From Lone Star to Morning Star

I really didn’t think Lone Star Quilt Block Construction would take two blogs…yet here we are…

There are no doubts that the Lone Star is a challenging block to construct.  And if you stick with the traditional look of the block, there are Y-seams to navigate.  Y-seams aren’t too difficult, but they do require precision.  Traditional paper piecing can help with that.  I think I would go the paper piecing route, too, if I wanted to make a Lone Star block smaller than 15-inches square.  There’s just too many points and seam matching to contend with and paper piecing takes the guess work out of it.

To begin with, many Lone Star paper pieced patterns will look similar to this: 

This star has larger diamonds than our pieced star and will finish at 24-inches square.  The steps for paper piecing a Lone Star are no different from paper piecing anything else (Go here: However since there are more pieces to this larger star version, I’d like to throw out a few helpful hints.

  1.  Don’t skimp on the fabric.  Be sure to give yourself lots of wiggle room.  There is nothing more upsetting than thinking you’ve got enough fabric for all the seam allowances and then find out you don’t.  Yes, paper piecing takes more fabric than traditional fabric, but your trading fabric  for precision.  And the Lone Star block requires precision.
  2.  Take your time.  Don’t rush the process.  Your patience will be rewarded with a perfectly pieced star.
  3. I would label the paper pieces with which fabric goes on each square.  This will help you avoid confusion. 
  4. If you’re printing the pattern on your printer, be sure it’s sized correctly. 
  5. DON’T FORGET TO MARK THE DOTS AT THE POINTS OF THE DIAMONDS AND TRIANGLES, ¼-INCH AWAY FROM THE EDGE OF THE FABRIC.  Some paper piecing patterns will have the dots; some won’t.  If your pattern doesn’t have them, be sure to make them. 

Just as with the pieced Lone Star, make your diamonds first.  Then sew two diamonds together so you end up with four sets of two diamonds each.  Be sure to stop and start at the dots.  Sew two sets together to get one half of the Lone Star and then sew the other two sets together for the other half of the Lone Star.  Make the dots ¼-inch away from the fabric edge on the corner of your squares which insert on the top left and right side and the bottom left and right side.  Repeat the same process for the tips of the triangles which will be inserted. 

Follow the same instructions from the pieced Lone Star in last week’s blog to insert the squares and triangles for the paper pieced one.  As a matter of fact, you may prefer to make these bigger (as we did in the traditionally pieced block) and then trim the block down once all the stitching is completed. 

A couple of final ideas before we leave the construction phase of the Lone Star and move back into the history of the block.  There are two variations I want to show you which I think are stunning and will eventually find their way into something I’ll make in the future.  The first one is this:

This block is called the Lone Star Starburst.  I love the simplicity of this block and the way the background drifts back into the star to break up the block. 

This Lone Star:

Is completely appliqued (what an easy-peasy way to make this block!).  A large Lone Star is pieced with solid fabric diamonds.  Then the material which would have been the different colored diamonds in a traditional Lone Star are laid out and stitched down the middle so the “float” across the surface of the Star.  They are then quilted around so the block gives off the traditional vibes of a Lone Star, but employs an easier, more fun (at least in my opinion) technique. 

Okay, now let’s return to the checkered history of the Lone Star block.  The Lone Star began its life as the Mathematical Star and along with the Irish Chain, Mariner’s Compass, Orange Peel, and Job’s Troubles is one of the oldest known quilt blocks.  It is an immigrant to our country, with its birth obstetrically in England.  It boarded a boat with early American settlers and found its way to the East Coast where it became very popular in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  And by the late nineteenth century, it had found its way to the Northern Plains via missionaries and was introduced to Native Americans, primarily the Lakota or Sioux people. 

Here’s where things get a bit sticky.  I am not Native American, so I am not trying to speak for them.  I am, however, reporting what history now tells us – the good and the bad.  The missionary surge on the Northern Plains did more than spread the doctrine of the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Catholics.  The missionary movement also sought to “civilize” the Native Americans.  Boarding schools, both on the reservations and off, sprung up and Native Americans were encouraged to send their children (if you want to read that as “forced” in some cases, that word would apply) to them.   Over and over the skills and lifestyles of the East Coast missionaries were pushed on the Native Americans to the point many of Lakota customs and much of their culture were pushed underground.

One of the activities which was offered to the Native American women and girls was sewing.  And depending on who you talk to about it, it had varying degrees of success.  Many of the women who were young girls in the boarding schools have unfavorable views of the lessons and their teachers.  The classes were strict and demanding.  The older women, who learned through sewing bees and group classes tended to enjoy learning and the social exchange.  As a matter of fact, these groups were so successful, the religious denominations had to “up their game” with their sewing circles so they could retain members – heaven forbid anyone in the Episcopal group be tempted to join the Catholic sewing circle because the Catholic sewing circle had more to offer. 

Long story short, many of the sewing circle members of all faiths learned to quilt.  And the pattern they embraced was the Lone Star, which they re-named The Morning Star.  The Morning Star is the last and brightest star on the eastern horizon before dawn.  It is believed the Morning Star represents the way the spirits come to Earth and serves as a link between the living and those who have passed.  The affinity for this pattern probably falls back on traditional Native American artwork as seen in items such as this:

And this:

The star is clearly seen in these and was probably pretty natural for them to embrace a quilt block which so closely resembled artwork they were already very familiar with.  Many of these early Lakota Morning Star Quilts were made from black, red, yellow, and white fabrics, representing the four directions.  This was traditional.  As time went on and more quilts were made, it became clear those early quilters preferred solid-colored fabrics.  These quilts grew to be symbols of honor among the Lakota people.  They were draped across the shoulders of warriors and hunters when they returned from battle or a successful hunt, or at the start of their Hanbleceya – Vision Quest.  They were also presented at funerals to honor loved ones on their final journey. 

Nowadays the Morning Star Quilts may have the center re-designed to incorporate additional cultural symbols such as an eagle, headdress, or buffalo skull.  They may also be made of sateen or cotton-polyester fabric instead of quilting cotton.  Yet they remain one of the most valued gifts of the Lakota people.  They are still draped over the shoulders of recipients to symbolize protection on their journey through life.  They are used in banners for graduations and school functions.  They are used as altar cloths in churches or placed on top of sweat lodges.  They are given to mark momentous life events such as weddings or births and offered as gestures of sympathy to a family honoring the passing of a loved one. 

For more information on Morning Star Quilts and the Lakota (Sioux) peoples, I recommend The Star Quilt on the Northern Plains:  A Symbol of American Indian Identity by Birgit Hans.

I hope this blog has served two purposes.  First to give you a bit of history about the Lone Star Quilt – its names, its journey, and its new-found purpose with Native Americans.  And secondly, to show you it’s not that difficult to make this block.  It may look intimidating, but it’s not.  You just have to take your time and up your precision game.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



The Journey of A Quilt Block: From England to the New World, From Mathematical to Lone Star

Let’s talk about star quilt blocks this week.  Star blocks are some of the oldest quilt patterns out there, with the earliest patterns dating back to the 18th century.  Anyone who has a penchant for making a quilt with star blocks – and probably even those of us who don’t – are familiar with this quilt:

It has gone by many names and has a checkered history.  We’ll look at both of those aspects; however, first let’s look at where this quilt/quilt block came from and how it found its way to the United States. 

For sure, this is one pattern that seems to be distinctly American.  Peruse almost any quilt collection in any museum in the United States and you’re sure to see one of these beauties.  But the star is also located in other countries – specifically England, where it was first named The Mathematical Star and the settlers carried this name with them when they landed on the Eastern Coast of the United States.  Early Mathematical Star Quilts employed English Paper Piecing as the primary construction method.  Since early EPP used geometry texts and lessons as a basis, it’s easy to understand why those quilters named the quilt Mathematical Star – it’s made of the rhombus (diamond) shape and two isosceles triangles facing each other.  It is a mathematical challenge to draft and it’s equally challenging to quilt (all that bias!). 

Once the pattern hit the US East Coast, the name changed.  It was particularly popular in the Baltimore area, where it took on the name Star of Bethlehem, named after the star which led the Wisemen to Baby Jesus.  It’s also been called Star of the East and Broken Star.  The smaller stars which sometimes surround the large star in the middle have been called Blazing Stars or (if the points touch) Touching Stars.  Two names bestowed on the pattern have special significance:  Lone Star and Morning Star. 

Texans took one look at the pattern and fell head over heels in love with it.  So much so that they’re the ones who gave the quilt the name “Lone Star” since Texas is the Lone Star State.  However, in my own  humble opinion, it was this woman, who not only made quilting cool, but also raised the rest of the nation’s quilting consciousness about the star:

That’s right.  Janis Joplin. 

In a letter dated August 22, 1965, a 22-year-old Janis Joplin wrote a letter to her fiancé, Peter de Blanc, from her parents’ home in Port Arthur, Texas.  In that letter she said, “Also of interest we’ve picked the pattern we’re going to use on the quilt.  It’s a huge 60” wide 8-pointed star that will shade from light blue at the center to dark blue on the outside.  It’s called – READY? – the Lone Star Quilt.  Too much, really.”

Native Americans also embraced this quilt pattern, calling their quilts Morning Star.  Missionaries introduced quilting to the Native American girls in their boarding schools in the late 1800’s. The name, Morning Star, refers to Venus when it appears in the sky just before sunrise.  This quilt, and how it came to be embraced by the Lakota (Sioux) people will be discussed a bit later in the blog. 

There is no debating that the star is beautiful.  It is also one of the most complicated blocks out there.  Even if you’re only making one block – a center medallion for a quilt – there are lots of pieces.  Which begs the question, what is the best way to construct this quilt?  Of course, you could always use the English Paper Piecing method, which was the first technique used to make it.  But with easier piecing techniques, there’s more than one way to assemble the star. 

Strip Piecing Method

I will use the directions for a small Lone Star block.  You can enlarge it for a bigger star and may even be able to use a jelly roll for the strips.  But for this star, you’ll need five fabrics with good contrast but still look good together.

Number 3 (in this case, that beautiful lime green) will be the most prominent, number one will be in the center,  You’ll need to keep this in mind when you choose your fabrics.

Cut one 1 ½-wide strips by length of fabric each from numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5.  Cut two from fabric 3.  You should have a total of six strips measuring 1 ½-inches x 42-ish inches.

Next cut each strip in half so you have 12 strips measuring 1 ½-inches x 21-ish inches.

Now we need to make three groups of fabric strips.  Group one is fabric 1, 2, and 3.

Group two is 2, 3, and 4.

Group three is 3, 4, and 5.  You’ll have three strips left over.  Set those aside for another project.

Please over look the mess in the background.

At this point, no matter if I’ve prewashed my fabric or not, I starch the strips.  It’s up to you if you want to use Best Press, Best Press 2, or regular spray starch (I’m team #spraystarch).  The object is to stabilize the strips.  They’re just a bit stretchy right now and you almost want them to have the texture of paper.  This means you will need to starch the strips several times.  Do not saturate your fabric and then iron it with a back-and-forth motion.  This will make everything wonky.  Lightly spray the back of the fabric and then with an up and down motion, press the starch into the fabric.  Repeat until the fabric has the texture and feel of writing paper.  I know this sounds like overkill, but it will really go a long way in keeping the bias intact and making your points sharp and meet each other beautifully. 

You will also want to check your machine to make sure it sews and exact ¼-inch.  With other blocks you can give yourself a bit of grace if your seam bobbles here and there, but not with the Lone Star block. 

Sew each of the three sets of strips together, staggering each one about an inch from the top of the preceding one.

PRESS THE SEAMS OPEN.  I know I normally encourage folks to press the seams to one side, towards the darker fabric. However, with so many seams converging in this pattern, it’s more important to reduce bulk to make construction and quilting easier.

Once the strip set is pressed flat, take it to your cutting mat.  There should be a 45-degree angle on your mat.  Find that and line the edges of your strip set up with it like this:

And cut the end off so you have a 45-degree angle. 

The align your ruler with the newly cut edge and measure over exactly 1 ½-inches to make your next cut. 

Take your time and measure accurately.  Continue cutting at a 45-degree angle until you have eight strip sets.  Repeat with the other sets until you have a total of three sets of strips, with eight in each set.

Now we’ll get ready to sew the strip sets together into a diamond.  The first diamond takes longer than the others, so be patient.  But once you get the hang of it, it’s really fairly simple.   Keep your strips in the groups we laid them out in once we first cut the fabric.  Group One is fabrics 1, 2, and 4.  Group Two is fabrics 2, 3, and 4. And Group Three is fabrics 3, 4, and 5. 

Take one strip from group one and one strip from group two.  Lay them beside each other so the seams meet.  Then flip the strip from group two over the strip from group one. 

It’s super important that the seams remain matched up during the construction process.  If they’re off, your star will look wonky.  And just because they’re lined up when you lay them out and flip strip two over strip one does not mean they’ll stay that way.  You may find it helpful to measure ¼ -inch on the back of strip two at the seams to understand where the strips need to line up so your points will be perfect.  I do this with a pin, sticking it through both fabrics and checking to make sure that the pin goes right through the seams of both strips. 

I think it’s more important to check this at the intersection of your seams than it is at the ends of the strips.  If you take time to pin carefully you will be rewarded with perfect points.

I repeat at the other two seams and pin everything.  Then stitch with a ¼-seam down the sides of the strip.  Open the two strips up and check.   If the seams align, you’re good to go! 

If not, grab your seam ripper and pick out the stitches and try again.  The first set may take you a bit more time than you’d like, but once you get the hang of it, the process goes much faster. 

