If block units, blocks, and all the sashings are squared up and the cutting is accurate, at this point, your quilt center should be squared-up, too, right?
This is where we left off last week. We went through exactly what the squaring-up process is and why it really shouldn’t be left as the last step before sewing on the binding. At this point, we’ve square up everything as we have constructed the quilt and now we’re ready to put on the borders. And yes, if you’ve faithfully squared-up the block units, blocks, sashing, and rows, your quilt center should come out to the size the quilt pattern says. It’s easy to think at this point you only need to cut the borders to the size dictated by the pattern and sew them on.
Well, yes…and no. Technically if all the squaring up has been done, the borders should go on quickly and easily. However, if you’ve come this far, you want to be sure everything will still go together wonderfully in the end. So here’s what we will do:
If you’re quilt top is badly wrinkled, press it.
Lay it out, face-up on the floor or a table – some surface which is big enough, so the quilt lies flat.
With a measuring tape, measure the length of the quilt an inch in from the right and left edges and in the middle. Average these three measurements. The average will be the length to cut your side borders. Ideally, all three measurements should be the same. However, there may be variances and if there are, the measurements still should be pretty close.
Cut out your left and right borders the width needed per the pattern and the length deduced by your average.
Find the center of the length of the border strip and the center of the length of the quilt. Pin both centers together and then pin the edges together, working from the center pin down one side and then the other. Sew on and repeat on the other side.
Press the borders, with the seams pressed towards the border strip.
Lay the quilt out again, face-up on the floor a table – some surface which is big enough that the quilt lies flat.
Now measure how wide the quilt is. Again, take three measurements – one an inch from the top, one an inch from the bottom, and one across the middle. Average these three measurements together and cut your top and bottom border this length and the as wide as the pattern calls for.
Repeat the pinning and sewing as dictated for the left and right borders.
One really helpful hint about borders – border pieces cut along the lengthwise grain of fabric really stabilize your quilt center the best. However, whatever you do, cut all the border pieces on the same grain – all lengthwise or all crosswise. If you mix the grains, the borders will be wavy.
Sandwich your quilt and quilt it or send it to the long arm artist.
Once the quilting is done, you’re on the final stretch. And at this point, you have two options: Do you want to wet it and square it up again or not? There’s a reason this becomes an option. A long arm artist will baste the top, bottom, and sides of your quilt to the backing and batting. This will help stabilize the quilt and keep all three layers of the quilt sandwich from shifting and keep it square. They will also do some stitching in the ditch along some of the squares for the same reason. If you’re quilting your quilt on your domestic machine, you do the same thing. However, no matter how careful you are, the quilt could become slightly un-square during the quilting process – not so much the quilt center, but the borders. Instead of the corners being a perfect 90-degrees, they become a bit wonky. There are two ways to approach putting those borders back to a 90-degree angle.
The Wet Method
I will be honest at this point and tell you I generally only use this method for wall hangings which must lie flat and even against a wall or truly special quilts, such as those destined as mile-marker gifts (such as weddings, special birthdays, etc.), or quilts which are definitely show-bound. While this method does work wonders to get everything squared-up beautifully, handling a wet quilt can be difficult and the larger the quilt, the more difficult it can be.
This method requires two items – a washing machine and either an area you can pin the quilt flat, or one of these:
A cardboard dressmaker’s cutting surface.
The first step with this method is to trim the backing and batting even with your quilt center. To make sure I get the four corners of the quilt as close to 90-degrees as possible I use a square ruler along the sides, like this.
Then thoroughly wet your quilt. I generally do this via the washing machine on a delicate cycle (my washer does not have an agitator – if yours does you may opt for a soaking in the tub or shower stall instead of using the washing machine). Helpful hint insert: If you’ve used water dissolvable marker or Frixion pens on your quilt, this is a great time to get those out. After the quilt has gone through the delicate cycle and spun out, it’s time to pin your quilt to either a clean carpet or the cardboard cutting surface. Pin judiciously, making sure the sides and top are perfectly straight and even. If you’re using a carpet, you may want to purchase one of these:
The laser light can help you line up your quilt evenly. If you’re using one of the cardboard dressmaker cutting surfaces, the gridded lines on it are your guide.
This process takes time. Use your hands to spread the quilt out and manipulate the quilt sandwich to square it up. After the corners are at 90-degree angles and the sides are even, pin it in place and allow it to dry completely. If you have a fan, you may want to use it to help it dry quicker.
