varying combinations to make fabric stiff or water resistant.  They were used on rugs and carpets to extend their life.  Fashion trends owe their life to stabilizers.  Items such as the bustle, parasol, panniers, crinolines, masks, circus costumes, bow ties, spats, poodle skirts, and ruffled collars would have never held up (literally) to the passing of time without them.  Even if a dress incorporated hoops, it was a stabilizer which gave the skirt a smooth look.

Dress with Panniers

Before we jump headlong into all the stabilizers, let me give you some general information about them.  And remember this blog is about those incorporated in quilting.  Quite a few of these stabilizers can be used for both machine embroidery and quilting, but always…always…always read the labels to make sure it’s a two-track notion.

  • Stabilizers and interfacing are similar  but are not the same thing.  Both are used in quilting but generally are not interchangeable (more on this at the end of the blog).
  • Stabilizer is a notion, not a tool.
  • Stabilizer supports the fabric while maintaining the weave and grain.  If you know how much “needle abuse” both machine embroidery and machine applique dish out, you understand why it’s important to use a stabilizer.  It also provides body, gives a firmer hand to the fabric, and prevents fraying.  Interfacing only provides body, shape, and weight to a specific area. 
  • Typically, stabilizer is applied to the wrong side of the fabric.
  • Stabilizers prevent warping or twisting of the fabric weave
  • Not all stabilizers come on a roll or in sheets.  Some are liquids.
  • Even within one category, there can be several types of stabilizers.
  • Fabrics with an open weave – such as burlap, netting, or tulle – require special stabilizers. 
  • Fabrics which are delicate or slippery (like chiffon, silk, and taffeta) are easier to cut and stitch when a wash away stabilizer is applied first.
  • Stabilized fabric is ideal for creating shaped fabric objects and design elements.

There are four broad categories of stabilizers:  Tear away, cut away, wash away, and heat away.  Even a liquid stabilizer will fall into one of these four groups.  The group name also tells you how the stabilizer is removed once the project is complete.  And within these four categories are myriads of weights and forms (fusible, self-adhesive, non-fusible, spray on, tapes, etc.).  It also must be remembered not all projects require the stabilizer to be removed as well as some stabilizers can’t be taken out. 

A subgroup from these categories also exists – toppings.  I have never used a topping stabilizer in applique.  There may come a time (such as if I were constructing an art quilt) when I may need to employ a topping.  Toppings are used on the right side of the fabric and come in all kinds of weights, forms, and types.  Some stabilizers can be used as both a topping and the “regular” kind which goes on the wrong side of the fabric.  Some toppings are also permanent.  Let’s take each of the four categories and break them down.  Hopefully this will help you understand how each stabilizer is used and when to use each kind.

Tear Away

This stabilizer is removed exactly as it’s named – it tears away from the stitching.  It is suitable for stable fabrics without any stretch, such as quilting cottons, batiks, canvas, poly/cotton fabrics, and duck cloth.  Some can be used on vinyl and leather.

  • This is a cloth or paper-like substance available in rolls or sheets
  • It’s available both in fusible and non-fusible types
  • The weights can vary from sheer to heavy
  • It’s meant to be temporary
  • Some brands tear away more easily than others
  • May be used as a topping
  • It’s usually a non-woven
  • Nine times out of ten, this is the kind I use

Cut Away

This stabilizer can be used with fabrics which stretch, including knit, loosely woven fabrics, and denim.  It can handle denser stitching than tear away. 

  • This is a cloth or paper-like stabilizer available in rolls or sheets
  • The weights can vary from light to heavy
  • It’s typically a sew-in stabilizer
  • Adds strength to the fabric
  • Those used as toppings are usually cut away
  • Thickness and weight vary between brands
  • Available in both woven and non-woven
  • Heavier is better for denser stitching (such as satin stitch machine applique)
  • Prevents you from seeing through the fabric
  • Should be soft in areas next to the skin

Wash Away

Wash away stabilizer should be used when all of the stabilizer must be removed from the project.  It is used in cutwork, freestanding lace, and reverse applique.  When used as a topping, it prevents stitches from sinking into the fabric.