Once you’re satisfied with the first two strips, add a strip from Group Three and repeat the process, sewing it to the strip from Group Two.  When you’re through with this, press the seams open.  At this point, I also starch the diamonds again. 

Once you have all eight diamonds made, it’s time to begin constructing the block. 

The traditional Lone Star Block uses Y-Seams.  I won’t go into all the details on how to handle Y-Seams, but I have written a blog about them.  To read that, go here:

At each of the points on the diamond, place a dot (I use a Frixion pen – the dot is in the seam allowance so it won’t affect anything, plus I can see the black ink better than a blue marker or pencil) ¼-inch away from the point. These will serve as your stopping and starting markers.   

Pin two diamonds together, using the same pinning method we used when we sewed the strips into diamonds.  Be sure to match the seams and pin carefully.  Then sew the two diamonds together, beginning and ending on one of the dots.  Personally I find it’s easier to sew from the top to the bottom of the diamond and be sure to backstitch or knot the thread at the beginning and ending of a seam.  Repeat with the diamonds until you have four pairs of diamonds.

Then, once again employing our pinning technique, sew two of the diamond sets together to form half the star.  Repeat for the remaining two other sets, so you have two halves of the Lone Star.  Do not sew the two halves together yet.  First we have to deal with the background fabric.

Cut six 5 ½-inch squares.  Cut two of the squares in half on the diagonal.  You should now have four squares and four triangles. 

I find it helpful to lay out my star next to my sewing machine.  It just keeps me on track with assembly.  Take the square in the left-hand corner and flip it over to the wrong side. 

On one of the corners make another dot, exactly ¼-inch away from the edge of the fabric.  We will match this dot to the dot on the diamonds to set it in the block.  Match the dots and pin along the seam line.

Beginning at the outer edge of the block, sew the background square to the side of the star until you get to your mark.  At this point, keep your needle down, right on that dot.

Lift your presser foot, keeping the needle down, and gently pull the edge of the background square toward the front of the sewing machine while also rotating the star towards it.  Rotate your fabrics until both line up on a straight line and you can finish the seam. 

Turn your block over and press well.  This time you can press your seams towards the solid square of fabric.

Now you will repeat this process with the triangle.  Mark the point which is inserted between the two diamonds with a dot ¼-inch away from the edges of the fabric.  Pin, sew from the outside of the triangle to the dot.  Keep your needle down in the center of the dot, rotate your fabric and continue up the next side.  Press again, pressing the seams towards the triangle.  It’s important to remember, the square and triangle will be a bit larger than the open area between the diamonds.  We can trim this down later.  It’s always easier to make things smaller than to make them bigger (except my thighs which have not got this memo).

Pin the two halves of the star together, matching the seams the same way you did earlier.  Sew them together, remembering to stop and start at the dots you made on the diamonds.  Press seams open.  Insert the side triangles using the same method you did for the top and bottom triangles.

Press the seam toward the triangle.  Trim the star to 15 ¼-inches.  This is the unfinished size. 

At this point you can make a small Lone Star Wall Hanging or use it as one block or the center medallion block in a quilt.

Next week we will take on paper piecing a Lone Star and I’ll try to explain the significance of this block to the Sioux.

Until next week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Jack the (Seam) Ripper

When you stop and think about it, many of the quilting tools we use are taken for granted.  Since they’re used so often, they definitely don’t have the sparkly attraction that things like rulers and patterns have.  They’re banal, nearly boring, and so common place we really don’t give them much of a second thought – you know things like pins and…seam rippers.

Ah.  Seam rippers.  The unsewing tools of our time.  The notion we like to spend as little time with as possible, primarily because their use notates a lack of progress…even regression.  They have a negative connotation and we truly do take them for granted.  So much so, I’d wager many of us are still using that cheap one which came with a basic quilting kit.

Please don’t tell me you’re still using this kind of ripper….

  Please tell me you’re not.  In this week’s blog, I want to address the dreaded seam ripper.  I want to discuss what makes a good one, how to use it, and my favorite kinds. 

The Ripper’s History

For as long as folks have sewn, we’ve made sewing mistakes.  Stitches in the wrong place.  Crooked stitches.  Too long or too short stitches.  And we’ve always had to have some way of removing them.  We may have used scissors, the tip of a knife, or the needle, but we’ve devised some way to remove the stitches and correct our sewing.  Then somewhere in 1883, W. Miller applied for a patent for a thimble with a small knife attached.  This was the first form of seam ripper.  Later on in 1898, Canadian John Fisher developed a tool whose sole use was for ripping out seams.  This tool was a twisted piece of metal with a small blade held between two pincher ends.  

1950’s Seam Ripper — notice there is no familiar red ball.

The design evolved from the single slicer between tiny jaws into a curved blade by the 1950s, with a little knobby protector appearing later.   From that 1950’s edition, little has changed.  There have been a few add-on features and in one or two cases, a complete overhaul, but generally little has changed about the basic seam ripper. 

General Facts about the Ripper

Appearance – Ninety-nine percent of seam rippers look the same:  A long and a short “finger” with the cutter in the curve between the two.  Very basic, but it does what it needs to do – rip out the stitches. There is also a handle and a shaft. 

It should be sharp – A sharp seam ripper should always be your favorite seam ripper.  This means the ripper can become dull over time and just like your rotary blades, needles, and pins, it should be replaced when it becomes dull.  Seam rippers are cheap (I’ve found I can buy 30 for around $18).  Replace it as needed.  Purchase several and keep one at your sewing machine and then others in your hand sewing project boxes.  If you can’t remember the last time you’ve replaced your seam ripper, then it’s time to do so.  A dull seam ripper is hard to use, and it may result in accidental cuts in your fabric.  With a dull blade, you push harder to remove stitches and that makes it easier to cut your fabric. 

You can mark and save your dull seam ripper to use to pull out corners or use as a stiletto when sewing.  If you do decide to toss the ripper, be sure to put them in a sharps container, empty Altoids type tin, or wrap tape around the business end so no one accidentally gets poked. 

Most of them have a red ball on the short finger — What’s it for?  This awesome feature allows you to slide the seam ripper along a seam for fast ripping. The red ball goes between the layers of fabric and holds them apart, so they are not cut when the thread is.  This is much, much faster than picking out individual stitches, or clipping every five stitches and pulling the seam apart.  It also helps align the seam with the blade of the seam ripper for easy cutting.  Granted this takes a bit of practice, but once you gain this skill, you’ll never unsew any other way.  It’s fast and as painless as ripping stitches can ever be. 

If your seam ripper doesn’t have the red ball, I don’t recommend sliding it down seams.  When you purchase a new ripper, just make sure it has the red ball on the short finger. 

The handle and cap are important – Because seam rippers are relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to think they’re all alike, or at least pretty similar to each other.  While it’s true all of them are made to remove erroneous stitches, it’s not true they’re all alike.  Yes, all seam rippers have a handle, but not all the handles are ergonomically friendly.  And while it is our goal to spend as little time with the ripper as possible, when it is in our hand we don’t want it to put a great deal of stress on our palms, fingers, and wrists.  Personally I don’t recommend this type of seam ripper:

It really stresses out my wrist.  A thicker handle works better (at least for me).  Seam rippers are one of the cheaper quilting tools, and like thread and needles, your personal preference should dictate your choice.  Try out several to see which works best for you.

You also want a seam ripper with a secure cap – especially if it will be tossed in a travel sewing kit or you have little ones around your sewing area.  If you have a hard time keeping up with your cap, remember many of them fit snugly on the end of the handle.

It can do more than just remove incorrect stitches – It can remove seams to change the design of a fitted garment.  It can be used to open up buttonholes.  It can be creatively used to rip jeans and other clothing or fabric for re-styling and repurposing. 

Choosing the Right Ripper for You

Just like it’s important to have the right needle and thread for the job, it’s just as essential to have the correct seam ripper.  As a matter of fact, you may find you need more than one ripper in your studio.

  • If you are working with fine fabric and thin thread, you may opt for one of the smaller rippers.  These have fine blades and smooth edges which prevent the ripper from inadvertently ripping or snagging the fabric.
  • If you’re sewing with heavier fabric like denim, you will want a more heavy-duty ripper.  These rippers are larger and have heavy duty blades which can easily cut through the heavier thread used with denim, outdoor gear, and weather-proof clothing.  They also can be used for refashioning garments that require a strong push to rip.
  • If you have arthritis, carpal tunnel, or any hand, finger, or wrist pain, one of the ergonomically shaped rippers is helpful.  Comfort is a key consideration in any activity and these ergonomic seam rippers with a soft grip and round shape can ease hand strain and stress. 
Ergonomical Ripper
  • Consider the “add-ons” many seam rippers now come with.  Seam rippers can now come with a magnifier, LED light, an awl, and a needle threader. 
  • Think about the newer model ripper like this:

Instead of having the two fingers with the blade in the curve, this seam ripper is simply a curved blade. (In all honesty, I think it’s a type of scalpel because the few times I did teach life science and had to perform dissections, the scalpel looked like this).

This ripper has an entirely different styling than traditional rippers.  The curved blade is not tucked away below a point – it is at the edge of the shaft.  It features a large handle and sometimes comes with a thumb hold for better control.  The blade is thin and extra sharp so it easily cuts through unwanted threads, sliding under the stitches for smooth cutting.  This type of ripper is great for use with sergers. 

Zone of truth – because I don’t have small ones at home (even my grand darlings are now heading towards double digits), I’m pretty lax about capping my rippers.  However, this is the one type of seam ripper I religiously cap – the blade is super, super sharp. 

Now before we get into this last part – the part where I rank my favorite seam rippers – let’s have a moment in Sherri’s Zone of Truth.  First, I’ve sewed and quilted for nearly 40 years.  Trust me, I have spent some quality time with seam rippers.  Second, since I dislike having quality time with seam rippers, I tend to use the ripper which is most efficient and least destructive so I can return to sewing.  Third, I am not employed by any of the companies which produce these seam rippers.  I receive no “pro-bono” products from them, nor do they sponsor any of my blogs.  The following is my unadulterated opinion based on years of use.  These are ranked from “okay” to “this is the best seam ripper ever.”

Number Four – Nifty Notions Brass Seam Ripper. 

This is the Queen of Rippers.  It’s brass, so it has a bit of “heft” in the hand.  It also feels down-right luxurious.  Legend has it the world will end before the red ball falls off a Nifty Notions Seam Ripper.  Rumor also has it that the ripper stays sharp for at least a decade.  It is wonderfully stylish and guaranteed to bring ripper envy in your quilting group sessions.  The reason this ripper didn’t rank higher was its price.  It sells from $16 to $24 (you can get them personalized, which is the reason behind the $24 price).  I have never had to contact Nifty Notions customer service, so I can’t vouch for how good or bad it is, but the internet was mixed.  Some complained that the ripper came to them dull, or the point snapped off and Nifty Notions was slow (or simply didn’t) make it right. 

However, in my research I have found that our friend Eleanor Burns has a brass seam ripper on her site which is around $15 and it received 4.5 out of 5 stars.  So if you simply must have a brass ripper, you may want to check out Quilt in a Day website. 

Number Three – The Surgical Seam Ripper.

 Yes, this seam ripper is just a tad on the scary side.  And yes, you must be more careful with this ripper than the others.  However, if you have a large area you need to unsew, this is the tool for the job. 

Number Two – The Mini or the Maxi Seam Fix Ripper. 

If you’re not into all the bells and whistles and simply want a great seam ripper without spending a lot of money, this is your ripper.  It comes fully loaded with a sharp blade, safety ball, a lid, and comes equipped to erase the threads which have been ripped out.  The lid has this large, rubber bulb on top.  Simply run that over the threads in your seam and it picks them all up.  The mini is my favorite ripper to keep with my hand sewing projects or in my sewing travel bag.

Number One – Clover 482 Seam Ripper

In my opinion, this seam ripper gives you the most bang for the buck.

I’ll be honest…I found this ripper on sale a few months ago and purchased eight of them.  They’re just that good.  Its handle is comfortable to hold and in my opinion it’s the best all-around ripper on the market.  It’s ergonomically friendly, the blade is thin but sharp, and it does take a long time to dull.  I will admit, the cap doesn’t stay snug, so just that word of caution.  These are a smidge over $6 on Amazon.

One final word about rippers.  If you use an embroidery machine, you know how long it takes to rip out any mistakes made.  I have found this

Works wonderfully well for embroidery machine mistakes.

Since I’m actually writing this the night before Halloween, it seemed fitting to call this blog Jack the (Seam) Ripper.  However, unlike our ripper’s scary, unknown counterpart, our ripper only unsews mistakes and clears the path for better stitches.  And like a few of the quilting notions we use regularly, a good seam ripper isn’t that expensive.  Make sure you use one which doesn’t put stress on your palm, wrist, or fingers.  Try out a few and see which one works best for you.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stiches,



Retreating to Quilt

Tucked away in the small North Carolina town of Browns Summit, 15 miles north of Greensboro, straddling both the Guilford and Rockingham County lines, lies Haw River State Park.  Covering over 1,400 acres, this is North Carolina’s newest state park.  It has hiking trails, a lake, cabins, and all the other amenities most state parks have.  The center of the park is the Summit.