The Dry Method
This is the method I use the most, because most of my quilts are made to be “used up.” They’re not show quilts or super-special-once-in-a-lifetime quilts. The quilts are cuddle quilts, play quilts for my grand darlings, picnic quilts, lap quilts, and charity quilts. This method will square these quilts up nicely, but I don’t have to wet them.
The first step I take is to trim down the backing and batting – especially if the quilt was long armed. Traditionally we always make sure the batting and backing are several inches larger than the quilt top, but most long arm artists want you to have a 6-inch to 8-inch border of the back and batting so they can clamp it to hold the quilt taunt. I trim those down to about an inch, just so I don’t have so much bulk to deal with.
I realize the borders may still be basted down to the batting and backing, and if the stitches are still pretty well intact, you can skip this next step. If the basting stitches have broken or aren’t intact, I take the quilt sandwich to the sewing machine and stitch the sides and top and bottom of the quilt again, about 1/8-inch away from the edge of the quilt top. This keeps everything taunt as you begin to square up the quilt for the last time.
If you don’t have one of these:
You may want to purchase one. I find these square rulers are the most useful for squaring up the corners.
Place the square ruler at one of the corners of the quilt. Line it up as best you can at the bottom (or top) of the ruler and along the sides. Then, with a rotary cutter (a 45 mm or 60 mm works best for this), trim the backing, batting, and any slender pieces of border fabric you need to in order to make the sides, top, and bottom of the quilt square and even.
Now all you have to do is bind your quilt and enjoy!
I hope these two blogs have helped you in two areas. First, I really want you to understand how important it is to square up your quilt with every step, and if you’re making large blocks, it’s crucial to make sure your fabric is on-grain. These minor actions play a major role in making sure your quilt will lie flat or hang straight. Second, I hope the blogs have demonstrated squaring up isn’t a horribly scary process. As long as you have a good ruler, cutting mat, and sharp rotary cutter, you’re good to go.
Have you ever viewed a quilt which looked like this?
It’s a really nice quilt, and the maker may have spent a lot of time thinking about design and color and techniques. But there’s just something off about the quilt. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is, but something is off. So, you wonder is it you, or is it something else?
Well, if you looked at the quilt above and thought those thoughts, it’s not you. It’s the quilt. Even though a quilt may be perfectly pieced or appliqued beautifully, there’s still something wrong. It doesn’t hang straight. It may look a bit wavy. It simply doesn’t look right, but you can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong with it. There are technically a couple of things which could be happening here, either independently or in conjunction with each other – off grainlines and/or poor squaring up.
As I’ve stated many times before, fabric has three grainlines: crosswise (also known as width of fabric or WOF), length wise (known as length of fabric or LOF), and bias – which cuts across both the crosswise and length wise grains. For my quilters out there who are also garment makers, you are probably familiar with these terms. Generally, if quilters are cutting fabrics in strips in preparation to sub-cut it into units, the strip is cut across the width of the fabric. And here is where the first issue may crop up.
Quilter’s cottons (or any other 100 percent cotton fabric for that matter) are woven. This means the threads or yarns are placed perpendicular to each other and are attached by weaving, to make up the warp and weft of the fabric. Once the fabric is completely woven, it’s processed, finished, folded, and wrapped around a bolt. During these processes, the threads can shift, causing it to lose its perpendicularity.
Now the fabric is off grain. And to be honest, most fabric is off grain by the time it’s rolled off the bolt to be cut. If you’re making a garment, cutting fabric strips to be sub-cut, or cutting out large quilt blocks as either setting blocks or applique backgrounds, it’s important to put the fabric back on-grain. This is not a difficult process at all. Simply make a small cut across the selvedge, about an inch in from the side:
And rip the fabric from selvedge to selvedge.
Then re-fold the fabric to make your crosswise (WOF) cuts, making sure to line up the torn edges. Now you’re ready to rock and roll.
At this point, let me throw in a Zone of Truth. If you’re cutting small fabric pieces to go into block units, it honestly doesn’t matter if the fabric is on-grain or not. By the time you get those pieced and quilted, no one should be able to tell if you’ve corrected the grain line or not. However, the larger the fabric pieces, the easier to tell if they’re off-grain. Even when they’re quilted, they will want to ripple and not lie flat. My general rule of thumb is if I am cutting strips or blocks 3-inches or larger, I make sure my fabric is put on-grain.
