A Tisket, a Tasket, Let’s Make Some Baskets

There are more than 400 basket quilt images in Pinterest.  If you search EQ8 for basket blocks, you’ll get 50 patterns to choose from.  If anyone wants to make a basket quilt, there’s probably a block out there you’ll love.  And we’re not the only group of quilters who share a love for this block.  Quilters have been piecing and appliqueing baskets for hundreds of years.

While the earliest known quilt pattern is Mosaic – which is now called Grandmother’s Flower Garden – quilters have always been influenced by objects used in everyday life.  In all cultures, the basket was a daily presence in a woman’s life.  Light willow constructions, white oak egg baskets, schnitz baskets to hold Pennsylvania’s store of dried apples or feathers – all were filled and emptied and refilled in the eternal repetition of housewife’s duties (pg 7 and 8, Small Endearments:  19th Century Quilts for Children, by Sandi Fox).  Quilters pieced replicas of baskets because they were familiar with them and gave them names which were well-known to them – Tulip Basket, Basket of Lilies, Garden Basket and Fruit Basket.  This occurred with several early quilt blocks such as Monkey Wrench and Churn Dash.  Quilters drew and pieced blocks, influenced by familiar objects. 

The earliest baskets were on whole cloth quilts.  If you remember from my blog:, these quilts weren’t pieced, but were large pieces of finely woven cloth which were layered with a batting and a back and then heavily (and beautifully) quilted.  One of the first motifs used on these quilts were baskets.  Sometimes the baskets were trapuntoed to stand out in relief to the background.  Women who had these quilts or made these quilts were quite often women of time, talent, and money:  Money to either purchase the quilts or the funds to purchase materials and have additional household help so they could have the time to make these quilts.  These whole cloth quilted baskets were followed by ones in broderie perse.

Then used in Medallion Quilts.  Baskets were particularly popular with Medallion Quilts.  These baskets ranged from very stylized ones to appliqued ones from plain fabric. 

Baskets are heavily used in Baltimore Album Quilts.  Baskets began to make appearances in Baltimore Album Quilts as early as 1870 in a quilt from Vermont and are still common in today’s Baltimore quilts. Crazy quilts also had baskets in them, although these baskets were embroidered, not pieced or appliqued. 

What does make basket blocks and quilts different from other blocks and quilts is they were appliqued before they were pieced.  With other types of quilt blocks, this process was usually reversed – they were pieced first then quilters appliqued them (just like alphabet quilts – the letters were first pieced and then appliqued). 

Eventually, somewhere along the quilt journey, either a quilter didn’t have the time to applique a basket or was ingenious enough to try to piece one.  Around 1855, the move was made to piece baskets in quilt blocks instead of appliqueing them.  The earliest and most “primitive” baskets used triangles and diamonds which were cut from fabric and then pieced.  The simplest baskets used a triangle as a base and had appliqued handles.  Eventually the baskets developed to the point a triangle was used as a base and then had diamonds radiation from it to represent flowers. 

Along the way, basket blocks found their place in Friendship Quilts. 

Almost everyone appreciates and loves a good basket quilt.  And given there are large enough spaces to write one’s name and a sentiment in most basket blocks, they proved to be a staple in many of these quilts. 

The great thing about basket blocks is the quilter can run the designing gamut with them.  They can be elaborately pieced or appliqued. They can be filled with flowers or fruit.  Ribbons and birds can be added.  Appliqued baskets can be woven from narrow strips of fabric or made from different pieces of cloth.  I didn’t think I owned any basket blocks until I wrote this blog and began to look back through my personal quilt library.

There is this, from my Spring Tulips Quilt.

This fun little block from my Farmer’s Wife Quilt. 

Coincidently, this is the only block in the first Farmer’s Wife Quilt pattern with applique – the tiny handle is appliqued into place.

And this basket of apples in my Fall mini quilt which currently sits in my entrance way.

And this woven basket I’m working on.

There are literally hundreds of basket patterns on the market, but if you want to make your own, it’s really pretty simple.  A basic basket block comprised of triangles like this:

Is easy to grid out.  This basket is on a 4 x 4 grid:

It’s made of HSTs, two rectangles, and one square. 

No matter what size block you want, the 4 x 4 grid works.  Let’s play with a 10-inch finished block.  Since this basket is gridded on four parts (four across and four down), we divide 10-inches by 4 and get 2 ½.  This 2 ½ measurement is the finished measurement, which means we will need to add an ½- seam allowance. 

2 ½ + ½ = 3.  The unfinished square and HSTs will need to measure 3-inches. 

The rectangle along the right side should be estimated as follows:

  1. The length of the rectangle is the sum of two of the finished units – 2 ½ + 2 ½ = 5.  Then we need to add ½-inch seam allowance (for the top and bottom of the rectangle) to bring it the unfinished length to 5 ½.
  2. The width of the unfinished rectangle is the same as the HSTs and square – 3-inches.
  3. We need to cut the rectangles 3-inches x 5 ½-inches.

Personally, I want to make the HSTs by marking and sewing two squares of fabric together.  This method doesn’t expose the bias until the last minute, so it avoids stretching it out of shape.  We need to do an additional bit of math here, so allow me to introduce you to another wonderful formula – how to calculate a HST if you want to make it from two squares of fabric.  To do this, you simply add 7/8-inch to the finished size of the square.  Since our finished HST is 2 ½, we add 7/8 to 2 ½, which gives us 3 3/8-inches.  We need to cut the two squares to make the HST 3 3/8-inches.  I also like to cut my HSTs a bit bigger and then trim them down to size (making HSTs by any method can become a bit wonky because you’re dealing with bias).  Trimming them down just a bit ensures all my HSTs come out the correct unfinished size.  To do this, I add an additional ¼-inch to the formula:

2 ½ + 7/8 + ¼ = 3 5/8.

I’ll cut the squares for the HSTs 3 5/8, knowing I’ll trim them down just bit.

Now for that large HST in the middle.  Returning to the grid diagram, we can see that middle HST take up four 2 ½-inch squares – two horizontally and two vertically use this information to determine how big the finished HST should be:  2 x 2 ½ = 5.  The center HST should be 5 inches.  We can apply the same formula we used above to determine how large to cut the squares for this block unit:

5 + 7/8 + ¼ = 6 1/8-inches, but because I dislike dealing with 1/8-inch increments, I’d round this up to 6 ¼-inches. 

Now returning to our basket, we know we will need to cut:

Two 3-inch x 5 ½-inch rectangles from the background fabric

Four 3 5/8-inch squares of background fabric

Four 3 5/8-inch squares of basket fabric

One 6 ¼-inch square background fabric

One 6 ¼-inch square basket fabric

One 3-inch square of background fabric

To construct, you would place each 3 5/8-inch square of background fabric to a 3 5/8-inch basket fabric right sides together, draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of one of the pieces, then stitch ¼-inch away on both sides of the line.  Cut along the drawn line to produces two HSTs.  Press and trim down to 3-inches.

Repeat with the large, center HST.  Then stitch the block together.

This is a simple, easy, pretty basket.  And when you think about all the possible designs which could be used, the quilt is only limited by your imagination.  You could use contrasting colors

Or go tone-on-tone

Or reverse the lights and darks

Or go scrappy.

They could be Christmas baskets

Or baskets from the 1930’s.

And batiks are never out of the question. 

Baskets are only limited by your imagination.  This is truly one of those blocks which the fabric can do most of the work for you.  Try graphing out a basket block on your own and using the formulas given to come up with your own block.  Jump out of your comfort color zone and do something different!  You may decide you need an entire quilt out of these sweet baskets!

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Bits and Pieces

I collect blog topics.  In the notes section of my iPhone, I keep a running list of ideas I want to write about.  With most of these I can easily get at least 2,000 words.  However, on occasion, there are topics I want to hit, but can’t get that many words out of.  These are relegated to a file I call “Bits and Pieces”  — topics which deserve some attention, but I can’t write 2,000 words on the subject.  I collect these “skinny” ideas until I have quite a few and then throw them all into one blog.  Sometimes these topics come from questions asked by my readers and sometimes they come from ideas I’ve read about or developed myself.  This is one of those Bits and Pieces blogs.  Grab a seat, the beverage of your choice, and be ready to skip from one topic to the next.

Storing Fabric

I know, I know…there are a thousand different ways to store fabric.  Search for fabric storage ideas on Google or Pinterest and literally hundreds of ideas will pop up. One of the most popular is bins.

You purchase these semi-see-through bins and put all the colors in each family in a bin – the reds in one bin, blues in another, etc.  The lid’s snapped on and it can be stored on a shelf or stacked in a closet until you need fabric.  Personally, this system doesn’t work for me because I must see what I have so I won’t buy the same fabric again…not that I’ve ever done that (eyeroll).  But this system works well for some quilters especially those who aren’t like me and don’t have floor-to-ceiling-come-to-Jesus-stashes.  However, what makes this bin-storage idea different from all the other ones is this:

A color chart.  You can label the bins according to color, but you can print a color chart out for each color family and tape it to the inside of the lid.  This chart not only gives you the range of the color family in the bin, but also gives hues and shades.

And for me, what is really the saving grace with this method is it will help you truly sort your color families.  On occasion there will be a color which really fits into the category I call “funky.”  By this, I mean a fabric could possible fit into several different color families depending on the dying process.  Teal is one of those colors.  Some teals can fall into a bluer category, some go gray, and others have a green undertone.  These color charts can help you decide if a teal needs to live in the blue bin, the gray bin, or the green bin.  Unless you have a bin solely for teals…which makes the decision making super easy. 

One word of caution concerning bin storage.  Make sure the lids aren’t completely airtight (like vacuum-sealed).  Cotton fabric needs to breath. 

Pressing Issues

I frequently am asked about pressing.  In a couple of recent blogs, I mentioned pressing quilt blocks as well as units and several readers asked how I pressed my blocks, did I use steam, or did I use starch or Best Press in the process.  As a rule, I don’t use steam.   But we all know rules were made to be broken.  If my blocks are coming out pretty true-to-size, I will give them a press with a hot, dry iron before I true them up.  If the block’s a little small, a shot or two of steam may help to flatten some of the fabric, and the block will expand a little.  I don’t necessarily starch my blocks, because I starch the fabric before I cut it, and unless there’s a lot of bias on the edges of the block, it doesn’t need to be starched again.  If there is bias along the edges, I may starch the block — it just depends on how stable the bias is.  Concerning block units, I tend to use the Darth Vader method of pressing:

I go to the dark side. I press the seams to one side, away from the lighter fabric. This way, the seams won’t show on the right side of the block.

However, you can’t always do this.  The cardinal rule with quilt blocks is this: you need to reduce bulk as much as possible. This outranks any pressing rules.  Bulk reduction allows you to quilt (either by hand or machine) without any hiccups.   When you have a block or block unit where lots of seams come together (like a pinwheel block), bulk reduction may mean pressing the seams towards the lighter fabric.  When this happens there are a couple of actions which can be taken to prevent seam shadowing. 

First, you can get past the seam point, make a tiny clip in the seam (don’t cut through the sewing thread), and press the remainder of the seam toward the darker fabric.

Sometimes, you can “spin” the fabric at the seam point to reduce the bulk and allow you to still press toward the darker fabric.

If neither of those are a possibility, you can “shave” the darker fabric.  Cut away about an 1/8-inch of the darker fabric, so the lighter fabric has a larger seam allowance and can completely envelope the darker fabric when you press toward the lighter side of the unit. 

My absolute, last-seam-standing, go-down-with-the-ship option is to press the seam open.  At first thought, this may seem like the best and easiest way to handle the situation – you would have one layer of the lighter fabric pressed toward the light fabric and the dark fabric pressed toward the dark material.  Easy-peasy, problem solved.  However, when you press a seam open in a quilt block, you’ve exposed the sewing thread.  When the quilt is quilted, the quilting process can weaken this exposed thread. Yes, occasionally seam have to be pressed open, but this only as a last resort. 

Pre-wounds:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I think it’s only fair I go on the record right here:  I love pre-wound bobbins.   I’ve stated this fact in a couple of previous blogs.  The question I get asked concerning my overwhelmingly positive bias towards them is “Why?”  Why do I like them so much?  There are three reasons.  The first one has to do with the fact I’m pretty lazy about a few things and winding bobbins is one of them.  I dislike rethreading my machine to wind bobbins and then rethreading it again to sew.  Secondly, pre-wounds hold so much more thread than self-wound bobbins.  Most sewing machines and independent bobbin winders are programmed to only wind so much thread on a bobbin and then stop.  And this programmed amount falls far short of the amount of thread put on a pre-wound.  Third, convenience.  It’s just so much more convenient to pop out the empty bobbin and reach for a pre-wound.  It only takes a few seconds compared to the time needed to re-thread your machine and fill a bobbin. 

However….all pre-wounds are not alike.  It’s important the pre-wound bobbin is balanced (all the thread is evenly spaced – not bulging at the top, middle, or bottom) and the thread used is quality thread.  If either of these factors aren’t present, the pre-wound will give you serious issues while you’re stitching.  As quilters, we’re fortunate. We tend to stick to basic thread colors – cream, gray, dark gray, black, and occasionally white.  Pre-wounds are easily found in these colors.  I’ve ordered mine from Superior Thread, Red Rock Thread, and Missouri Star.  Besides knowing what color you need, you should  be aware of what kind of class your bobbin is.  This information may be in your manual.  I found this information about Dolly by Googling “What kind of bobbin does a Horizon M7 Continental take”?  It popped up immediately – class M. 

And as far as LeighAnn the Long Arm goes, I’ve always used pre-wounds on her.  A long arm can go through bobbin thread quickly and the additional amount on a pre-wound makes life a little easier for the long armer. 