The Summit Conference Center

The Summit once was owned by the Episcopal Diocese.  The state purchased the Summit and 300 acres of land as its initial development.  The Summit Conference Center and lodge rooms are central to this blog because they host my guild’s Fall Quilt Retreat.  We sew and have meals in the conference center and sleep in the lodge rooms.  The High Point Quilt Guild has held this retreat every year since 2012, except for 2020 and 2021.  COVID prevented anything from happening in 2020.  We thought 2021 was a go until Tropical Storm Wanda made her presence felt.  We had just pulled up and unloaded when the power went out.  None of us were too happy about returning home less than a few hours after we arrived, but with Duke Power making no promises about when the lines would be humming again, we had no choice. 

This year, we had a total of 24 quilters gathered for four days, and three nights of quilting.  Just quilting.  The park takes care of everything else, including meals.  Which are delicious, as the park has a chef on staff. 

When the High Point Quilt Guild formed in 2012, one of the first activities it wanted to undertake was a quilt retreat.  However, we wanted the retreat itself, as well as the location of the retreat, to fit certain qualifications.  First, we wanted it to be affordable.  Second, because many of our members were still employed full-time, we wanted a location which didn’t take hours to get to, since some members would have to come after they got off work.  And third, it needed to be handicapped accessible as some of our members used walkers and others had knee and hip replacements.  Plus, if the location was handicapped accessible, that meant there were no stairs – no hauling your sewing machine up and down the steps.  Haw River State Park met all these requirements.  From January until April of every year, the retreat registration is open only to guild members.  After April 1, we open registration up to other quilters. 

It’s no secret I love this quilt retreat.  For me it’s not only four days of quilting, but also four days of not being accessible by phone.  It’s not sitting in front of a computer for hours dealing with numbers.  It’s four days of being with close friends who have the same passion as I do.  It’s so many creative minds melding in one spot.  I come away refreshed and re-invigorated about my craft.  And if it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, I come away healed.  I laugh so much I nearly pee myself.  

I packed several projects – I always pack more than I get around to working on, but I’d rather have that problem than be sitting there with nothing to do because I got it all done.  However, there were three projects I wanted to complete if nothing else got finished:  My temperature birds, my reverse applique quilt, and the hexie quilts.  I took my temperature birds with me.  I was behind on three of them but got caught up the first day.  They all were paper pieced and sewed onto the appropriate columns.

I make a bird a week, and it’s actually kind of nerve wracking to know I have fewer than 10 birds left – meaning there’s fewer than 10 weeks left in 2023!

Couple of things about these birds. First, yes, they’re paper pieced. Second, North Carolina autumns are a toss of the dice. The top feathers on the wing represent the highs of the week and the bottom feathers the lows. You can tell our temperatures vary wildly in the fall. Shorts one day, jeans the next. I don’t pack away my summer clothes until December.

For those of you who remember this blog:, you know I discussed making two quilts for my children.  My mother hand pieced hexie flowers during the pandemic shut down.  She handed those off to me, and I had to design a quilt highlighting these wonderful blocks.  These are the result of the blog:

I still don’t think there’s a more perfect gray to set these hexies off than Robert Kauffman’s da Vinci line.

My Reverse Applique Quilt was completely quilted prior to retreat.  However, at retreat, the binding was made and sewed on, as well as a hanging sleeve and label. 

In retrospect, I wish I would have chosen another color other than that beautiful Robin Egg blue. I love the color, but I think it blends in too much with the background fabric.

If you want to make your quilt sound all fancy, pick a color and look up its Latin name. Caeruleum is Latin for blue.
I quilted the life out of this quilt. I wanted the background to recede as much as possible so the blue would “poof” more. I quilted this on my Janome M7 Continental, no rulers, all free hand. I’m kind of proud of that.

I didn’t lay a finger on the other projects because this year’s retreat was … different.  At least for me.

The other nine prior retreats seemed to be, well, driven, for lack of a better word.  Get there as early as possible.  Get set up.  Then tear through your to do list as hard and fast as you can.  This year was softer.  Comforting.  Sure, I know we all got plenty done, but there also was lots of talking and fellowshipping.  Not just about quilts, but about what was going on in our lives.  Sharing.  Extending compassion and sympathy.  Two of our members recently lost their fathers.  Several of us are now dealing with aging parents.  A couple were new to widowhood. 

Quilters taking care of quilters as only quilters can. 

We pulled out of the parking lot after lunch on Sunday.  I left to the sound of women laughing and looking forward to next year.  Good-byes and “I’ll see you soons.”  Exchanges of email and phone numbers.  With my heart warmed and my soul filled, we left out of the park and headed home, only to count down the days until next year.

Every quilter really needs a quilt retreat like this in their life. Every woman needs a group of women friends like those I quilt with.

Until next week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


PS — Bonus Pic. I finished this before retreat. It’s from the pattern Wild Tulips by Dawn Heese. This is probably the most “folk art” quilt I’ve ever made. I tend to go for quilts with a bit more precision. Folk Art quilts are very forgiving and part of their charm is their “un-precision.” I used the freezer paper method of applique with this and truly enjoyed every stitch.


The Fluffy Stuff in the Middle — Part II

Continuing our batting discussion from last week…

The fiber content of batts can be cotton, polyester, silk, alpaca, or bamboo.  These five are the most common.  There are blends – such as cotton/polyester – too. 

  • Cotton – Cotton batting carries several advantages.  First, it’s a natural fiber, so it breathes.  It doesn’t slip around as much during the quilting process.  Many cotton batts are bonded, therefore the fibers stay together and don’t shift or beard.  However, remember bonding uses a glue or other adhesive, meaning the quilting lines should be close together.  This is a great batt for traditional and heirloom quilting as it softens with age. Cotton batting also shrinks, which is something you can use to your advantage as you plan the appearance of your quilt.  If you want your quilt to have an antique appearance – the lovely, puckered look of older quilts – then pre-wash your fabrics.  Assemble your quilt top, quilt it, and then toss the quilt in the washer.  Allow it to air dry or dry on the gentle cycle of your dryer.  The cotton batt will shrink, but the fabric won’t, and the finished result will be that beautiful, puckered appearance. 

While we’re discussing pre-washing, let’s park it here for a hot second and address the issue of pre-washing batting.  I don’t, as a rule of thumb, pre-wash batting.  Even if I have horrible wrinkles or fold lines, I don’t do it.  In my opinion, this could thin the batting in spots since it’s not protected by a quilt top and a backing.  The only circumstance I can conceive about washing a batt would be if it had a horrible odor.  And then I think I’d return the batt and get a new one. 

I use cotton batts if I want my quilt to have great drapability.  Cotton batting is a low-loft batting, which allows it to have a soft feel.  I use cotton batting in any pieced quilt which is show-bound.  It just gives pieced quilts the best appearance.  A couple of additional thoughts about cotton batting before we move on.  First, since cotton batting is low-loft, it’s ideal for use with embroidery machines or quilting on a domestic sewing machine.  There won’t be a lot of bunk to deal with in the harp.  Second, while it’s great for machine quilting, it’s difficult to hand quilt.  It’s just a tough batt to work a hand quilting needle through and have those tiny, hand quilting stitches we all want. 

  • Polyester – Like polyester thread and fabric, polyester batting has taken a pretty bad rap in the past.  When I first began quilting (back in the dark ages), there weren’t a lot of quilting references and there was no internet to Google information on batting.  I walked into a big box fabric shop to buy batting and all they had was polyester.  Since I was making a baby quilt, I assumed I needed the fluffiest batting available – which was a 1-inch polyester batt.  I was so wrong.  I couldn’t finagle the quilt sandwich under my sewing machine needle, much less put a hand stitch in it.  I finally tied the poor thing. 

But that’s all there was available – thick, polyester batting.  Once cotton and wool batts entered the marketplace, polyester batting retreated and reformed itself. 

Today’s polyester batting comes in a variety of lofts (from an 1/8-inch to ½-inch) and has none of the “sparse” spots the earlier polyester batts had.  For me, polyester batting is the ideal batt for children’s play quilts or any quilt which will see the inside of a washing machine frequently.  Polyester batting washes well, dries quickly, and doesn’t mold or mildew.  It’s available in white, black, and light pink (Mountain Mist Cream Rose). 

Since polyester is a synthetic fiber, it doesn’t breathe well and can overheat.  But it is a super strong fiber that holds its shape even when washed repeatedly.  I use polyester batting on the rare occasion I’m asked to make a play quilt.  However, if I plan to hand quilt a top, the 1/8-inch polyester batting is my go-to unless it’s a show quilt (then I opt for silk).  It hand needles like butter. 

  • Silk – This batt quilts like no other.  It takes hand or machine quilting and elevates it to the next level.  It is a bit on the expensive side, so I tend to reserve its use to show-bound or heirloom quilts.  If you can’t find a wool batt to use, silk makes a terrific substitute.  Most silk batts have some polyester blended with the silk fibers to stabilize the silk and reduce shrinkage.  It’s available in natural and black. 
  • Wool – This is a very warm batting, and it adds the warmth without the weight.  Wool batting is light, it absorbs moisture, and it’s great for use in cool, damp climates.  Like silk batting, it hand needles beautifully and can be used year-round, not just in the colder months.  It’s more expensive than cotton or polyester, but most of the time it doesn’t cost quite as much as silk.  Years ago wool batting required dry cleaning, but now it’s washable.  It comes in natural and black.   

If I make a quilt that’s both pieced and appliqued, this is my batting of choice.  The thicker loft means my quilting stitches will take the spotlight.  And when those stitches are around my applique, it means the applique will appear to “pop” off the quilt top and also be showcased.  If the applique quilt is show-bound or is made for a special occasion, I will “double batt” the quilt – I’ll use a cotton batting against the backing and a wool batting against the top. 

  • Bamboo – Zone of Truth.  I tried the bamboo batting years ago, as soon as it hit the market.  I was not impressed.  It was stiff and difficult to work with.  However, jump ahead to 2023 and it’s an entirely different bamboo batting ball game.  The bamboo fibers are mixed 50/50 with cotton fibers and is now luxuriously soft and supple. Bamboo battings have an excellent loft and a thin scrim which make it perfect for machine quilting.  Like cotton batting, it’s a challenge to hand quilt.
  • Alpaca – This is a very new batting, and I’ve never tried it.  The manufacturer has stated it’s a lot like wool batting and it’s also a very warm batt.  They’re still working with the bonding method so that this type of batting can be washed like wool.  It is available in natural and black.  If any of my readers have tried it, I would love to know how you feel about alpaca batting.
  • Cotton/Polyester Blends – Overall, this is my “go-to” batting for cuddle quilts, charity quilts, and generally any quilt which isn’t made for a special occasion.  This batting really gives you the best of both worlds – the durability of polyester with the look of cotton.  Most quilters simply refer to this blend as “80/20” – which refers to an 80 percent cotton/20 percent polyester blend.  However, the ratio of cotton to polyester fibers varies from brand to brand.  This type of batting lends itself to both machine and hand quilting.  Because of the addition of polyester, the loft is slightly higher than 100% cotton batting. 

If you use a long arm artist, be aware this cotton/poly blend is what most of them keep on their long arm.  So, if you want a specialized look for your quilt that can’t be obtained by the blend, you may want to verify what type of batt they use and offer to purchase any specialized batt they don’t have on hand.    

I realize this is a lot of information about batting – more than you may have wanted to know or even to consider!  However, batting is just as critical to the appearance of your quilt as the top or backing.  Even though it’s not seen, its after effects surely are.  However, there are still a few more things to keep in mind.

  1.  If you choose cotton batting, give it a close eyeballing to make sure there are no seeds in it.  Most cotton batting is very high quality, but even with this, sometimes you’ll see a seed or two.  Use a pair of tweezers to remove the seeds.  The reason?  Over time they will leave a stain.
  2. Again, if you’ve picked cotton batting to go in the middle of your quilt sandwich, you probably want to chose white over natural color.  And I’ll admit this is a personal preference thing.  I tend to use a lot of white in my quilts and the dark flecks in the natural cotton batting can show through.
  3. If you’re machine quilting on your domestic sewing machine, a low-loft batting may work best.  The high-loft batting is thicker and takes up more room, thus making it more difficult to maneuver around your machine’s throat.
  4. Know when to use black batting.  Just like the other battings, black batting comes in a variety of blends and lofts.  I don’t use black batting often, but it is important to know when to use it.  If I’m making a quilt that has a lot of black and white in it, I’ll use black batting.  However, I will also plan on quilting the black areas more densely than the white areas. 

I will also use black batting if I’m using vivid reds, greens, blues, and purples.  The black batting actually enhances the warmth and richness of the quilt top’s intense dark hues.  And of course, if my quilt uses black background fabric, I will use black batting. 

  •  There is a right and wrong side to batting.  Lots of folks don’t realize this, but it’s true.  Just like there’s a right and wrong side to fabric.  And if you place your batting wrong side up, you can have issues with thread tension as well as bearding.    Needle punched batting has a right and wrong side.  Even if the label on the batting doesn’t indicate if it’s needle punched or not, you can tell by looking at it.  If one side of the batting has tiny dimples in it, it’s needle punched.  And the side with those tiny dimples in it is the right side.  The wrong side of needle punched batting has tiny balls all over the surface.  This side should go against the backing fabric, and the dimpled side should go against the top.  If you reverse this, the chances of your quilt bearding have increased, because as your needle pierces the tiny balls, it will pull up fibers.  There’s a right and wrong side to most bamboo batting, too, as many bamboo batts are needle punched. 

If your batting has a scrim, the scrimmed surface is the wrong side.  Make sure it goes against the quilt back.  The reason behind this is it’s believed the side with the scrim should be against the side of the quilt which receives the most abuse.  So, while the topic of which side of the quilt – top or back – receives the most abuse is a hot one, most batting producers agree the back of the quilt receives the most wear because it’s always against something – a bed, a wall, etc.  One the chance the batting has a scrim and is needle punched, go with the dimples against the quilt top. 

