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Quilt Kits. Do You Need One and How to Tame Them.

Most quilters have seen things like this:

And this:

For the uninformed (or very new quilter), these are quilt kits.  A quilt kit is a complete or almost-complete quilt in one package.  Most quilt shops – both on-line and brick-and-mortar – offer these for sale, at varying price ranges and at varying “completeness” ranges (and more about this “completeness” in a bit).

When I began quilting in the early mid-eighties, I used quilt kits nearly exclusively.   The biggest quilting hurdle I had to get conquer was choosing my fabric.  For a woman pretty well-versed in the arts, standing in the middle of Hancock’s or Piece Goods (remember them?) and having to decide what fabrics to put in a quilt was daunting, overwhelming, and downright scary.  Quilt kits removed the fabric choice from the quilting equation and allowed me to quickly get to the part I like most – sewing. 

Like me, some quilters prefer having fabric decisions removed from their quilting equations.  Other quilters like the convenience quilt kits offer.  For the most part, everything is in the kit.  You may have to pick up some notions, such as embellishments, backing, and batting, but 95 percent of the quilt is in the package the kit comes in. 

Eventually, as most quilters gain experience and get a few quilts under their belt, fabric decisions aren’t as difficult, and most of the time you’ll have nearly everything you need for a quilt in your studio (sometimes you don’t even have to purchase any additional fabric!).  However, if you’re beginning to quilt and quilting is just a hobby and not a lifestyle, quilt kits may be just what you need.  When you consider most of what is needed for a quilt is in the kit, the price is reasonable.  If your fabric storage has limits, it’s great to know a kit contains only the fabric needed for that project. 

Since most quilters have worked with kits at sometime or another, today’s blog is focusing on quilt kits – the pros and cons of kits as well as how to handle them. 

Good Things About Quilt Kits

  1.  You don’t need to make any fabric choices.  Colors, textures, weaves, and fabric decisions are already made for you.  If you’re a newbie, you can begin to pick up tips about colors and fabric by noting the fabric used in the kit.
  2. For the most part, they can save you money.  I know some quilters (including myself) have suffered from sticker shock on some kits.  Keep in mind you’re also paying for the labor of cutting the fabric and stocking the kit.  Sometimes this can be balanced against the time it would take you to pick out the pattern and the fabric as well as gas and mileage used to purchase them, or the postage paid to have the those shipped to you.
  3. They save you time.  Next to removing fabric decisions from my quilting equation, this was the second reason I loved kits when I began quilting. In the mid-eighties I was working, had just become a mom, and my husband worked out of town.  It was so much easier to run into the fabric store and grab a kit than it was to deal with a young baby, car seat, diaper bag, etc., etc.  And when you think where I was at that point in my life, I only had time for one quilt a year anyway, so a kit worked just great then. 

Not-So-Good Things About Quilt Kits

  1.  They may be short on fabric.  Let me hasten to add for the most part, quilt kits tend to have a little more extra fabric than needed, but once in a while, a kit may come up short on fabric.  More on how to deal with this a little further down in my blog.
  2. They aren’t unique.  No matter how lovely the quilts from these kits are, it can’t be forgotten manufacturers produce these quilt kits to make money.  Therefore, they make a lot of these kits so they can make a lot of money on them.  More quilt kits equal more sales, which equals more quilts which will look exactly like yours.  Several years ago, this became a bit issue in quilt shows (primarily local ones), as multiple entries of the same quilt kept popping up.  For a while, many local shows didn’t accept entries from quilt kits, but this stance has softened recently.  Now there may be a category just for quilts made from kits.  These quilts are usually judged on technique and quilting only, as originality and color choice are eliminated in quilts made from kits.  If you are able to enter a quilt made from kit in a non-kit category, expect to perhaps be dinged on originality and color choice.
  3.     Most kits are not complete.  While the kits will have the fabric needed to make      the top, most kits do not include backing, batting, and sometimes binding fabric.  Usually, you can find a coordinating backing for sale along side the quilt, as well as additional fabric for binding, etc.  If special embellishments are used, sometimes these are offered as a separate purchase.  The exception to all of this may be a kit for a small quilt.  Sometimes they are all inclusive.  Be sure to read the label on the kit to determine what exactly is included and what will need to be purchased separately. 

I have a routine I go through whenever I use a quilt kit.  Once I get the kit in my studio, I immediately open it up to make sure all the fabric is there and in the measurements indicated on the package.  If one fabric is cut wrong or I’m missing a fabric, it’s always best to call the store or website then.  At this point, they either will have additional fabric they can send me or simply replace the entire kit.  If I wait six months or a year, the kit and the fabric may be long gone.  And let me throw this in here:  I don’t prewash the fabric in a kit.  As much as I am a confirmed pre-washer, I give the kits a pass.  Only so much material is included in a kit, and if I pre-wash it, it may shrink too much to be useable. 

The next thing I do is read through the directions a couple of times, mark them up to indicate important instructions, and then sub-cut the fabric if necessary.  Sometimes kits come completely precut, and other times they will give you pieces of fabric you must sub-cut.  As I sub-cut, I make sure to retain the selvages.  If you look closely at a selvage:

You can get a lot of information.  The dots indicate what dyes were used in the fabric, but what’s even more important is the selvage has the information about the manufacturer and the name of the line of fabric.  If something happens and you can’t complete the quilt right away, or the kit is an older one perhaps purchased off Ebay or at an estate sale, this information makes it easier to find coordinating fabric for the kit.  A quick Google search with the manufacturer and line of fabric plugged in will let you know if any additional fabric is available.  I also never throw away any of the scraps left over from cutting until my quilt is complete.  An inch or two of fabric here and there can rectify a cutting mistake without any additional fabric purchases.  After the last stitch is put in the binding and label, I toss the scrappage (unless I have pieces large enough to go in my applique scrap fabric bins). 

So, after all this information, should you purchase a quilt kit or fabric and pattern?  Honestly, it’s a personal choice.  There are a few questions you may want to answer before sinking your hard-earned cash in a kit:

  1.  Do I already own a lot of fabric?  If the answer is yes, then a kit may not be needed.  You may have enough of your own fabric to make the quilt without purchasing any (or at least not much) additional fabric.  And quite often you don’t have to purchase the kit just to get the pattern.  Many times, a shop or website will sell the pattern by itself. However, if the quilt kit is simply beautiful and tugs at your heartstrings, go ahead and buy the kit while it’s available.  Once the kits sell out, fabric manufacturers rarely re-print the fabric for the kits.
  2. Is time a real issue for you?  For a while in my quilting journey, time was one of the largest obstacles I had to work around.  Kits cut down the amount of time I spent looking at fabric, trying to find exactly what I needed.  I could purchase the kit, get it home, and begin sewing pretty quickly.  If you’re the position where time is a precious commodity, a kit will trim down the hours spent searching for fabric – even if that time is spent in your pajamas perusing fabric websites.
  3. Does it bother you to put together someone else’s creation?  It’s one thing to use a designer’s pattern, it’s another thing entirely to use someone else’s pattern and their fabric choices.  Choosing your own fabric is one easy way to make the quilt look like you – your favorite colors, favorite designers, favorite lines.  With enough of your own fabric, you can alter blocks and applique, enlarge or shrink them, or substitute blocks.  You can’t do this with a quilt kit.  Fabric is limited. 
  4. Do you hate cutting fabric?  I’ve readily admitted this is my least favorite quilting task, but I’ve learned how to deal with it so it’s not as onerous any longer.  However, if this is the one aspect of quilting you really, truly would rather live without, a kit eliminates most of the cutting.  There are some kits out there with every piece cut exactly the way you need it – all the squares, all the triangles, etc. However, with most kits, you get smaller chunks of fabric which need to be sub-cut into the units needed.  So, you’ll still cut fabric, but you won’t have to handle a lot of yardage. 

At this point, you may want to know if, after nearly 35 years of quilting, do I still purchase and/or use kits.

There are occasions when I will buy a kit and dive right into it.  I live near Pineapple Fabric and Keepsake Quilting.  Both of these stores are well-stocked with lovely kits.  Several times a year, Pineapple has huge warehouse sales, and these kits are marked down significantly.  If there’s a kit I want and it’s on sale, I’ll buy it.  I also will purchase a kit if I like a particular designer.  Some designers offer beautiful kits with their fabrics in them.  If one grabs my attention, I’ve been known to plunk down my debit card for it.  I will also buy a kit if it’s particularly unique.  When you’ve quilted as long as I have, it’s easy to look at a kit and know what you would change if you made it.  However, on occasion, if there is truly a unique kit available, I’ll buy it. 

This quilt kit falls into the unique category. All the critters on the quilt are native to my home state of North Carolina. Big plus? It’s raw-edge, machine applique. Bigger plus? The applique pieces are laser cut, with the webbing already on them. Biggest plus? It was on sale.

The following reasons are the major motives behind any kit purchase I make:

  1.  I want (or need) something mindless to sew.  Sometimes if life is stressful or I have a pretty complicated quilt project under my needle, I need an easy project to clear my head and help me focus.  Quilt kits are great for this – especially those which are pre-cut.  My favorite line of pre-cut kits is from Laundry Basket Quilts.  They use lasers to precut the fabric, so the edges are sealed – meaning no fraying or raveling – as well as being extremely accurate. 
  2. I’m learning a new technique.  This reason deals primarily with kits sold by quilt teachers.  While many quilt teachers will allow you to supply your own fabrics, some will offer the option of purchasing a quilt kit.  If I am taking a class from a teacher who offers a kit, I’ll purchase it.  I do this because it’s simply easier to follow the instructor as he/she goes through the class.  I don’t have to try to remember what fabric I picked out to substitute for the fabric the instructor is using.  However, I will use my own background fabric – and let me tell you why.  If you take several classes, you’ll end up with several quilt blocks which may be beautiful, but you have no idea what to do with.  If these blocks have the same background fabric, it’s easy to make a quilt out of them (this tip courtesy of Katie McMullen, a friend of mine from The Applique Society). 
  3. It’s on sale and I want the fabric.  I’ll be completely honest here.  If a kit is on sale and it has lots of pretty fabric at a dirt-cheap price, I’ll purchase the kit for the material and toss the pattern if I don’t like it.  Often quilt stores or websites need to sell kits to get them off their inventory.  If this occurs, they sometimes will offer the quilt kits at insanely low prices.  If you see this happening and like the fabric offered, sometimes the sale price literally means pennies for the yardage.  When Craftsy sold out to Blueprint several years ago, all of their kits were on sale.  I purchased two Jinny Byer kits and a few others with batiks and Reproduction fabric simply because I liked the material.  I spent less than $200 and came away with enough fabric for four quilts. 

So, the next time you see one of these:

Don’t think lots of these:

Consider the options the quilt kits offer you.  Maybe it’s mastering a new technique. Perhaps it’s some mindless, relaxing sewing.  Or it could be lots of fabric for very little cash.  Whatever reason a quilt kit grabs your attention, just remember these little packages are here to stay, and what we do once we have them in the privacy of our own quilt studio is our business!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Sewing with Batiks

I know most of you have seen fabric such as this:

Or this:

This lovely, undulating fabric is called batiks.  Batiks hit the quilting market in the mid-eighties when Bali Fabrics introduced them at quilt markets.  They gained momentum and hit a popularity peak in the nineties.  However, they’re still a mainstay in quilts and quilt shops all over the world.  With this fabric addition a “late comer” to the quilting world, it’s easy to think this is a fairly recent fabric invention. 