Organizational Quandaries

This topic came up at my Tuesday night Zoom and Sew.  Most quilters are semi-organized.  By this, I mean most of us keep items for projects together – fabric, pattern, special notions, etc.  We generally have hand sewing/hand applique tools in a box, bag, or kit.  Machine applique notions may be in another box, bag, or kit.  But the question arose about “general tools,” such as irons.  How do you organize those?  In my opinion, I think you need to look at which aspect of quilting those items are used most and store them with those tools.  For instance, still using irons as an example, I have the Clover Mini-Iron, three small irons, a travel iron, two standard irons, and a cordless iron (I know that’s a lot of irons…but may I remind you this is a judgement-free blog).  Even though I rarely undertake freezer paper applique since discovering Apliquick, I keep the mini-iron with my hand applique because it’s primarily a hand applique tool.  My small irons are kept in the area I store duplicate supplies.  In this area, I keep extra seam rippers, small rulers, markers, pressing pads, etc. – anything I need to throw in a bag for an all-day sewing class/workshop/sit and sew.  I keep one standard iron in the pressing area near my machine and the other is in the bag I take with me to overnight classes/workshops/retreats.  My cordless stays on my quilter’s ironing board because this is the area I use to press large pieces of fabric, quilt tops, and borders.  The cordless makes my pressing life easier because there’s no cord to get in the way. 

I think it’s most convenient to keep general quilting supplies – fabric markers, small rulers, pins, seam rippers, small scissors – near your sewing machine within easy reach.  If you have an area for duplicate supplies, it’s easy to “shop” your studio before hitting up a quilt shop or Amazon.  I also think it’s nice to have this area to pull from when prepping for classes or workshops.  This means if you accidently leave your spare seam ripper or needle threader in the classroom, you’re not stymied until you can swing by and pick it up.  You have another one waiting in your sewing area. 

Is There Really a Big Difference Between Best Press and Spray Starch?


And I think it’s a personal decision on which one you like better and use.  I admit it, I’m a Faultless Spray Starch girl.  When I was taught to quilt, this is what my teacher used and as a result, I used it, too.  Plus, back in 1986 there wasn’t such a thing as a starch substitute (unless you count sizing).  Flash forward until today and there’s regular starch and starch substitutes (such as Best Press) in assorted fragrances. 

And despite all of this, I still think regular starch is a better choice.  I like the crisp feeling it gives fabric and I think it can stabilize bias better than a starch substitute any day of the week.  Overall, I think it outperforms a starch substitute for these reasons:

  1.  If you’re a pre-washer like me, once the fabric is dried, the finish is gone, and the fabric has a soft hand.  This isn’t a bad thing if you’re using it for hand applique and want a soft hand.   However, if you need to cut the fabric for piecing, the softness can work against you.  You need to use something to give the material a crispness.  Starch does this better than a substitute. 
  2. It can save your sanity by stabilizing the bias.  As a general rule, I don’t expose bias until the very last minute.  A block or block unit with bias which is handled a lot stands a good chance of getting the bias stretched.  And stretched bias equals a wonky block.  Once the bias is exposed, I lightly spray the block unit with starch and press it with a hot iron.  If the exposed bias area is large, I may repeat this step three or four times until the fabric is almost paper stiff.  I can’t get this result with a starch substitute. 

I have tried starch substitutes for the above processes, but didn’t receive the same, desired results that I did from starch.  Starch substitute aficionados will tell you (loudly at times), that spray starch will attract bugs.  It can.  Starch is produced from vegetables  — primarily corn – so yes, it is a tasty treat to nasty bugs such as silverfish.  However…only if the fabric is starched and stored for a period of time.  If you’re starching your fabric and then cutting and piecing it, or starching the block units before you sew it, the starch will not remain in the fabric long enough to attract buggies.  To all those pre-washers out there, don’t starch your fabric if has no further plans than warming up space with your other stash for a while.  Wait to starch it before you cut it.

Another starchy complaint I hear is “It flakes.  It flakes so much it looks like my fabric has dandruff.” 

Well then, you’re not starching and pressing correctly.  Here’s how you do it:

  1.  Shake the can well.
  2. Lightly  spray the wrong side of your fabric.
  3. Press with a hot iron
  4. Repeat if needed.

Most flakey starch issues come from not shaking the can well and saturating the fabric before pressing.  Spray lightly, press, and repeat. 

Lastly, the choice is truly a personal one and there are room in our quilting world for both containers.  Best Press has come out with Best Press 2, which is touted as having the same stiffness as starch.  I just ordered a bottle from Missouri Star.  Once it arrives and I’ve given it a test drive, I’ll let you know what I think.  And if you are Team Spray Starch, always purchase your starch at a drug or grocery store and not dollar establishments.  Dollar stores generally get second runs of spray starch and these have a higher water content, which means they won’t work as well.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Marking Tools

Just as sure as you need thread to sew, at some point a quilter will need to mark their fabric.  This could be as simple as a dot marking the ¼-inch seam allowance for Y-seams, the diagonals on half-square triangles, or as complicated as applique placement.  I will be brutally honest and tell you, if the marks will be cut away (such as the diagonal lines drawn on squares of fabric to make HSTs), it really doesn’t matter what you use.  I’ve grabbed the nearest pen  to do this, which means on occasion I’ve used a gel pen, Sharpie, and ball point pen.  These marks don’t remain on the fabric – they’re cut away – so it really doesn’t matter.

But for those marks that do matter – those which have the possibility of having traces remain for years – you have to be a bit more careful.  For small dots and such, I tend to use a Frixion or a #2 pencil.  These marks are small, and I need to use something these 60-year-old eyes can see.  If I’m appliqueing and the fabric will overlap a marking, I’ll reach for a Frixion. However,  Frixion pens have one issue which scares me just a little:  I’ve heard the markings can come back and haunt you.  They’ll reappear on the quilt if it gets cold enough (Frixion ink “erases” with heat – so sewing enthusiasts love them because the marks disappear with the touch of an iron).  And we have to remember Frixions were made to write on paper, not fabric.  They’re still so new to the quilting world, they don’t have a textile history.  Years from now we have no idea if the ink will leave lasting harm on the fabric. 

Choosing your favorite marking tools is as personal as deciding if you like starch or a starch substitute.  Try several (they’re all reasonably inexpensive) and decide which one works best for you.  I used #2 pencils to mark everything for years and didn’t have any issues.  Then I found this:

Water-soluble marking pens.  The blue ink disappears with water.  This is what I use to mark my quilt tops for quilting and my background fabric for applique placement.  Once the project is complete, I wash or soak it in cold water, and it goes away.  This marking tool has been on the market for years and has a great reputation for disappearing with cold water and never returning to haunt a quilt or other textile.  Just don’t heat-set the ink with an iron before you wash your project in cold water. 

 Is Pre-Washing Absolutely Necessary?

No.  It’s not.  Many quilters consider this step obsolete with the advent of better dying processes and Color Catchers.  However, there are reasons to pre-wash your fabric other than fear of your fabric crocking or renegade dye traveling to other fabric in your quilt.  I break down the details for the case of prewashing in this blog:

I am a pre-washer for many of these reasons. 

How to Chose a Great Quilt Teacher

COVID_19 has completely flipped this topic on its ear, and here’s why:

Once everyone realized COVID wasn’t just Washington State’s or New York’s issue – that this virus would impact every state in our nation and beyond, the quilt world went silent for a while.  We had our magazines, our on-line groups and Facebook pages, but everything else just stopped.  It had to.  There were no quilt shows, guild meetings, and no classes.  However, we quilters are a pretty ingenious bunch.  As soon as Zoom became “a thing,” quilt teachers from all over the world learned how to teach via Zoom.  As a result, quilters now have the amazing opportunity to take classes from teachers anywhere in the comfort of their own studio.  No packing, no traveling, no forgetting supplies. 

It seems as if all the “big” names in our quilting universe now have classes and seminars available on Zoom and I really don’t see this changing anytime soon.  It appears quilting teachers like to teach from the comfort of their own studio as much as we like taking from the comfort of ours.  And if it’s a well-known teacher who is offering classes, it’s pretty easy to find out what the quality of those are.  You can Google the teacher or check his or her social media pages and read the feedback from students.  But what about the local teachers who are not nearly as well known?  How do you know if taking classes from any of them are worth your time and money?

I can say without any hesitation, most quilt teachers – known and not-yet-known – are overall generous with their time, teaching, and talent.  They don’t mind answering questions and are eager for you to understand what they’re instructing.  But if there’s some questions in your mind, contact them prior to registering for the class.  With most quilting teachers (myself included) there’s a supply list and on that supply list is an email address for students to use if they have any questions prior to the class.  Contact the instructor and explain what areas you’ve got questions about.

If you know another quilter who has taken classes with this instructor ask them how the class is conducted, if the teacher doesn’t mind questions, and did most everyone leave the class happy with the outcome?  In addition to these questions, you may want to know:

  • Did the teacher design the pattern or is he/she using a purchased pattern?  This may give you insight into their design skills. 
  • Google the pattern used.  See if you can get a read on if the pattern has been successfully used by others.  If no one but the teacher has constructed quilts from the pattern, this can be a red flag.
  • Does he/she teach regularly at the LQS and other locations?  If so, do they seem to have mostly full classes?
  • Do they see you through to the end?  Besides teaching the technique, block, or quilt, do they offer follow-up classes or encourage after-class contact if you run into problems or need some help deciding on how to finish the quilt?  Teaching quilting doesn’t necessarily end when class time is over and most quilting teachers don’t mind meeting with you later for follow up.

I can honestly say, even after quilting over 30 years, I learn something in every class I take.  And if any of you are hesitant about taking classes via Zoom, don’t be.  It seems we quilters have become pretty expert at this.  The Zoom classes I’ve taken have incorporated Powerpoint slides, two or three cameras, and videos.  They rock.

One Final Thought

Let me end this rather lengthy Bits and Pieces Blog with some quilty advice:  Don’t go with your first idea no matter what it is.  It’s super easy to get over enthused about a pattern and go with your first color selection.  It’s equally as easy to get excited about some design changes you want to make with a quilt pattern and run with them.  Allow yourself the luxury of at least 24-hours to make sure you’re still happy with your decision.  At least 95 percent of the time, I change my mind during that 24-hour period.  I’ll discover a part of the design which may be hard to execute the way I want to.  The extra day allows me to sift through my stash at a slower rate and more thoroughly.  Often, I discover enough fabric in my stash which will work with my color scheme, and I don’t have to purchase much – if any – additional.  Give yourself the gift of time before you spend weeks on a project.

I know this blog contained a lot of topics, but I do hope it helps of you.  We’re winding down our 2021  Quilting Survival Guide.  If there are some topics you’d like for me to write about before the end of the year, leave those in the comments and I’ll do my best to get to them before 2022. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


How the Printing Press Liberated American Quilters

The first printing press in America was set up in Cambridge under the guaranty of Harvard College, during the presidency of Henry Dunster. From this press, established nearly 300 years ago, started the present printing business of the country, and the consequent thousands of newspapers.

I know this sounds like it has absolutely nothing to do with quilting.  Hang tight.  I promise it does.  Just keep in mind that this:

Will eventually equal this:

The blog this week will serve to put our linear history in context with quilts.  During the few years I taught Language Arts, I repeatedly told my students “Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.  Everything written, everything invented, and every theory comes from life experience.”  And it does.  However, the problem with history is quite often we in the present aren’t privy to what exactly in the past affected what is in front of us today.  This post will hopefully show how what was happening in American history influenced and changed the quilting world and will define the moment American quilting celebrated its liberation from the influence of our fellow English quilters.  And this moment of quilty freedom is found in this:

The humble Sampler Quilt.

We briefly delved into this quilt in my two previous posts about constructing and quilting samplers.  What I didn’t go into is how this quilt’s quilty DNA spread to the Signature or Album Quilts

And Friendship Quilts

Sampler, Friendship, and Signature/Album quilts are all intricately woven from the same past, but the grandmother of all these quilts is the Sampler.  Without the Sampler Quilt, we may not have ever had the others in the succession in which they came.  The humble Sampler Quilt was the breakaway quilt which defined American quilters and their quilts. 

By now you may be asking, “Well…how was the printing press involved with this grand quilt revolution?”

Glad you asked.

Once the printing press took up roots over 300 years ago in America, the printing industry served a nation during its Revolution and afterwards,  until the 24-hour news cycle and Social Media were born.  I can remember as a child growing up in Alamance County, we anxiously waited on the Daily Times-News to hit the door step in the afternoon (no morning papers back then).  I could read it before Dad got home, but I had to make sure it was properly put back together before placing it in his chair.  Newspapers served to inform us and keep us entertained.  As more newspapers and eventually magazines were produced, printing technology got better and better.  Finally, sometime around the late 1800’s, newspapers began to develop better graphic expertise.  Then some brilliant person (I never could find out who, and I spent hours down this rabbit hole), decided it was a good idea to print quilt blocks and the directions in the womens’ section of the newspaper.  This took off and remained a presence in many newspapers until the mid-1960’s.  It was this idea which eventually led to the Sampler Quilt.  The newspaper would print the directions and a drawing of the block.  Folks would make the block.  The next week another block and its directions would be published, and folks would make that block.

After a while, a quilter would have a stack of blocks.  Sometimes quilters would simply keep the blocks as a reference, kind of like a pattern, just in case they wanted to make an entire quilt out of a certain block.  Other quilters, once they had a stack of blocks, decided to sew these blocks together into a quilt – and the Sampler Quilt was born.

Today, we have no idea what a radical idea this was in the quilt world.  Up until the late 1800s, American quilts imitated English quilts.  This meant most American quilts were Medallion style quilts,

as this was popular among our English quilting friends.  Only rows and columns in quilts?  Completely unheard of.  But American quilters had to do something with all those blocks and a quilt set in rows was the best answer. 

Okay…okay…  I hear some of you in the back.  “What about Crazy Quilts?  Weren’t they uniquely American?”


Like Sampler Quilts, Crazy Quilts burst on the sewing scene in the late 1800s, which does make them contemporaries.  However, besides just the difference in appearance between the two

There are some other obvious disparities.  First, the Crazy Quilt was heavily influenced by the English embroidery and Japanese art displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. American audiences were drawn to the satin stitches used in English embroidery, which created a painterly surface, and is reflected in many Crazy Quilts. The displays shown at the Japanese pavilion of silk-screened work and Japanese pottery with a cracked-glaze also inspired the American audiences. Similar aesthetics began to show up in Crazy Quilts, including unique patterns, and stitching that resembled spider webs (for good luck) and fans.  Overall, Sampler quilts didn’t reflect English, Japanese, or any other country’s influence.  They were uniquely ours. 