However, if you’re working with a bonded batting, rest easy – it doesn’t have a right or wrong side.  And if you’re in any doubt, take a piece of the batting and push a hand sewing needle through it from each side.  Whichever side is easiest to needle is the right side.

  •  If you’re quilting on a domestic machine, always use a new needle.  It will cleanly punch through all the layers of the quilt sandwich, so bearding won’t occur.  My favorite domestic machine quilting needles are microtext and top stitching needles.  The size of the needle will depend on the thread used.  Long arm needles are more heavy-duty and can take the abuse of quilting a top or two (depending on the side of the quilts) before being replaced. 

The longer you quilt and the more different brands of batting you try out, you will probably find yourself liking one brand over the other.  My very favorite brand is Hobbs, followed by Quilters Dream, and then Warm and Natural.  I like Hobbs for lots of reasons:  They have different lofts and blends, so I can find just about anything I need for any quilt I’m making, and their customer service is stellar.  They also have a very informative website.  If I have any questions about what to use, I generally can find the answer there.  And if not, an email to a customer service rep is answered quickly. 

If you plan to quilt your own quilts on a domestic, mid-arm, or long arm, here’s one more reason you may want to give Hobbs a try — they have a sample pack of their 13 most frequently used batts in 18-inch squares.  Purchase a pack, sandwich them between some quilter’s-quality muslin and experiment.  This is an economical way to determine which type of batt works for you. 

Finally, as it is with fabric, you will have batting scraps.  Unless they are small, you may want to hang on to them.  For the larger pieces, sort them according to fiber content – keep all the 100% cotton batting scraps together, all the cotton/poly together, all the wool together, etc.  If you’re running short on a batting, you can zig-zag the larger pieces of batting together to make the batt long enough.  Overlap the pieces just slightly and make a clean cut with your rotary cutter.  Then move the pieces so they lay side by side, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, and  zigzag  together.  If you zigzag them with one piece on top of the other, a ridge will form and it will show through your quilt top.  Just be sure use all the same type of batting pieces together – in other words, if you need to make a cotton batt a few inches longer, be sure to use your 100% cotton batting scraps.  If you use another type of batting scraps, the shrinkage ratio may be different, and this will make your quilt look wonky once it’s washed.

I used the smaller batting pieces on my Swiffer Sweeper.  It works so much better than the disposable cloths.  I have used the super-small pieces to dust knick-knacks and furniture.  The batting gets into the grooves better than anything else I’ve ever used.

Before closing, let me encourage you to quilt as many of your own tops as you can.  For years I quilted on Big Red, then a mid-arm, and finally a long arm.  Since I purchased my Janome M7 Continental, I find myself quilting anything smaller than a twin-sizes quilt on it.  Quilting your own tops not only gives you the satisfaction of completing each step of the construction process, it gives you valuable insight on why it’s important to fully complete each step of the process.  If you haven’t thought twice about why it’s important to square up after each step or reduce bulk as much as possible, quilting your own quilt will give you first-hand experience on both how and why it’s important.  I’ve come to love the quilting process as much as everything else.  I love to see the texture pop off the quilt, right beneath my hands.  You don’t have to quilt all your quilts, but I would encourage you to quilt some of them.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

PS – Standard disclaimer. I’m not employed by Hobbs Batting Company, nor do I receive any type of reimbursement or fee for endorsing their product.  I only promote products that I have a history of using and that history includes consistently great results and superb customer service.  In my over 30 years of quilting, Hobbs is one of those companies.

PS #2 — About a week or so after I wrote this blog, one online quilt store offered flannel-backed batting, touting one of its qualities as “You don’t have to baste the quilt because the flannel works to keep everything in place.” I read through the description, but wasn’t too hyped about the price — a twin-sized batting was nearly $50 before shipping and handling. Birdie Bird produces this batting. If any of my readers have tried this or do try this batting in the future, would you be so kind as to let me know how well it quilts? I would appreciate it.


The Fluffy Stuff in the Middle

Let’s define a quilt. 

I know the term “quilt” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people because the word tends to evoke an emotional response. 

My grandma quilted.

My momma left me this quilt when she passed.

I loved making this quilt.  I can remember working on it at quilt bee.  There sure were a lot of laughs involved.

In this sense, the word “quilt” is a noun.  It’s a thing.  However, it can also be a verb – as in “How are you gonna quilt it?”  In other words, what quilting motifs will you employ to hold the quilt together? 

And this is where I want to define a quilt.  A quilt is comprised generally of three layers – a top (the pretty part everyone sees), a back (the part not seen as much, but can be equally as pretty as the top), and the middle (the part no one sees once the quilt is finished).  The top is given much care and consideration.  Months, if not years, can go into making a quilt top.  The backs can be one solid piece of fabric, or it can be pieced.  I’ve seen backs so beautifully pieced they could serve as the quilt top if the quilt needed to be reversed.  Once the quilt is completed, the middle part is never seen again (hopefully). 

We Americans typically call this middle part the batt.  The batt, or batting, can be made from cotton fibers, polyester, wool, silk, bamboo, or a combination of fibers.  Europeans and Canadians call it wadding. We’re used to something like this:

However, the middle part of a quilt doesn’t always need to be a batt.  It can be a piece of flannel or even a sheet.  Quilts which employ a lighter middle are sometimes called summer quilts, and as the name implies, are used during the warmer months when a heavy quilt would be too much for a bed. 

Antique Summer Quilt

Sometimes a summer quilt wouldn’t even have batting in it – it would simply be a top and a back.  However, quilters soon figured out that something in the middle – an old sheet, a piece of cotton flannel, etc., — made the quilting easier and the stitches prettier.  On the opposite side of the season, winter quilts were sometimes quilted on top of a heavy banket, often making the blanket both the middle and the back of the quilt.

Cathedral Windows Quilt

There are also quilts which wouldn’t even think of having a batting.  Cathedral Windows quilts have no batting.  Yo-yo quilts don’t either.  Quilts made from denim generally won’t use a batt because the quilt is already pretty heavy.  A batt would just make it heavier and more difficult to tie or quilt.  Some crazy quilts used a batt, and some didn’t.  These are still called quilts, despite the absence of the third layer.  Some quilters would argue these middle-less quilts aren’t true quilts, and according to the strictest definition of a quilt, this is true.  However, it doesn’t negate the workmanship of any of them.  These quilts are embraced by quilters and quilt shows (who usually show these quilts in the “Other” category). 

Because it’s not seen, it’s easy to give batting the short shrift.  Does it really matter what kind of batting you use?  Shouldn’t you just go with what your long arm artist has on her machine?  After spending lots of money on fabric for the top and back, is it so wrong to go cheap on the batting?  Let’s take a few minutes to look at the history of batting, when it went commercial, and the differences and uses of today’s batting.

Until the mid-1800’s if you made a quilt, you couldn’t just stroll down to the General Store and pick up a pack or roll of batting.  Nope.  If you made a quilt, you knew you had to make your batting, too.  Women grew cotton or purchased cotton for the purpose of making their batts.  Before the invention of the cotton gin in 1794, this meant the cotton bolls were spread out before the fire to warm.  Once warmed, the seeds were picked out of the bolls (seeds were easier to remove from warm cotton).  Then the cotton was carded with brushes such as this:

Into strands and soft puffs of cotton.  These were then laid on top of the backing fabric.  It was a painstaking and time consuming process. The cotton puffs and strands needed to be laid out as evenly as possible to avoid “hollows” in the quilt.  Once this was done, the quilt top was basted on and tiny, hand quilting stitches held all three layers together.  Because the batt was literally cotton fibers and not a solid piece, the hand quilting stitches had to be set close together to keep the cotton in one place and stop it from migrating.

Of course the introduction of the cotton gin helped speed up the process.  The machine (mostly) removed the cotton and debris, cutting down on the time spent making the batt.  However, it’s this early process of batt construction which helps quilt dealers and appraisers date a quilt.  Not only will they carefully look at the fabric and dyes, but they will also see what the batt will tell them.  If there are cotton seeds present, the batting has migrated a bit, and the quilting stitches are small and set close together, chances are the quilt was made prior to 1794 (although women continued to make their own batts after the invention of the cotton gin).  Fabric color, patterns, and dyes tell the rest of the story.  It is also not unusual for these early quilts to use an old quilt as a batting.  Batt making was time consuming.  It was easier and quicker to use a worn-out quilt in the middle than go through the process of making a batt. 

There is some debate about who made the first commercially available batting.  I spent several hours researching this on the interwebs and one name kept popping up:  Mountain Mist.  In the spirit of honesty, I can’t say for sure if they were the first folks to produce ready-made batts, but I can say they began offering them in 1846.  The batts were wrapped in paper to keep them clean and safe during shipping.  Later, somewhere around 1929, those labels began to have quilt patterns printed on them.  The patterns were a huge success.  There’s a ton of information about these patterns on the internet and you can even purchase these labels off of Ebay.  If you think you’d like all the Mountain Mist Patterns, there are several books which contain all of the patterns, and those are available on Amazon.

While we’re thinking about quilt labels, let’s just park it here and discuss them a bit more.  If you purchase packaged batting like this:

Or rolls of batting like this:

There’s some important information you need to read before tossing the bag or the paper wrapping.

  Loft is one of the pieces of information mentioned on the label.  Loft has to do with the thickness of the batting.  There will times you will want a low-loft batting – such as wall hangings – and there will be times you want batting with a bit more “poof” – like with applique quilts.  Somewhere on the label the loft will be mentioned. 

If you’re purchasing batting in a bag, the size of the batt will also on the label.  Remember, it’s important for the batt to be 4-6-inches larger than the quilt top because it does draw up a bit during the quilting process or it could shift.  You always want to be sure there’s enough batting margin so you have batting all the way around the edge of the quilt top and in your binding.  Fortunately, the batt sizes are pretty standard for all batting companies:

Craft – 46” x 36”

Crib – 60” x 46”

Twin – 63” x 87”

Double – 78” x 87

Queen – 84” x 92”

King – 100 x 92”

If you’re long arming your quilt, simply choose a batting which is at least 4-inches larger than your quilt top.  The extra batting gives the clamps something to grab. If you’re quilting on a domestic machine, you can get by with as small as a 2-inch margin.  However, rolls of batting usually have the width listed on a label somewhere on the roll.   If it’s on a bolt, the measurement should be on one end of the bolt, just the same as fabric.   

One additional word about batting in a bag verses batting on a roll or bolt.  The batting in a bag has been folded up quite tightly so it can conveniently fit into a bag.  When you take it out, the folds are easily seen and felt.  It’s best to let the batt relax for a day or two somewhere it can be spread out and not disturbed before quilting.  For years I used my dining room table or the guest bed.  Now I simply throw it across my long arm for a few days.  Usually this is all you need to help your batt relax and lose those unsightly folds.  However, if there are a few folds or wrinkles that don’t seem to want to chillax, I have carefully pressed the area with an iron, using the steam feature.  Generally, this works on the stubborn areas.   After the folds and wrinkles are gone, then proceed with the quilting process. 

The label should also list the fiber content.  It should state if the batt is cotton, silk, bamboo, wool, polyester alpaca, or a mix of fibers, such as 80/20.  The 80/20 batting is made from 80 percent cotton fibers and 20 percent polyester.  This information is important because the batt’s fiber content affects the overall look and drapability of the quilt.  More on this later. 

The last item of information on a label concerns how far apart you can place your quilting lines.  Some batts require the quilting stitches to be no further apart than a couple of inches.  With some batts the quilting lines can be as far as 8-inches from each other.  This simply has to do with the batt’s integrity.  The quilt line distance is the maximum distance you can place your stitches without the batt disintegrating or migrating. 

Those four things (loft, size, fiber content, and quilting line distance) are usually found on all quilt labels.  There’s some additional information you need to know about the batt, which may or may not be on the label.  Some of these you can tell the batt has it simply by closely look at it (such as scrim).  Some of these – like bearding – only happen once you have the quilt quilted and bound.

  • Scrim – This is a layer or grid of woven fibers added to some cotton battings.  It acts as a stabilizer and helps to hold the batting together while quilting.  This can be a good safeguard if the quilt will be frequently washed – the fibers won’t separate.
  • Bonded – Quilt battings contain a type of glue or bonding adhesive, which means the batt may separate if the quilt is washed.  In order to avoid this, close quilting lines are needed to make sure the batting holds up over time.
  • Bearding – Something to be avoided at all costs.  It refers to any wispy fibers which could eventually seep out of the quilt top.  Honestly, I can’t see any batting company putting a warning on their label stating “Caution:  May Beard.”  I can tell you this generally happens with lower-quality batting.
  • Fusible – Most fusible battings will say so on the label.  And while I am not a huge fan of fusible batting (I think it’s stiff), for small projects and quilted items such as bags, it’s a wonderful thing.  I’ve found myself struggling with it if I use it for larger quilt tops. I can’t seem to get it to bond evenly  and without wrinkling. 
Bearding on the back of a quilt

Now with all of this information under our belts, next week we’ll look at the types of batting, when to use them, their characteristics, and any precautions we need to take.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Division in the Camp

Basically, there are very few things capable of driving a wedge in quilters.  We may disagree over favorite colors, applique or piecing, or hand quilting verses machine quilting.  Overall I’ve always found quilters quite an agreeable lot of folks and that’s one of the reasons I became a quilter – in a universe of diversity, here was a group of people who celebrated it. 

However, there are two items which have brought division into the camp:  Frixion Pens and Digitally Printed Fabric.