And this would be wrong.

Batiks have been around for thousands of years, beginning in Indonesia.  The term comes from the Indonesian word “ambatik” which means “dotted piece of fabric.”  This fabric is made by the “resist” method.  Wax is spread over the cloth, creating the desired design, and then the fabric is saturated with dye.  During the dying process, the wax can crack, which adds more interest in the dye design work.  Once the fabric has dried, the wax is scraped off, leaving undyed areas.  If desired, more wax designs can be added and the cloth dipped in another dye color.  This process is time consuming, but it produces a beautiful fabric. 

Once batiks hit the quilting world, we quilters puzzled over them for a while.  I instantly fell in love with them, but was left wondering, “Do I use them with other quilting cottons, or do they need to be in a quilt by themselves?”  I also loved the way all batiks appeared to easily go together.  Most quilters were like me.  When batiks hit the quilt shops in the mid-eighties, we all wondered how to use them.  For a while, they appeared in quilts all by themselves.  After a few years, we realized this fabric could be great blenders or even a focus fabric.  We embraced them and in no time at all, we had zero issues throwing batiks in with our standard quilting cottons.

However, batiks are not like our standard quilting cottons.  Quilting cottons tend to go through far fewer dying processes than batiks.  As a result, quilting cottons have a much softer hand than batiks.  Batiks can feel stiff because they generally have undergone several rounds of dying and they have a higher thread count than regular quilting fabric.  This doesn’t make them any better or any worse than quilting cottons, but it does make them different and as a result, if we tweak how we handle this fabric, it plays much nicer with our other material and works well in any quilt. 

The first thing to keep in mind is the shrinkage factor.  By now, my regular readers know I prewash all my fabrics.  If you’re making a quilt and plan to use both quilting cottons and batiks in it, this is one of those times you may want to prewash everything, but especially the quilting cottons.  Batiks are put through the dyeing process several times, so as a result, they do not shrink much – if at all.  However, quilting cottons are different.  They have a higher shrinkage ratio than batiks because they don’t undergo the same sort of wet dyeing procedure.  If you sew non prewashed quilting cotton to batiks and then toss the quilt in the washer, there’s more than a good chance the cotton fabric will shrink more than the batiks, which will cause puckers around the piecing and/or applique. 

There’s another reason you may want to prewash everything, including the batiks.  And that reason is the fading factor.  Again, this ties back into the dyeing process.  Overall, because the dyes and dyeing process has been nearly perfected over the last 10 years, quilting cottons generally don’t fade on each other when they’re washed – especially if you toss a Color Catcher in the washing machine.  Batiks are usually not this color stable.  They’ve been known to crock/fade/run onto adjacent fabric.  If you absolutely abhor prewashing, there’s a simple test you can do to see if the batik will fade. 

  1.  Cut a 3-inch square of the batik fabric and a 3-inch square of a white fabric.  Fill a container with cool water – somewhere in the 80 – 85 degree range.  Add about an 1/8-teaspoon Orvis soap and stir to distribute.  Add the two squares of fabric and stir again.  Let sit for thirty minutes, occasionally stirring to redistribute the soap and the fabric. 
  2. After 30 minutes, if there is no dye in the container, you’re good to go.
  3. If there is dye in the container, repeat the process.  When thirty minutes are up, lay the white fabric square right next to the batik fabric square and allow to dry.  If none of the dye from the batik fades onto the white, you’re probably okay to use the batik in the quilt without prewashing. 

If the batik fails the test, don’t despair.  You need to prewash it, but there are some additional prewashing steps you may want to make to assure the batik doesn’t fade onto a lighter fabric. 

First, there’s this product:

Retayne. 

This is a color fixative, and it can be found in most big box stores or Amazon.  It’s super important to follow the directions exactly, and that you use hot – really hot – water in order for the product to work correctly.  Issues which have cropped up after using this product are generally due to the fact the user didn’t have the water hot enough.  The water temperature needs to be 140-degrees and the fabric should be agitated in this hot water for 20 minutes.  When I use this product, I use the “hot” option for all my wash cycles and turn off the cold-water line which runs into my washing machine.  Treat the batik fabric before putting it into the quilt, and after the quilt’s finished, only wash in cold water.

Second, there’s Synthrapol.

This is a cool product and the chemistry teacher in me still geeks out when I use it. Synthrapol is a surfactant.  It’s predominantly used in the hand dying process, but it can be used in prewashing.  The product suspends the dye molecules in the water, so they don’t settle on the fabric.  If you use the blue Dawn Dish Detergent, you have already used a surfactant – it doesn’t let the grease in the water settle back on the dishes or your hands.  It holds them suspended in the water.  Can you use the blue Dawn instead of Synthrapol?  Yes.  It works just fine on small pieces of fabric.  For anything larger than a couple of yards, I recommend using the Synthrapol in your washing machine. And like the Retayne, follow directions carefully. 

If I plan on using batiks and quilting cottons in a quilt which will probably never be washed (such as a wall hanging or a miniature), I don’t bother prewashing at all.  In this case, it doesn’t matter.

The last two items which must be considered when sewing batiks are the needles and the thread used.  Let’s talk needles first.

If you’re machine piecing with batiks, you have to remember batiks have a higher thread count and are more tightly woven than standard quilting cottons.  You’ll want a finer needle which is still strong.  My preferred sewing machine needle to use with batiks is a 70/10.  This size needle will glide through the fabric, but won’t punch holes in it.

Hand applique/finished edged machine applique requires a little more planning.  To begin with, I love batiks for hand and machine applique.  The tighter weave guarantees little to no fraying, which means it’s perfect for raw-edge machine applique.  However, there must be a little more pre-planning for finished machine edge and hand applique.  This tighter weave also means the fabric is stiff.  And stiff fabric is more difficult to manipulate around curves, corners, and prepared edges.  It’s important (at least to me) to remove some of the stiffness, so the batik fabric is a bit more manageable.  The easiest way I’ve found to remove the toughness is with hot, hot water – hotter than even the required temperature for Retayne.

I came across this by accident when I was deep into the mask making of 2020.  I used batiks as the mask lining because of the tighter weave, but didn’t want the folks wearing my masks to inhale all the chemicals of the finished, unwashed fabric.  I was rinsing both the batiks and my quilting cottons in boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit) to make sure all the chemical finishes were removed.  I would heat water in my electric kettle, put the fabric in my clean kitchen sink, and then pour the boiling water over them.  After the water and the fabric cooled, I’d hang them both to air dry.  The quilting cottons shrank a bit, but the transformation of the batiks was amazing.  The boiling water made them feel like silk.  They were soft and easy to handle.  This is now the way I treat all the batiks I plan to use for any type of hand applique or finished-edged machine applique. 

While this boiling water treatment does give the batiks softer hand, the fabric still has a tight weave.  As a result, you may find yourself struggling with your preferred hand applique needle.  There are two different hand applique needles designed specifically for this process. 

The first is Clover Black Gold Applique Needles.  I’ve found this brand works wonderfully with batik fabrics – both prewashed and non-prewashed. 

The second type is  John James Gold n’ Glide applique needle

Both brands come in several different sizes, so you should be able to find your preferred size needle in either brand. 

When considering thread for machine piecing batiks, I’ve found a 50 to 60 weight thread works best.  This weight keeps the stitches from showing too much.  For machine applique, I’ve found I’ve been able to use the monofilament fine with the finished edge applique.  For raw edge (or finished edge, if monofilament thread drives you up a wall), I still prefer a finer thread, such as a 50 weight. If the 50 weight seems a bit “thick,” change from a 3-ply thread to a 2-ply or to a 60-weight.  I do shorten the stitch length to about 1.8.  If using the buttonhole stitch, I will shorten the “bite” (inward needle swing) to 1.9.  As always, audition your stitch length and width on a scrap piece of fabric before committing it to your project. 

In my 30-plus years of applique experience, I still find there’s a wealth of opportunity in every batik.  The range of color, shades, tones, and tints of every piece (even if it’s in the same color family), make the batik a wonderful tool for the applique artist.  Every yard has the awesome potential for every inch to be used, making it worth every cent you paid for it.  Batiks can hold up against the blackest of black backgrounds and yet still work beautifully in pastel-oriented quilts.  Their thread count allows them to hold up to the toughest machine work, yet when treated with hot water, can have a hand comparative to silk.  What’s not to love about a batik?

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours – with Batiks!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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This is not the Enemy

This:

Is not your enemy.

I know there are days…days when you can’t seem to sew a single stitch without puckers, or seams that are too loose, or your thread constantly breaks.  You check your machine, thread it, and re-thread it.  You situate your spool so the thread runs horizontally…then vertically…

And nothing works.  After you’ve checked and re-checked everything, it’s easy to blame all your sewing machine’s bad behavior on a little metal or plastic disk.  However, most of the time, the poor bobbin is truly an innocent bystander and it’s something else giving you thread issues.

To start, let’s take a look at what a bobbin is and its function in the sewing machine.  By definition, a bobbin is “A spindle or cylinder, with or without flanges, on which wire, yarn, thread, or film is wound. Bobbins are typically found in sewing machines, cameras, and within electronic equipment. In non-electrical applications the bobbin is used for tidy storage without tangles. Typically, as quilters, when we throw the term “bobbin” around we’re talking about the plastic or metal disks which are used in the bobbin case of our machines and allows us to make a lockstitch.  However, from this definition, bobbins are also used in other types of machinery.  Remember when we actually used film in cameras?  The film was wound around a plastic or metal cylinder called the film bobbin.  And if you are like me and are from an area where textile manufacturing was prominent before NAFTA, you may have seen some of these around:

These are yarn bobbins used in fabric manufacturing. 

Those large, wooden spool-like things on the back of this truck?  Also bobbins.  These bobbins are used to store cable, wire, hoses, etc., as it’s transported and warehoused. 

As avid sewists, it’s important to know the kind of bobbin your machine takes and why the correct size is crucial.  There are 10 different types of them:

Class 15 Bobbin

Class 15 or A Style – This bobbin is about the size of a nickel and the top and bottom are completely flat.  It comes in both plastic and metal.

L-Style Bobbin

L-Style – This bobbin is also about the size of a nickel.  It’s flat and narrow and available in plastic, metal, aluminum, and as a magna-glide core.

M-Style Bobbin

M-Style – This bobbin is about the size of a quarter.  It is large and flat and available in metal, aluminum, plastic, and as a magna-glide core. 

Two asides at this point.  First, you’re probably wondering what a magna-glide core is.  This is the term used for a pre-wound bobbin which has a magnet in it to help it stay anchored in the metal bobbin case used in front loading machines (more about these in a bit).  Second, the majority of household sewing machines use one of these three bobbins.  It’s also worth noting that L-Style bobbins are the same width as Class 15 bobbins.  This means you can use a L-Style bobbin in your Class 15 machines.  However, a Class 15 bobbin is too tall to fit in an L-Style sewing machine.