Second, technically Crazy Quilts aren’t quilts.  Quilts, by definition, are constructed of three layers, which we broadly class as quilt top, batting, and the quilt back.  Crazy Quilts have only a front and a back – no middle layer.  

By the 1920’s and 1930’s, Sampler Quilts were in full swing and at this point, the differences between this quilt and its European counterpart were plainly seen.  Our Sampler Quilts had rows and sashing…and sometimes they were even set on-point. 

Around 1890, still early in the Sampler Quilt’s life, the quilt world began to see spin offs.  Friendship, and Album/Signature Quilts began to appear.  These quilts were gifts of remembrance.  Signature Quilts – or Album Quilts as they were better known – were closely related to the popularity of autograph books or albums, which were all the rage during this time.  In order to understand the importance of these quilts, try to remember Signature Quilts, Album Quilts, and autograph books were the social media of their time. 

Signature Quilts weren’t comprised of only one or two types of blocks, such as the way Double Wedding Ring is constructed.  Quilters would choose various blocks which had a space situated in the block where a large-ish plain piece of fabric could be used.  In this space, they would write their name and perhaps a sentiment.  The Old Order Mennonite and Amish would include their mailing addresses, and often the names of husbands and children.  When viewing some Signature Quilts, it’s interesting to note that all of the writing looks the same.  This little idiosyncrasy has to do with the fact sometimes the person who had the best handwriting was tapped to make all the signatures.  And sometimes the person who supplied the fabric for the quilt, but perhaps didn’t put a stitch in it, still got their name on the quilt as a way of expressing the group’s thanks. 

About the same time Signature Quilts gained traction, Friendship Quilts also appeared.  Friendship Quilts differ in at least two different ways from Signature (or Album) Quilts.  Signature Quilts were given as a token of remembrance.  Someone gets married and moves away – make them a Signature Quilt so they can remember all their friends and family.  Someone special hits a milestone in their life?  A Signature Quilt may be just the thing to celebrate.  Friendship Quilts were used interchangeably for the same reasons, but they were also made for other occasions:

  1.  They were made as Freedom Quilts.  These quilts were made by some communities and given to young men when they reached their 21st birthday.  The quilts celebrated the fact the young man had come of age and could now pursue his own career and life outside of his family.
  2. Quite often they served as Fundraiser Quilts.  Both quilters and non-quilters alike could purchase a block and have their names inked on them.  After enough blocks were sold to make the quilt, the quilt was auctioned off to raise more money.  These quilts were made to fund missionaries, schools, libraries, and during the Civil War, many were made to fund the Union Army.

Friendship Quilts also varied from Signature Quilts in their construction.  Signature Quilts could mimic Samplers and have a variety of blocks.  Friendship Quilts were generally constructed from only one or two block patterns.  The simplicity of the quilt allowed many quilters to work on it with little chance of error.  The more quilters who participated, the better the chance of selling more signatures, thus more funds could be raised for whatever cause the quilt was made for.  Friendship quilts were also made for new brides, to honor someone (such as a pastor or schoolteacher), or – like the Signature Quilts – to give to someone who was moving away. 

The legacy of these quilts cannot be overstated.  The signatures on these humble quilts can assist in dating it, as well as give a road map to those people living in a community.  The reason behind making such quilts gives us an idea of what was important to these people and how those priorities shaped communities, towns, and politics (both local, state, and federal).  They are a type of census during a year when there was none.  These quilts have helped both historians, ancestry hounds, and quilters put dates to families, populations, and textiles.

We can’t leave the topic of Signature/Album, and Friendship Quilts without discussing the ink used.  In some of these quilts, names were signed with a pencil and then someone in the quilt group embroidered over the name.  However, a large number of these quilts had the names inked in by either the person in the group with the best handwriting or a professional calligrapher.  There are records of inked names in quilts as early as 1830.   Today, we take ink for granted, whether we’re writing a grocery list with a Bic Pen or using a PH balanced, heirloom quality pen for signing a quilt label.  It’s important to remember ink during the 1830’s wasn’t the stable liquid we’re used to now.  It could be quite acidic.  Over the years, this acidity has caused the inked signatures to disintegrate, sometimes leaving nothing but holes in the Friendship and Signature Quilts. 

Oak Tree with Gall

According to Margaret T. Ordonez, a professor in the Textile and Clothing Department at the University of Rhode Island, iron sulfate and nut gall (gall forms around the wounds on the bark of oak trees to encase gall wasps’ eggs) were combined to make the basic ink used throughout the 19th and part of the 20th centuries.  In the early years, the problem arose when the tannic acid in the gall would harden the cellulose fibers in the fabric.  A chemical reaction called hydrolysis would occur, causing the cellulose fibers to degrade.  This caused damage to occur over time.  Exposure to light and water helped the degradation along.  The earlies signed blocks show the remaining ink smeared or almost invisible – or worse yet, holes in the fabric. 

People also used other elements to make ink.  Indigo, Prussian blue, silver nitrate, madder, potash with wood tar, and lampblack were mixed with either linseed oil, or borax and shellac.  India ink (which is made from carbon) mixed with diluted hydrochloride acid (found in bleaching agents), seemed to be the most resistant to fading from either light or water. 

Textile Stamps

Ink was applied to the fabric using stencils, stamps, or (most commonly) freehand.  The stencils were usually made from copper, tin, or nickel.  A woman would have one made for herself which portrayed her sense of style.  It may have her name surrounded by a circle made from feathers or flowers, or it may just be simple block letter.  These stencils and stamps were used for more than just signing quilts.  They were used to label clothes and linens.  Since most women washed their clothes in public places, it was important to mark your clothes.  Wealthier women sometimes had their laundry sent out, so the identifying marks were necessary to ensure the correct laundry returned to its owner.  Later, as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, stamp makers learned how to make stamps with changeable letters.  We are so fortune our indelible inks are PH balanced.

Today, Signature and Friendship quilts are still made, and often for the very same reasons they began to be constructed in the late 1800’s.  It’s a beautiful way to honor a quilter who is moving away or who has reached a milestone. 

I received a beautiful Friendship Quilt when my term as President of the High Point Quilt Guild was over.  I was the founding President and those wonderful women and men made me a Friendship Quilt from Friendship Star blocks (our guild’s block).  They handed off blocks and set up a sew day to make it – all right under my nose.  It remains one of my most treasured possessions. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Sherri and Sam


Fatal Attraction (or the Quilt that Takes Forever to Finish)

It all starts very innocently…

There’s the initial attraction…

Then comes the flirting…

After awhile you’re seeing each other regularly…then almost exclusively…

And then BAM!  Commitment.

No, I’m not describing a relationship with another person.  I’m talking about a quilt.  More specifically, I’m discussing the type of quilt I call a “Lifer.”  This particular kind of quilt usually involves lots of detailed work, many times calls for extensive hand work, and may have lots of small blocks.  The term “Lifer” denotes the quilt will take lots of time (maybe even years), perhaps lots of fabric, and great attention to specifics.  All of these aspects should scare nearly every quilter off, but the beauty of the quilt sucks you in and before you know it, you’re in a relationship with a Lifer before you can think twice.  You ignore the voice in your head and the voices of your quilter friends who warn you that this quilt will be a commitment for several years to come. 

I know how you feel.  I’m in a commitment with three Lifers at the moment:

And have the fabric for another Lifer waiting in the wings:

Today I want to talk about how to choose your Lifer quilts and  how to manage them.

I could post picture after picture of quilts which will require time and attention.  However, what’s important for you to know is any quilt which will involve lots of attention to details and will take you more time than the average quilt you make, should carry the term Lifer in your mind.  It’s not that this quilt will literally take you a lifetime to finish, it’s that this quilt may need more time and attention than any average quilt.  To illustrate, this quilt is what I would term a Lifer.

This one is not.

Notice the difference.  In the first quilt, the blocks are small-ish.  There is applique.  The piecing is challenging.  In the second quilt, the blocks are easier, there is no applique, and if you set your mind to it, the quilt top could easily be completed in a few weeks.  The final finished product may take longer, depending your quilting skills, if someone else is quilting your quilt, and if you’re putting the binding on by both hand and machine or only by machine.  Even if you machine applique the first quilt, the applique is detailed and will take time. 

First, let’s examine how to choose a Lifer.  Initially, I think it’s important you wrap your head around the fact, this project will take a while to finish.  I realize some quilters work quickly.  Some quilters have hours each day to spend on a project.  However, a quilt which has lots of challenges will still take some time.  I think it’s important to realize this before you make the first cut in the fabric.  Mentally prepare yourself this project may take several months years to complete. 

Next, research the pattern.  If you Google the pattern and nothing comes up but the designer and their rendition of the quilt, back away.  Put the pattern down and walk off.  Trust me on this one.  I know I’ve mentioned this in prior blogs, but take it from a quilter who has been there, done that, has the t-shirt, and is still working through the pattern: If no one else has made the quilt except the designer, you don’t want to be their guinea pig.  There are probably good reasons no one else has made the quilt.  Perhaps the pattern is new, or the designer is new.  If this is the case, wait awhile and come back to the pattern in a year or so and research it again.  This time you may see other quilters have made the quilt and have left feedback about it. 

However, if you Google a pattern which is several years old and nothing comes up but the designer and their quilt, run – do not walk – to the nearest exit.  These two patterns:

Have given me major issues.  I’ve spent hours mulling over them because the directions were incomplete, the designer wouldn’t answer emails (or at least answer them coherently), and despite numerous searches through numerous search engines, I can’t find anyone else who made the quilt.  I’ve put Santa’s Loading Dock in semi-permanent time out, and if it wasn’t for the fact one of my BFFs was making the Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden with me, I probably would have done the same with it.  However, Dear Jane and Language of the Flowers have Facebook groups and web sites.  There’s a lot of help, instruction, and support for these quilts.  Lifers are more complicated than most quilts, and the extra help is extremely valuable. 

Now let’s talk fabric.  Many Lifers require serious yardage.  It’s a good idea to have of the primary fabrics in hand (and a ½-yard extra of each wouldn’t be a bad idea either) when you start the quilt.  Applique pieces can come from your scrap bins, but the main fabric players – background, lights, mediums, focus, and darks – should be purchased when you begin the quilt.  Remember, fabric manufacturers rarely re-print fabric lines, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.  If it does take a while to complete the quilt, and you find yourself running short on the fabric, it may be impossible to purchase additional material when you need it.  There may not be anymore available.  I know Ebay has saved my quilting skin more than once, but you can’t count it any vendor having exactly what you need. 

With the pattern and fabric now in your studio, it’s time to take a serious look at the pattern.  Read it through, and then read it through again.  If the Lifer in question is one of the Super-Size Samplers, read the book through.  Mark it up – highlight which sections you may think will give you issues.  After this, it’s time to set up a game plan.  How will you conquer this Lifer quilt?  This is where it really helps to know what kind of quilter you are.  Are you:

  1. The type of quilter who, once a project is begun, works only on that project until it’s complete


  •  Can work on a single project for a good while, but then needs a break from it to sew something else.

If you’re Type A, you’re good to go.  Cut the Lifer out and go to it.  However….most quilters (at least the ones I know) are Type B.  We can work on any project for a while, but then we need a break.  We need something different to keep the creative juices flowing and to keep quilting fun.  All of us Type Bs need a loose game plan to stay on track and not allow our Lifer to languish in some project box like Santa’s Loading Dock is. 

My regular readers know I’m all about goals.  Goals are important to me – they give me something to work for and once I’ve reached a goal, I reward myself.  With Lifers, I think a reward system needs to be in place.  Complete ten 6-inch blocks?  Get your favorite coffee from your favorite coffee place.  Finish half of the applique blocks?  Go purchase a fat quarter or two.  I know these are little rewards, but sometimes having something to look forward to is enough to encourage you to keep stitching. 

Another plan to have in place is a roadmap.  Type B quilters can have a notoriously short attention span and we have to work to combat it.  Initially, we may decide to do all our prep work at once.  If it’s an applique quilt, we may prep all the applique pieces at once and have them bagged, tagged, and ready to rock and roll.  If it’s a pieced quilt, we may elect to make all the blocks, then square them up, and then join then together in rows.  The roadmap you chose for your quilt journey depends on you, and you know yourself better than anyone else.  You may be zipping right along and then about block 17, suddenly realize you need a break.  Now would be a great time to press and square up some blocks and join a few rows together.  It’s important to be flexible and allow yourself a change of pace.  Changing up your plan can keep you enthused about the project.  Personally, for me, it depends on what kind of quilt I’m constructing.  If it’s a pieced quilt, I will make a dozen or so blocks, press and square them up, then join the rows together.  I’ll put this section of the quilt top somewhere I can readily see it.  This encourages me to keep on stitching.  Applique is a bit different.  I would much rather prep all my pieces at once.  I love to hand stitch (it relaxes me), and once I get a rhythm going, I hate to break it to prep more pieces.  The longer you quilt, the better you’ll know what motivates you.  Use that motivation to your best advantage.

I’ve found it’s also helpful to have an easy project waiting in the wings.  Sometimes I just need some mindless stitching for a change of pace.  Lifers can demand periods of intense concentration and occasionally just having something to sew while you binge on Netflix is good for you. It allows your brain to take a break.  It’s also a great idea to see if you can bribe talk a friend into making the same quilt.  You kind of become each other’s support group.  My BFF, who is making A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden with me, has been a lot of help.  Between the two of us, we’ve more or less figured out how to finish the quilt.  The directions for this quilt were so bad, it took two heads to determine out how to get the center complete.  We’re still hashing out the applique.  It’s been wonderful to work together to try to get answers.

Lastly, if you can, it’s good if you can find a way to make the Lifer portable.  I realize once a quilt top gets so big, it’s difficult to put it in a project box and take it with you to quilt bee or sit and sew.  However, as much as you can, it’s a great idea if you can take it with you to work on while you’re traveling or at a quilt function.  You’d be surprised how much you can get done while riding in a car or at a two-hour quilt bee.  And you must realize even a few stitches here and there really adds up.  I keep my Horn of Plenty for a New Generation and A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden in easy reach.  If I catch a few minutes to watch TV, I can put in a few stitches.  Every stitch is progress and should be celebrated.  A Lifer will take some time…but it shouldn’t take a lifetime.