Okay.  Maybe I am exaggerating just a tad.  However, these two items have been used by quilters (including myself) with varying degrees of success.  This blog will serve two purposes. First, it will give you a little science behind both Frixions and DPF (digitally printed fabric).  Secondly, it will give you some options about how to use both in your quilting universe (because both of them are here to stay – at least for now).  We’ll start with Frixion Pens.

Frixion Pens

Frixion Pens are produced by Pilot and “erase” with a heat source.  There are other heat erasable pens on the market (Madam Sews produces their own line), but Frixions are the best known.  Frixion Pens come in a variety of colors and leave crisp, clear lines which are easily seen.   Then once you’re through with the quilting process, a quick press with a hot iron seemingly makes the lines disappear.  Easy, quick, and they seem like a wonderful addition to your quilting notions.  However, it’s important to note the pens may leave “ghost marks” on your fabrics (especially dark fabrics) and they will re-appear if the quilt gets too cold.  Add to this some quilters have had serious issues with Frixion Pens and then there are those of us who have never had problems with the pens (I’m in this camp).  First, let’s take a look at what a Frixion Pen is made of, because this will give us the reasons why some quilters have problems with them, and others don’t.

Frixion Pens are comprised of two liquids – gel ink and thermo ink.  It’s this thermo ink which makes the ink “disappear” from a surface.  When you iron your fabric it looks as if the ink is gone, but it’s the thermo ink which makes it appear to be gone.  In all actuality, the gel ink is still there, which means under the right circumstances, it can and will reappear unless you take additional steps to remove the ink.  In my quest to understand the pen, I read in a couple of quilt blogs that the key to the ink not “ghosting” was to prewash the fabric.  Since I’m a dedicated prewasher, I had no issue with this.  I grabbed some prewashed fabric from my stash, wrote on the surface, and pressed the fabric. Then I allowed it to sit for in the freezer on top of my bagels for about a half an hour (note I used a light, a medium, and a dark fabric for this experiment).  When I re-examined the fabric, I had mixed results.  Some of the fabric did show a ghost mark.  Some did not. 

The Frixion Pen re-appeared strongly on the light fabric and on the dark. The medium fabric escaped the ghosting.

At this point, let me remind you I am a former science teacher.  When you test a hypothesis, you perform more than one experiment to validate it.  I wondered if only the Frixion Pens left ghost marks?  What about the heat-erasable pens produced by sewing notions manufacturers which also purported to disappear with the touch of a hot iron?  I grabbed my set of these pens from Madame Sew and tried the experiment again on a light, dark, and medium prewashed fabric. Guess what?

This time the Madame Sews faintly re-appears on the medium fabric and more visually on the light, but not on the dark fabric.

They also left ghost marks. 

All of which tells me more than likely all heat erasable pens have some sort of thermo/gel ink mix and more than likely all of these pens are capable of leaving ghost marks.  According to Pilot, the manufacturers of Frixion Pens, the ghost markings are from the thermo ink, not the gel.  “And,” the nice person from Pilot explained to me in an email, “it’s important to remember, our pens were never made for marking fabric.  They were made for writing on paper and erasing with the heat caused by the friction of an eraser rubbing them out. In order to remove the thermo ink, you need to wash the fabric with a stain remover specifically made for ink.”

There are two ink-stain removers suggested specifically for heat-erasable pens:  Amodex and Mötsenböcker’s Lift-Off 3. 

I have used the Amodex and it has worked really well.  The price of this product ranges from $9.81 for the Amodex wipes to $24.99 for the full kit (solution, wipes, brushes, etc) on Amazon. 

The Mötsenböcker’s Lift-Off 3 is around $16.00 on Amazon and comes in a spray bottle.  I have not used Mötsenböcker’s Lift-Off 3, so I personally cannot attest to its effectiveness, but it gets a 3.6 out of five stars on Amazon.  One complaint came from a quilter who was not impressed with its ability to remove ink.  However, what kind of ink was not specified. Another complaint stated it had little effect on Sharpie ink. 

The one step both the Amodex and Mötsenböcker’s Lift-Off 3 both mentioned is you may need to scrub the surface of whatever it is you’re trying to get the ink off of.  In our case this would be our quilts – either blocks or the finished, quilted product.  If you use it to mark your quilt for quilting, this means you may have to scrub the entire surface of your top, block, or quilt.  Can it stand up to this kind of abuse and maintain its look?  This is a question you’ll have to consider if you freely use heat-erasable ink across the surface of your quilt.

Regardless, Frixion Pens and their clones are here to stay, if not forever, at least for a while.  And they’ve made their way into our quilting world.  I even put them in some kits for quilt classes I teach.  So, I do think we can safely use these pens for some techniques.  Allow me to share how I handle them.

  1.  I use them to make dots ¼-inch away for Y-seam intersections or partial seams.  It’s only a dot.  And if it does “ghost”, the dot is in the seam allowance and won’t be seen by anyone.
  2. I have used them to mark applique placement, but only if the applique pieces will fully cover the mark so any ghosting will not be noticeable. 
  3. I have used them to make quilting reference points.  Again, these are dots.  If they ghost, it’s not noticeable.

And finally, yes, I have used them to mark quilting lines, but only in specific quilting circumstances – such as a small quilt I don’t mind taking the time and energy to wash down with Amodex or a quilt I know has a definite shelf life and will, at some point, be tossed.  However, there are also two very specific times I will not allow a heat-erasable pen to touch my quilt:

  1.  If the quilt is an heirloom piece, such as one for a christening, special baby gift, bridal gift, etc.  Frixion and other heat erasable pens have not been around long enough to determine their heirloom capabilities.   They are not acid-free, so years from now we have no idea what they may do to the surface of a quilt.
  2. If the quilt will be entered into competition.  Even if I have washed and scrubbed the quilt with Amodex or Mötsenböcker’s Lift-Off 3, there is no complete assurance all the ink is gone.  If the quilt gets cold during transport, or when it’s hung, there’s a chance the ink marks will return.  And that would be embarrassing. 

So yes, I do think Frixion Pens can happily exist with our other quilting notions.  And just like with our other quilting notions, we need to be cognizant of the appropriate times to use them and how to use them.

Digitally Printed Fabric (DPF)

First let’s define what DPF is.  According to Kornit Digital, Digital Textile Printing is a process of printing on textiles and garments using inkjet technology to print colorants onto fabric. This process allows for single pieces, mid to small-run cycle production and even long-runs as an alternative option to screen printed fabric.  This may sound a tad detailed, but it’s kind of the same process some of us use to print photos onto fabric or make quilt labels – just on a larger scale.  As a matter of fact, if you’ve ever used Spoonflower to create a piece of fabric, you’ve already dipped your toe into the seas of DPF.  With Spoonflower you simply upload a picture, graphic, or some other piece of artwork and they can reproduce it in wallpaper, fabric, or other home décor.  This is done on-demand and with digital technology.

However, I think there were some unspoken expectations with either Spoonflower or our own digitally fabric-printed photos.  With either one, we know the yardage produced would be limited.  It’s fairly easy to work with something a bit different from our quilting cottons if it’s only a fraction of our quilt fabric.  We also are aware (from our own ink-jet printed quilt labels if nothing else) that the quality of our DPF may not be as good as our quilting cottons, either.  But technology continued to push DPF forward and eventually Red Rooster, Hoffman California, Elizabeth’s Studio, Robert Kaufman Fabrics, and Benartex were producing digitally printed fabrics. 

The manufacturing process is fairly simple.  Regular quilting cottons are screen printed using a different screen for each color. This process requires careful registration and limits the number of colors that can be used to 16-20, depending on the manufacturer. Digitally printed fabrics can have as many colors as there are dyes. It’s potentially limitless. A design could easily be made with 30, 50 or 100 different colors and it would not affect the ability to print the design. Unlike screen printing, resolution is perfect every time and you’ll never get the halo that often occurs when two screen printed, complementary colors bump into each other. Digitally printed fabric is also a bit more of an eco-friendly process, since there are no screens to rinse out.  Another good thing about DPF is that is far easier to reproduce than standard cotton fabric.  We know that once manufacturers have sold out of a popular line of fabric, it’s nearly impossible to get them to reprint it.  Digitally Printed Fabric is much easier to reprint, since it’s highly computerized and doesn’t require screens.

No screens also means you don’t have to have a repeating design. Normally at the end of printing a screen, the screen is realigned, and the design is repeated.  Since DPF uses no screens, it’s possible to have multiple yards without repeating the same design.  This allows fabric/graphic artists tremendous flexibility for artwork and is perfect for panoramic/photo prints. 

Digitally printed fabric sounds perfectly wonderful and something which has enormous creative potential.  But like with everything else, there are some drawbacks.  Primarily two large ones:  Cost and color. 

Digitally printed fabric is expensive.  Because of the specialized nature of digital printing, including base cloth preparation, limited runs, dyes and machines, the cost per yard for the manufacturer is higher than traditional screen printing. This cost, naturally, gets passed on to the consumer and digital prints are typically a few dollars more per yard. The more limited the run, the higher the cost. Hoffman California generally prints a few thousand yards of each design, whereas Spoonflower prints designs as they are ordered.

The other complaint – color – has to do with saturation and fading.  The black never seems to be dark enough and the fabric fades at the folds and loses color with every wash cycle.  This seems to be a problem with the small printing houses.  Large manufacturers, such as Hoffman, don’t appear to have this issue.  Digitally printed fabric also feels kind of different, but once it is washed, it does have a nice hand. 

More than likely, at some point, you may decide to add a DPF to a quilt.  And just like with Frixion Pens, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. 

  •  Beware of the “runs.” 

For those of us of a certain age, we remember what it was like to wear panty hose.  Personally, I hated those things.  It was like owning disposable clothes.  Put them on wrong, let them snag on a ring, or get caught on a desk drawer, and the nylon would run all the way up your leg, rendering them useless.  There was nothing to do but toss them and bewail your hard-earned money.

I am so thankful I don’t have to wear them anymore. 

Digitally Printed Fabric can also run just like a pair of 1980 L’egg panty hose.  These runs show up as tiny, white runs, especially noticeable on dark fabric.  The white runs happen when the sewing machine or long arm needle hits and pulls the warp or weft of the fabric.  The needle pulls, rolls, and then breaks the fiber or simply rolls it.  This doesn’t happen with regular quilting cotton because even if those fabrics have a 60-thread count, there’s still enough room between the cotton yarns for the needle to have plenty of room to insert, make the stitch, and come out of the hole.  The fabric for DPF is more tightly woven than the quilting cottons.  In addition, the inks and dyes are mixed in such a way that the fabric is considered to be a painting, not a piece of woven and dyed quilt fabric.  The whole manufacturing and composition of DPFs are different. 

I have sewed with DPF and have long armed DPF.  And both times it has nearly driven me crazy.  I read everything I could find about how to prevent the fabric from running.  Someone said prewash the fabric and this would prevent it from running.  I tried this, and it did help a little.  I think the prewashing removes some of the excess ink and other chemical treatments which may have been used on the fabric. 

  • The type of needle used is important. 

With regular quilting cottons we tend to use a size 80 in our sewing machines.  This may differ every now and then as we employ different weights of thread or if we’re machine appliqueing a specialty fabric.  We may use a universal or a needle labeled especially for piecing.  With our long arms, we lean towards an 18/4.0 for most quilts. Most long arms come from the factory timed using an 18/4.0.  We don’t tend to consider (or may not even have in our possession) a ball point needle.  Those are used primarily for knit fabrics – instead of the needle tip being sharp and pointed, a ball point needle’s tip is slightly rounded, allowing it to slide through the loops of knit fabric without piercing them (and causing the knit fabric to run). Many of the sites I researched about DPF recommended using a ball point needle in the thinnest size our machines will tolerate.  With most sewing machines and long arms, you can go up or down one size without serious tension issues.  Keep that in mind if you do decide to toss in some DPF in your next quilt.

Notice how sharp the universal needle is compared to the ball point, which is slightly rounded. Just a FYI here, I have also pieced and quilted with a microtex on regular quilting cottons and it works wonderfully.
  • You’re Gonna Need to Toss the Cotton Thread.

Thinner, slicker threads work better with DPF.  This thread glides through the fabric without the friction which cotton thread causes.  Part of the reasons quilters like to sew with cotton thread (or at least cotton wrapped thread) is the fact it kind of “grips” the fabric to help keep your stitches firmly in place.  Digitally Printed Fabric is a totally different animal than quilting cottons.  You will want to use a thin needle with a thin, slick thread – such as a polyester, silk, or some other 100 weight thread.

  • Be careful how you quilt.

Many long arm artists have stated that quilting too near a pieced seam can cause runs in the DPF.  It’s also been found that pays to be careful loading the quilt sandwich on the long arm. Don’t load it too tight, as this kind of hinders the needle being able to push the fibers out of the way as it sews.  And regardless of whether you’re quilting on a long arm or a domestic sewing machine, lengthening the quilting stitch has proven to be helpful. 

  • A bit of silicone on your needle (not the thread) may be your BFF.

Sometimes a drop or two of a silicone (such as Sewer’s Aid) on your sewing machine or long arm needle may be helpful.  This ensures the needle can easily slip in and out of the DPF without issues.  This has worked with varying degrees of success.   Sewer’s Aid isn’t expensive (it’s $7.09 on Amazon) and if you’re really having issues, it can’t hurt to try it.  There are silicon sprays, but generally these must be sprayed directly onto the fabric and that makes me a bit antsy.