The next seven bobbins are less common, but it’s nice to know about them.

Singer 163131

Singer 163131 – This is about the size of a quarter and can be disassembled by unscrewing the bottom to quickly remove unwanted thread.  This bobbin is only available in plastic.

Singer 8228

Singer 8228 – This is the bobbin used in most treadle machines.  It’s available only in metal.

Class 15 J

Class 15J – About the size of a nickel, this bobbin looks similar to a Class 15, but has just a slight curve on the top and bottom.  It’s available in metal, plastic, and aluminum.

Class 66

Class 66 – This bobbin is also about the size of a nickel and has a curved top and bottom.  It comes in plastic, metal, and aluminum.

Bernina 0115367000

Bernina 0115367000 – This bobbin is commonly used in the older Bernina machines.  It’s also about the size of a nickel and is available only in metal. 

Juki 270010

Juki 270010 – These are the most common Juki specific bobbins and are very similar to the L-Style bobbins.  These are also the size of a nickel.

Viking Specific 4125615-45

Viking Specific 4125615-45 – This bobbin is a Husqvarna Viking specific, nickel-sized bobbin.  It fits all machines in groups 5, 6, and 7 – mostly the newer machines.

If you truly think it’s the bobbin which is giving you problems, make sure you’re using the right bobbin for your machine.  Consult your manual or use Google to find out what kind of bobbin your machine takes and use that size.  Some machines, such as the Viking Specific 4125615-45 above, is brand-specific – it only works in a particular group of Husqvarna Vikings.  If your machine is one of those which must have brand-specific bobbins, be sure to use them.  And here’s a little extra tidbit about bobbins – there really is no difference between plastic and metal bobbins.  Years ago, there was a big difference between the two because the plastic was inferior and would crack or become brittle as the bobbins aged.  Today’s plastic is much better, and these bobbins work just as well as their metal counterparts. 

Many times, it’s not the bobbin itself giving you issues, but the way the bobbin was threaded.  Be sure the thread is wound evenly and there are no bulges.  The bobbin thread shouldn’t be spongy feeling, either.  If you wind a bobbin and the tension isn’t even or it has more in one area than another, the best piece of advice I can give you is unwind it and start over. 

And honestly, the correct bobbin and a correctly wound bobbin are the two biggest bobbin issues.  Most sewing/thread problems don’t involve the bobbin, but the bobbin case.  To understand those issues, it’s important to recognize the two types of bobbin cases.  There’s the front-loading machine:

Which loads the bobbin in one of these:

A metal bobbin case, which is inserted in the front of the machine.

Then there’s the top-loading machine:

In these machines, the bobbin case is plastic and lies horizontally beneath the feed dogs. 

These bobbin cases tend to stay in the machine, and only the bobbin itself goes in and out.

Each of these types of bobbin cases can have their own unique issues; however, there are some common problems with the two.

  1.  The Bobbin Case Won’t Turn – There could be two reasons for this.  First, your tension may be too tight.  Simply readjust your tension and keep checking the bobbin case.  A slight tweak of the tension may be all that’s needed.  Second, the bobbin may be unevenly threaded.  If this is the case, just wind another bobbin.  It’s important to remember winding a bobbin is not a race.  A slow wind, at an even pace, usually assures even winding.
  2. Bobbin Case Stuck in the Machine – Sometimes this is an easy fix and sometimes it’s not.  The first step is to carefully examine the bobbin case and see if it needs cleaning.  With the case for a front-loading machine, this is pretty easy.  The metal case itself can be looked over quickly as well as the place where the bobbin case rests.  Top-loading machines take a bit more time, as the metal plate beneath the presser foot has to be removed before you can get at the bobbin case.  With both types, examine the case to see if there is any stray threads or lint build up which may prevent the bobbin case from moving.  After you’ve cleaned the area, if the bobbin case still won’t move, then it’s time to call the machine tech.  At this point, they need to figure out what’s wrong. 
  3. Loose Bobbin Case – Call a tech.  Don’t try to take care of this problem yourself. 
  4. Bobbin Case/Bobbin Thread Jams – Both of these problems are the result of the same issues.  First, you may need to oil your machine (if it requires oiling – some of the new models do not).  Second, you may need to clean your machine.  Third, it’s not threaded correctly, and fourth the tension is wonky.  Taking care of any or all of these may solve the jamming issue.  If not, make sure you’re using the right bobbin for your sewing machine.  It’s easy for those of us with multiple machines to get the bobbins mixed up.   One final reason for the jamming may be that you started sewing on the edge of your fabric and knots have already formed, jamming your machine. 
  5. Bobbin Tension Repair – This is way easier to fix than it sounds, but it only works with those machines which use a metal bobbin case like this: 

On the side of the case should be a tiny screw.  In quarter-turn increments, turn the screw counterclockwise to loosen the tension and clockwise to tighten it.  Sometimes you can also help the tension issue out by adjusting the tension on your needle thread.  If your bobbin needs to work a little more, lessen the needle tension up a tad.  Tighten it if the bobbin needs to work less.

  •  Make Sure The Bobbin is Inserted Correctly – Most bobbins have a top and bottom and need to be inserted according to the directions in your sewing machine’s manual 
  •  Make Sure You’ve Disengaged the Machine’s Bobbin Winding Mechanism – With many machines, there’s some type of lever you have to move to get the sewing machine out of bobbin winding mode and back into the regular sewing mode.  New machines may do this automatically once the bobbin is filled (my M7 Continental does) 

One last word about the bobbin and the bobbin case.  Over a period of time and use, the case and bobbin may develop burrs.  To check, run your pinkie finger over them.  If you feel any rough spots, it’s time for a new case or a new bobbin or both. 

But what if you’re pretty certain your issues aren’t with the bobbin or the bobbin case?  If you’re still experiencing stitch issues, there is a standard checklist you can run down.

  1.  Clean your machine.  I think I’ve mentioned this three or four times in today’s blog.  Just remember a clean machine is a happy machine which performs well, runs smoothly, and doesn’t make weird sounds.  You should clean your machine according to your manual regularly and at least once a year take it into a tech for a deep clean and oiling in all those places you can’t reach. 
  2. Rethread the machine.  Honestly, this is my first line of defense.  Most of the time – I’d safely say 80 percent – this is my problem. 
  3. Change the needle.  Needles have a usage life.  Even if they seem to be sewing fine, after about eight hours of sewing, a regular sewing needle should be tossed.  If you’re using titanium, you can double the amount of time.  Even if the needle appears just hunky-dory, eight hours of steady sewing can cause slight bows in the needle.  And don’t forget this picture:

The needle on the left is a new needle.  The picture on the right is the same needle after eight hours of sewing.  You can see how the needle degrades over time and use until the sharp tip has been worn smooth.  Instead of penetrating the fabric, it pokes holes in it. 

I can’t emphasize this enough:  MAINTENANCE IS YOUR MACHINE’S BEST FRIEND.  It solves most of your sewing issues and prolongs the life of your machine. 

I really hope this helps you with any machine problems which may crop up.  Nothing is more disheartening than sitting down to sew (especially after you may have looked forward to it all day) and have your machine develop an attitude.  Most of the time it’s something small, but anytime you feel daunted by a problem, call your sewing machine tech.  They can either re-affirm what you think is wrong and walk you through the fix or make an appointment for you to bring it in. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and  Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Here’s to 2022!

It’s that time of year again.

The time when I review the quilty predictions I had for 2021, give you my forecast for 2022, and announce next year’s theme.  First, let’s look at what I thought would happen in 2021 and see how right or wrong I was.

  1. More brick-and-mortar quilt stores would close in 2021.  I’m rating myself at 50 percent with this one.  I believed at the beginning of the pandemic, quite a few quilt stores would fumble the ball and close.  With no non-essential businesses allowed to function, I honestly thought by 2021, a large number of them would just decide to shutter.  What I didn’t allow for…and had no idea would happen…was the huge number of folks who purchased a machine and taught themselves how to sew.  This, coupled with the fact quilt stores sold fabric, and fabric was needed to make masks, made the shops flex and many updated their websites or offered curbside pickups until customers could once again return to their shop.  As a result of new sewers/quilters, a good number of retail quilt shops not only survived but have thrived.  Those that did close didn’t try to meet customers’ needs and demands, or the owners were ready to retire.  So overall, I’m rating myself a solid 50 on this prediction.
  2.  There would be few in-person quilt shows.  I was correct on this one.  There were very few in-person shows during 2021.  Most guilds cancelled their show, or hung their quilts outdoors for people to drop by and look at.  Houston still went on, but without the vendor market.  Still wary of Covid or any of its variants, everyone erred on the side of caution.  Some quilt show organizers put on virtual shows, but according to statistics, most quilters weren’t impressed.  We like to see the quilts in person and touch what we want to purchase.  I do believe 2022 will be better.
  3. Zoom is here to stay.  And boy is it.  Once quilters, quilt teachers, and quilt guilds learned how to navigate this user-friendly software, we didn’t miss a beat.  Guilds, bees, and sit and sews met virtually.  Quilt teachers and program presenters quickly picked up on how to share the screen and drop in Power Point presentations.  Virtual quilt workshops filled quickly – and honestly what’s not to love about taking a workshop from the comfort of your own quilting space?  I love hearing how guilds are making this work for their membership – from spectacular speakers to having the ability to garner members from all over the world.  Per usual, hand us quilters lemons and we make lemonade.  I rate a solid 100 on this prediction
  4. Quilt groups will grow and have new members.  I was right.  Zoom gave groups and guilds the opportunity to engage new members from literally anywhere in the world.  The need for masks pushed many people to thread a sewing machine for the first time in a long time or the first time ever.  A good percentage of these “newbies” were bit hard by the sewing bug and have joined quilt groups.  Now we must foster their love of the art and their need for the knowledge of all things quilty. 

This brings us to 2022.  What do I think will happen to quilting this year?  Working on the assumption 2022 returns to some kind of normal existence again, here’s what I believe is on the horizon. 