A couple of quick housekeeping notes.  My first podcast has been recorded.  I’m working on editing  it’s a huge learning curve. I’ll let everyone know when it’s up.  For those of you who don’t know me, the Southern accent is there…really, really, there.

Second, by the time you read this, my brother Eric will have completed his chemotherapy and will undergo the Stem Cell Transplant on September 27 at UNC. Prior to the transplant, there will be PET scans and a bone marrow biopsy.  He will also undergo daily injections which will prompt his bone marrow to produce more stem cells.  On the 27th, he will undergo a massive dose of chemo to kill off any bad cells and then on the 29th, he’ll be infused with the stem cells.  He will feel pretty lousy for about four days and then will begin to pull out of it.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers and he’s making the decision about where to have the procedure.  Yes, this will be a several weeks process (the SCT itself is at least a week in the hospital, and possibly another week or two in a step-down unit after the transplant), but once the wheels are in motion, a lot happens in a relatively short amount of time.  Remember him, his sweet wife, his sons, and the rest of the family.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Machine Quilting 103

Last week we talked about how to decide what to quilt on your quilt. Now with motifs and design out of the way, let’s talk about the actual quilting process.  What follows are broad generalities.  Each sewing machine is different.  Each one comes with different feet.  Sometimes the feet needed are included with the machine and sometimes they’re a separate purchase.  What I do advise is to read your sewing machine manual thoroughly before starting.  Most machines – even those not made specifically for quilters – will at least have a small section on setting the machine up for free motion (dropping the feed dogs), and how to use and install the darning foot and walking foot (if they’re included with the machine).  Become familiar with these sections because it will make trouble shoot much easier. 

Step One:  Consider the thread

I’ve covered thread before and it may be a good idea to re-read my blog

to get a good overview of thread.  When you’re machine quilting there is only one question you really need to ask:  Do I want my thread to show or not?  That’s pretty basic and easily answered.  If you want your stitches to become as much a part of the quilt as your piecing, or if you want the thread to be a co-star in the quilt, you probably will want a thicker thread.  If you want your stitches to kind of melt into the background, you will want a thinner thread (my favorite is Superior Threads Micro Quilter – it’s 100 weight) or a polyester monofilament thread.  Don’t use nylon.  Over time nylon monofilament can become brittle and will break. 

Step Two:  Consider the needle

Sewing machine needles for quilting. Notice the groove down the back and large eyes to accommodate 30 or 40 weight thread without shredding.

My usual quilting needle is a 90/14.  This is a good, all-around needle size to start with.  As you become more proficient, you may want to go with a smaller needle, especially if you develop a fondness for quilting with the Micro Quilter thread.  And if you’re going big and using a 30-weight, you may want to up one more needle size.  Regardless, you’ll want a needle designated as a quilting needle.  These needles have larger eyes so they don’t shred the thread, a groove in the back, and the needle tapers down into a point (which may be slightly rounded).  These needles are made to take the abuse quilting a quilt sandwich will bring to it.  I’ve also found needles labeled as “Top Stitching” work really well, too.  And per usual, start with a new needle, and after eight hours sewing (16 if it’s a titanium needle), change it out.

And remember this picture?

The left is a brand-new sewing machine needle. The right is one after eight hours of sewing.

I had this at the bottom of a blog several weeks ago.  The needle on the left is a new needle.  The needle on the right is one after about 8-hours of quilting.  Start with a new needle, and keep a running idea of how many hours you use it.  Unless it’s a titanium, toss it after 8-hours and insert a new one.  You’ll be surprised at how much easier this will make the quilting process.  If the needle is titanium, you can double the time to 16 hours.  After you’ve quilted long enough, your ear will become attuned to the “pop, pop” a dull needle makes as it goes through the sandwich, and you won’t need to keep up with the time.

Step Three:  Consider the feet

Walking foot

If you’re just beginning to straight line quilt, you may want to keep the feed dogs up and use the walking foot.  Some machines come with a walking foot, and some don’t.  Some machines offer the walking foot as a separate purchase and with others you have to order a generic one. If this is the case, read through your manual or Google your machine and model number to find out if it’s a high shank or low shank machine.  Then go to Amazon and search for a walking foot with the shank needed. 

Darning feet

In addition to the walking foot, you will want either an open-toe or closed-toe darning foot for free-motion quilting.  Personally, I prefer the open toe because I can see my stitches better. 

Step Four:  Consider the accessories

These are optional, but they can make your quilting life so much easier. 

  • Quilting Gloves – These have a tacky surface which helps you grip the quilt and move it.
  • Tomato Pincushion – I know there are thousands of cute pincushions on the market and at least an equal number of patterns for pincushions, but this red tomato one fits a quilter’s needs. 
  • The tomato pincushion is divided into sections.  Label each section with a needle size and keep the needles in the appropriate section.  A flower pincushion works equally as well.
  • Supreme Slider – This wonderful notion has a slick surface which helps you move the bulk of your quilt under your needle pretty effortlessly.  The top surface is slick and has a cut out for your feed dogs.  The back of the slider has a sticky surface which adheres to your machine bed.  Over time the stickiness wears off a little and you may have to use some additional tape to keep the slider in place.
  • Bobbin Genie – These are thin, plastic “washers” which fit under your bobbin and allow it to spin more freely and quickly.  I haven’t seen the need for them in my Janome Continental M7, but I always used them in Big Red when I free-motioned. 

Step Five:  Consider the tension

If you’ve pieced or machine appliqued prior to beginning to quilt, chances are good you may need to adjust your stitch tension a bit when you start quilting.  Here’s where a scrap quilt sandwich can come in handy.  Set the scrap sandwich under the walking foot or darning foot and quilt several areas.  Now check the stitches.  You may decide you need to lengthen the stitches, but you also need to check the stitches to see if the bobbin thread is showing up too much on the top surface.  Then you need to flip the sandwich over and look at the back to make sure the top thread isn’t showing up too much on the back of the quilt.  If either scenario is the case, adjust the tension until the stitches look right.  When you have the correct tension settings, it’s good to write down those numbers somewhere (I have mine in my phone and written inside of my sewing machine manual) in case you forget them.

Step Six:  Anchor your quilt

The dotted lines show where you need to stitch in the ditch (sew super-close along the seam) to anchor a quilt to keep the sandwich layers from shifting.

There is no “consider” with this step.  You have to do this.  This can be done with a walking foot, although if you get pretty comfortable with free motion, you may just want to use that in this step.  Anchoring your quilt means you literally tack down certain areas of your quilt through the top, batting, and backing so nothing shifts as you quilt your quilt.  This is done with the “Stitch-in-the-Ditch” method.  Your primarily concerned with anchoring the seams between the rows and columns of your quilt.  It’s important to get as close to the seam as possible.  Stitch all the vertical columns in your quilt, from top to bottom.  Then rotate your quilt and stitch all the horizontal rows.  This stitching should include any inner borders.  Granted, if your quilt is small – such as a wall hanging – you may can get by with minimal anchoring.  The larger the quilt, the more it weighs, and the more likely it will shift. 

With those details out of the way, let’s talk about how to start and stop quilting.  Keep in mind, there are several different ways to do this.  This is the way I do it.  If the procedure doesn’t work for you, Google some other methods and find the one which is right for you.

  1.  Reduce the stitch length down to almost zero. Don’t set it at exactly zero, but almost there.  Slide the quilt sandwich under the needle and position it in the spot you want to start quilting.  Lower the presser foot.  Hold on to the top thread and lower the needle and raise it – but don’t raise the presser foot.  This should bring up the bobbin thread.  Pull both threads several inches behind the presser foot.
  2. Lower the needle back into the exact spot you first inserted it.  If you want to lower your feed dogs, now is the time to do that.  Take a few stitches.  With the stitch length at zero, it will look as if you’re stitching in place.  Make sure the top and bobbin threads you pulled up in step one are kept to the side. 
  3. Begin quilting and gradually increase the stitch length until you get it to the full stitch length.  Continue to quilt until you get close to the point where you need to stop. 
  4. The stopping process is pretty much the reverse of the starting process.  As you get about six to eight stitches from your stopping point, begin to gradually decrease your stitch length.  By the time you’ve reached the stopping point, the stitch length should be almost zero.  Take one or two more stitches, and lift the presser foot.  Slide the quilt sandwich out from under the needle, leaving long thread tails.
  5. Now we have to deal with the thread tails.  There are two schools of thought about this.  The first being you can simply cut the thread close to the surface of the quilt.  This should be done carefully and on a slant, so you don’t accidently cut the quilt.  The stopping and starting stitches are so small and close, they should hold the quilt together and not come undone.  The second school of thought is to tie the tails together in a simple knot and then bury the thread tails in the quilt by inserting them in a hand sewing needle and then sliding the hand sewing needle through the batting for several inches.  When the needle emerges, cut the threads (again on a slant). 

I’ve always found it’s a good idea to warm up before I put needle and thread to my actual top.  I don’t quilt every day.  In fact, I may go several days or even weeks before I quilt anything.  I will make a scrap sandwich and practice for at least a half an hour before my actual quilt is under the needle.  To me, this practice session is priceless.  A mistake on a scrap sandwich is a lot easier to deal with than a mistake on your quilt!

I’d like to leave you with two thoughts on machine quilting.  The first one is don’t fear it.  For whatever reason, many quilters are super-apprehensive about trying free motion quilting.  Yes, it feels different.  The feed dogs are dropped, so it’s you who’s actually controlling the stitch length.  You will not break your machine.  It just takes some time to get used to the feeling.  Which brings me to my second thought:  Practice, practice, practice.  I mentioned this in my Machine 101 blog, too.  Make some small quilt sandwiches and try quilting them a few times each week.  If you have a stack of them made, it’s easy to just grab one and spend fifteen to thirty minutes trying out different motifs.  And this is the way you’ll find what motifs are your favorites.  Eventually you’ll discover you’ll make them quickly and well. 

I find myself breaking my quilting world into parts.  My big quilts – double, queen, and the occasional king (I’ve quilted one king – and vowed I’d never do that again) – are quilted on Leanne the Longarm.  My smaller ones – miniatures, small-to-large wall hangings, and twins – are quilted on my domestic machine.  I get more aggravated loading small quilts on my long arm and to me, they take more time than loading a large one.   So yes, even though I own a long arm, I still quilt on my domestic.

Make some sandwiches and practice.  Don’t be like me and wait too long to start quilting your own quilts.  It will truly make you a better quilter.  Trust me.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Machine Quilting 102

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about machine quilting your quilt. I received a lot of response about the blog.  I was overwhelmed and flattered and encouraged – because it’s always nice to know folks read your blog and they like it.  I had a couple of my readers asked if I would do a follow up on the topic.  I promised I would, so here we go.  This blog will get into a little more detail, and I’ll re-explain some topics I didn’t really go into enough depth on when I wrote  As a matter of fact, if you’re new to my blog, new to this topic, or didn’t read my March 31, 2021, Machine Quilting 101 post, you may want to hop over to it now and read through it before you peruse this one.

I know many quilters quilt with their checkbooks (pay other people to quilt their quilts).  I used to be one of these.  And there’s nothing wrong with paying other folks to do your quilting.  If I had a show-bound quilt top now, I certainly wouldn’t quilt it myself.  I’m still not great with ruler work.  I would pay someone to custom quilt it for me.  However, not all quilts are show-bound.  I can save myself some serious bucks if I learn to quilt all my quilts which won’t end up in a show.  Like my Machine Quilting 101 blog, this post concentrates on the use of a domestic sewing machine.  Some of what we’ll talk about can be translated into midarm quilting and a tiny bit can be used with a long arm.  

Honestly, I think all quilters need to learn to quilt their own tops.  I’ve said this countless times before, but I sincerely believe it to be true.  Quilting your own quilts not only saves you money, but it makes you a better quilter.  Until you’ve dealt with a quilt which hasn’t been squared up properly yourself, this concept is simply some kind of esoteric idea – you’ll do it, but don’t really understand how important it is to get it right – until if affects your own quilting.  Quilting your own tops makes you much more aware of pressing techniques, seam allowances, borders, and making sure the backing is pieced correctly.  The quilting process hones the skills you learn while piecing and appliqueing.

I will also be completely truthful about another fact:  I cannot begin to tell you how very much I wish someone would have pushed me to start quilting my own quilts earlier in my quilting journey.  I had quilted probably 10 -12 years before anyone else encouraged me to put the quilt sandwich under my own needle.  Like most others, I was a little hesitant and even a little scared about the process.  But what really – well, irritated me, for lack of a better description – was it was a learning curve.  By the time I was persuaded to quilt my own tops, I had pieced and appliqued for a long time.  I was a very confident quilter.  I could sail through most patterns and techniques with very few hiccups.  But throw quilting in the mix, and I was truly a beginner again.  If I had made myself try at year two in my quilting journey, I really don’t think I would have been so hesitant.  It would have just been another technique this beginning quilter had to learn.  And I think that naivety would have taken the edge off the daunting fear of quilting my own quilt. 

So, let’s get to it.

Before you put one stitch in the quilt sandwich, there are four concepts you need to wrap your head around:

  1.  How will the quilt be used?  If it will live on the back of a couch most of the time, only to be pulled down to wrap up in when you watch TV, then you may not want to use your fanciest quilting.  A meander or loopy design may do just fine.  If it’s a play quilt for a child, you need fairly close-set lines of quilting, but the quilting could be just that – simply lots of horizontal or vertical lines, about an inch apart so the quilt will hold together through what will probably be numerous machine washings.  If the quilt will be utilitarian in use, you may want to keep the design pretty simple.  This won’t be a show-bound quilt.  If the quilt will lay on top of your bed, then the quilting will probably need to be a bit more elaborate. 

The quilt’s intended use is a great definer for how you quilt it.  This is always the first question I ask before I decide on a design.

  •  It’s important to fill the space, not the block unit.  This one is a bit difficult to explain with words, so let’s look at a quilt block:

This block is made from half-square triangles (HST). The HST is the unit which makes up this block.  If I concentrated on quilting the units, I just about guarantee the quilting would look like this:

I promise my quilting is better than my drawing.