I hope this blog helps you with any relationship issues you may have with Frixion Pens or Digitally Printed Fabric.  They are both tools we can keep in our Quilting Toolbox and pull out to use on occasions where they’re needed.  They’re really not any different than anything else we use.  We just to know when and how to employ them.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Threading the Needle

I am a self-professing thread snob.  I admit it and own the title. 

However, I didn’t realize how passionate I was concerning the subject until I had a discussion with a few quilters a while back.  The topic was  thread, what kind we used and why.  I was amazed at the variety of preferences across the Zoom meeting.  I was even a bit taken back at myself and why I thought my favorites were the best.  There were several quilters who disagreed with me and were just as passionate about their choices.  All of this back and forth got me thinking about thread and why I use what I use and where I use it.

I do think some thread brands are better than others, and since I’m not monetized by any of them, I will spill the beans about what brands I love and use regularly.  I don’t use cheap thread in my Janome M7 Continental.  She doesn’t like it.  However, my long arm loves cheap thread.  Go figure.  I also use only long-staple threads because short-staple threads as a whole are linty.

Before we jump into all of this, I’d like to take the time to briefly talk about the types of thread available, their construction and why it matters, weight, and a rule of thumb about sewing machine needles and thread.  In this blog, we’re only discussing thread based on sewing machine use.

Types of Thread

  1. Cotton – Cotton threads are made from twisting the fine staples (fibers) from a cotton boll to create a thread.  There are many degrees of cotton-quality.  There are extra long staple cotton fibers made from Egyptian or Pima fibers, there are long cotton staples made from Sea Island cotton, and short staple cotton which primarily comes from the United States.  Each of these types of cotton fibers play a very important part in our textile world, but the long and extra-long staple make the best thread (in my humble opinion).  Cotton thread is known for its strength, medium sheen, and the natural fibers help grab the fabric to create a tight seam.  However, it’s difficult to tell low-quality from high-quality cotton thread and some manufacturers have gotten sneaky (and unethical – again, my opinion) and mix the staples and call their product long-staple thread.  Quality cotton thread is one of those quilting items that “you get what you pay for.”  In other words, higher quality cotton thread will cost you more pennies.  Cotton thread has a low-to-high lint residue depending on how it was processed, the staple length, and the quality of cotton used. 
  2. Core-spun Polyester (also called poly-wrapped core) – We quilters of a certain age remember the polyester hey days of the Seventies in all their glory.  As a result, we tend to disdain anything remotely related to the term.  However, today’s polyester thread isn’t like your mother’s.  It’s so, so, much better.  Core-spun polyester threads have a filament polyester core that is wrapped with spun polyester.  The advantages of core-spun polyester threads are its strength, reduced puckering, and excellent stitchability. It does produces low to moderate lint.
  3. Filament Polyester – Filament polyester threads are made from long, thin strands of polyester fibers which are twisted together.  The advantages of filament polyester are excellent elongation (the fibers and stretch and recover), smooth presence with no lint and can be finished as a thick or thin thread.  However, these threads are not as strong as core-spun and finer filament threads may require some tension adjustments on your sewing machine.

4. Monofilament Polyester – Monofilament polyester threads are single threads of polyester fiber, similar to fishing line.  This is a very fine thread that blends well and can be ironed with medium heat.  Usually tension adjustments will need to be made on your machine.  I use this thread to stabilize my quilt sandwich prior to quilting, since the stabilization usually means I’m using the stitch-in-the-ditch method around the center square(s).  This thread does tend to curl a bit. Some sewing machines are bothered by this, and others aren’t.  If your machine pitches a temper-tantrum with Monofilament, you may want to set the spool in some kind of holder (a coffee mug works great) and then position it a few feet from your machine.  This extra thread-path allows the thread to “relax” a bit before reaching your machine. 

5. Spun Polyester – Spun polyester threads are made from twisting small polyester staple fibers together to create a long thread (similar to the way cotton threads are created from cotton staples).  The primary advantage of Spun Polyester is price.  It costs less to make, so it costs you less.  The disadvantages are lint and strength.  This thread produces moderate to high levels of lint and it’s not as strong as filament or core-spun polyester.

6. Rayon – This is thread created in a chemistry lab.  Cellulose acetate (generally made from wood pulp) is pressed through small holes and solidifies in the form of filaments.  This thread has a high sheen, it’s soft to the touch, and it’s relatively inexpensive.  However, it’s not color fast.  Strong detergent, UV light, or bleach can cause it to bleed onto fabric.  It’s also not as strong as trilobal polyester and not as durable as polyester.

Rayon Thread

7. Nylon – This thread can run the gamut from monofilament to textured and fuzzy.  The disadvantages of this thread far outweigh any positives.  This thread should be avoided in both quilting and other types of sewing, as there are so many other better choices.  Bonded nylon is available, and it’s better than regular nylon, but it’s a heavy-duty thread used in upholstery and other heavy duty sewing.

8. Metallic – Metallic threads are created from multiple layers of materials wrapped and twisted together.  This is one thread you really need to be sure is manufactured well, because quality can range from high to extremely poor.  A good metallic thread does not require a lubricant and has a strong nylon core, a thin layer of rice paper, and a special outer coating which keeps the foil from rubbing against the needle.  The sheen is beautiful, and it has excellent stitch quality when it’s used in embroidery, quilting, or sewing.  Tension adjustments may need to be made and sewing speed slowed down.   

Mylar Thread

9. Glitter or Mylar – Mylar threads are created by bonding thin layers of flat mylar material.  Glitter thread offers holographic effects and can be used with embroidery, quilting, or regular sewing.  The disadvantages of Glitter or Mylar thread are the same ones most specialty thread has – you may need to adjust the tension and slow down your stitching speed. 

Processing Methods

Sewing and quilting thread (so we’re talking about cottons and polyesters, not specialty threads such as monofilament or glitter) undergo processing such as twisting, lubricating, and winding. In addition, cotton threads can have the following additional treatments:

Mercerized – Mercerization is the process of immersing the cotton fibers in a caustic solution which causes the fibers to swell.  This allows the dye to better penetrate the fibers and increases the luster of the thread.  Mercerizing also increases the strength of the cotton thread.  Nearly all cotton threads made for sewing are mercerized whether the label states it or not.

Gassed – Gassed thread has been passed through a flame at high speed to burn off the longest pieces of lint, resulting in a less fuzzy thread.  Gassing is also called silk finished or polished cotton as the thread has lower lint and brighter sheen than other thread.  You can tell the difference between gassed and ungassed thread if you compare the amount of fuzz between two threads.  The lower the fuzz, the better the chances the thread has been gassed. 

Glazed or Coated – Glazed thread is treated with a coat of wax, resin, or starch and then polished to create a luster.  The thread is very strong due to the glaze and is recommended for hand quilting.  Glazed cotton threads are not recommended for machine sewing or machine quilting because the coating can rub off in the tension discs and contact points.  Then the discs and points will collect lint, fuzz, dust and cause a buildup to obstruct the thread path.

It’s All About the Weight

For me the most important characteristic about the thread I use to piece and quilt my quilts is the weight.  The weight or size of the thread is an important consideration for any sewing project.  Knowing how to make proper adjustments relative to different thread weights will make sewing, quilting, or embroidery projects more enjoyable.  However, just to make things a little more interesting (and sometimes confusing), there are five common methods used to measure thread:  Weight, denier, tex, number, and composition standards.  I won’t go into all the equations and such used to come up with these.  Instead I want to give you the down and dirty, so you won’t have all these numbers swimming around in your head. 

Weight – The smaller the weight number the heavier and thicker the thread.  A 30-weight thread is heavier than a 40-weight thread.  A 40-weight thread is heavier than a 50-weight one, and so on.  Most thread purchased in the United States mentions the weight on the spool label, the spool rim, or the inside of the spool. 

Denier – This measurement deals primarily with polyester and rayon embroidery thread.  Most polyester and rayon threads are 120/2 meaning two strands of 120-denier thread for a 240 denier total.  All this boils down to the fact the larger the denier number, the heaver the thread.

Tex – This is the weight in grams of 1000 meters of thread.  If this total weight is 25 grams, it’s a 25 Tex.  Bottom line – the larger the Tex number the heavier the thread.

Number System or Gunze Count System– Here’s where the whole thread measurement process can get a bit confusing.  The Number standard is used on many thinner threads and is written as No. 50 or #50 or No 100 or #100.  Many folks confuse this with the Weight measurement and incorrectly suppose the weight and number is the same thing – such as a #100 thread is the same thing as a 100-weight thread.  Like the Weight measurement, the smaller the number the heavier the thread. 

It can boggle the mind when you’re shopping for thread, because one thread which is stamped #50, another 50 wt, and another 50/3 are not the same.  All three are measured by different standards and may not be similar in size.  What is important is to keep a consistent standard of measurement when purchasing certain threads and use your eyes and fingers to gauge the diameter of the thread.

Where Composition Standard Comes into Play

This standard was originally developed for cotton thread but is now also used for polyester.  A cotton thread and a polyester one with identical composition numbers will be similar, but not exactly the same size.  This is technically because we’re comparing apples to turnips.  For exactness, compare cotton thread to cotton thread and polyester to polyester.  And for us the Composition Standard deals with interpreting a chain of numbers.  For instance, some spools may be stamped with something like 30/3 (or 30/1×3).  The first number – in this case 30 – is the same number used in the Number Standard.  So this thread is a No. 30 thread.  The second number – 3 – means the thread has 3 plys twisted together to make one thread.  We now know we have a No. 30 thread comprised of 3 plys, which means this is a heavy thread and a thick thread since it’s made of three plys.  Rule of thumb if you see a composition standard listed on a spool of thread:  Most thin threads (50 wt. and thinner) are a 2-ply thread.  Most heavy threads are a 3-ply thread.  I realize this may seem like we’re really into the minute details about thread, but this information is helpful when determining needle size.

So Why Is All This Information Important?

The weight is important because it concerns stitch density, needle size, and tension.  If you’re a quilter who uses their embroidery machine for quilting or to add designs to blocks, generally you use 40-weight thread.  This ensures adequate coverage.  If a heavier thread, such as a 30-weight, is used, a lumpy appearance may result or cause the thread to bind on itself, which means it will continuously break or jam the machine. 

However, let’s consider weight with regard to the seams in quilt blocks.  One thing quilters need to do is consider the entire quilt before putting in the first cut of the fabric.  And in all honesty, if you’re a new quilter, this is difficult.  I also think it’s harder to do if you don’t quilt any of your own quilts either on a long arm or domestic machine.  In one way quilting is like just about any other craft or art — what you do now affects the other steps you take later.  One of those steps which need careful consideration at every point is bulk.  You want to keep the bulk to a minimum with every step of construction.  Here’s where the weight of the thread comes into play with seams:  Use a high weight thread both on the top of your machine and in the bobbin.  My go-to piecing thread is 50- or 60- weight Aurifil. 

I love Aurifil for piecing.  It has 2-plies and is a strong thread.  It takes up little space in the seam itself, making your ¼-inch seams extremely accurate.  It’s long-staple, low lint, and comes in hundreds of colors.  I have two on-line sources for it:  Red Rock Threads and Pineapple Fabric.  While I can find Aurifil in quilt stores, I have yet to see it in a big box store such as Joann’s.

If I can’t find what I need in Aurifil, my second piecing thread choice is Superior Thread’s Bottom Line.  Designed for bobbin use, Bottom Line is a 60-weight, 2 ply, polyester thread, but it’s a great piecing thread.    And right here I will pause because I can hear the arguments starting:

“You can’t use polyester thread on cotton fabrics!  The polyester thread will cut right through the cotton.”

Nope.  Won’t happen.  Remember when I told you that today’s polyester threads are nothing like the kind used by our mothers?  Those old polyester threads may have very well sawed their way through the few available garment cottons because those cotton fabrics meant for clothing are thinner than quilting cottons.  However both today’s fabric quality and polyester thread quality are  much better and this doesn’t happen.  But there is something to be careful about – thread shrinks when it’s washed, and cotton and polyester thread have different shrink rates.

And this is the point where I will get serious about dropping name brands because I’m not monetized:  I’ve never had the shrinkage issue with Bottom Line.  It’s an awesome thread.  If you were to visit my quilt studio, you’re likely to find just as many spools and cones of Bottom Line as you do Aurifil.  I use Bottom Line not just for piecing, but also for invisible applique and binding.   

The new kid on the block (at least in the United States) is Wonderfil.  I had the amazing experience to use a sample of this thread about three years ago and it was love at first stitch.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t available in the United States then, so I was pestering my Australian and Canadian connections for a few spools here and there. Thankfully, it’s now available in the US (I didn’t know this until I visited a quilt shop in Florida while I was in Palm Coast to see my son – I did a happy dance in the aisle and I’m sure they thought I was bonkers).  Wonderfil produces a thread called Invisafil which is 100 weight, cottonized polyester. 

This thread is truly the best of both worlds.  Because it is cottonized, there is negligible stretch and because it’s also polyester, it’s strong and feels soft.  Used as piecing thread, it practically disappears in the seams and it’s great for micro stippling or any other quilting stitch you would prefer to have disappear into the background of your quilt.  It’s also perfect for invisible applique or hand applique.  Bonus for those of us who like prewound bobbins – Invisafil is available in those.  Wonderfil thread is available at

Of course, the best thread in the world is nothing without the correct needle.  I wrote a blog about sewing machine needles and what sizes are best for different fabrics and thread.  It’s a lot of information.  However, there is a handy, dandy rule of thumb about thread and needle sizes:  Generally, use a needle whose eye is 40% larger than the diameter of the thread.  So, a #75/11 or #80/12 needle is great for 50-weight thread.  One of the wonderful things about Superior Thread is they tell you what size long arm or domestic machine needle is needed on the inside of their spools and cones. 