Now let’s talk about what may be the second issue which could be wrong with the quilt at the top of this blog: Improper or absent square-up. What is square-up? In broad terms, squaring up a quilt pertains to the quilt sandwich – it’s a step taken after the quilt is quilted and before the binding is sewn on. The process makes sure the four corners are at a perfect 90-degree angles. However, like I said, this is a broad definition. Personally, I think a quilt should be squared up at every step during construction. Let me explain.
To me, squaring up a quilt begins as soon as you have the quilt pattern in hand. The very first thing I encourage any quilter at any level to do is read the pattern twice before purchasing fabric or making the first cut. The first read-through is to get you acquainted with the process the designer took. And now here’s a Zone of Truth about fabric designers: Some of them are really great. Some of them are not. Don’t be fooled by a pretty cover. Take that pattern out and read it. As you read it, look for certain aspects:
Pictures, illustrations, or line drawings – Quilting is a visual art. Sometimes a picture can be far more helpful than words.
The cover picture is clear – While I may not choose the color way the designer chose, the cover picture has enough clarity I can take a picture of it with my cell phone and flip it to black and white so I can see how many lights, mediums, and darks I need.
It indicates in some way if it’s a beginners, intermediate, or advanced quilting pattern.
If it’s an applique pattern, it tells you if the applique pattern pieces are reversed or you need to reverse them with a light box.
The designer has listed his or her website. This is important. Go to the website and see if the designer has updated the pattern. No matter how hard designers try (and the vast majority of them try really hard) not to make mistakes, mistakes do happen. Good pattern designers usually have a place on their website where they list the pattern, any mistakes, and the corrections. If you cannot find a corrections tab on the designer’s website, Google the pattern. If nothing about the pattern is returned but the images of the designer’s quilt and their site, you may want to rethink making the quilt. This usually means either no one has purchased it, or the directions are so poor no one has attempted it.
The directions allow for a bit of extra fabric in case you make a cutting error.
As you are constructing your block units, the pattern supplies you with an unfinished unit measurement.
For me – and I’ve quilted for 35-years at this point – these seven aspects are important. However, number 7 is super important in the squaring up process. Let’s say you have to join a half-square triangle to a square. The HST has an unfinished measurement of 2 ½ inches and the square also has an unfinished measurement of 2 ½-inches. If the pattern lists this unfinished block unit measurements as 2 ½-inches x 4 ½-inches, you realize once you’ve sewn the HST and square together, the unit should measure 2 ½-inches x 4 ½-inches. Once the HST and square are joined and pressed, you can measure it. If it is the correct measurement, you can proceed to join all of these units together, checking as you go to make sure the unfinished measurements stay consistent.
However, if the joined HST and square aren’t 2 ½-inches x 4 ½-inches, you realize you must take steps to correct it. Seam allowances can be examined to see if they are a true ¼-inch. You can re-measure the HST and square to make sure they have been cut and trimmed correctly. In other words, you can correct the tiny mistakes before they become huge quilty issues. This is why those unfinished block unit measurements are so important.
But what if the unfinished block unit measurements aren’t in your pattern? Don’t worry. You can figure out those measurements on your own. For instance, let’s take a look at this block:
This is the Greek Square block, and it’s made up of HSTs and squares which are pieced from two rectangles. The finished block is 6-inches, which means each HST and pieced square should finish at 2-inches (2 + 2 + 2 = 6). Unfinished means you simply add ½-inch for the seam allowances. So as you’re piecing each HST and square, you want those to be 2 ½-inches, unfinished. Once they’re joined together in rows, the row should come out to 6 ½-inches (2 ½ + 2 ½ + 2 ½ = 7 ½. Then subtract two ½-seam allowances for the middle block: 7 ½ – 1 = 6 ½. Once the square is set into rows, that extra ½-inch seam allowance will go away and the block will finish at 6-inches).
Figuring out the unfinished measurements isn’t hard, and it’s important to do if the pattern doesn’t supply them. While all of this may seem like intense (and even unnecessary) attention to detail, it’s these actions which are the first “squaring up” of the quilt. You make sure the block units are the correct size. If they’re not, you adjust cutting, seam allowance, or even the thread (by switching to a different weight or ply) to make sure the units come out at the correct unfinished size.