Because that is my “go-to” quilting motif for HSTs.  But I must train my eye to look beyond the unit and take in the entire block.  The block will look better if I have a motif for the block, and not just the units. 

Sure, I could just concentrate on the block units, but if I do this, I will run into the issue of transferring over to the next block which may look like this:

This block doesn’t have nearly as many HSTs as the first one.  It would be much easier if I could find a motif for this block that can spring from the first block and move into the second block. 

I drew the entire motif in the left block and you can see how seamlessly it transfers over the the right block.

It will look better, be easier to quilt, and  be much more interesting to look at. 

Think about the whole block or even series of block, not just the block units.

  •  Be sure the design stops about ¼-inch away from the seams.  This concept does not affect quilts quilted on a long arm, and I’ll explain why in a minute.  The reason you want to try to stop about ¼-inch away from the seam is the bulk of the seam allowance can make some domestic machines “hiccup” over the seam, producing wonky stitches.  Not all sewing machines do this.  Some machines which are designed with quilters in mind are made to handle bulk – my last two Janome machines were labeled as “quilters” sewing machines and they handled moving over seams just fine.  The best advice I can give is make a couple of scrap blocks, sandwich them into a mini-quilt and try quilting over the seams.  If your machine doesn’t stall out sewing over seams, you’re good to go.  If it does, simply make sure your quilt design or motif sews stops about ¼-inch from the block seams as much as possible.

Most midarms and all long arms are powerful enough that seam bulk doesn’t bother them at all, and you can quilt over them without issues.

This quilt is a great example of even quilting. There isn’t an area which is too heavily quilted or one too sparsely quilted.
  •  It’s important the quilting be evenly distributed across the quilt top.  You don’t want heavy stitching in the middle and then sparce on the outer rows.  Likewise, you don’t want it densely stitched on one side of the quilt and not the other.  It should be evenly spaced over the entire top, so the eye isn’t drawn to one particular area. 

Those concepts out of the way, let’s talk about actual quilting designs.  The most asked question I get is this:  How do you choose your designs?  When I first got serious about quilting my own quilts, I spent a lot of time looking at the quilting in other quilts.  I wanted to see how HSTs were handled, what the quilters did with star blocks, etc.  I perused Pinterest and Google images for hours.  Eventually I got a good idea about what I liked (just a passing FYI, I’m not a huge fan of feathers, just because everybody has them in their quilt). I kept a running list on my phone. 

Cello Pointe

Now for a short lesson in quilting and kinesiology.  Lots of what you do in life relies on muscle memory.  Learned to walk?  Combination balance and muscle memory.  Can you run or ride a bike?  Again, balance and muscle memory.  Can you dance (I’m talking dance-dance – ballet, ballroom, tap – not the kind you do after three glasses of wine)?  Once more, those rely heavily on muscle memory.  Muscle memory is a form of procedural memory which involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.  In other words, the more you do something, the more your body remembers how to repeat the action accurately.

Quilting is no different.  Quilting a quilt is actually a heavy, physical activity.  We don’t think about it like this, but it is.  Our hands are moving the quilt, changing the rate of speed and stitch length constantly.  And the more we can practice the movement, the better we’ll become at it and the easier it becomes (I mean, you don’t have to concentrate too hard about walking, right?). 

I realize my short kinesiology lesson may seem a bit out of place, but hang with me for a few more moments.  If you find a motif you really like, you need to practice it.  And I don’t start out by practicing on a quilt sandwich.  My first step in working with quilting motifs I like is to draw them.  I print the motif out and then trace it several times.  Then I free hand it.  I go through this process several, several times (I doodle on any scrap of paper near me) before I sit down at my machine with a small quilt sandwich.  But once I do turn on my machine, I already have several hours of working with the motif in my head and my arms.  It takes a bit of tweaking here and there, but by this time, the drawn motif translates fairly easily into a stitched one.  So, look through quilts until you find a motif you’re particularly interested in, print it, trace it several times, and then free hand it several more times before you try quilting it on your machine.  This works really well for me, and I have a feeling it will help you, too. 

However, even if you find between three and five very favorite quilting motifs, there will be times you’ll look at a quilt and have absolutely no idea how to quilt it.  I honestly thought after I had quilted my own quilts for a few years I would have no issues just putting any top into a sandwich, quilting it, and have an awesomely, wonderfully quilted quilt in a matter of hours.

Boy, was I all kinds of wrong.

I still struggle sometimes.  There are some days when I’m working on a quilt top that I know exactly  how I will quilt it.  Then there are other times when I think I know how I’ll quilt it, and then once the top is finished, completely change my mind.  And then there are those tops I make which leave me totally clueless as to how to quilt them.  When this last scenario occurs, I lay the quilt out somewhere I will see it several times a day.  For the Fields household, this means our dining room table is sometimes covered by a quilt top.  But this is the area of the house I pass through to get to my quilt studio.  I’ll look at the quilt carefully, both up close and from a distance.  And eventually, as corny as this sounds, it will speak to me.  I will get a really good idea about how to quilt it.  One day I will be completely clueless and the next morning I’ll wake up with the best idea ever.

If I still find myself with no ideas after a week or so, I have some go-to options.

  1.  If the quilt is lots of hard lines and geometric forms, go with some curvy quilting to soften it up.
  2. If the quilt has curves, such as a Drunkard’s Path, go with some geometric quilting.
  3. Go with the theme.  For instance, if the quilt has lots of star blocks, quilt stars in the negative spaces and soften the hard lines of the star blocks with something curvy.
  4. If it’s a heavy quilt, such as a flannel or t-shirt quilt, I will meander the whole thing. 

Once you have an idea in mind, you’re just about ready to get started.  After you’ve quilted for a while, there will be some designs you don’t necessarily have to mark on your top before you actually start quilting.  I’ve shown you my “go-to” design for HSTs.  I don’t have to draw those out any longer because I’ve quilted hundreds of those curvy lines.  I do mark how far in I want the concave line to go, but that mark is only a small mark in the HST.  The rest of the motif is burned in my muscle memory.  And the longer you quilt, and the more you repeat some motifs, you’ll also get to this point.


There will be times – probably quite a few – when you would feel much better about drawing the entire design out in a row and then transferring it to your quilt.  I do this pretty often when I’m quilting borders on my sewing machine.  There are several tools you can use to help you do this.  The first one is a light box.  You can take your printed or drawn motif and tape it to your lightbox, then put your quilt top on top of that, and trace what you need.

If the motif is large, there are some bigger papers on the market you can use for the design.  There’s large graph paper:

Graph paper on a roll can be a quilter’s BFF

Large sheets of vellum:

These sheets of vellum are 18-inches x 24-inches

And (these are my favorite) butcher paper or tracing paper on a roll.

To me, this is the most versatile.  You can cut the length you need off from the roll, draw your design, and then transfer the design to your border or quilt block via the light block and a water-soluble pen.  A few years ago, I got really lucky.  A local newspaper was changing over to all digital formats and were closing their printing facility.  They were giving away rolls of blank newsprint paper.  I’m still using the paper on that roll, and this was at least six years ago. 

Okay, this is as far as I’m taking machine quilting this week. I will have one last post on the subject next week. I had so much to say I needed to break this topic into two blogs. Next week I’ll hit some additional items needed, as well as my favorite way to stop and start quilting. I wish I could hand over a magic formula on how to make your quilting perfect from the get-go, but there isn’t one. The only way to get really good at machine quilting is practice…



Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


A, B, C, D, E, F, G s…

This is a blog about Alphabet Quilts.  It’s not a blog about the origins of the alphabet.  I’m leaving that particular argument up to historians and linguists and this guy:

Who came up with this:

No, today I want to explore alphabet quilts because…well…I’m in the middle of one.  And I’m talking about straight-up alphabet quilts (as in A, B, C…), not quilts which have words spelled out in letters.  But before we get into my alphabet quilt, let’s take a look into the history of some of these quilts. 

Alphabet quilts began appearing between 1906-1950 with some regularity.  One of the first alphabet quilt patterns was found in The Ladies Art Company.  Most (if not all) of these quilts were pieced.  Applique alphabet quilts didn’t appear until later – primarily in the 1930’s to 1940’s.  However, it’s interesting to note that the alphabet quilt in The Ladies Art Company offered both pieced and applique directions and color cards (fabric and design suggestions).  There is one single letter in the alphabet which was used more than the other 25 in quilts:  the letter T. 

Most amateur quilt historians believe the letter T was used to represent the Temperance Movement.  And while this does seem like a good hypothesis, there is no supporting evidence (labels, provinces, diaries, wills, or household inventories) which support this idea.  However, the relationship – real or imagined – between the T-quilts and the Temperance Movement is so closely tied together, that the pieced T-block is called the Temperance T.  The Ladies Art Company offered its last alphabet pattern in 1974.  Yet the twenty-first century finds different designers and publishers continuing to offer a wide variety of alphabet patterns in both pieced and applique techniques. 

Thus….this is where they found me.  An on-line group I quilt with (through the fabulous Applique Society) decided to make alphabet quilts.  You could design your own pattern or use someone else’s.  You could make one letter or all the letters.  You could spell words or names.  I was intrigued because… well… I had never even considered making an alphabet quilt.  I knew there were patterns and books out there for them.  And I had viewed lovely alphabet quilts, but had never considered including them in any part of my quilting world.  My first inclination was to machine applique name banners for my grand darlings.  But then I began to look at patterns and quilts and….

Was quickly sucked down the rabbit hole of quilted ABC’s. 

Initially I ordered Applique and Embroidery Fundamentals  by Janice Vaine. I loved the design of the letters, and the applique is stunning.  But most of the applique work was done by hand.  When I decided to make the alphabet quilt, the one caveat I gave myself was it had to done entirely by machine.  I currently have three handwork projects on deck and didn’t need to nor did I have time to undertake another one.  After a bit more poking around on Pinterest, Google, and Amazon I found this:

Alphabet Quilts Letters for All Ages by Bea Oglesby. 

It was love at first look.  I really wanted to make her Floral Alphabet, but those flowers deserved the time and attention to detail that only hand applique could give them.  However, when I found her Spencerian Alphabet, I was smitten.  To shed a little light on what exactly the Spencerian Alphabet is, take a gander at this:

At first glance, most folks think this is cursive writing.  And in a way, it is.  But the Spencerian Script was taught to students as a type of “business” writing.  From around 1850 until 1925 it was the script primarily used in all types of business writing – from wills to deeds to checks – until the typewriter gained momentum and took up space in most offices.  We technically still use Spencerian today in more artistic writing endeavors such as calligraphy.  Bea Oglesby used Spencerian in this quilt:

And it appealed to me for two reasons.  First, it was a bit different from the other alphabet quilts I looked at. I liked the loopy, flowy letters.  Second, I liked the layout of the quilt.  I liked the way the applique twisted and twined its way off the borders into the center of the quilt.  So, after two months of searching and analyzing, I finally made up my mind that this alphabet quilt pattern was the one for me….

Only to have to completely re-think my decision once I read through the pattern. The center part – the one with all the letters?  It’s a whole cloth quilt.  I wasn’t sure exactly how I would construct this.  I knew I could fuse the letters together with the help of an applique sheet, but I also realized pressing all those letters into place on one piece of 36-inch square fabric would allow a lot of room for error.  There were quite a few possibilities for mistakes – I could get the letters too close together or too far apart, the rows could run downhill, or I could get the letters out of sequence.  Any of these blunders could set me back to square one.  I’d have to re-draw, re-fuse, and re-cut.  I knew I still wanted to use the Spencerian alphabet, and I loved the layout.  I had to get creative.

You see, designing an alphabet quilt isn’t as easy as A, B, C.  When you begin to break such a quilt down into units, you realize the 26 letters of the alphabet gives you serious issues, no matter if you’re planning on standard rows or some kind of on-point design.  Twenty-six is divisible by itself, two, and thirteen.  If rows are in your plan (like they were in mine), I could have two rows with thirteen blocks in them, or thirteen rows with two blocks in them.  Either way, that wasn’t going to work for me. 

As quilt designers begin to plan an alphabet quilt, they immediately realize they will have to supplement with more blocks or employ negative space.  Some alphabet quilts, especially antique ones, will include blocks which spell out the quilter’s name, the date, or the numbers 1-9.  I knew I’d need to get pretty creative in how I handled this quilt.  While I knew I wanted to keep the basic quilt design, there a number of ways I could re-draw the layout in order to make the quilt easier to construct. 

The first step I made was altering the center of the quilt.  In the directions, the center part of this quilt which as the alphabet on it is a 34-inch x 44-inch fabric rectangle (unfinished).  I immediately made three design decisions:

  1.  I wanted to find a way to break this area into quilt squares.  I didn’t mind if the center of my quilt was a little larger than the one in the book, but I couldn’t reduce it.  If it was smaller, the letters would look too crowded. 
  2. I wanted to keep the six rows of letters in the original pattern but did not want to add numbers or words to take up the additional space.  I would keep the negative space (just add rectangles of fabric to make up the additional inches needed to make the rows even out) that Bea Oglesby designed. 
  3. While I liked the applique design of curvy vines and leaves, I would add additional flowers.  To keep with some of the original designs of the other quilts in Alphabet Quilts Letters for All Ages, I would pull some of Ms. Oglesby’s flowers in her floral ABC quilts. 

With those decisions made, I opened up EQ8 and started working.  Much to my amazement (and delight), EQ had alphabet blocks!  These were pieced, but having these available helped me visualize how my quilt would work. 

EQ Rough Draft

After playing with block size and placement, I decided that 10-inch finished blocks would work best.  And here’s why…

Take a look at some of the Spencerian letters I copied:

The designs are not uniform.  Some letters are taller than others (all of the letters are capitals) and some are much wider, as their loops and lines stretch out for inches.  By planning for my quilt blocks to be 10-inches finished, the blocks would have plenty of room between each letter without looking crowded.  This additional space also meant if the letters looked like they had too much room between each other, I could trim them down another half inch or so.  And by allowing for 10-inch finished blocks, this meant my quilt center would be roughly 50-inches x 60-inches. 