  • This group dissolves when wet
  • Available in film, liquid, cloth-like, or paper-like forms
  • Found on rolls more often than sheets
  • The thicker wash away resembles vinyl
  • The thinner wash away looks like plastic kitchen wrap
  • Available in weights from super sheer to medium
  • Good choice for a topping
  • Liquid wash away is applied via spray, brushes, or soaking
  • Great for specialty fabrics or fabrics with a high nap (such as velvets)
  • Best choice for working with lace

Heat Away

This stabilizer is usually removed with a hot, dry iron.  It’s the fiddliest to remove, and the heat reduces the stabilizer to flakes, which must be brushed away or removed with a lint roller. 

  • This stabilizer is available in film, cloth-like, or paper-like form
  • It’s offered in sheets or rolls
  • Film is the most common form
  • Extra care should be taken when removing a heat away stabilizer
  • Great for dry-clean only fabrics
  • Seldom used as a topping
  • Typically removed with a dry iron
  • More difficult to remove than the other types of stabilizers
  • It is not liquid friendly – avoid having any water at all in your iron when removing it.

With machine applique – either raw edge or finished edge – the choice of stabilizer will depend on the types of fabric used.  If batiks and quilting cottons are your choice for applique, a light to medium weight stabilizer can be successfully used.  The type – tear away, heat away, or cut away – becomes personal preference.  I tend to reach for the tear away simply because I really like it.  Stabilizers aren’t super-expensive, so I suggest trying a couple of different types and brands to see what works best for you.

All of this changes if specialty fabrics are used (such as in an art or landscape quilt).  The type of fabric dictates which  type of stabilizer and fusible webbing should be used.  If chiffons, lace, or taffetas are incorporated in the quilt, the stabilizer choice should be one which works specifically with these fabrics.   Read the stabilizer labels carefully and be sure to choose the one which will work best for the material involved.  In some quilts, you may find yourself using several different types of stabilizers.

One kind of quilt which needs careful stabilizer consideration is the T-shirt quilt.  These quilts have their own special category and need some additional planning.  Like some art and landscape quilts, T-shirt quilts employ a fabric which is not a “traditional” cotton fabric.  T-shirts are made from interlocking fibers – this is what makes T-shirts so comfortable to wear.  Even if you’re using cotton t-shirts, the weaving process used is not the traditional warp and weft.  As a result, t-shirts don’t play nice with quilting cottons.  Once the shirt is “de-boned” (the crew neck and sleeves are removed, the shirt is cut apart from the front and back, and the front has been cut down into the desired size rectangle), the edges of the shirt fabric want to curl. This makes piecing them with cotton fabric quite a challenge.  For the long armer or machine quilter, even when the t-shirt quilt is sandwiched, the t-shirt fabric doesn’t want to play nice in the quilting procedure.  In order to make the t-shirt blocks cooperate in the piecing and quilting process, the backs of those blocks need a stabilizer.  The issue which should be kept in mind is the stabilizer will remain in the quilt.  It needs to be firm enough to give the t-shirt material some body, but soft enough so the quilt doesn’t feel stiff or impede the quilting process.

I have always used this interfacing as a stabilizer in my t-shirt quilts:

This is soft enough the quilt doesn’t feel stiff.  It’s light enough it doesn’t interfere in the quilting process, yet still helps the t-shirt blocks lie flat.  There are also these:

The stabilizer sheets are pre-cut with both of these products, saving you a little time and the hassle of working with a bolt of interfacing.  I have not tried either of them, but the Stabil-Tee received 4.5 stars on Amazon and the June Tailor project received five out of five stars. 

And for those of you who may have a t-shirt quilt in your future, I’ve found applying the interfacing to the front of the de-boned t-shirt before I cut it down to the desired size really helps to make your cutting accurate – the shirt won’t curl up around your rotary cutter. 

If you have an embroidery machine, you probably already have several different types of stabilizers on hand.  And while they work differently in applique than in embroidery (in applique they prevent tunneling and keep the fabric from getting off grain), you may find some of what you have can work for both applications.  Just check the labels or do a little Googling on the brand and type.  It’s also interesting to note that stabilizers also come in black, which comes in handy if the fabric involved is dark.  If some of the stabilizer must stay in, it won’t show through the dark material.