Once the units are made, join them together to make the block. Because of all the care put into the units, the block should come out at its correct unfinished size. However, it’s still necessary to measure the blocks to be sure. I make several blocks and then spend some quality time at my cutting mat, measuring and trimming (if needed). This is the second “squaring up.”
Now let’s talk sashing. Sashing is the strips of fabric you put between the blocks and between the rows. It has lots of design possibilities. Sashing can be pieced or appliqued. Wide sashing opens up lots of quilting opportunities. It adds width and length to a quilt. However, if used correctly, sashing can also be a great squaring up tool. I learned this little trick when constructing my Dear Jane. As you’re cutting your quilt out, also cut the vertical sashing to the size required by the quilt pattern. After you’ve constructed your block, sew a sashing piece to the right side of the block. If the sashing and the block are the same size – whoop whoop! Your block is squared up, and the sashing is the right size. If one is off, re-measure both and make corrections where needed. This is a great, little square up trick, and it saves time. Once all your blocks are completed, the sashing is already sewn on and you’re ready to sew the blocks into rows.
Speaking of rows, now it’s time to sew the sashing between the rows and on the top and bottom of the quilt (if required). It’s important to make sure all the rows are the same length. There’s a couple of ways to do this. If the pattern doesn’t have any borders, you can check and see what the finished width of the quilt is and add ½-inch. If your rows measure this, you’re golden. If the pattern has borders, you can subtract the combined border finished width from the width of the finished quilt and add ½ inch. All the rows should come pretty close to this width. If you’re off a smidge (1/4-inch or less), don’t sweat it. This amount can be worked around.
Once you’re sure your rows are approximately the same length, now it’s time to make your horizontal sashing to go between the rows. If it’s a solid piece of fabric, cut the fabric strip across the WOF (joining pieces if necessary) to fit the measurement of the row width. Find the center of the row of blocks and the center of the horizontal sashing and pin the two centers together. Then pin out from the center for the left and right sides. If you’ve measured, cut, and joined correctly (if needed), the horizontal sashing should be easy to pin into place.
Sometimes the sashing looks like this:
Those small squares which fall beneath the sashing are called cornerstones. And while this may look a tad intimidating to construct, it’s really not. Here’s how it goes:
Cut the strips of horizontal sashing the finished width of the block, plus ½-inch for the seam allowances. So, if the finished width of your block is 8-inches, you’d cut the strips at 8 ½-inches.
Cut the cornerstones the same size as the finished width of the vertical sashing, plus ½-inch.
Sew the cornerstones to the horizontal sashing strips.
Sew the horizontal sashing to the rows, matching and nesting the cornerstone seams with the vertical sashing.
If block units, blocks, and all the sashing were squared up, once the quilt center is assembled, it should automatically be squared-up, too, right? Is there a need for additional squaring up at this point?
Tune in next week to find out the answer to this and other burning quilty questions….
I mentioned gentle curves, but beyond giving them a passing reference and telling you I really liked them, I didn’t go into any details about how to handle them or how to make them. So, this week I want to correct that oversight and deal with the gentle curves
Of the quilt world.
Much like their counterpoint tight curves, gentle curves lead the eyes across the quilt. And depending on how the quilt is designed, the curves can lead away from the quilt outward
Or focus the eyes toward the center of the quilt. They give movement and direction to almost any quilt top. And, if you ask me, they’re a bit more fun and a little easier than their tighter-curved sister. So, let’s take a look at how you construct and quilt gentle curves.
Like Drunkard’s Path, gentle curves can be appliqued on or pieced. This quilt block
Known as Orange Peel, has easy curves and is simple to applique. The orange peels (often called “melons”) can be stitched down by hand or machine without a lot of trouble. This quilt block can be pieced, but it would be tricky. Much easier just to applique those melons in place.
When these blocks are placed together, they form a beautiful quilt center that beckons the eyes to follow the curves across the front.
There is also this quilt block
Called Clamshell. And it’s really not so much a quilt block as it is a unit. Depending on the desired look, it can have a tighter curve or a gentler one. Again, this unit is for applique—either by hand or machine. When the clam shells are appliqued onto a background, the results are beautiful.
This type of quilt is a great stash buster and is nearly mindless work.
This quilt block**
Which is really a mixture of tight and easy curves is machine stitched – just in case you were wondering if all gentle curves had to be appliqued. This block usually requires templates and the ability to sew accurately in really tight spaces. In all honesty, this quilt block requires some slow sewing and determination and a glass of wine doesn’t hurt, either. However, the payoff is one outstandingly beautiful quilt.