Now I had to decide about color and fabric.  I’ve always liked green and purple together, but never took the opportunity to put just the two of them in a quilt.  Well, since there’s no time like the present, I decided to go with a mint-y, light green for the background and a dark purple for the letters.  After a bit of searching, I decided to go with Painter’s Palette from Pineapple Fabrics.  I like this line for a couple of reasons.  First, the colors are consistent.  If you order any fabric from Painter’s Palette, the fabric you receive will be the exact, same color which is on the swatch card.  Even better, if you find you’re running short and need to reorder several months down the road, the fabric will still be the exact same color you originally used.  Second, this fabric line has a wonderful hand.  It is soft and easy to handle.  It’s firm enough to stand up to the abuse of machine applique, yet it’s easy to needle if you want to use it for any kind of hand sewing.  After some comparing, I decided on Agave for the green background and Amethyst for the purple. 

Normally, if you want 10-inch finished squares, you’ll need to cut the fabric into 10 ½-inch blocks in order to give you a ¼-inch seam allowance on all four sides.  However, since machine applique is in the plans, and that can take up a bit of additional fabric, I cut my squares 11-inches.  This way I knew I would have plenty of margin for error.  I spent two days tracing the reverse images of the letters onto Soft Fuse.  Then I pressed the letters onto my purple fabric and cut them out.  Since the Spencerian alphabet is loopy and can run the gamut from thick to thin, I cut one letter out at a time, peeled the paper backing off, centered it on the green square and pressed it into place. 

Now it was time to put the open-toe foot on Dolly and get started on the applique.  Since this was raw edge applique, I knew I needed a thicker thread to encase the edges of the letters as completely as I could.  I decided on this 50-weight, 2-ply Aurifil thread. 

I liked the sheen, which would stand out nicely on the purple fabric, and the 2-plies would pretty much ensure the fabric edges were completely covered.  I also had to remember some parts of the Spencerian letters were thin.  I needed a thin enough thread I could lower the stitch length on and it wouldn’t bunch up but yet thick enough to protect from fraying.  The Aurifil 50-weight, 2-ply fit the bill.  I am also using these:

For the first time.  These sewing machine needles are the Schmetz Super Nonstick Needles (90/14).  The nonstick needles are supposed to resist some of the stickiness which fusible webbing can leave on the shaft.  They get good reviews on some of the quilting blogs and websites I follow, so I’m looking forward to sewing with them.  Another action I will take is to alter my stitch length and width if I need to, depending on what part of the letter I’m appliqueing.  For instance, this part of the letter F

Will need a short stitch length.  A larger one would overwhelm it.  But this part of the same letter

Can stand up to a larger stitch length. 

So why all the rambling on about an alphabet quilt?  Well, for a couple of years now I’ve been handing out tidbits of information on how to take a quilt pattern or block and change it up to make it uniquely yours.  Sometimes this process is as simple as reversing the light and dark placement of the block units.  At other times, it gets more complicated, like it did in my alphabet quilt.  What I really want to stress is don’t be afraid of the process.  Honestly, there are very few quilting mistakes which can’t be rectified or at least altered to the point you can still make the quilt.  Between my posts on gridding out blocks and all the handy-dandy formulas like the Golden Ratio and Quilter’s Cake I’ve given you, it’s not too difficult to change a pattern up or develop your own design.  Early quilters figured things out for themselves.  This allowed for originality.  So should you.  There are absolutely no reasons for any quilter to slavishly follow a pattern.  Listen to what your heart and head are telling you about a quilt design.  Sometimes your heart may know exactly how you want the quilt to look, and your head can tell you how to make it.  You may be like me and take the “roots” of one design and then change the way you make it so it will be an easier and more enjoyable process.  This is part of the journey  of becoming a seasoned quilter and a quilter who is quite comfortable making at least a small part of every quilt they construct uniquely theirs. 

Don’t be afraid to try.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  The only thing any quilter should be frightened of is not learning from their “errors.”  There is a challenge in every quilt.  It’s up to you to ascertain if the challenge will make you a better quilter or a bitter quilter.  If the challenge would drive you nuts (kind of like English paper piecing does me), it’s much, much better to find an alternative way of constructing the block or even the entire quilt.  Never let any pattern, technique, teacher, or quilt take away your joy in quilting.  It’s just not worth it.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Finishing a Sampler Quilt

Last week I introduced the concept of sampler quilts – a bit of their history, how they’re made, and some steps you can follow to ensure you’re successful if you decide to construct one.  This week I want to delve a little deeper into them.  Today we’ll discuss how to complete a top and the quilting process.

If you use a sampler quilt pattern, you’ll have the finishing directions as part of the pattern.  But this is not always the case.  Sometimes if you join a sampler BOM as part of a quilt along or a program at a LQS, once it’s over, it may be up to you how to join your blocks and make the quilt top.  Or you may like a pattern’s blocks, but not the way the blocks are set.  In any of these scenarios, you have to decide how your finish quilt will look.  This is the process I want to walk you through, to give you the skills and confidence to finish the quilt.

The very first step I take with every sampler quilt I make is sash my blocks.  For me, sashing in a sampler quilt does takes care of two issues.  First, it can serve to add cohesiveness to all the blocks.  Second, it calms the blocks down.  Even if you followed my suggestions in the first Sampler Quilt post and used all the same background color, judiciously utilized the focus fabric, and employed some precuts from one line of fabrics, the sashing will serve to add some tranquility to the top.  For me, if you simply sew all the blocks together, the eye has no place to rest a second or two before taking in the next block.  So, you may want to plan on sashing the blocks.  If all the blocks are the same size, this can be a fairly easy process.  If the blocks are different sizes, you have to get more creative.  Let’s start with an easy sampler.  Let’s say we have participated in a quilt along and now have 25 blocks which are 10 ½-inches unfinished. 

To begin, you must decide if you want to set the quilt in rows or on point.  I’m sharing both construction methods with you today, but if you want an in-depth dive in the process, go here

Let’s deal with rows first.  Since we don’t have directions to tell us how wide or narrow to make the sashing, we need to figure it out ourselves.  In a series of blogs I wrote several years ago, I gave you a couple of formulas to work through to make sure the sashing wasn’t too wide or too narrow.  We used the Golden Ratio to figure our sashing limits.  This is easy-peasy, and don’t let the math scare you.  You can use the calculator on your phone to do this.  All you have to remember is the Golden Ratio – 1.618.  To determine how wide you can make the sashing, multiply the size of the finished block by 1.618.  We currently have twenty-five 10 ½-inch blocks, but once they’re set in the quilt top, they’ll measure 10-inches.  This is the finished  size. 

10 x 1.618 = 26.17924

Now we divide 26.17924 by 4 because the block has four sides.

26.17924/4 = 6.54481

We’ll round this to 6.5.  By this calculation, the widest we can make the sashing and it still look good is 6 ½-inches.  But what if we don’t want our sashing this wide?  We can use the Golden Ratio to estimate how narrow we could make the binding and the quilt still look balanced.  This time we multiply by half the Golden Ratio – which is roughly .618

10 x .618 = 6.18

Now divide by the four sides

6.18/4 = 1.545

We’ll round this to 1.5 or 1 ½-inches.  The narrowest we can make the sashing is 1 ½-inches.  However, the sashing width can fall anywhere between 6 ½-inches and 1 ½-inches and still look balanced.  It all depends on how you want your quilt to look.  I’ll be honest here and tell you one of my favorite sashing widths is 2 ½-inches.  There are two reasons for it.  First, I have a handy-dandy sashing ruler which is 2 ½-inches wide.  I simply line the ruler up with the edge of the fabric and cut.  Second, if I can find a jelly roll in a color I want to use for sashing, my cutting is already done for me.  And once you’ve decided on your sashing, now you can entertain the idea of cornerstones. 

Finally, you may want to consider borders.  We’ll use the Golden Ratio for this, too.  In this instance, we’ll use the new finished block size and plug in the formula.  With the 2-inch sashing, the new size of our finished block is 12-inches:

Original 10-inch finished block + 2-inch finished sashing = 12-inches. 

12 x 1.618 = 19.416

Now divide by 4

19.416/4 = 4.854 or 4 7/8-inches.

The widest we could make the borders is 4 7/8-inches.  However, I’ll be frank here.  This measurement of eighths can make you crazy. I just round up to 5-inches.  The widest we can make the borders is 5 inches.  Now let’s see how narrow we can go.

12 x .618 = 7.416

7.416/4 =1.854 or 1 7/8-inches, which I’d round up to 2-inches. I dislike one-eighth measurements. They’re neither ruler nor cutting mat friendly.

We can make our borders anywhere between 2- inches and 5-inches wide.  And this is the total border width. If we decide to go with a 5-inch border, we could break the border into any incremental measurements as long as they total up to five.  We could have two borders, one 2-inches and one 3-inches.  Or we could have a 1-inch border and a 4-inch border.  As long as the total width of the border ends up being 5-inches, it will look balanced. 

Depending on the set of blocks, sometimes you can put them on-point and they’ll look amazing.  Generally, the block needs to be somewhat symmetrical in order for it to look right when it’s set on-point.  Let’s work with this layout (on-point happens to be one of my favorite layouts) and a new formula called Quilter’s Cake. 

With this on-point example, we’re working with eighteen 12-inch finished blocks, which we will sash (if you want on-point quilt with setting squares in between the blocks, go here:  Even though this quilt is set differently than the first horizontal row example, the premise is still the same – sashing serves to calm down the blocks.  The first step is to determine how wide and how narrow the sashing strips can be.  Let’s math it out.

12 x1.618 = 19.416

19.416/4 = 4.854 or 4 7/8 (which I would round up to 5…because of my personal issues with 1/8-inch increments).  This is the largest width we could make the sashing.

Now we have to determine what is the narrowest width we can go with:

12 x .618 = 7.416

7.416/4 = 1.854 or 1 7/8 (which I would round up to 2 – because you know why…)

Since the sashing can be anywhere between 5-inches and 2-inches, I will opt for 3-inch sashing this time since these blocks are bigger than the ones we used in the horizontal rows.  And here’s how the borders will look–

New finished block size:

12-inch finished original block + 3-inch finished sashing = 15.  Our new finished block size is 15-inches.

15 x 1.618 = 24.27

24.27/4 = 6.0675 or 6 1/8-inches, which we will round down to 6-inches.  This is the widest we can make the borders.

15 x .618 = 9.27

9.27/4 = 2.3175 or 2 1/3-inches. 

Remember, you can slice and dice your borders anyway you want, as long as the entire, finished border does not exceed 6-inches in width.  Also keep in mind, you can opt for no border at all.

What you’ve probably noticed by now with the on-point setting are the triangles along the sides and at the top and bottom corners.  These are collectively called setting triangles and now we need a formula to figure not only how big to make them, but also how to cut them.  These triangles are sub-cut from fabric squares.  Let’s deal with the four small, corner triangles first.

The first step in this process is to disregard the new, finished size of block (original, finished block size + the sashing).  We will work with the original finished size of 12-inches.  I also want to introduce you to Quilter’s Cake – 1.414.  Consider this the “Golden Ratio” of triangles.  To cut the four corner triangles, take the finished size of the original block, divide it by 1.414 and then add a 7/8 seam allowance.  This 7/8 seam allowance is constant, no matter how large or small the corner triangles need to be. 

(12-inch finished, original block/1.414 Quilter’s Cake) + 7/8 seam allowance

(12/1.414) +7/8 = 9 3/8.  I would round this up to 9 ½-inches.  These triangles are easy to trim once they’re set in the quilt. 

You will need to cut two 9 ½-inch squares and then cut each square once on the diagonal.  This will give you the four corner triangles you need.

When you sew the corner triangle onto your quilt, be sure you align the diagonal cut with the quilt edge. You want the grain lines (here marked with arrows) facing the outside.

Now we have to determine how big to cut the squares for the side triangles.  In this layout, we have six triangles along the right and left sides of the quilt.  The math is similar to that of the corner triangles, but this time you will sub-cut the fabric square twice on the diagonal to make four triangles. 

Take the finished size of the original square and multiply it by 1.414

10 x 1.414 = 14.14

We still need to add a seam allowance, and for the side triangles this is 1 ¼-inches (this stays consistent no matter what size side triangle you make).

14.14 + 1.25 = 15.39 or 15 3/8 inches – which I would round up to 15 ½-inches. 

Since we need six side setting triangles and we can get four triangles from each 15 ½-inch square, we cut two squares and cut each square twice on the diagonal.  I know we’ll have two triangles we won’t use, but you can always put these in your scrappage or somehow incorporate them into the label.  

Like the corner triangles, you want to keep the grainline facing outwards (again, marked with arrows).

Once you’ve decided what kind of layout to use with your sampler quilt, you can get busy cutting and sewing.  Then comes the next hurdle — how do you quilt it?  To help you make this decision, I will break sampler quilts into two categories:  Those quilts which are pieced and those which are primarily appliqued.  Let’s deal with the pieced samplers first.

Truthfully, the quilting design depends on either A) How much time you’re willing to put into the quilting or B) How much you’re willing to pay for the quilting.  If the answer to both is “Not much,” I suggest you find some kind of all-over design which will complement the piecing.  For instance, if your sampler quilt has a lot of star blocks in it, you may want to choose a pantograph with stars in it.  And you can’t go wrong with loops or meanders.  Any kind of all-over, edge-to-edge design won’t take too many hours out of your schedule or break your piggy bank.  This isn’t my favorite kind of quilting, but it can work – especially if your sampler blocks are on the small-ish side. 

However…if you want to spend a bit more time (or a bit more money), there are other options. 

  1.  Soften up hard geometric designs with some curvy quilting.  For instance, if your quilt has blocks like this which incorporates lots of triangles:
Orange Peel

Try softening up the look by quilting orange peels which join in the center to create a kind of simple, curvy flower.  If your sampler has lots of triangles, this may work well over the entire quilt, or you (or your quilter) may find other designs to join the flowers.