  1.  Zoom will still be a major player in our quilting world.  The Zoom genie is out of the bottle and most quilters seem to be pretty comfortable with it.  From having monthly guild meetings to workshops to quilt groups, I think on many, many levels, Zoom isn’t going anywhere.  I believe small quilt groups may still meet in person, but there are too many positive qualities about Zoom for us to just toss it by the wayside.
  2. In-person quilt shows will return.  I think they have to, in order to survive.  Best case scenario, local guilds may have gone two years without a show.  Quilt shows generally fund the broadest part of their base budget.  They need to have a show if at all possible.  Large quilt organizations, such as AQS, also want to get back into the show business as soon as possible.  With vaccinations and masks, I’m pretty confident we will see an uptick in real-life shows (versus virtual ones) and if these are successful, I expect shows to return to their normal schedule.
  3.  Brighter colors, but more expensive fabric.  The pandemic was a tough time, but the fall out afterwards isn’t any easier.  And like quilters of the past, today’s quilter will want brighter colors of fabric to lighten their surroundings.  Whether it’s the modern colors and prints or the brightly colored feedsack reproductions, I think our color palettes will be lighter, sunnier, and clearer than last year.  However, I think fabric, like everything else, will be more expensive and maybe even harder to find.  I’m lucky I live near Pineapple Fabrics and their huge fabric warehouse.  However, if the cargo ship juggernaut remains floating off the coast of California, we may find some fabric difficult to obtain.  Cotton supplies are already at an all time global low and was trading in November at levels not seen since 2011.  The United States is the third largest producer of cotton, so our prices may not be as high as some European countries.  You may be glad you’ve cultivated an extensive stash.
  4. Get used to “organic quilting.”  By this, I mean almost improve quilting.  I think with many new quilters entering our playing field, we will experience a time of new innovation.  While they may understand the basics (consistent seam allowance, accurate cutting, etc.), they may very well throw out the rulebook on slavishly following patterns.  They may not see the need.  If they enjoy the creative construction part, with fabric they love, they will opt to make the quilt they want to make the way they want to make it.  Not a bad idea at all.
  5. T-Shirt quilts will get an upgrade.  And to top this, I think they may lose the name “T-Shirt Quilt” and be re-invented as “Memory Quilt.”  These quilts will include more than just t-shirts.  Fronts of ball caps, baby clothes, scraps of important clothing (think christening gowns, prom dresses, graduation gowns), scouting patches and the like will also be front and center as well as important T-shirts.  I think everything from quilt layouts to quilting will change.  Forget nice, neat, predictable rows of t-shirt fronts and backs.  I’ve already seen changes in this type of quilting and those changes have been well-received.  I expect to see more, and this may very well be one of the most creative quilting trends in 2022.
  6. Comfort will be key.  One of the most interesting changes the pandemic brought was the whole persona of “working from home.”  Most of us, at least some of the time in 2020 and 2021 had to work from home.  This brought a whole slew of changes in itself, but the biggest perk was you didn’t have to get dressed up and go into the office.  We quickly learned Zoom calls only showed you from your waist up.  Dress shirt and sweatpants?  Yes!  Blouse and pajama bottoms?  I’m in for that.  This idea of comfort has carried over into quilting.  I think quilts will continue to have soft backings such as minkie or flannel. 

In this line of thinking, I also believe quilting clothing may be making a comeback.  What leads me to this assumption?  A few days ago I was doing some online window shopping and came across this:

This pretty, little quilted jacket sells for $355 at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Well, it definitely caught my eye and I did some more online research only to discover several retail establishments are carrying several quilted clothing options.  Our quilts may not only be dressing our beds, but we may also very well be dressing in our quilts before the year is out.

Six predictions for 2022.  It will be interesting to see how right and wrong I am in about 365 days.

And now, as we get ready to flip our calendars over to the New Year, let me introduce you to the 2022 Sherriquiltsalot blog theme.  For 2021, I was all over the quilty map.  We were pulling out of the pandemic, some of us faster than others, but the overall sense of feeling I had was just to survive this year.  When 2021 began, the vaccines had just rolled out.  I was anxious for my 80-something mother to get hers.  My brother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, and both kids were moving away.  There was a lot of upheaval in my life and everyone else’s I couldn’t help but think if we all could just get through 2021, 2022 had to be better.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Either way, we’ve learned a lot in 2021 – about each other and quilting.  So, the theme for 2022 is

Make It Yours.  We’ll take a deep dive into some more advanced techniques, and I’ll detail how to take ideas and patterns and change them to help you make the quilt you want to make.  There will still be blogs on quilt history (I’m currently researching Baltimore Album Quilts) and hopefully some interviews.  The pod casts are done, but there is a general consensus we may need to by-pass these and go straight to video.  Quilting is more of a visual thing than a spoken medium.  We’ll see how it goes.

Until next week, make your quilt yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Merry Christmas

My Christmas blog is never long because I know everyone is busy baking, wrapping presents, and putting the last stitches in quilted gifts.  This year – and the one before – have been unprecedented in social and political strife.  Increased inflation, higher prices on everything from soup to nuts, and the cargo stranglehold which may have some of our Christmas held hostage, doesn’t make for “days merry and bright.”  As a matter of fact, on the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of “happy” ahead in the New Year. 

However, this year and every year, I remember another time and another place.  Where a young woman and her husband traveled for miles to return to Bethlehem.  And in the cold, still night a baby’s newborn cry announced the promised Messiah had come.  A star hovered over His birthplace and angels proclaimed His coming to a group of shepherds and their sleeping sheep. Wisemen began a long trek to find the Christ-child and in his palace, King Herod stirred with an unease he couldn’t explain.

This Christmas, I wish for you a peace that passes all understanding and a joy which comes from knowing this time of crisis will pass.  Things were rough in Bethlehem, too.  Joseph and Mary weren’t traveling to see family for the holidays.  They returned to Joseph’s hometown to pay taxes.  The little family didn’t have a warm bed adorned with quilts, but a stable, some clean hay, a few swaddling cloths, and a manger.  And they rejoiced when the angel choir split the quiet of the dark night with their refrain, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill to all men.”  Not too shabby of a birth announcement, if you ask me.

And that is my Christmas wish for everyone.  May His peace keep you and may we all love each other a little more and a little harder next year – Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace and good will to us all.

Merry Christmas!

Love to all, from My Quilt Studio to Yours,

Sherri and Sam

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Making a Quilt Without a Pattern

It’s almost 2022…

We’ve covered quite a few topics this year, and with this blog, I’d like to tie a few of the concepts together and show you how some of the formulas work together to help you make the quilt you want to make.

To begin with, let’s take a look at this quilt:

And let’s decide, for whatever reason, you just have to make this quilt.  But there’s no pattern, you have no way to get in touch with the designer, but you really, really, want to make this quilt.  Where do you even start?  This is what I want to cover in my blog. I’ll also be upfront with you:  This is the way I work.  Other quilters may work through the process differently and still come up with the same results I will.  As with nearly all things quilty, there’s more than one way to do things, and you have to find out (mostly by trial and error) which method works best for you.  So, let’s take my process step by step. 

Step One – Check Your Resources

If you know the name of the quilt, you can use Google or Duck, Duck Go to see if you can find the pattern.  If you are viewing the quilt at a quilt show, sometimes the maker will list the designer or pattern on the label of the quilt, or it may be printed in the quilt catalogue or the information which is sometimes posted beside the quilt.  With this information in hand, quite often you can track down the quilt pattern on the internet.  If this is possible, go ahead and purchase the pattern from the designer.  I realize with some quilts it’s fairly easy to determine how to make them without pattern in hand, but keep in mind quilt designers make their livelihood from their patterns.  Help them keep their expenses covered by buying the pattern.  This will allow them to continue to design patterns for us.

Step Two – Where to Start

If you can’t find the pattern anywhere, now you have to decide whether to proceed or not.  If possible, take pictures of the quilt, or make screen shot of it on a tablet, phone, or laptop.  However you grab the image, it’s helpful to have the ability to enlarge the entire quilt and/or certain parts of it.  Once the image is procured, look closely at two areas:  The largest quilt block and the block which you believe will give you the biggest challenge when constructing it.  Sometimes this will be the same block.  For me with this quilt, the most difficult blocks are those pieced cornerstones.  These are small and I will need to be careful with accurate cutting and handling the bias.  The largest blocks aren’t complicated at all.  They are a nine patch, which I can make without any problems.  So, why do we look at the largest square? 

They take up the most quilt space and the smaller blocks and sashing play off of it.  It’s important to know exactly how big to make it.  If you’re copying a quilt you can actually get your hands on, this is easy. You can measure the block and keep moving.  However, if all you have is an image, an estimated guess will have to work.  With the quilt above, I know the largest block is 14 1/8-inch finished.  Now I must add a half-inch seam allowance.  So, 14 1/8 + ½ = 14 5/8-inches.  Once the nine-patch blocks are constructed, they should measure 14 5/8-inches, unfinished.

Next the measurements of the block unit must be determined.  Since I have this quilt in my possession, I can actually measure the units and add ½-inch seam allowance.  If you’re making an educated guess with a block, I suggest graphing the block out on paper or with a computer program to get your unit measurements.  With my 14 5/8-inch unfinished block, I know the small squares 3 ½-inches, finished.  Adding the ½-inch seam allowance makes my cutting directions to read 4-inch squares.  I will cut four 4-inch squares.  The large center square measures 7-inches square, so I simply need to add the ½-inch seam allowance and cut these squares at 7 ½-inches. The side rectangles measure 7-inches by 3 ½-inches. I will need to a half inch to each of these measurements to have the seam allowances.  They will be cut at 7 ½ by 4-inches.

If you’re a regular reader, you know adding the seam allowances follows the information I gave you in this blog:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/10/20/running-all-the-numbers/ Which you may want to keep handy as we work through this quilt. 

Step Three – Construct the Remaining Blocks

With this quilt, that means the pieced cornerstones.  And if you look at the quilt, you will observe it has not only square pieced cornerstones, but also triangular pieced cornerstones.  We’ll work with the square ones first.

There are four 4-patches, a center square and four rectangles.  All of the squares – from the one in the middle to every one of the squares in the four-patch – are ¾-inch finished.  When the ½-inch seam allowance is tacked on, this means the squares will be cut out at 1 ¼-inches.  The finished rectangle is 1 5/8-inches x ¾-inches.  When the ½-inch seam allowance is added, they will be cut out at 2 1/8-inches x 1 ¼-inches.  After they’re assembled, the pieced cornerstones should measure 6 1/8-inches, unfinished and 5 2/3-inches finished.

The triangular pieced cornerstones work differently.  If you’re like me, my first inclination is to make a square pieced cornerstone and then slice it on the diagonal.  This can work, if on the diagonal cut, you allow for the ¼-inch seam allowance (in other words, don’t cut it directly on the diagonal, but slightly off center).  However, this wastes fabric and if you don’t get that diagonal cut exact, you may have a difficult time getting the pieced triangle to fit exactly the way it should in the sashing.  It’s easier (and more accurate) to piece this cornerstone in a triangle.  Some of the initial measurements are the same as the square pieced corner stones, but you’ll cut fewer.  You’ll need six 1 ¼-inch squares plus two 2 1/8-inch x 1 ¼-inch rectangles.  However, if you look along the long, diagonal side of the rectangle, you can see we need five triangles.  Here’s where the HST formula comes into play.  We know by looking at the whole pieced cornerstone and the triangular pieced cornerstone that they are symmetrical – in other words, we could take two of the triangular cornerstones and join them along the diagonal and it would be a perfect matched for the pieced square.  So, from this, we can safely assume the triangles at the edge would be half of the finished ¾-inch square.  Knowing this, we can use the HST formula I introduced in my blog :  We take the finished size of the square, add a 7/8-inch and this gives us the measurement of the square needed to cut in half – ¾-inch + 7/8-inch = 1 5/8-inch.  We need to cut three 1 5/8-inch squares and then cut them in half on the diagonal. 

The solid cornerstone squares and triangles are next.  These are easy.  They need to be the same unfinished size as the pieced cornerstones – 6 1/8-inches.  To determine the size of the solid triangle cornerstones, take the finished square measurement and use the HST formula again – 5 2/3-inches + 7/8-inches = 6 ½-inches.  Cut these squares once on the diagonal. 