If you’re sewing away and find your thread is shredding and breaking or you are the victim of skipped stitches, stop sewing.  The first line of defense in this situation is to change your needle.  If it continues to happen, go up one needle size.  I tend to be a big Schmetz needle fan.  I’ve used them since I began sewing 38 years ago and they’ve always served me well.  However, be aware some sewing machines are brand-specific as far as their needles go – such as Singer.  Singer machines work best with Singer needles.

The last issue to talk about concerning thread is tension, and this is one of the issues which causes quilters’ hackles to rise.  We want to thread the machine, insert fabric, and get with the sewing.  However, no matter how much we dislike dealing with tension, it’s one of those things that can make a great sewing day (the tension is perfect) or it can cause us to want to throw our machines out the window (the tension is awful).  If you use the same brand and weight of thread all the time, tension isn’t an issue.  However, if you’re like a lot of quilters and you change up your threads and may be piecing on your machine one day and then quilting the next, it’s important to have a good grasp of how to handle your machine’s tension issues.

Thread tension on most sewing machines is accomplished by applying pressure to one side of a spring which presses on a tension disk.  Tension is applied to the thread as it passes between a pair of tension disks.  This tension is either adjusted manually or electronically through a computer-controlled electromagnet (depending on your sewing machine).  Increased pressure on the tension spring increases the thread tension.  When a 50-weight thread is replaced by a heavier 40-weight thread, the increased diameter of the thread pushes the tension disks further apart, increasing pressure on the tension spring.    By increasing or decreasing the diameter of the thread, we increase or decrease the thread tension.  If the tension is too high, it damages the thread and the thread breaks.  If the tension is too low, the thread will loop on the back of the fabric.  When you change out thread, and the new thread is a different weight than the preceding one (or a different brand), always test out your stitching on a scrap of fabric before piecing or quilting again.  You may find you need to make a few tension adjustments. 

In closing, remember the most common method to gauge the diameter of thread is the weight system.  This isn’t a perfect system, but it is the most common and most easily understood by quilters and other sewists.  However….

You must always be the final judge in what kind of thread you use and for what purpose.  To find your favorite piecing thread, try a small spool of two or three different brands.  Sew a ¼-inch seam and a scant ¼-inch seam with each.  Press each seam to the side and remeasure.  Which thread gives you the truest seam measurement once it’s pressed?  Run your finger along the seam.  Which thread feels best?  As you answer these questions, you’ll find your favorite piecing thread.  And your second favorite (because you always need a backup).

As far as quilting thread goes, the first question to ask is do you want your stitches to show, or do you want them to kind of melt into the background?  If you want them really nondescript, a higher weight thread (as high as 100-weight) may be exactly what you want.  If you’re a confident quilter and you want your quilting to shine more than the piecing or applique, start with a 40-weight and go lower if needed.  If you want something in the middle, try a 50- or 60-weight.  Want a sheen?  Try polyester.  Want traditional?  Go with the all-cotton.  Above all else, before you put one quilting stitch in that quilt sandwich, unspool about a foot of each thread under consideration and audition it on your quilt top.  Go about this just as seriously as you auditioned your fabric.  You may find you want some of the quilt quilted in one kind of thread and the other parts of the quilt quilted in another.  And that’s perfectly okay.

I know this has been a long blog, and thanks for hanging in there with me until the end.  Believe me, the kind of thread you use is one of those details which truly make a difference in both your quilt and your quilting process.

Until next week, the details really DO make a difference!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri Fields   


Make a Quilt with Me

In 2018, I wrote a series of blogs about the Golden Ratio and how to use it when you quilt.  These “math heavy” blogs remain some of my most read and most liked columns of all time.  In several of those blogs, I began with the scenario something like this:  You’re at an estate sale…you’re at a yard sale…you’re at some kind of function where you walk away with a stack of quilt blocks, and you need to know how to set them with sashings and borders.

Well, this blog is not a drill and I have in my possession 24 hexie blocks. 

First, let me tell you how I acquired the blocks.  My wonderful mother is 83 years young.  Prior to COVID, she was extremely active.  She taught stained glass, went out with her friends, and generally lived a grand semi-retired lifestyle.  When COVID hit, she seriously hunkered down, but there was only so much TV and so many puzzles she could work before she went crazy.  Once I was vaxxed, I went to see her and took my handwork with me.  At that particular time, I was using Cindy Blackberg’s stamps to make a Grandmother’s Flower Garden.  As my mother watched me hand piece, she decided she wanted to try it.  I gave her a stack of hexies and she started her own handwork journey.  After I went back home, I stamped out a bunch of hexies and mailed those and the needed supplies to her.  This new hobby helped get her through the stark loneliness COVID brought to so many senior citizens.

She still likes to hand piece, so about a year or so ago I used my hexie stamp to make her some more hexie flower kits and a few weeks ago she handed me back 24 completed hexie flowers.  My original idea was to make two applique quilts – one for each of my kids.  I knew they would cherish a quilt put together by their Nana and their mom.  In my mind I had the quilts drawn out – the hexies would be flowers and I’d add stems and leaves and make a cute wall hanging.  That was my plan…but…things change.  The design of flowers, stems, and leaves would be great for me or Mom, but my kids are thirty-somethings. A quilt like that wouldn’t fit their décor and while I knew they both would cherish the quilts because of the history behind them, I couldn’t see the quilts working anywhere in their homes.  I needed to regroup and rethink this situation.

So, I turned to Pinterest and Google.  After a bit of searching and looking, I decided to machine applique each hexie onto a block of fabric and set those into a quilt.  This would definitely give the quilt a more “modern” than traditional vibe and work better on their walls.  Plus, the hexies are made of bright modern fabrics and batiks and really don’t have much of a Grandmother’s Flower Garden feel to them.  I also decided to set the blocks on point.  Decisions were made, finalized, and then I made a rough sketch of the quilt. 

Now here’s where the math comes in.  In order for everything to look balanced, I don’t want the background blocks to be too small so the hexie flowers look crowded, or so big they look lost.  There needs to be a balanced margin around them.  Using the Golden Ratio formula took the guess work out of figuring out how big the background blocks needed to be.

The Golden Ratio is the extreme and mean ratio discovered by Euclid.  It’s also called the Divine Proportion.  It was developed by taking a line and dividing it into two parts – a long part (a) and a short part (b). The entire length (a + b) divided by (a) is equal to (a) divided by (b). And both of those numbers equal 1.618. This is an irrational number, yada, yada, yada….I could go on, but by now I know a few of you have glazed-over eyes and are having high school geometry class flashbacks.  The main thing for quilters to remember is the number: 1.618.  Put it in the note section of your phone, write it down in your quilting notes, or simply memorize it because this number will serve you well.

Now back to my hexies and my applique background squares.  In order to make sure the blocks are proportional, I need one other measurement besides 1.618 – the width of the hexies.  A quick measurement shows me the hexies are 6 ½-inches at their widest point.  So now I take the width of the hexies and multiply it by 1.618:

6.5 x 1.618 = 10.517, which we will round down to 10.5 or 10 ½-inches.

The finished quilt block needs to measure 10 ½-inches.  However, I still need to add the seam allowance, which is another ½-inch.  So our unfinished quilt block (the measurement of the block before it’s sewn in the quilt) is 11-inches (10 ½ + ½ = 11).  But I’m still not quite finished with the block measurements yet.  I will applique the hexie flowers onto the background.  This process can draw the fabric up just a bit.  I need to add a scootch more fabric margin to the background squares to make sure I can still have them safely at 10 ½-inches finished. In order to make sure I have enough scootch room, I’ll add another ½-inch to the unfinished 11-inches.  So I will cut my background blocks out at 11 ½-inches.  I will measure these before I begin to assemble the quilt top and if they’re larger than 11-inches, I’ll trim them down.  It’s always so much easier to trim something down than it is to try to fit something that’s too small into a larger space. 

Applique blocks decided, I still have to deal with eight side setting triangles and four corner triangles.  “Sherri,” you may be asking at this point, “Is there more math for these?”

Why yes!  And I’m so glad you asked! Bonus – there’s a new formula.  But before I introduce the formula and the equation, let’s take a look at a drawing of the quilt. 

I’ve highlighted the side setting triangles in pink and the corner triangles in green.  The number of side setting triangles will vary in the quilts you make.  That number depends on how large your quilt is and how many on-point blocks are in it.  However, there will always be four corner triangles in any rectangular or square quilt.  You will note the side setting triangles are larger than the corner ones.  The math and cutting differs a little in each, but we begin with squares we sub-cut into triangles. 

At this point, allow me to introduce you to “Quilter’s Cake” – 1.414.  Okay…technically it’s really not called “Quilter’s Cake.”  Throw out that term to any geometry teacher and all you’ll get is a blank stare.  It is, however, the Root Mean Square and it’s used to determine 45-degree angles.  It’s also used to determine voltage, but that’s a different blog for a different day.  Think of it as the Golden Ratio in Triangles (GRIT).

This formula is super-easy to use.  For side setting triangles, simply take the size of the finished quilt blocks and multiply it by 1.414 and add 1 ¼-inches for the seam allowance.   With this quilt, the finished measurement is 10 ½-inches.  So we multiply it out like this:

1.414 x 10.5 = 14.847 or 14 7/8-inches. 

Then we add the seam allowance:

14 7/8 + 1 ¼ = 16 1/8-inches. 

We should cut the side setting triangle square out at 16 1/8-inches and then cut it twice on the diagonal to get four side setting triangles per square.  Since we need eight, we only need to cut two 16 1/8-inch squares.  Which you can do…but let’s have a Zone of Truth meeting right here. 

I thoroughly dislike cutting anything at 1/8-inch increments.  The 1/8 lines are difficult to see and line up on a cutting mat.  When I cut my side setting triangle squares out, I’ll bump the measurement up to 16 ¼-inches and then trim down the long side of the triangle before I put the borders on. 

The four corner triangles are mathed out a little differently.  Since the corner triangles are generally always smaller than the side setting triangles, you divide by 1.414 and then add 7/8-inch for the seam allowances.  Again, take the finished size of the block and divide by 1.414:

10.5 / 1.414 = 7.425743 or 7 3/8

7 3/8 + 7/8 = 8.25 or 8 ¼-inches.

Since these blocks will only be cut once on the diagonal and I need four of the corner triangles, I’ll cut out two 8 ¼-inch squares.

Whew.  Now all the applique background blocks, the side setting, and the corner triangles are mathed out and cut out.  You’d think we’d be ready to begin the machine applique process, right?

Not quite yet.  There are two more steps I need to walk you through before I set up my machine for applique.  The first step is choosing a stabilizer.  A stabilizer is used on the wrong side of the background blocks.  It keeps the fabric from getting “chewed” by the sewing machine and allows it to slip over the feed dogs without difficulty.  It helps keep your stitches even and makes machine appliqueing curves and circles so much easier.  There are literally hundreds of stabilizers on the market (go here:  for some).  The only cautionary characteristics I would remind you of are these:

  1.  If it’s a tear-way stabilizer, make sure it pulls away easily from the stitches and fabric.  If it doesn’t, it’s easy to stretch your block and stitches out of shape as you struggle to remove the stabilizer (for this reason, copy paper is not my favorite stabilizer, although it can be used).
  2. If it’s water soluble, make sure your fabric won’t fade or bleed when immersed in the sink or spritzed by a spray bottle filled with water.  If a water-soluble stabilizer is your stabilizer of choice, you may want test your fabric to see how color-fast it is or pre-wash it.
  3. If it’s a leave-in stabilizer, make sure it’s light enough to quilt through without difficulty and it’s not too stiff.

My stabilizer of choice is Pellon’s Easy Knit.

Technically, this isn’t a “stabilizer.”  It’s a lightweight interfacing.  I was introduced to this product when I made my first T-shirt quilt years ago.  It was used to stabilize the knit T-shirts before they were sewn into the quilt.  It’s soft, easy to get a sewing machine or long arm needle through and since it’s an interfacing, it’s made to be left in.  I really like it for machine applique because it does make the wrong side of the background fabric slippery, thus making the applique process much easier as you manipulate the fabric under the needle. 

Easy Knit is very light weight and is super-easy to use. Note how sheer it is.

Notice I made the stabilizer square slightly smaller than the background fabric square. I did this to avoid having the stabilizer in the seam allowance and adding more bulk to the seams. The applique stitching around the hexies as well as the quilting will act to keep the stabilizer firmly in place despite not being in the seam allowance.

This product can be purchased by the yard or by the bolt.  I have found JoAnn Fabric and Crafts has the best price in my area.  If you don’t have a JoAnn’s near you, they do have a website.  When JoAnn’s has Easy Knit on sale or has a 40% off coupon, I purchase it by the bolt, and a bolt lasts me a long time.

Choosing which fusible to use is the second step.  There are just as many fusibles on the market as there are stabilizers, and like stabilizers, the fusible you like and use is a personal choice.  I am not a one-size-fits-all stabilizer quilter.  The one I use depends on what type of quilt I’m making.  If a bed quilt is under my needle, I will opt for a softer fusible, such as Soft Fuse or Misty Fuse.  However, these quilts are wall quilts, which means I can use something with a stiffer feel to it.  I want the quilts to keep their shape as they will be hanging vertically and not laying horizontally on a bed.  Because of this, I’ll use Steam-A-Seam Lite. 