  •  Split the blocks.  This idea comes straight from the talented and awesome Bethanne Nemesh and her book Sampler Quilt Smackdown, which can be ordered from her website  The way this works is you take a block and divide it in half diagonally.  Fill in one side of the triangle with more detailed work and on the other half you simply outline the block with quilting stitches or do something equally as simple (such as meandering or loops).
  •  Let the fabric speak to you.  For instance, if you have a large print in some of your fabric, simply quilt around the print.  If it has large flowers, quilt around those.  If there’s a large fabric motif involved, that’s a great jumping off point.
  •  Allow the quilting to create a secondary design.  This takes a bit more planning, but it’s really a great look.  Look over the quilt top with a critical eye.  If there are triangles, rectangles, or squares which are on the edge of the block, quilt the same shape in the sashing and borders, extending and echoing that shape. 
Continuing the quilt square by quilting it into the negative space. Quilting by Green Fairy Quilts.
  •  When you can’t think of anything else, echo, echo, echo (to borrow a line from Angela Walters).  Repeat the shape of the block unit by quilting about ¼-inch in from the seam and keep repeating. 
  • Break down the block.  If you see a secondary pattern in the blocks themselves, such as this:

You may want to incorporate it in your quilting.  If there are tons of half-square triangles, you should consider diagonal lines in your motif.  No matter what kind of quilt you’re quilting, sometimes the blocks themselves can point you in the direction the quilting needs to go.

Applique samplers offer different quilting adventures.  I will explain my method of quilting applique quilts (whether samplers or not), but strongly encourage you to view quilts quilted by other long armers who have many more years of custom quilting techniques under their belts than I have.  The first step I take is to outline the applique motif.  I try to stitch as closely to the applique as I can, and then echo around it about ¼-inch away.  Then I fill the background in with some tightly stitched meander, cross hatch, or similar stitch.  This “smashes” the background down and allows the applique to appear to “pop” off the background.  If a wool batt is used, at this point the applique will appear almost trapuntoed.  And if the applique block is small, I may just echo around the applique pieces until the block is filled. 

There is one more step I do take with blocks which have large applique pieces such as this:

These blocks are 26-inches when sashed with cornerstones.  Thus, the applique pieces are large.  If I’m quilting blocks such as this, I will go back and fill in details in the leaves and flowers to make it look more realistic and interesting and to make sure the pieces don’t sag away from the batting and backing.

Lastly, let’s talk thread.  Like most quilts, samplers offer a variety of fabrics and if applique is thrown in the mix, there are even more colors involved.  My personal, favorite choice of quilting thread for samplers is Superior Thread Micro Quilter 100 weight in a neutral color.  This thread is so fine it’s nearly invisible, yet it’s strong and you don’t have to be as fiddly with it as you do a monofilament thread.  I have been known to change thread colors on large pieces of applique (to match the fabric), depending on how much time I want to put into the quilting and what this quilt’s future is (is it show-bound or a special gift for a special person). 

I hope the last couple of blogs has maybe stirred up some interest in sampler quilts.  They’re a great way to use up a family of fat quarters, jelly rolls, or layer cakes.  They’re also terrific for exploring new quilting techniques you may not want to commit an entire quilt to undertaking.  And there are definitely some lovely patterns and quilt alongs out there to consider.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Sizing Up the Sampler Quilt

You may have seen a quilt similar to this one at some point in your quilting journey:

Blue Sampler Quilt

This type of quilt is called a Sampler Quilt.  Per dictionary definition, this kind of quilt is called a sampler quilt because they incorporate a sample of many different and varied patchwork blocks and types of patchwork fabric. A sampler quilt can have examples of pieced patchwork blocks, appliqué blocks and paper pieced blocks such as clamshell or hexagons to name but a few.  Samplers are a uniquely American innovation in quilting. Until the early 19th century, most quilts made in the U.S. were similar to those made in Europe, where medallion quilts were all the rage. Starting in the early 1800s, American quiltmakers began designing quilts to feature blocks of the same size, but not necessarily the same pattern, laid out in a grid. In fact, for a few decades, pieced samplers were as prevalent as one- or two-block quilts.  As time passed, some sampler quilts became known as Friendship Quilts or Album Quilts.  I do have a blog planned in the future which features the history of all three of these quilts, but for this post I want to discuss why sampler quilts are important today and how to put one together successfully.

 Years ago, when I taught beginner quilting, I started my students with a lap quilt made of two blocks – a nine-patch and a solid block of fabric.  This simple quilt taught the basics – how to keep a consistent ¼-inch seam, how to strip piece, how to press and match corners, and how to pick out a simple color palette.  My intermediate beginner class always made some type of sampler quilt.  I had my reasons for this choice.  Sampler quilts are generally a bit larger than lap quilts.  Each block taught a different technique, so the student was able to spread their quilting wings and try something new.  Hand work as well as machine work usually figured into my choice, as well as the experience of deciding on an expanded color scheme.  With a good sampler quilt pattern, I could teach lots of techniques and all the students would have invested in it was one block – not an entire quilt they may not really like. 

While sampler quilts may have begun in the early 1800’s, it wasn’t until newspapers had the technology to print quilt blocks in a series that this type of quilt really gained popularity.  Today, they work well in quilting groups – both online and in person.  There are websites and quilt stores which offer one block a month.  If only the pattern is provided, there may be no cost involved at all.  If fabric is included, there is a fee.  Sometimes you know what all the blocks look like going into this kind of BOM and sometimes you don’t.  In addition to these types of sampler quilts, there are wonderful books such as those in the Farmer’s Wife series by Laurie Aaron Hird (she just came out with the third book in this series in May 2020). 

The First Farmer’s Wife Sampler

Tula Pink has a wonderful sampler quilt book, City Sampler:  100 Modern Quilt Blocks.  This is also another great sampler source. 

Tula Pink’s City Sampler

And of course, the Grandmother of all Quilt Samplers is Dear Jane.

Dear Jane

The key with sampler quilts is usually each block teaches a different quilt technique.  This is important to remember as you may look for a pattern for yourself.  The blocks in a quilt such as a Baltimore Album Quilt are all different,

Baltimore Album Quilt. I really want to make one of these.

but they all possess the same technique – applique.  Dear Jane is a sampler because part of the blocks deal with simple piecing, others with paper piecing, and still others with applique.  With any sampler quilt, the crucial theme to remember is the quilt teaches several different types of techniques, not just one or two.

At this point, you may be asking yourself if you should make a sampler quilt.  I realize not all quilters like sampler quilts – for some, they’re too busy or aren’t uniform enough for their taste.  If you feel this way, there are ways to work around it, and we’ll deal with those issues in just a bit.  However, if there’s a few different quilting techniques you want to learn but don’t want to put all the effort in several quilts, find a sampler which incorporates them in one quilt.  At the end of the project, you’ll know if you like the techniques enough to really master them and  you’ll have a quilt as a bonus. Of course, making a sampler quilt is a good way to reinforce what you already know about quilting or maybe brush up on some skills you haven’t used in a while, too. 

Once you start a sampler, there are some issues you need to keep in mind.

  1.  A consistent ¼-inch seam allowance is important.  Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows I stress that a consistent seam allowance is important.  However, long-time readers also know I’ve repeatedly said the ¼-inch seam allowance isn’t the Holy Grail of quilting – the final block size is.  It’s more important all the blocks end up the same unfinished size than they all have a ¼-inch seam allowance.  However…most of the time, the ¼-inch allowance is the one you need to use.  And this is most important in sampler quilts.  Remember, sampler quilts are made of different blocks.  Other quilts aren’t.  If you’re constructing the same block over and over, you know what areas you can fudge a bit in, so the blocks come out the same unfinished size.  Since sampler quilts are made of different blocks, this luxury isn’t available.  Keep the seams ¼-inch consistently.  If there are few “mistakes” when you’re squaring the blocks up, I have a few secrets to share with you at the end of this blog to help you out. 
  2.  Don’t be afraid to make a few test blocks.  There are some quilt blocks and quilt units you’re probably perfectly at ease with – four-patches, nine-patches, log cabins – blocks such as these are pretty simple.  You also may be really good at making your favorite block.  I have two favorite blocks – Corn and Beans and Monkey Wrench.  I can whip those blocks out quickly and accurately, all while have a wonderful time.  But Attic Window?  Well, that’s entirely another issue.  If there are a few blocks in the sampler pattern you think may give you some problems, use your scraps to make a test block of these.  This way you won’t waste the fabric designated for your quilt and you can work out any issues before making the real thing.  And this brings me to number 3…
  3. Don’t be afraid to use your plan.  Quilt directions are nice to have, as long as you remember, they’re not the Holy Grail, either.  This is quilting, not the Ten Commandments.  You’re free to deviate from the directions.  So, if there’s a block in the quilt you don’t want to make, feel free to substitute with a block you enjoy constructing or redesign the block to suit you.  I promise the quilt police will not show up at your door with a warrant for your arrest. 

Feel free to also make the blocks out of order.  Generally, there is no reason you have to make block one first before you proceed to block two.  Even if you’re participating in a BOM or a quilt along, if a there’s a block you really don’t know if you want to make, set it aside for a few months.  By the time you’ve gotten some additional blocks under your belt, it will be obvious if you need to make that particular block or can substitute another one.  The only thing which may give you an issue is putting the top together.  If you plan on making the rows as you complete the blocks, then you may want to make the blocks in order (or change the layout of the top). 

If you’re making what I call one of the Super-Sized Samplers (Dear Jane, one of the Farmer’s Wife quilts, or something like Tula Pink’s City Sampler), this same premise holds for them – even more so.  You may decide you want to make all of one type of block at the same time (this is actually a good idea – you can get a good rhythm going and get a lot accomplished).  For instance, with the Farmer’s Wife, you may decide to make all the Star Blocks in one sitting.  Flag those pages and get busy.  You won’t ruin anything by getting all of those completed in one sitting. 

However, let’s park it here and have a serious discussion about these Super-Sized Samplers.  Personally, I love them.  I love the variety and I adore small blocks (unless they have set-in seams – then, ugh!).  I’ve constructed several of these mega-samplers and in the process, I’ve learned a thing or three about them.  These quilts have blocks which range from the super-easy to oh-my-heavens-what-were-they-thinking difficult.  If you decide to make one, the first piece of advice I’d give you is check and see if the quilt has a Facebook Group (most of them do) or a website.  In these groups or on the website, often you’ll find a listing of blocks from easiest to hardest.  If you’re unsure about making the quilt, chose one block from the easy, intermediate, hard, and difficult categories and make one of each.  This process will only take your time and scraps, but it will give you an indication of how difficult the difficult blocks actually are.  Lists are subjective.  What was hard for the list-maker may not be as challenging for you.  The sites will also give helpful construction hints as well as show pictures of other quilters’ work.  I’ve found them to be an invaluable support group. 

The second piece of advice I would like to share is this:  mix the blocks up.  Don’t work from the easiest blocks to the most difficult ones.  At the end of the construction process, you’ll face a wall of quilt blocks which will take a lot of time, effort, and thought.  After a few of these, you may decide to cut your Super-Sized Sampler quilt experience short.  Try to intersperse the hard blocks with the easy ones so you won’t face burn out at the end.  Believe me, I know this from experience.  I accidentally did this very thing in the first Dear Jane I made.  Dear Jane was the first Super-Size Sampler I made (I have the fabric for the second one…so…it’s in the works).  I made the blocks in the order the book published them, so I could join the rows as I went along.  On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, except following this process meant I had all those triangles and kites to make at the end.  And for some reason, my quilting mind could not get over the hump of moving from constructing four-sided blocks to three-sided triangles.

It was not a good time.  I ended up putting Jane in time-out for a good while until I could face all those triangles again.  In retrospect, I should have interspersed making the triangles along with making the blocks.  I will do this on the second one. 

  •  Press and measure as you go.  Normally, when I’m making a quilt, I cut everything out, make the units, and then begin block construction.  After I’ve made about a half-a-dozen blocks, I’ll press then and then square them up.  Don’t use this process with a sampler quilt.  It’s so much easier to give the block a good, final press and then square them up as you go.  If you’re making a quilt with all the same blocks, it’s easy to catch your mistakes and quickly learn how to correct them.  Since sampler quilts are made of lots of different blocks, it’s harder to rectify errors.  Stopping to press every block let’s you correct mistakes as you go. 

And there will be mistakes – it happens to all of us.  But I’d like to share some of the ways I get my blocks which have errors in them to cooperate enough to get set in my quilt top without me having to take the block apart – because taking a block apart should always be the last resort.  So, park your seam ripper and consider these options:

  • If the block is a tad small, try pressing the seams open.  Normally, I don’t like to press seams open, because the quilting process can weaken open seams.  However, if your block is 1/8- to ¼-inch too small, pressing the seams open can give you just the tad more fabric you need to make the block true-up to the required unfinished size.
  • If you have a block which looks like this:
The sides of these blocks are uneven. I’d definitely try my freezer paper trick before I’d take all those Y-seams apart.

You may be wondering if you need to take the block apart and correct the unit which is coming up a bit too small.  When this happens to me, I don’t reach for the seam ripper, I reach for my freezer paper.  Cut a square of freezer paper the size of what the unfinished block needs to be.  Center and press the freezer paper to the right side of the wonky block.  Proceed to piece as normal, but when you get to the spot where the block unit is too short, consider the edge of your freezer paper as the edge of your fabric and sew as normal.  Once that one seam is complete, remove the freezer paper and examine the seam to make sure the fabric was caught in the stitches.  If it isn’t, try pressing the seams open in the block unit only and repeat the process.

  • Finally remember sashing covers a multitude of quilting sins.  If you have a block or two which is a tad small here and there, quite often by the time the block is sashed and set in the quilt, you (nor anyone else) will be able to tell.
  •  Use some constants.  Sampler quilts have a variety of blocks and the larger the quilt and the more blocks it has, the more difficult it may be to have a unified look – which is why some quilters don’t like samplers – the quilt looks too busy.  When I make a sampler, I freely pull from my stash and scrappage, but I do try to keep a couple of fabric choices constant.  The first is my background or neutral.  I may use different prints, but the background/neutral fabric will be the same color, hue, or shade.  The second fabric constant will be a line of fabrics in the same family.  For instance, when I decide to make a sampler, I’ll pull one line of precuts – fat quarters, a layer cake, charm pack, or jelly roll – and use one of these precuts in every block.  This is an easy way to make sure the blocks harmonize, and the quilt has a coherent appearance. 