Step Four – Sashing

If per chance the quilt you’re copying doesn’t have sashing, you can skip this step.  However, the quilt used for this blog has some really nice, stripped sashing.  And despite the fact this strip-pieced sashing looks complicated, it’s really not.  To get the length of the sashing, you normally would measure the largest blocks and cut the sashing the same length of the block.  However, this quilt has cornerstones, and you must allow for them.  When we measure the sashing on the quilt, it’s 9 7/8-inches in length.  We know the sashing must be the same height as the cornerstones, so it must measure 5 2/3-inches.  There are five strips all the same width, which means we must divide 5 2/3-inches by 5, and this gives us 1 1/8-inches.  For both the length and width of the strips, we have to add 1/2-inch seam allowance:

9 7/8-inches + ½-inches = 10 3/8-inches long

1 1/8-inches + ½-inch = 1 5/8-inches wide

Step Five – Corner Triangles and Setting Triangles

Here we bring in one of my favorite formulas – Quilting Cake or 1.414.  Let’s work with the four corner triangles first.  These are the smaller of the two types of triangles.  To determine the measurements of the square which will be cut in half on the diagonal, take the size of the largest finished square, divide by 1.414, and 7/8-inch for the seam allowance.  Our largest square is 14 1/8-inches finished.

14 1/8 divided by 1.414 = 10

10 + 7/8 = 10 7/8

We cut two 10 7/8-inch squares and cut each once on the diagonal.

Now for the setting triangles.  Still using the largest block’s measurements, we multiply by Quilter’s Cake and add 1 ¼-inches for the seam allowance.

14 1/8 x 1.414 = 20-inches

20-inches + 1 ¼-inches = 21 ¼-inches.

There are eight setting triangles, and we can get four triangles per square.  We’ll cut two 21 ¼-inch squares and then cut them twice on the diagonal. 

Step Six – Borders and Cornerstones

This is the easiest part.  Even if you’ve copied this quilt down to the closest 1/8-inch you can, the process of putting on borders should be done correctly so you won’t have wavy borders.  It’s not hard.

  1.  Square up the center of your quilt and measure it lengthwise at the edges and middle of the quilt.  Add these three numbers together and divide by three.  Cut your lengthwise borders this measurement.  With this quilt, the side borders are 59 3/8-inches x 4-inches, finished.  When ½-inch seam allowance is added, this brings the cutting measurements to roughly 60-inches x 4 ½-inches.  Pin, sew, and press the seam allowance towards the border.
  2. For the top and bottom border, you measure across the width of the quilt three times:  at either edge and the middle.  Add the three measurements and divide by three.  With this quilt, you should come with 67 3/8.  However, there are cornerstones at all four corners, and these measure 4-inches.  Since there are two on either end of the top and bottom border, we subtract 8-inches (for both 4-inch cornerstones) and we cut the top and bottom borders the same as the side ones – roughly 60-inches (technically, it’s 59 7/8, but I really dislike 1/8-inch measurements).  Cut four 4 ½-inch border cornerstones (4-inches + ½-inch seam allowance), sew to each border end and attach to the quilt center.

Annnndddd you’re done…well, all except for quilting, binding, and putting on a label.  All the measurements I’ve given you can be plugged into almost any quilt you want to copy or any quilt you design yourself.  Even the most complicated ones.  However, before I end this number-heavy blog, let me throw in a few “Sherri-isms” I go through when I copy an antique quilt or work through designing my own. 

  •  Copying antique quilts or quilts made from blocks which have no copyright (because they’ve been around for hundreds of years), is fine.  Copying a designer’s pattern that’s still under copyright is wrong.  As a matter of fact, it’s illegal.  I give myself permission to research the quilt for several days before I commit to copying it.  Yes, I feel this strongly about it.  Designers sell their patterns in order to pay their bills and put food on their table.  If I find the pattern, I buy it.
  •  I do the math, set it aside, then re-do the math a few days later.  If I come up with the same results, I get to cutting the fabric.
  • If the desired look is one which falls into a particular time frame, I use Reproduction Fabrics that fit the era.
  • While these directions are literally step-by-step instructions, if I were making the quilt, there are a few of them I’d change:
  • I would strip set the four patches and sashing.
  • I would definitely use a focus fabric or a fussy cut print for the center squares in the large block.
  • This quilt offers several opportunities for chain piecing.  I’d use that technique as many times as I could.

One last thought before I leave you.  When you’re copying an antique quilt or developing your own design, remember the differences between assembling an on-point quilt (which is what is illustrated in this blog) and a rows-and-columns quilt like this one:

With a rows-and-columns quilt, you sew the sashing on the right side of the block, sew the blocks into rows and sew the rows into the quilt center. 

An on-point quilt is sewn together like this:

I always told my students to tilt their heads to the left when dealing with an on-point quilt.  That small change in your perspective allows you to see how the quilt is put together.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Quilters in 2021

Quilters are an interesting group of people.  When I first started quilting in the mid-eighties, we were primarily women, and the average age was around 52.  Most of us were mid-level professionals, our children were older, and if there was a local guild, most quilters had at least some passing knowledge of it and/or were members.  About 10 years ago, Premier Needle Arts began tracking quilters.  As the internet encroached more and more on our everyday quilting lives and shopping habits, PNA wanted to know what was motivating quilters, how much were we using the internet, how was our shopping habits changing, and how much we were spending on our craft.  They devised a survey and sent it out to hundreds of quilters.  I began receiving this survey in my email box about seven years ago.  It’s my understanding PNA works in cooperation with various brands in the quilting industry to collect the names and email addresses of the quilters who are sent the survey.  It’s a fairly detailed and generally takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. 

This year the survey was sent to a random portion of the email lists from Handi Quilter, Connecting Threads, Superior Threads, Craftsy, National Sewing Circle, and National Quilters Circle.  All-in-all, over 1 million quilters received the survey in February and of that number, 30,000 filled it out and returned it.  Eighty-nine percent of the respondents were from North America.  Demographic data, such as race and geographic location, were optional portions and many quilters chose not to answer those questions.  According to  PNA CEO Mark Hyland, of the demographic data which was collected, there was no significant differences between groups.  Now for the down-and-dirty about what this survey and other data tell us.

  1.  There are currently 85 million active crafters in North America – meaning people who have worked on at least one creative project in the last year. 
  2. Crafts and crafters generate $35 billion in sales annually.
  3. There are currently 10-12 million quilters, and the quilting market is expected to approach $5 billion by 2026-2027.  In 2020, there was more than a 12% increase in the number of new quilters. 
  4. Quilters are spending more time quilting (maybe this is still the quilting hang-over from Covid?).  The survey discovered 51 percent of quilters are spending more time quilting than in previous years. Thirty-three percent said they were spending the same amount of time quilting and 16 percent stated they were actually quilting less.
  5. Shopping habits (and this one surprised me) – the survey found out 65 percent of quilters would rather purchase all their quilting supplies from a local, independent quilt store.  This is the preference.  However, of that sample, the same percentage actually followed through with the preference – they shopped local before they went online and purchased what they couldn’t find in a quilt shop.  I assumed – wrongly – after Covid locked us all down, everyone would continue to go online to purchase supplies.  I am so delighted I was wrong.  Local quilt shops are treasures and need to be supported.  However, beginner quilters were more likely to shop Big Box Stores rather than a LQS.
  6. What does the average quilter look like?  The average quilter is female.  She is retired and approximately 65 years-old with an average household income of $60,000.  Despite being of retirement age, 17.5% have full-time jobs.  She’s quilted more than 10 years and spends more than six hours each week working on quilting projects.  She owns an average of four sewing machines.  Another surprising fact:  Fewer than 30% pay someone else to quilt their quilt.  They prefer to do it themselves.  She is online every day.  What’s she doing on the internet?  Well, despite preferring the LQS, 30% more quilters are shopping online than they were last year.  And YouTube is now the go-to option to learn new techniques and obtain patterns (25.4% in 2021 as opposed to 13.0% in 2020), versus websites and blogs, which were number one last year.  Research is also another big online task for quilters.    
  7. Sewing is the gateway drug to quilting.  New quilters report sewing is their main hobby besides quilting.  There are now 33 million active sewists, more than a 10% increase over last year.
  8. “Availability” trumped price this year.  Because of out-of-inventory issues brought about by the Pandemic, quilters were quicker to purchase supplies based on availability, even if those supplies were a little more expensive than normal (I believe that…just ask me what I paid for ¼-inch elastic at the beginning of the Pandemic to make face masks….).
  9. Despite lockdowns and shipping disruptions, nearly all quilters spent the same or more money than they did three years ago.
  10. Sixty-three percent of quilters still buy and read magazines, but overall, magazine subscriptions have decreased over 15% in the last five years.
  11.  Fourteen percent of quilters report they attended at least one virtual quilt show this year.  However, their overall experiences with online quilt shows were disappointing and subpar.  Eighty percent say they wouldn’t attend such a show in 2022.  And here I have to agree with these quilters.  While the Zoom/Online classes, meetings, lectures, and workshops I attended were excellent, I was overall disappointed with online quilt shows.

So, what does all this mean for us?  I mean, all these numbers are great…even eye opening, but how do we apply them to our quilting world?  Let’s skip the dollars spent (because we all know we spend money on our craft) and go right to the number of folks quilting.  Currently we stand at 10 – 12 million quilters, with a 12% increase in 2020.  This is a seriously large demographic.  If you belong to a guild, and it’s not paying attention to these numbers, perhaps you need to bring them to your executive board’s attention.  If you noticed during the Pandemic, it was really difficult to find a sewing machine at some of these Big Box stores.  I vividly remember walking into a local Walmart in February 2020, cruising over to the fabric and craft department, and discovered no fabric (except for a few stray fat quarters), no elastic, no interfacing,  and no sewing machines.  People had to stay home, so many of them learned to sew in order to make masks.  According to the survey, sewing is the gateway drug to quilting.  If these new sewists are quilting, then our guilds should reach out to these folks, welcome them with open arms, and assist them in learning more about quilting.  This is important not only for them, but for us as guild members.  We’re aging out.  We need new ideas and fresh enthusiasm.  We need to accommodate them by arranging Zoom meetings if necessary and maybe even mentoring programs.  Guilds are seriously negligible if they don’t tap into these numbers. 

Internet and computer technology are other areas both quilt stores and guilds should be observant about.  While the majority of quilters still love their local quilt shops, we are becoming tremendously savvy about online options.  If the LQS has a website where customers can pre-order items, it should be user friendly and kept up-to-date.  Likewise with guild websites.  These should be kept current and easy to navigate.  However, the biggest change by far with quilters is the availability of online classes and meetings via Zoom.  Frankly, I had never heard of Zoom before the pandemic.  I was keenly aware of FaceTime on my iPhone, but this Zoom-thing was nowhere near my internet consciousness until 2020.  I know some quilters like it, others don’t, and some have no opinion, but it’s a tool we can no longer ignore.  It’s nearly the end of 2021, and after a couple of years of Zooming, we’re all pretty familiar with the program.  For guilds, Zoom has opened up the potential of acquiring speakers from all over the world and is allowing guild members the freedom to meet regardless of weather or pandemic numbers.  It also allows people from all nations and states the opportunity to join our local guild. 