Once the background squares, side setting triangles, and corner triangles are cut out, the fun begins.  I tend to work my way through each major step with every piece involved.  This means I press the stabilizer to the wrong sides of all the applique background blocks.

Then I press the hexie flowers and add the fusible.  Note I don’t remove the paper backing until I’m ready to fuse the flowers to the background.

I generally “spider web” any background block I center applique pieces on. This is very helpful and assures just about perfect placement. I love my background fabric! That gray is from Moda’s Leonardo Da Vinci line and it’s a perfect backdrop for the bright hexies.

Now I mark my background squares so I can center the hexie flowers.  Once this is complete, I pull the paper backing off the flower, center it on the background fabric and press. 

At this point, the fun begins.  Since my hexies are every color of the rainbow, I get to pull out all my applique thread and make some decisions.  It’s a good thing I’m a thread-a-holic.  I have something to match anything.  To cut down on the number of times I need to change my thread, I group the hexies according to color, instead of randomly pulling out blocks.  My machine applique stitch of choice is the blanket or buttonhole stitch.  I play with widths and lengths on a scrap until I’m happy with the result:

My buttonhole stitch width was 1.8 and my length was 2.0

And I make of a note of the length and width settings in my phone.  Since I currently am also quilting a small quilt on the same machine, I don’t want to get my settings confused. 

A few days of steadily appliqueing adds up to 26 completed blocks. The following blogs can add more details about how to raw-edge applique: (,,, and 

I assemble the quilt top, pressing well after each addition, and then measure it in three places across the width of the quilt.  I average these three numbers together to know how long to cut the top and bottom border (the border are 2 ½-inches wide).  I press the seams towards the borders and then repeat the process for the length of the quilt to make the side borders.

Now all I have to do is quilt it and add a sleeve for hanging and a label.

I hope you’ve enjoyed making this quilt with me.  You don’t have to use a pattern to make a quilt.  You don’t even need a computer program such as EQ (even though I can’t imagine my quilting life without EQ).  You just need to remember the Golden Ratio (1.618) and GRIT (1.414).  Math is simply numbers, and numbers will always tell us the truth.

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,



Quilting Cottons and Color Issues

So…after the two blogs I wrote about fabric stashes, I had a few questions from a few readers.  These concern types of fabric, the differences between cotton fabrics, and why some colors of fabric are so hard to match up.  I wanted to answer these questions before we moved on to a few other topics before our end of the year wrap up.

The first question wanted to know if there is a difference between cotton fabrics and quilting cottons.  The short answer to this is “Yes.”  Quilting cottons and regular cotton fabric are very different, but in order to understand why, you first need to look at how the manufacturers turn cotton into fabric, because that’s where the differences come into play.  The first step is harvesting the cotton.  The cotton plants are defoliated and harvested primarily by machine.  These machines really perform a “two-fer”:  They harvest the cotton and remove large pieces of trash, twigs, etc., from the cotton and then form it into bales.  From there the cotton is ginned – the seeds and smaller contaminants are removed.  Then it goes to a textile production plant where the cotton is carded.  The process turns the cotton fibers into long strands and the strands are spun to create yarn. 

This process is the same regardless of what kind of cotton fabric will be produced.  However, once the strands are spun into yarns (think of a fiber more like thread and less like something you knit or crochet with), the yarn can be dyed and then woven into cloth, or the yarn can be woven and then dyed.  It all depends on what kind of fabric the textile manufacturer wants to produce.  And here’s where the differences between quilting cottons and regular cotton fabrics show up. 

Quilting cotton yarns are not dyed.  The raw yarn is woven into fabric which can have at least a 60-thread per inch thread count or higher.  This means an inch of quilting cotton will have 30 threads running vertically and 30 running horizontally.  This is called 60-square and is generally considered the average count for quilting cottons.  I have seen quilting cottons with thread counts higher than 70, but those are the exception and not the rule.  The higher the number, the stronger and denser the fabric.  Cotton fabric manufactured for garment construction has a lower thread count. 

So…how can you tell the difference between regular cotton fabric and quilting cottons?  If you’re shopping at your LQS, chances are they will have quilting cottons marked as such either on one of the ends of the bolt or some other location on the fabric.  If you’re shopping online, it is more than likely this information will be in the fabric description.  However, if you’re shopping for quilt fabric at an establishment which sells all kinds of cotton material (such as some big box stores), it may be a bit more difficult to find this information.  Sure, you could take a magnifying glass with you and count the threads per square inch, but there are easier ways to determine what kind of cotton fabric is on the shelf.  First is the price itself.  Quilting cottons are more expensive than other cotton fabrics.  Second is the feel of the fabric.  Quilting cottons feel heavier than regular cottons.  And third are additives sometimes listed on the sales tag.  Let’s take a look at each of these and compare those to cotton fabrics produced for garment making.

The higher thread count in quilting cottons can make it feel denser and sometimes heavier than garment cottons.  It’s this high thread count which makes quilting cottons perform so well when sewed into a quilt.  Quilting cottons will allow a quilt to last for decades and be handed down for several generations before becoming worn.  Garment cottons generally don’t have as high of a thread count.  If you hold apparel cotton up to the light, you will likely see some light through it.  This is due to the lower thread count and thinner material.  You normally can’t see light through quilting cottons – the high thread count makes the fabric opaque. 

The feel of quilting cottons is different from garment cottons not only due to the higher thread count, but also the additives sprayed on the raw fabric.  Quilting fabric is created to resist shrinkage and other wear and tear.  It’s designed to maintain its color and print.  If you’re a pre-washer like me, it’s good to know these additives aren’t washed out of the fabric.  However, quilting cottons are also more than likely treated with a softener, a stain and sun guard, and sometimes even a stiffener.  These make the fabric look pretty as it sits on the shelf and protects against fading.  These additives can be washed out, which is why pre-washers sometimes have to press starch or a starch substitute into the back of their material to make them stiffer.

Greige Fabric

Now let’s go back and re-visit what I said earlier about the yarn which produces quilting cottons.  This yarn remains undyed through the weaving process and called griege (pronounce “gray”), grey fabric, gray fabric, or loom-state fabrics.  And the use of the term “gray” can be somewhat deceiving.  Sometimes the raw fabric is a light gray, but at other times it’s cream or ecru.  It depends on the type of cotton used as well as the additives mixed in with production.  It’s the raw, griege fabric which can throw us the first hurdle when we need to find a true hue.  If you add a true blue dye to a griege fabric, most of the time the process will conclude with a really nice true, blue hue (remember a hue is the color in its truest form).  As a matter of fact most colors do well regardless of the color of the griege fabric.  However, I have found three colors in my quilting world which give me issues on a consistent bases:  white, teal, and black.  Let’s talk about the most difficult color first – white.

Scientifically speaking, color is an expression of light.  Certain materials absorb and reflect specific wavelengths of visible light, which results in objects taking on a certain color to the human eye.  Revisiting the blue mentioned above – a blue object reflects and disperses blue light back at us while absorbing all other wavelengths of light, so you see only blue.  When all light is reflected back, we have the color white.  So a true, white hue reflects all the colors back at us.  However, if you’ve ever tried to purchase white fabric, it’s amazing how many shades of white are out there.  Strictly speaking, a shade is a hue mixed with black, so gray technically is a shade of white or a tint of black (tints are formed by adding white to a hue).  Other shades of white include cream, eggshell, ivory, Navajo white, and vanilla.  If this isn’t complicated enough, there are achromatic whites – whites which have red, green, and blue added equally.  There are also chromatic whites, which are whites that have red, green, and blue added but they are not added equally.  And if you’re talking about paint instead of fabric, keep in mind Benjamin Moore has 152 shades of off-white, Behr has 167, and PPG has a whopping 315. 

No wonder purchasing anything white or white-ish is so confusing and befuddling.

To add to the white dilemma, as a quilter, you must keep in mind three things when purchasing white fabric.  First, the indoor lighting can alter how the white material looks.  Overhead florescent lighting is brutal to any color.  Remember this blog?  You really want the overhead lighting to be as close to natural daylight as possible.  With many quilt stores, this isn’t possible, so carry your white fabric to a window and give it a serious look over.  Is it the shade of white you want?  Second, remember the fabric placed next to the white can pull out other colors.  For instance, if you purchase a chromatic white that has more red than blue or green, and you place it near a red fabric, your white may appear pink.  Likewise if you purchase a chromatic white with more blue and it’s placed near blue fabric, it also may appear blue or even gray.  So it’s a good idea to take some fabric swatches with you when you pick out your white fabric and audition everything close to a window. 

The last thing to keep in mind when purchasing white fabric has to do with on-line sales.  Let’s say you’re making a scrap quilt and need five yards of white fabric (white fabric works wonderfully with scrap quilts – it makes everything play nicely together).  You place your order and in a few days, five yards of white fabric shows up on your doorstep.  Now let’s say something happens – you need to pull a yard of it for another project or you make a cutting mistake.  Now you need to buy some more of the white fabric, but you can’t find your original order.  You go back to the online establishment and begin to peruse the site only to discover there are at least 15 different white fabrics.  You take the white fabric you have and hold it up to your computer screen, comparing the fabric to each online swatch carefully.  When you think you’ve decided on the correct one, you add two yards to your cart (just to be sure you have enough) and check out. A few days later it shows up and you tear open the box only to find…

It doesn’t match the four yards of white you have.

I can tell you from experience how frustrating this is.  My third piece of advice concerning purchasing white fabric is to hold on to all the paperwork.  This way if you need to reorder, you can go by the SKU number.  I realize many quilting websites will keep your order available to you online in case you need to reorder.  But if the website you’re ordering from doesn’t or the original website is out of the white needed and you must order from somewhere else, you have the SKU number in hand to make sure it’s the right white. 

Now let’s take a look at teal.  If you think white is a confusing color, teal can push you right over the quilting edge.  And if you want to blame someone or something, here’s your target:

See that stripe of greenish-blue on the top of its cute, little head?  Well, evidently around 1917, this color became the Pantone Color of the Year (that is sarcasm…Pantone didn’t have a color of the year until 1999).  Everyone fell in love with this color they called teal.  By 1927 it was showing up in clothing.  Between 1948 and throughout the 1960’s, teal was used in interior decorating.  It fell a bit out of fashion until the 1990’s when it was re-birthed as a fad color.**

The issue with teal is where it falls in the color wheel. 

Teal rides the edge exactly between green and blue.  Because it’s at this midway point, hundreds of shades can be produced, from dark to light, ranging from more green to more blue.  To make matters a bit more confusing, many times teal is used colloquially to refer to shades of cyan (blue) in general.

However for us quilters, our concern is more how the dye is combined before it’s incorporated into the greige fabric.  The color teal is made by mixing blue into a green base. How much of each is used will result in of the shade of teal produced.  If more blue than green is used, the teal will show more blue.  If more green is used, the teal will have a green cast.  It also can be deepened by adding black or gray, or lightened a little by using white.  So the color teal can range from deep greenie teals to teals which almost appear blue.

When purchasing teal fabric, be sure to take the same precautions as you do when purchasing white.  Audition it near a window or a source of light which closely resembles daylight.  Bring the other fabric swatches with you to make sure the teal chosen will work.  When placed near a blue fabric, no matter how deep the green base is, the teal will take on a blue-ish cast, and likewise when it’s placed near a green, it will appear greener.  However, this is the one fabric color I will default to a fabric family every time.  If I’m constructing a quilt and want to use a teal, and there’s a teal available in the same fabric family I’m using, I will default to that teal every time.  Yes, teal is that tricky of a color.

One last word of warning about teal.  Personally, I think it’s a good idea if you can make your initial purchase in a brick-and-mortar fabric store.  Here’s why:  Teal is used to create colors on computer and television screens by reducing the brightness of the cyan used in screen images (both pictures and fonts).  If you’re purchasing teal fabric and you’re shopping for it online through a screen which employs teal, it can be easy for the actual color to be distorted.  Unless you’re purchasing from teal in a fabric family, or you have some of the actual fabric in hand and can pull the information from the selvedge, you may want to make your first teal purchase in a quilt shop. 

Finally, let’s take a look at the color black.  Since white reflects all the colors, it’s only natural that its opposite – black – reflect none.  Black isn’t on the visible spectrum of color.  It’s the absence of light.  Unlike white and other hues, pure black can exist in nature without any light at all.  It exists as a shade (some color theorists will argue that white isn’t a color either, it’s only a shade).  Black fabric is made from the darkest pigmented dyes available, and this is why there are so many shades of black.  Currently there are 134 shades of black, with the new blackest black being Vantablack. 


Black, much like white, can have red, green, and blue added either in equal or varying amounts, which can alter the shade.  Tiny amounts of white can also be added to lift the color a bit, but not so much that it turns the black into gray.  So again, audition your black with other fabric swatches and in natural sunlight or lighting as close to daylight as possible.  Personally, if I need a deep black for a project, I reach for the Amish Black most of the time.  It’s fairly readily available and reasonably priced. 

Amish Black

I hope I’ve answered your questions about fabric and why some colors are more difficult to match up than others.  Color is both fascinating and fun when it comes to quilting.  Choosing fabric is one of my most favorite activities and it’s really amazing what lighting and placement can do to your fabrics. 

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!

Love and Stitches,


  **My favorite color of teal is this:

It’s the color for Cervical Cancer Awareness (as well as some other reproductive cancers).  Many of you remember my daughter’s cervical cancer diagnosis and I want to take the chance to again thank each of you who prayed for her (she is now cancer-free) and to remind you to get your pap smears. I want everyone to stay healthy. We have a lot of quilting years ahead of us!