While stabilizers are definitely used far more with machine embroidery, they do have a place in the applique toolbox.  When used, they make the stitching process go smoother, as well as make the stitches themselves look better.  They also help keep your fabric on-grain and prevent tunneling and tucks.  Stabilizers don’t cost a lot, so keep a couple of types in your studio for machine applique or t-shirt quilts.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt, Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

PS I finished the Rose of Sharon block I used as an example in my machine applique blogs.  Now I just have to trim it and decide what to do with it!

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Roll, Roll, Cotton Boll

Have you ever come across a quilt block which completely captivates you?  One that not only holds your attention, but makes you question its history and wonder how difficult it would be to construct it?  I’ve had several of these types of blocks cross my quilting journey, but the first one – and the one which still makes me stop and give it a second look – is this:

North Carolina Cotton Boll Quilt

The first time I saw this block was back in the early 2000’s when I attended a quilt bee at Hancock Fabrics.  A spin off from the earlier quilt classes Hancock’s offered, our group continued to meet despite the fact no “official” classes were held.  At the beginning of each year, we would peruse different quilt patterns and decide on one to make as a group.  One year, we chose this quilt pattern:

Which included this block.

Once glance at the block told me it would challenge me.  It had leaves and stems and was all curves and points.  There was no piecing involved – it was all applique.  Fortunately, it wasn’t the first block.  If it was, several of us may have run screaming for the hills.  However, the block – with all its challenges – fascinated me not only for the skill needed to make it, but also for its name:  Cotton Boll.

I made the block.  It’s in my Southern Album Quilt.  Since then, I’ve made other quilts, took other classes, and attended other bees.  I honestly hadn’t though much more about it until I was performing a little Googling research for my raw-edge applique series, and I saw it again.  Once more I was mesmerized.  And it didn’t take more than the click of a mouse and I fell down the rabbit hole of Cotton Boll quilts…and this time I’m taking you with me.

The Cotton Boll has a distinctive look.  There is really no other quilt block which looks like it.  This led me to believe (wrongly, I soon found out) it would be a fairly easy process to find lots of information about it.  You can imagine my surprised when I Googled Cotton Boll quilt block, I came up with this:

All pieced, no applique and it bore no relationship to the block I knew as Cotton Boll.  Thinking it had to be a mistake, I opened my EQ 8 software, which has Barbara Brackman’s Block Base.  I typed Cotton Boll into the quilt block search bar, and again, this is what I found.

Not one to doubt Barbara Brackman and her research, I figured it had to be me, mis-remembering the block I made years ago.  After a little searching, I found my Southern Album Quilt pattern book and flipped to the page with the block on it.  Sure enough, here’s what it said:

Well.  I had remembered correctly (Go Me!).  Where was the disconnect?  It’s easy to see why the pieced block was named Cotton Boll.

The block and an open cotton boll look a lot alike.  But this still didn’t explain the differences, nor did it help me find the block I was looking for.  I decided to do what I normally do when I’m looking for a quilt block and can’t find it.  I put out an APB to some quilty friends.  One of them led me further down the rabbit hole of Cotton Bolls.  A quilt with those exact blocks at one time was exhibited at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston Salem, North Carolina.  This museum is kind of like a warehouse for early Southern crafts.

For those of you who are not from North Carolina or may not have visited my wonderful state, Winston is not far from where I live in Jamestown.  As a matter of fact, this museum sits right outside of Old Salem (which is in Winston Salem).  Old Salem is North Carolina’s version of Williamsburg, but on a smaller scale.  I’ve been to the museum several times but had not seen the quilt there.  However, an email to them resulted in a positive reply.  Yes, the quilt had been displayed there.  No, the quilt was not there now.  And yes, the name of the quilt was Cotton Boll.  “However,” the email went on to state, “this block also has been called Chrysanthemum.  It was called Cotton Boll primarily in the South and most significantly in North Carolina.  It was a pretty popular pattern among the Quakers.”