I think what guilds (and perhaps other sewing groups) need to remember is we’re aging.  The average quilter is now 65.  Sometimes it’s difficult to drive – especially if the guild meeting is at night or it’s miles away.  Zoom is a great alternative during the winter when it gets dark earlier.  It allows home-bound members the opportunity to still meet with their guild-friends and participate, instead of being shunted aside.  I realize Covid changed the way we do a lot of thing, but it’s also allowed us opportunities to expand our horizons and keep quilting.  The one great quality about quilters is we do adapt to change.  And more often than not, we take this change and make it work positives in the field of quilting. 

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a binding tip.  I know that’s kind of a random topic after writing over a thousand words about the PNA survey, but this idea isn’t long enough for a blog, but it’s kind of a handy idea to tuck away if you ever deal with this situation.

I am in the middle of making my son and daughter-in-love a quilt as part of their Christmas.  The binding is white, and there is no right and wrong side to the fabric.  When I have fabric that has no right or wrong side, or the sides are so close in color it’s difficult to differentiate, it’s easy to sew the binding wrong.  You’ll think you’ve sewn it right sides together, only to find as you’re sewing on the binding, you didn’t.  This can lead to quality time with a seam ripper, as well as some colorful language.  To avoid this situation, this is what I do.

 After I cut my binding strips, I fold each strip wrong sides together and press it.

  •  Then I unfold it, so I can see the crease I just pressed into the fabric.  The side that has the crease is considered the right side of the binding strip.
  • Join the strips with the creases facing each other and sew as usual.
  • Fold in half again, wrong sides together, and re-press before sewing to the quilt.

This is a great system if there is no right or wrong side to the fabric (like my current situation), or the right and wrong sides are so close in color, they’re difficult to distinguish (like batiks).

Now for the very last word. For those of you who have prayed for my brother, Eric, I need to give you a very joyous update. On November 30, he underwent some follow up tests (including another bone biopsy) to see if the stem cell transplant worked effectively. We found out on December 2, the test results came back as “No Cancer Present.” The doctor told us he was in remission! Thank you so much for keeping Eric and the rest of my family in your thoughts and prayers. This will be a joyous holiday season, indeed!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Hand Sewing Kits — What’s Needed and What Isn’t (and it totally depends on who owns it)

I almost decided not to make this topic into a blog.  All of this came about from one of my many online Sit and Sews when the topic of “What should go into a hand sewing kit” came up.  I was busy trying to determine why my Grandmother’s Flower Garden was giving me such grief (which I’m hand sewing – and I had used a full diamond joiner when I needed only a half-diamond) and was only just a tad tuned into the discussion at the time.  I was surprised to find out the opinions on this topic of hand sewing kits were varied – they went from the bare basics to “What are you sewing?  A wedding dress?” 

Instantly, I was intrigued.  So many opinions over a hand sewing kit? Who knew?

I’ve made at least three hand sewing kits in my life.  And let me add at this point, a hand sewing kit is different than a hand applique kit.  I have a hand sewing kit and at two different points in their “leaving home” years, I’ve made each of my kids one.  I think it goes without saying my children’s kits are different from mine:

I sew.

They mend.

I thought it might be helpful to go over the differences.  The following are the basics for any sewing kit.

  1.  Needles.  The sewing enthusiast needs more variety, but both kits need several different sizes.  And needles aren’t expensive.  Buy the good kind.
  2. Pin Cushion.  This doesn’t have to be fancy, but a place to park needles and pins is helpful.  If you’re making a sewing kit for a non-sewer, make sure it’s big enough they can see it and won’t lose it.
  3. Pins.  Some good straight pins are needed.  The enthusiast may want an assortment from applique pins to the flower head pins.  For everyone else, some nice silk pins or glass head pins are great.  Pins aren’t expensive.  Don’t get the super cheap ones which leave large holes behind or rust if they get damp.
  4. Scissors.  These should be small-ish.  Most quilters like nice scissors.  I keep a pair of Karen Kay Buckley’s in mine.  If the kit is for some else, get a decent pair of scissors and caution the person not to use them to cut paper.  And be sure to put their name on the handles.  Scissors have a way of walking off.
  5. Needle Threader.  Some folks’ eyes are still good enough they don’t need assistance pushing the thread through the eye of a needle, but if they’re in a hurry, a threader is one of the most helpful tools to have in your kit.  Threaders run the gamut.  They can be simple, like this:

Word of caution here…if this is the kind you go with, put two or three in the kit.  My experience with these is they break easily.

A little more complex:

The light is a nice thing to have.

Or this:

Which a lot of quilters tend of favor.

  •  Some kind of fabric marker.  It can be a Frixion, a blue water-soluble pen, or a number 2 pencil.  Non-sewing people will at least need to mark hems and where to place a button.  Quilters need fabric markers for all kinds of reasons.
  • Small Ruler.  This doesn’t have to extend the entire 12-inches or beyond, but something along the size of a sewing gauge is needed to measure hem length and draw straight lines.  Quilters may want something longer and wider, depending on the project currently under their needle.
  • Thread.  Remember a hand sewing kit is different than a hand applique kit, so you won’t need silk thread or a variety of colors.  Stick to the basics, especially for the non-quilter.  White, cream, black, gray, brown, and navy tend to work nicely for everyone.
  • Buttons and Fasteners.  This is definitely for the non-quilter.  I quilt.  Please don’t ask me to mend.  It’s a good idea to have a variety of buttons in different sizes and in some neutral colors.  A small card of hooks and eyes and one with snaps are also nice to have.

For me, these nine items are necessary in the basic sewing kit.  I know some of you are thinking, “Hey, I can find most of these items in those little sewing kits they sell at the dollar establishment.” 

Yes, you can.  I purchased one of these for my daughter before she left for college, and I think the scissors fell apart after one use and the thread was pretty bad quality.  Meg doesn’t sew, and even she knew the thread was awful.  Plus, it was so tiny it got lost.  By purchasing you own tools (for you or your kids…or whoever), you can control the quality and make sure the kit is big enough it doesn’t accidentally get tossed in the trash. 

These last items are for the hand sewing enthusiast – someone who’s will be spending serious time with needle, fabric, and thread.

  1.  Thread Conditioner or Beeswax.  Nothing is more aggravating than fighting knots in your thread.  Either one of these helps keep the knots at bay and makes your whole sewing experience much easier.
  2. Magnifier.  There will be times when you need to see your marked lines or stitches up close.  A magnifier or a pair of reading glasses are super handy.  And the reading glasses aren’t expensive.  I’ve found you can purchase a case of 12 pairs on Amazon which costs less per pair than those at the dollar stores or elsewhere.  And they come with cases.  You could feasibly have a pair in every sewing kit/project box in your studio.
  3. Basting Glue.  Sometimes you just need a dab or a dot.  A small bottle or a glue pen is a wonderful thing to have in your kit. An aside here…as far as I know basting glue wasn’t a “thing” when Meg trotted off to college.  I wish you could have seen her face when she saw me using some on vacation.  “My hems could have been fixed in two seconds,” she said, “instead of running you down to get you to hem my pants or spending my time doing it.”  Maybe it does belong in a “regular” sewing kit?
  4. A Thimble.  I know some of you would have put this little sewing tool with the first nine items.  However, I think the person who is only using a sewing kit for an occasional mend won’t go through the trouble of putting on a thimble – much less learn how to use it.  They want to mend whatever it is that needs mending as quickly as possible and move on with their day.  It will more than likely be the sewing enthusiast who spends hours hand sewing who will use the thimble. 
  5. Clips.  These little gadgets:

Are great to have in your kit.  You can keep block pieces or units together.  They can corral templates.  And you can get them in cute little containers like this:

Which will snuggle right in your sewing kit and keep the clips securely in one place.

  1.  Small Iron/Pressing Mat.  Even though you’re hand sewing, there will come a time when you need to press the units or the block.  If you’re away from home, having ready access to an iron and pressing mat is a great thing.  These may not need to stay in your kit all the time, but if you’re taking your hand sewing project on vacation or to a retreat, definitely make sure you’ve packed these in your kit.
  2. Small Rotary Cutter/Small Cutting Mat.  Like the small iron and pressing mat, these are tools you will want if you’re sewing away from home.  They’ll come in handy if you need to cut out additional pieces or true up a block. 

Sewing Kit Containers

This is kind of a personal decision.  If the sewing kit is for someone else, you may want to find a container which fits the person’s personality or likes.  The only cautionary statement I’d add is make sure the container is big enough it won’t get lost and make sure it fastens securely.  I’d also put their name on it – especially if the person is living in a group setting such as a dorm or shared apartment.  And I’d put their name on as many tools as I could. 

When I began hand sewing in earnest, I had dreams of finding the perfect container which could handle all my needs.  I had fond memories of my paternal grandmother’s kit, which was an old cigar box.  Grandma Moore hemmed and mended. She didn’t hand sew quilts, so the cigar box worked fine for her.  All she needed was a place for scissors, thread, needles, and a sewing gauge.  My hand sewing kit needed to be a little more extensive. I have several packets of different sized needles, scissors – all the tools listed above and probably a few more I didn’t think about to add to this blog.  I looked at bags and boxes on quilting websites.  I looked at containers at office supply places.  I finally found the perfect hand sewing kit here:

A small tackle box. 

It has moveable partitions and two “shelves”, plus a large bottom with enough height I can add an iron and mat with no problems.  Added bonus:  A tackle box was much less expensive than bags and boxes sold at quilt stores.  And if you think tackle boxes are all green and camouflage-y, think again.  Evidently there are as many women fishing as there are men. 

Christmas shopping season is upon us and if you have someone in your life heading off to college or living on their own, a sewing kit may be a welcome gift.  I can’t say any hand sewing skills taught will stick (I just finished sewing a button on my daughter’s shorts), but it’s certainly a great thing to have in a pinch.  I’ve gotten so I put mine in the car every time I head to a wedding or some such event.  And most of the time someone there is glad I did. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Is it Reproduction or Authentic?

You’ve seen fabric such as this:

And this:

And even this:

In fabric stores or on websites.  In our quilting world, this is called Reproduction Fabric.  This means the cloth is an imitation of an older color palette and print produced by modern methods and with modern dyes.  Quilters tend to broadly categorize Reproduction Fabrics into three categories:  Revolutionary War, Civil War, and 1930’s Feed Sack designs.  This categorization tends to fit our quilting world pretty well as we muddle our way through patterns and applique.  However, what you may not realize is in some way, all fabric is reproduction fabric.  At some point in time, the colors and prints used now came from or was influenced by some other fabric in the past.  Even the wild 1970’s fabric was inspired by something else.  And in turn the 1970’s palette inspired this:

Which was designed by Maureen McCormick, who you may remember as Marcia Brady and who is also a quilter. 

The fabric playing field has plenty of Reproduction players and substitutes. And it’s fairly easy for cloth manufacturers to produce this material – and not just because of modern spinning, weaving, and dying methods.  What most quilters may not realize is a great many of the inspirational resources for the Reproduction Fabric are not copyrighted.  Much of the fabric from the Civil War Era and further back does not hold a copyright, which means cloth manufacturers are free to duplicate it without any fear of legal repercussions.  And if it did per chance have a copyright, it has long expired.  The exception to this copyright-free reproduction free-for-all begins with the feedsacks produced around 1925 and forward.  The feedsack manufacturers were very serious about their prints.  They hired artists to design their product and patents were held on the design of both the sacks and the prints – pretty much assuring the competition could not duplicate the feedsacks. 