My focus fabric with sampler quilts is usually a medium- to large-size print and I use it in the border.  However, I also look for opportunities to use it in the quilt top – such as in the center square of a star block or square-in-a-square block.  If the focus fabric is sprinkled throughout the quilt top, it really looks pulled together when constructed. 

  •  Know your contrast comfort level and stick to it.  If you’re comfortable with as stark of a contrast as black and white, you’re pretty much up for almost any color combination in your sampler.  If complementary contrasts such as red and green are your ideal, own it and have these types of contrasts in your quilt.  The main idea is to be constant in your use of contrasts.  In other words, don’t start out featuring contrasting color schemes in each block and then stop half-way through the quilt.  Use them consistently and be sure to lay your blocks out in the way they’ll be sewn together before starting the construction process.  Look the layout over carefully.  Back up and squint at it.  Take a picture with your phone and edit it to black and white.  Take all of these actions so you can make sure the contrast is spread evenly throughout the quilt top.  If a block has too little or too much contrast, discard it.  You can use it as the label for the quilt. 
  •  Watch where you place the yellows, lime-greens, and oranges.  I like a little yellow in my quilts.  It’s a happy color.  I also am partial to lime green and I like orange.  It’s great to use these colors in a quilt but be careful where you place them in your quilt top. The eye travels and homes in on yellow and the colors which have yellow undertones such as lime-green and orange.  Don’t group them all together in one spot, but make sure they’re evenly spread throughout the quilt top.  Don’t put them all in one corner or just in the center.  Spread them out, or else those viewing the quilt will focus in on the one area which has the yellow, lime-green, or orange and not pay as much attention to the rest of the quilt. 

Next week we’re taking a look at some construction ideas for sampler quilts, as well as ways to quilt them.  This week, if you have a chance, take a few minutes and look at some sampler quilts on Pinterest and think about making one.  Do they appeal to you?  If you made a sampler quilt, what would you like to learn or learn to do better?

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Show and Tell

Over the past several months, I’ve had a few of my readers request “Show and Tell” from me.  Periodically, I post pictures of what I’m working on, projects I’ve completed, and such.  I think, if memory serves me correctly, the last time I posted any pictures of my quilts was right after Christmas.  Several of the quilts I completed were designated Christmas presents, so I had to wait until they were delivered and opened before I could make them public.

I will state this:  If the Pandemic did anything for me (other than give me a greater appreciation for the on-the-front lines medical community, people who didn’t have the option of sheltering in place, and the joy of take out and delivery), it gave me the opportunity to hunker down and work on what I wanted to without the temptation of joining another quilt along.  As a result, I really did get a lot done – as well as making hundreds of masks.  And I loved getting UFOs off my to-do list.  This feeling of accomplishment has carried over into 2021 and I find myself still ticking off the projects I wanted to get completed off my list.

This sweet little sunflower quilt:

Is the result of a class I took with Barbara Eikmeier.  In this Zoom class (another thing I have learned to appreciate and love), Barbara taught the basics of back basting applique.  I have used this technique for years, but her class was a great way to refresh myself on the fundamentals, as well as remember just why I loved this method.  Back basting was one of the first applique skills I was taught.  It’s old school – no glue, special paper, or tools required – just thread, needles, a pencil, the pattern, and your fabric.  Bonus – look at that scalloped border!  Barbara taught an error-less way to make these.  I had so much fun making this quilt.  I love sunflowers, and I hope to use this pattern a make a lap quilt or wall hanging in the future.  The quilting isn’t my best – I used an 80/20 batting and should have stuck to 100 percent cotton.  It’s a little too poufy and I think that detracts from the sunflower.

Last fall, I began a class with Kathy Delaney, who designed the pattern Horn of Plenty for a New Generation.  This quilt is based on the designs by Eveline Foland.  Ms. Foland published her applique patterns between January 5, 1932, and February 24, 1932, in the Kansas City Star newspaper.   The first thing which drew me to this pattern and class was the subject matter.  In my applique world, which is overwhelmingly floral, this was fruit – something delectably different.  The second factor which made me want to make this quilt was Kathy herself.  If you Google Kathy Delaney, you will find a host of patterns and books, as well as a YouTube channel.  Besides being an internationally known quilter and teacher, Kathy is just a wonderful person who loves her students.  And despite the fact I’ve appliqued for nearly 35 years, I knew I would learn a lot in her class – which I am.  I also have met quilters from all over the United States in her Zoom class.

Here are my blocks:

Here’s a couple of added interest facts about these blocks. If the fruit has any highlights (such as in the apple block), I used the reversed applique technique. For the apricots, I found Ombre fabrics worked best, and I’m using them with some peaches I’m currently working on.

You may notice I have pre-quilted the background in these blocks with a 1-inch crosshatch.  Personally, if I plan on crosshatch quilting my applique, I try to do as much of it as possible before I actually applique the pieces.  Here’s how that works:

  •  I prep my applique pieces per normal.  With this quilt I’m using the Apliquick method.  There’s a lot of overlay with this pattern – pieces sitting on top of each other.  The Apliquick paper prevents any shadowing, and I don’t have the fiddly issue of lining my applique pieces with a piece of white fabric.  The heat-set paper takes care of this issue.
  • I cut my background fabric between 1 ½-2-inches larger than the unfinished size the pattern calls for.  Normally with applique, you only need an inch more than the unfinished size – the additional fabric allows for any shrinkage which occurs during the applique process (by either hand or machine).  Since I’m actually quilting the background before I hand applique, and the quilting process also can make the background shrink, I add a little more in the area of fabric margin if I’m pre-quilting. 
  • After the background squares are cut, I mark them with the crosshatch design and the applique pattern.  In this case I’m using a 1-inch cross hatch. 
  • I cut a batting square a little larger than the background fabric square and spray baste the two together.  Once the quilt top is complete, there will be another piece of batting used to quilt the entire quilt.  In order to keep bulk to a minimum, I use a 100 percent cotton batting for pre-quilting.  Once the background and batting are spray basted, I stitch along the drawn crosshatched lines using my domestic sewing machine. I don’t want the quilting to compete with the applique, so I will use Superior Threads Micro Quilting Thread #7003.  This is utterly mindless, enjoyable work.
  • Once the pre-quilting is complete, I applique as usual.  Yes, the addition of batting makes it a little awkward sometimes, as well as a bit bulky, but if I plan on crosshatching my applique backgrounds, it is so much easier to do it before I stitch my applique than to have to run the stop-and-go process on my long arm when the top is complete.  That drives me nuts, even with backtracking.  Helpful hint – working on a flat surface makes appliqueing pre-quilted backgrounds so much easier.
  • When my applique is all stitched down, I also outline the fruit with one strand of Aurifil 50/2.  I used a stem stitch and made them a bit longer than you would a typical embroidery stitch – the longer stitches look smoother going around curvy fruit.
You can see how I outlined the striped leaf with a strand of green Aurifil. The stem stitches are a bit longer than normal and I’ve found if I can use a thread a shade darker than the fabric, it looks really good. If I don’t have any thread a shade darker than the fabric, I try to match them as closely as possible.

To ice this fruity, quilty cake, I found this fabric on Bear Creek Quilting’s website:

I could not ask for anything more perfect to use for sashing and borders.

I’ve also completed a quilt or two.  I decided in 2020, I would make both my children a quilt, since I hadn’t given Meg or Matthew a quilt in several years.  This is the quilt I made for Meg:

The pattern is Twinkling Twilight.  Despite the fact it looks as if I’ve used more than a dozen different fabrics, there is only eleven 1/3-yard cuts.  I used Ombre fabrics, so it appears as if there is way more material involved than it really is.  This pattern is comprised of four-patches and triangles using the Tri-Rex ruler, with lots of reverse cutting.  It was a challenging quilt, and I really like it.  It’s bright and bold, and I can’t wait to see Meg’s face when I give it to her.

Label on Meg’s Quilt. I label nearly all my quilts. I give the designer credit for the pattern and I should have put the city and state where the quilt was made. I read something from Tula Pink which stated she always puts one esoteric fact on her label — like the average price of a gallon of milk — to give the quilt some historical perspective. I thought that was a neat idea and have been doing this for a few years now.

Now take a gander at these:

This fabric is from the Boundless collection.

These are the pieces I’ve just started working on for my son’s quilt.  And no matter what you may think, the fabric isn’t batik, but it could pass for it.  I’m using the pattern All Roads for Matt’s quilt.  Now, in case you’re wondering if I’m playing favorites because Meg’s quilt is finished and Matthew’s isn’t, let me assure you I cut both of them out at the same time and took both of them with me to the Fall-Quilt-Retreat-that-Didn’t-Happen.  My plan was to get both quilt tops completed, bring them back home, spend my Thanksgiving vacation getting them both quilted, and then have both bound and labeled by Christmas.  Well, as some of you may remember, we were at quilt retreat less than 12 hours when a storm rolled through, and the park lost power.  They sent us home, refunded our money and I continued work on Meg’s since I actually did get started on hers at retreat when an unwelcome guest set up shop in my family.

Multiple Myeloma

My regular readers know my brother and only sibling, Eric, had smoldering Myeloma for about three years.  In January 2021 the shoe dropped, and the disease went from smoldering to active.  The doctors at Duke University had been tracking him during those years, following up with blood work, bone scans, and bone marrow biopsies.  As a result, the disease has been caught early and his outlook is very, very good.  Early cancer detection is a wonderful thing and I truly believe it’s 90 percent of the battle.  However, for Eric, the other 10 percent is chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.  As I’m writing this, he is almost through with the chemo – which thankfully has had very few side effects.  He’s deciding on the particulars about the transplant, which should take place in the fall. 

Now that you have this background, let’s talk about the quilt which really took front and center in my quilting universe this year and pushed my son’s quilt to the side for a while.   Also allow me to divulge a bit about my relationship with my brother.  Eric is six years younger than I am and despite the age gap, we are fairly competitive (all in good fun, though).  We’ve mellowed some as we’ve both gotten older and we are definitely closer now than we were growing up.  There’s rarely more than a few days between calls and texts.  He’s my brother and one of my best friends. Well before his Multiple Myeloma diagnosis, I decided I wanted to make him a quilt.  As a matter of fact, about four or five years ago I decided I wanted to make him a t-shirt quilt.  Now for another tidbit about us.  We both grew up in North Carolina – a state where college basketball is as sacred as the Holy Season.  We live in the heart of ACC country, where UNC, Duke, State, and Wake Forest meet at the center of nearly every basketball playoff.  Eric is a die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool Carolina fan… 

I am not.


And if you know anything about North Carolina basketball, you are keenly aware Carolina and Duke are the most rivalest of the rival teams.  Forget NBA playoffs with some over-paid basketball players.  Here we all know the best basketball games are the ones between Duke and Carolina.

But I digress…

Several years ago, my original plan was to have my sweet sister-in-law covertly remove some of Eric’s many Carolina t-shirt and hand them over to me so I could construct the quilt.  About a week after we discussed what t-shirts and how many I needed, Deanne called me.

“I can’t get them,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked.  “I mean he has hundreds.  How’s he gonna miss six or nine of them?”

“I don’t know.  It’s like he has a running inventory in his head.  I move one and he asks me where it’s at.  I don’t think this is going to work.”

So, I decided to buy my own Carolina t-shirts.  As a Duke fan, this was a difficult thing to do.  I felt I was betraying my boys.  But slowly and steadily, after each Sweet Sixteen and National playoff, I would purchase a t-shirt here and a t-shirt there.  In a couple of ways this worked better than waiting on Eric to give up a t-shirt.  I could order all the same size (extra-large) and make sure I had a good blend of blues.  When the Multiple Myeloma diagnosis came, I decided I needed to go ahead and make the quilt.  I had ten t-shirts and thought I needed 12 (key word to remember here: thought), so I quickly purchased two more.  Once they arrived, I de-boned the t-shirts and pulled out my pattern…

Only to discover I needed fifteen t-shirts.

In ordinary times, this would not have presented a problem.  I would simply jump on the Johnny T-shirt website and order three more shirts.  But let me refresh your memory of the time frame.  At this point, it’s January 2020.  We’re in the middle of a Pandemic.  Know what didn’t happen in 2020?

College Basketball.

Therefore, no new t-shirts for me to choose from.  After some creative swearing and web searching, I found an Ebay vendor who had three Carolina t-shirts I didn’t have.  The last one was technically a football t-shirt, but the goal lines ran down the far-right side of the shirt, a good portion of which would be cut off in the de-boning process.  I hit the Paypal site, did the monetary transaction and waited for my shirts.  A week later, they arrived, and I began the construction of a monster of a quilt.  I used Angela Walter’s t-shirt quilt pattern as inspiration and eventually it grew to around 110 inches square.  Things were zipping right along until I received a news bulletin on my phone: Roy Williams retired as the UNC basketball coach.

Oh dear.

You have to understand why this was so important.  For years, the incomparable Dean Smith coached the Carolina men’s basketball team.  Even if you dislike Carolina and barely tolerate Carolina fans, you respected Dean Smith.  He was a man of great integrity.  Dean coached at UNC for 36 years, retiring in 1997.  Roy Williams took over and had been the coach since then.  I had a t-shirt in the quilt commemorating Dean Smith. 

Now, in order to make the quilt complete, I had to find one for Roy.   Despite the fact I was on the last row, I knew I had to find the shirt and make it work.  A couple of internet searches and $22 later, I had my shirt.  It arrived in two days, and I added it to the last row. 

Top complete, I quilted it (for the record, Leighanne the Long Arm does not like t-shirt quilts) and sewed on the label.

This quilt is huge.
I think this is the largest quilt label I’ve ever made. Eric and I text each other groan-worthy puns consistently, thus the line about Bruce Lee’s brother. And I had to add the Duke logo just because….#siblingrivalry

I still have a quilt or two planned out for the rest of the year.  I need to get busy on my Guild’s 2021 BOM.  It more or less got pushed to the side once I started Eric’s t-shirt quilt.  I have an alphabet quilt in the works, too.  It involves machine applique.  I also am nearly finished with the center of my Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  And I still have 11 more applique blocks to make for my fruit quilt.  This year will be a busy one.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Sam is busy keeping his naps on schedule….