Bingo.  At least I hadn’t imagined the whole Cotton Boll quilt enigma. And as of that moment, I was super-lucky in two aspects.  First, sitting on my bookshelf in my quilt studio was the book, North Carolina Quilts, which resulted from the NC Quilt Project in the mid-eighties. It surely had some information on the Cotton Boll I was looking for. Second, Guilford County has quite a few Quaker churches as well as a college.  Between these two resources, I felt I was sure to get an answer as to where this quilt block came from and why the appliqued version differed so drastically from the pieced one. 

And I did.  I learned there are three schools of thought about this block. 

  1. It’s really just a Chrysanthemum Block.  Quilters quilt what they know.  No doubt quilters all over America were familiar with this flower and decided at some point to make it into a quilt block. 
  2. It’s neither a Chrysanthemum nor Cotton Boll, it’s an Anthemion.  Anthemion is the ancient Greek word for flower.  Anthemions are depicted in furniture and architecture as this:

And this symbol was all over 19th Century furniture and architecture.  Since Cotton Boll quilts enjoyed popularity primarily between 1840 and 1860, this actually makes more sense than the first school of thought. 

3.  Did some quilter somewhere take a long, hard look at the Anthemion and decide it looks very much like an unopened cotton boll? 

Then they made the block and called it Cotton Boll.

Now let’s look at each school of thought and decide which one – if any – are true.  And my first point of research is always Google. 

When I Googled Chrysanthemum Quilt block, two pieces of information repeatedly showed up.  A quilt block like this:

Or fabric with Chrysanthemums on it.  None of the blocks returned in the search looked remotely like the Cotton Boll quilt I was looking for.  Even when I looked for antique Chrysanthemum quilts, nothing popped up which resembled the Cotton Boll.  Instead, this block showed up:

Which I’ve always known as Bride’s Bouquet or Cornucopia.  Assuming Barbara Brackman may be a better research option than Google on quilts, I typed Chrysanthemum in EQ8’s search bar and these blocks were returned.

None of which are my Cotton Boll.  However, when Cornucopia was searched, this block popped up.

I honestly think the first school of thought – that the cotton boll block is really the Chrysanthemum block – completely erroneous. 

Now onto the second school of thought:  The block is really Anthemion.  This isn’t quite as clear cut as the Chrysanthemum.  When Anthemion was searched, hundreds of images were returned.  The Anthemion was found in architecture, carpets, textiles, and jewelry.  There is no doubt that 19th century quilters were familiar with this symbol.  However, the only quilt which came up was one from Barbara Brackman’s blog about Cotton Boll quilts.  Likewise, when her block base was searched in EQ8, it returned no blocks by the name Anthemion.  So, the chances of this quilt block actually being the Anthemion block are slim to none.

However… I think I’d take the third school of thought – that quilters looked at the Anthemion and decided it looked like an unopened cotton boll – to the bank.  This seems the most likely and it sounds like something I would do. 

There were quite of few quilters in North Carolina who made this quilt – several of them from Randolph County.  All of these quilts registered with the North Carolina Quilt Project are only referred to as Cotton Boll Quilts. There are also a few Cotton Boll  quilts found in Minnesota.  Many of these are attributed to Quaker quilters.  There are several schools of thought on those Quaker Quilts, too, but that’s another blog for another day.  What is important is the consistency of all of the quilts’ appearances.  All of them are distinctive.  There are four bolls.  Their stems cross in the middle of the block.  The bolls are made of separate, curved leaves along the sides which point upwards.  At the top of the block there is a non-curved leaf, which may be larger in appearance than the ones on the side.  Sometimes the curved forms alternate color, with a few of them even appliqued with green fabric.  Occasionally the block will contain small circles, indicative of berries or buds.  Over time, the sharp points at the end of the curving leaves and top points softened into a curve, producing more flower-like blocks.  Some have pieced sashing and cornerstones.  Others have simple sashing and no cornerstones.  And a few have no sashing at all.

They all are challenging, allowing a quilter to show off his or her finest needle skills.  They are beautiful and distinct.  However, I have no memory whatsoever of any of my quilty friends making a contemporary version of this quilt.  The Cotton Boll may become one of those quilt patterns, while fondly remembered and beautiful in its antiquity, eventually fades into obscurity. 

I sincerely hope not.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt, Yours,

Sherri and Sam