So, what did the fabric manufacturers such as Moda and Windham do?  Any quick look at the larger quilting fabric websites such as Hancock’s of Paducah shows plenty of 1930 Reproduction Fabric and those fabric designs are still under copyright.  There is always the possibility these cloth producers contacted whoever owns the copyright and received permission to reproduce the fabric.  However, chances are better they took advantage of the copyright rule which states any design which is 35 percent different from the original is, in and of itself, its own and does not violate copyright law.  The designs on this Reproduction Fabric may be similar, and definitely holds the 1930’s color palette, but you’d be hard pressed to find a feedsack which looks exactly like the Reproduction Fabric. 

Another concept we quilters must remember is we are small fish in a large Reproduction Fabric pond.  Costumers are by far the largest consumer of this fabric – from all Eras.  While we tend to limit ourselves to the three categories of Revolution, Civil War, and 1930’s, costumers run the gamut. And I break “costumers” into two broad categories:  Professionals and Reenactors.  Professionals have given us breathtaking costumes for TV shows, plays, and movies such as Downton Abby, Outlander, Les Mes, Emma, The Great Gatsby, Mary Queen of Scots, Macbeth (2015), Little Women, Memories of a Geisha…and probably one you’d never think of:  The Muppets Christmas Carol.  Seriously…research the clothing during this period and then watch the movie.  It will blow you away…from the tiny smocking on the sleeves to the bonnet Miss Piggy wears.    

Reenactors – the second group of costumers – while smaller in number are no less passionate about accuracy of both pattern and fabric.  These are the folks who re-enact battles and time periods– which for us means primarily the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  I taught several of these young reenactors in school and was extremely impressed by their desire everything be as accurate to the time period represented as possible – from the food to the weapons to the clothing.  Inevitably at some point one of them would discover I sewed, and I was called on to construct everything from hoop skirts to soldier jackets (once even a wedding dress).  And while I may have the exact color of fabric needed in my stash, if it wasn’t representative of the time period, it was always politely declined until just the right fabric could be found. 

Yup.  In the Reproductive Fabric pond, quilters are indeed small fish.

However, there may come a time when you’re browsing Ebay or another auction site and come across fabric which the seller will authenticate as original to the time period – in other words, the Civil War fabric you’re interested in purchasing may actually be from the mid-1800’s.  How do you know if it’s really, truly material from this era?  There are several ways, and the first one to consider is the width.

Prior to 1915, fabric widths were under 24 inches.

From the 1920’s to the 1930’s, fabric widths were 30- to 34 inches.

From the 1940’s to 1950’s, fabric widths were 36- to 39 inches.

In the 1960’s, fabric widths expanded to the 44- to 45 inches we have today.  Also, please note these are generally American manufacturer widths.  European and Asian widths can be slightly less.

The dying process is another item which should be carefully looked at.  I realize some dyes in antique fabric will alter over time (and we will look at those later), but there are some general differences between 21st century dye processes and those used in older fabrics.  If a seller is claiming a piece of material is antique, the first action to take is flip the fabric over to the wrong side or ask to see a picture of the back of the fabric.  If the color saturated to the wrong side of the fabric (meaning the wrong side of the fabric is nearly identical to the front), chances are the cloth is authentic.  This is especially true of indigo fabric.  Reproduction fabric tends to have a definite right and wrong side and the difference is easily seen. 

Printing techniques may also give you another clue to determine if the fabric is authentic or a reproduction.  Older printing methods only allowed for printing one color at a time on the fabric, and often these colors didn’t line up perfectly, so you’ll find dyes “outside the lines.”  Today’s printing techniques are nearly flawless, so these errors in printing aren’t generally present. 

The last characteristic which should be taken into consideration are particular colors.  Broadly, there are three colors that should be closely examined.  In some instances, these colors do not exist in our palettes at all today.  In other cases, they exist, but because we may not use the same chemicals in the dye vats (primarily because we discovered they’re poisonous or just plain nasty), the colors in reproduction fabric may be just a tad different.  Specifically, these colors are turkey red, indigo, and some greens.  Let’s take a quick look at each.

Turkey Red – This name doesn’t describe the color so much as it does the process need to produce the red cloth.  Cloth manufacturers wanted a true red color and through a series of trial and error, the country Turkey (Levant Region) developed a process.  The reason fabric producers can no longer produce a “true” Turkey Red is because none of them would go through the process to have true Turkey Red fabric.  The process is arduous and well…gross.  After you read what goes into it, you’ll understand why modern cloth makers are happy to settle for close.  It begins with the root of the rubia plant – also known as madder – for the dye. 

Madder Plant

 1. Boil cotton in lye of Barilla or wood ash

2. Wash and dry

3. Steep in a liquor of Barilla ash or soda plus sheep’s dung and olive oil

4. Rinse, let stand 12 hours, dry

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 three times.

6. Steep in a fresh liquor of Barilla ash or soda, sheep’s dung, olive oil and white argol (potassium tartrate).

7. Rinse and dry

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 three times.

9. Treat with gall nut solution

10. Wash and dry

11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 once.

12. Treat with a solution of alum, or alum mixed with ashes and Saccharum Saturni (lead acetate).

13. Dry, wash, dry.

14. Madder once or twice with Turkey madder to which a little sheep’s blood is added.

15. Wash

16. Boil in a lye made of soda ash or the dung liquor

17. Wash and dry.

I know Halloween is long gone, but somehow, I feel if you threw in Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, no one in the dye house would be surprised.

 Anyway, the red in this quilt is a true Turkey Red…

And this is about as close as manufacturers can get to it today.

It is necessary to note that as fabric manufacturers moved away from the traditional method of producing Turkey Red fabric, they employed synthetic dyes, which turned out to be fugitive.  The term fugitive in the quilt world means the original color produced by the dying methods eventually fades into an entirely different color.  With the early synthetic Turkey Red dyes, the fabric faded into pinks, as you can see in this quilt.

The stars made from “real” Turkey Red fabric are still nice and red.  The ones made from the synthetic fugitive dye have faded into a light pink.

So, could you possibly find actual, true Turkey Red fabric from an antique dealer? Perhaps.  However, I would definitely compare the antique red fabric to a swatch of modern Turkey Red.  And if the fabric has been folded, I would carefully search the fold lines for any fugitive dyes – the early synthetic Turkey Reds can fade at the fold lines or in places where the fabric has been exposed to sunlight.

Greens

For a lot of antique quilt enthusiasts, when the color green is thrown out, their minds immediately think about the color called Poison Green.  We will talk about this green in a bit, but for right now, I want to give an overall description of the greens used in old quilts.

Early dyes were either vegetable (the color came from plants), animal (shellfish, cochineal), or mineral (the color was derived from minerals).  It wasn’t until 1856 that William Henry Perkin accidently discovered synthetic dyes.  Perkin was working to produce synthetic quinine.  Real quinine was used in the treatment of malaria, but it was expensive to produce from natural ingredients.  Perkin thought if he could find a way to artificially synthesize quinine, more malaria patients could be treated, and their treatments wouldn’t be so expensive.  However, in the process, he accidently discovered a synthetic dye which produced the color mauve.  Therefore, prior to 1856, dyes were produced from plants, animals, or minerals, and the colors created were red, yellow, purple, and blue.  Even with all the greenery out there in the big world, no one could find a dark enough natural green to produce green fabric.  As a result, early green dye methods involved overdying fabric.  It would first be dyed yellow and then dyed again – the second time in the blue dye vat.  And it’s these greens which tend to be the most fugitive. 

The greens in this quilt block were probably much, much darker when the quilt was first made.

The dyes used were Prussian Blue and Chrome Yellow.  The problem with this is the blue can fade more quickly than the yellow.  As the green fabric fades, it can look as if it is lime green or yellow green because the blue disappears at a faster rate than the yellow. If you come across an antique quilt with yellow-greens or lime greens, chances are the original color was a darker green and the blue dye is fugitive.  However, if the yellow dye is the fugitive, we’re left with quilts like this: 

And the original green vines and leaves appear blue.  Evidently two different kinds of green fabric were used on this basket quilt, as we have yellow-green leaves and blue vines and leaves. 

Around 1870, a synthetic green dye was produced, and it made deep green, teal, and blue-green fabric available.  It was an aniline (coal tar) dye and was horribly fugitive.  It would bleed out in water and fade to a light khaki color. 

Aniline Green Dyed Fabric was used in the sashing. It’s now faded to a light tan.

It wasn’t until after 1925 a reliable green dye was produced. 

Now about those Poison Greens.  When that term is tossed out in quilt groups, this is the green which usually comes to mind:

However, that isn’t poison green.   This is poison green:

Poison green dyes were based on copper arsenate – arsenic.  Chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742-1786) discovered arsenic’s use as a coloring agent in 1778.  It became a super popular color and was used in wallpaper, upholstery fabric, clothing, and food.  It was decades before people learned anything produced  with this green dye made them sick and could even kill them (this was years before anyone in Washington thought about developing the FDA).   Scheele himself fell victim to the poisonous side effects of his own green dye and passed away at the age 44.  By 1860, folks became aware of the arsenic in this green and it quickly fell out of favor (to show you how popular this color was before 1860, even the White House had a Green Room comprised of poison green paint, wallpaper, and fabric).  Light green did not regain favor until the 1920’s when a safe, light green dye was invented, and it was dubbed Mint Green. 

The chances of finding true antique greens are iffy at best, unless the fabric is post-1925.  Prior to 1925, they were notoriously fugitive.  Most, if not all, of the real poison green fabric has been destroyed.  I wouldn’t want any of it, regardless.  

Indigo

Natural indigo dye has existed for at least 6,000 years and was highly prized.  While raised primarily in Asia, it was discovered Pre-Revolutionary War, that South Carolina also had the resources for raising indigo.  I’d like to add this was discovered by a woman –  16 year-old Eliza Lucas.  While this plant was different than the one grown in Asia, it still produced the blue dye coveted by Europeans.  It was such a cash crop, when Benjamin Franklin sailed to France to procure their help in fighting the British, he took along 35 barrels of it to sell and help finance the war. 

Of all the dyes – even Poison Green – indigo has the darkest history.  The plants which produce indigo have to be treated with various chemicals (depending on which indigo plant is used) and the byproduct of chemical reaction is carbon monoxide, making the process extremely hazardous.  This coupled with the fact growing indigo is extremely labor intensive (it takes literally thousands of plants to produce a small amount of indigo), made it a crop expensive to grow regardless of where it was raised.  For many countries, including our own, this meant slave labor was key to its success. 

In 1865, work began on producing a synthetic indigo and by 1880 a fairly stable dye was formulated.  It was also much less expensive to make than traditional indigos.  However, the byproduct was still carbon monoxide when mixed with water.  There was a great deal of experimentation with liquids other than water – urine, for example.  The stale urine used contained ammonia.  The only byproduct of ammonia was zinc.  Anerobic bacterial liquids were also tried with varying results.  Eventually the molecule which produced the blue we’re used to now, isatin, was isolated.  When this occurred, synthetic dyes became readily available – and they were cheap.  So cheap that in 1873, when a couple of guys named Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss introduced a heavy-duty work pant for gold miners, they dyed them with this new indigo dye. 

Now about antique quilts or possible antique indigo blue fabric.  What I’m about to write are broad generalities. To read about specifics on this dye and fabric, I would point you to Barbara Brackman. She is the expert in this field, and her website is :  https://civilwarquilts.blogspot.com/

Indigo blue is a very stable color – so no fugitives to worry about here.  And it reigned supreme until 1840-1850 when Prussian Blues gained favor with dress and quilt makers. 

Indigo Blue
PrussianBlue

Many of the indigo fabrics had small white or light blue dots or figures on them.  Thousands and thousands of yards of indigo fabric were produced.  And this is what makes indigo quilts a bit tricky to date.  Because there was so much indigo fabric in the market, quilters and dressmakers purchased a great deal of the fabric.  So much so, the indigo cloth could have sat in a stash for years not like any of us know anything at all about that….before it was put in a quilt.  So, to accurately date an indigo quilt, you have to look at the surrounding fabric, the quilting pattern, and possibly the blocks used. 

Can you find antique indigo fabric?  Yes.  To be sure it’s the real deal and not the reproduction, look at the wrong side of the fabric.  The dye should have completely saturated the back of the cloth.  If it doesn’t, chances are it’s a reproduction. 

Now let’s chat a little about Reproduction Fabric.  Today’s cloth manufacturers have done a wonderful job matching dye colors and patterns used in antique fabric without the hazards some of the original textiles produced.  And it’s super easy to find nearly any type of Reproduction Fabric you want.  I know quilters tend to gravitate to Revolutionary War, Civil War, and 1930’s Feedsacks, but costumers need fabric from all eras.  I’m happy it’s as easy to find Edwardian Fabric Reproduction as it is Feedsack Prints.  I think it’s wonderful I can make a quilt with modern colors and prints and then turn around and use Reproduction Fabrics in the next one.  As quilters, we are truly blessed to have such wonderful varieties of material.

As far as acquiring Reproduction Fabrics, I do think it’s important to know your time era – what type of Reproduction Fabric are you drawn to?  For me, it’s the Feedsack Reproductions.  I love the 1925-1950 palette.  I tend to cultivate those Reproductions as well as the real feedsacks themselves.  These take up about one-third of my stash.  I keep these fabrics together in one place, sorted by colors.  I’ve studied this time period and generally have a good idea about what is a good reproduction and what isn’t.  I also like Civil War fabric, but not as much as the Feedsacks.  I have a smaller stash of these (it honestly fits into a small, plastic bin) and it’s also kept separate from my general stash.  My advice is to know your time period well.  Know what prints and colors are authentic.  Purchase Reproduction Fabric from manufacturers who make quality and authentic prints.  My favorite website to purchase any Reproduction Fabric is Two Bees. https://www.twobeesfabric.com/

Quality product, fast shipping, great service.  They are awesome.

Now, how to use them in a quilt?  This depends entirely on what the purpose of the quilt is.  If I’m making a copy of an antique quilt, I stick solely to the Reproduction Fabric of that time period.  This just lends itself to an authentic look. However, if this isn’t the case, I’ll use them just as I would any other stash.  For instance, look at this Fall quilt hanging now in my entrance way:

This quilt has Civil War Reproduction Fabric, as well as fabric pulled from my general stash.  I made this quilt as part of my Fall decorations, not as a replica of a Civil War quilt, so it really didn’t matter what fabric I used. 

Find your time period and study it before purchasing fabric.  Be sure the material correctly reflects the era it’s supposed to represent.  You may find you have a real love affair with Reproduction prints and they become what you are as a quilter. It’s happened to quilters such as Kim Diehl and Judy Rothamel. The main thing is to find the fabric you love and then have fun making the quilts!

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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Simply Beautiful

Sometimes quilters need a serious attitude adjustment.  Seriously.  We can be snobs if we’re not careful.  Take for instance a conversation I overheard a couple of months back at a LQS…

“I like that quilt, but it’s so…simple.”

Beg your pardon?  What’s there not to love about a simple quilt?  Not all quilts are destined to employ the same amount of detail as the Sistine Chapel.  Some quilts are designed to bask in their simplicity.  For instance, most Amish quilts could be deemed simple.  Few colors, simple shapes.  But I don’t think any quilter would turn their noses up at them.  They are beautiful in their simplicity and color placement – not to mention the quilting in most of them is exquisite. 

I’m not sure why some quilters think “easy” quilts are somehow lesser quilts than more complicated ones.  Not every minute of your quilting life can be tied up with demanding quilts.  Some quilts, due to their design work, are more complicated and take more time (think Lifers).  However, there’s not one quilter I know who wants their entire quilting life taken up by these more complicated quilts.  In my opinion, every quilter needs at least a few fast, simple quilt patterns in their inventory. Why?  Because these are the quilts you turn to when you need a quick quilt for a gift.  Just found out one of your fellow guild members is a soon-to-be grandparent?  You can pull out one of these patterns, alter the colorway to fit the gender or nursery, and have it pieced, quilted, and bound within a month.  And if the pattern is simple enough, it can be altered to fit a tabletop, crib, or bed size without a lot of thought.  This is harder to do with more complicated patterns. 

If you find yourself constructing a difficult quilt, sometimes an easy quilt is needed to keep your sanity.  Challenging quilts can require a great deal of thought and concentration.  After most quilters have worked on one of these quilts, they need a break.  Sometimes this break may only be a night or two away from the quilt, but sometimes you may need a little longer “time out” yet still want to quilt.  A simple quilt is the perfect project to have waiting in the wings.  After a few days of working on something “mindless” you’ll find yourself ready to go back to the challenging quilt.  And you’ll have been productive in the process, so it’s a win-win for both.

However, let me give you the two reasons I love simple quilts:  They’re stash busters and they’re perfect for charity quilt donations.  Let me explain.  First, stash happens.  You may have leftover chunks of fabric which are too big to trash.  And if you’re like most quilters, you don’t necessarily purchase material only with a specific quilt in mind.  As a result, you have what is called “stash” – extra fabric which has no specific, designated purpose.  Over time, this stash accumulates to the point a quilter needs to use some of it up just to keep his or her studio organized.  If you have a few simple quilt patterns, these can be used to “bust the stash,” or use all that extra fabric up.  The quilts produced from stash busting can be stored to give as last minute quilts or…and this brings us to my second favorite use for simple quilt patterns  — used as charity quilts. 

If the term “charity quilts” is foreign to you, let me explain what they are.  Charity quilts are quilts that are given away to nonprofit organizations which need quilts for various reasons.  Project Linus is probably one of the best known NPOs for quilts.  They distribute child-sized quilts and afghans to children in need.  While it is a national organization, they do have local chapters and drop off points, so you don’t necessarily have to mail your quilt into their headquarters.  Quilts of Valor is another well-recognized organization which accepts quilts and gives them to Veterans of all ages and from all wars.  This is also a nationally run NPO.  If you would rather donate quilts closer to your home, check with your local Social Services and Police Departments who may want them for children they must remove from homes or victims of domestic abuse.  My local guild makes lap quilts for the chemo patients at our local hospital.  I have three simple quilt patterns I use to make charity quilts, so much so that as I produce “scrappage” from cutting my quilts out, I can immediately sub-cut the left-over fabric into the units needed.  I store these until I have enough to make a quilt.  This process serves two purposes:  it does eliminate my stash and it allows me to make quilts for those who really need one.  One note of caution before you jump headfirst into charity quilt production – check with the recipient organization to see if there are any special requirements for the quilts.  Some organizations want the fabric pre-washed or for you to wash the quilt after it’s completed.  Some may want all machine binding and no hand applique, as most of these quilts visit the inside of a washer quite frequently.  Quilts of Valor only accepts quilts with patriotic themes and colors and has their own quilt labels for you to use. 

A simple quilt pattern works best (for me, anyway) if I want to make a charity quilt.  I can make the quilts quickly, accurately, and get them into the hands of those who need them sooner rather than later. 

Simple quilts and more complicated ones are equally beautiful when the work is accurate and there’s a good color palette.  No matter if you’re working on an easy quilt or one which has over 5,000 pieces, if the basic quilting guidelines are followed, they’re both successful. 

  • Keep a consistent seam allowance (usually ¼-inch)
  • Press towards the darker fabric
  • Put the borders on correctly
  • Square the blocks and quilt up

All of this brings me to my last point:  which is better, a complicated quilt which is not as accurate as it could be or a simple quilt that has been made with great accuracy?

Well…it really depends on who you ask. 

If you ask a quilt judge, they’ll more than likely tell you the quilt with the greater accuracy is the better quilt because it shows mastery of the skill set.  If you ask a beginner quilter, they may say the complicated quilt is better because it’s harder.  If you ask a seasoned quilter, such as myself, more than likely I would agree with the quilt judge – the quilt which shows the better command of the basics is better than the other one.

Finally, I want to leave you with the steps I take when either a simple or complicated quilt becomes just a bit “too much” and I find myself riddled with frustration. 

  1.  I re-read the pattern.  Sometimes, because I have quilted a long time, I tend to skip reading steps I’m super familiar with – such as making four-patches or HSTs.  There may be specific instructions in the pattern’s directions I’ve missed.  A slow re-read of them may clear up the issues.  Then I lock in on each step to make sure I really understand the process. 
  2. I carefully examine each block unit as I make them.  This is true especially if I’m piecing a quilt verses appliqueing one.  If the pattern does not supply unit measurements, I will make a test block and during this process, write down what each unit should measure.  As I make the units, I can be sure they “true up”, so the block should come out the correct unfinished size (or at least pretty close). 
  3. I draw on past experiences for present success.  After 30 plus years of quilting, I’ve constructed all kinds of blocks, quilts, and units.  If I’ve made a particular unit or block before, and this same unit is giving me issues in the quilt currently under my needle, I try to remember what I did in the past with this unit which made that quilt successful. 
  4. I don’t work if I’m tired.  This is actually a tricky issue with me.  Quite often, even if I’ve worked all day, cooked supper, and undertook a few household chores, the minute I step into my studio and begin quilting, I feel revived.  Normally I can quilt for an hour or two before stopping for the night.  However, if I’m working on a challenging quilt and I don’t feel pepped up after a few stitches, the best thing for me to do is shut it down for the night or work on an easier quilt or do some handwork.
  5. If I get super frustrated, the BEST action I can take is simply walk away.  More times than not, after sleeping on the problem or just taking some time not to think about it helps.  The problem filters through your brain and a solution is found the next day.  And this is harder to do than it sounds.  You may want to keep working, sure the next time you rip out that seam or unit, you’ll sew it correctly.  However, chances are, you won’t, and you’ll just end up more frustrated.  Truly, the best action is to just walk away. 

Simple quilts are awesome.  They can be just as beautiful as more complex ones and display just as many skill sets.  They can be great stash busters and charity quilts.  They can provide relief from more challenging quilts and allow you some mindless sewing when its needed.  It’s always good to keep a few of these patterns tucked back in your files!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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