Now let’s look at all three quilts:
It’s easy to see how the curves pull your eyes across the quilt. Even though the curves aren’t as tight as a Drunkard’s Path, the movement is still there. It’s rhythmic and soothing.
These three quilt blocks are made from patterns. And while I love these quilt blocks (even Winding Ways), my very, very favorite gentle curves are improv curves – curves you don’t need a pattern for. These are improv curves:
These are gently, wavy curves which remind me of the ocean. These are super-easy to make, too. All you need is to get over any fears of not having pattern directions and some fabric, a rotary cutter, and your imagination.
To begin, cut your fabric into rectangles. I always cut my fabric larger than my block. So, if my finished square needs to be 12-inches, I may cut my rectangle strips as long as 14-inches. How many I cut is up to me. I’m literally sewing strips of fabric together to make a square of fabric. For the sake of not complicating things too much, let’s cut three strips 5-inches wide by 14-inches long. This gives us lots of squaring up opportunities.
Take the two of the strips and place them both right sides up, one on top of the other.
If there’s any doubt about how sharp your rotary cutter blade is, now is the time to change it. A dull blade is going to make this next step much more difficult. In the middle of the vertical side of the two rectangles, make a straight cut of about an inch.
It’s much easer to control your curve if you begin with the straight cut. If you go in at an angle, the fabric will shift, which will make things a little cattywampus.
After you’ve made this first cut, make a gentle, wavy cut with your rotary cutter. Don’t go too much above or below the middle of the rectangle. For the sake of example, I’ve marked my rectangles with a Frixion pen so you can see how much above and below the center of the rectangle I steer my rotary cutter. And at the end of my cutting, I also exit the rectangle with a straight cut.
Now remove the top pieces. You’ll find the two bottom ones will match up with these two pieces just like a puzzle.
Like sewing any other block units together, match the two pieces, right sides together and take them to your sewing machine. You may want to shorten the stitch length just a bit. I lower my length from a 2.5 to a 2.0. This shorter stitch lets you control the curves just a bit better. If you have a ¼-inch piecing foot, it will come in handy here. Line the edge of the fabric up with the foot and sew. Your job is just to guide the fabric. I’ve found if I slow down my speed just a tad and then just let my fingers guide the fabric over the feed dogs and out the back, this works well for keeping the gentle curves intact. Don’t try to force it.
Once you have both pieces sewn together, repeat with the remaining two.
Now we need to add the third strip. Take the two blocks you just pieced and lay them right sides up on a rotary cutting mat. Take the third strip and place it right side up on the pieced squares. Here’s where you have to be a bit careful. When you make your gentle cut, you do not want to intersect the seam, so be sure to stay away from it. Using the same technique as above, make about a straight 1-inch cut on the side and then carefully make a gentle, curvy cut, and exit on the other side with a straight cut.
Line the pieces up. Then take them to your sewing machine and sew them together, letting your fingers simply guide the fabric and not force it.
Let me add a couple of caveats here. First, with all these curves, you’re dealing with a lot of bias. I spray my fabric well with either spray starch or Best Press 2 Starch Substitute. Either of these tend to make the fabric a bit stiff which not only keeps the bias in check, but I also think it makes cutting the fabric easier. Second, don’t force the fabric in anyway. Let your fingers gently guide it. Third, despite my nearly rabid love of pins and pinning my block units, this is not the place for either. That’s right. You heard correctly. Don’t use pins. I personally find them more of a hindrance with these types of curves than a help. You may need to stop (with your needle down) and re-line up the fabric pieces so the edges meet, and then resume your sewing.
Once the strips are assembled into a block, give it a good press, and wait for the block to cool before any additional cutting or trimming.
At this point, there is so much you can do with the block. You can keep adding curvy strips, so the block becomes a placemat, table runner, wall hanging, or small quilt. Simply square up the piece to eliminate the uneven edges, quilt, and bind. However, one of my favorite uses for these gently curving blocks are as backgrounds for applique. I am not crazy about solid fabrics used for backgrounds in applique. They have no movement and don’t pull the eye in towards the applique pieces. In the past, I have always used a background with a small print, mottled colors, stripes, checks, or even muted plaids. The mixed colors and print add a subtle movement to the background which enhances the applique. However, once I became comfortable working with improv curves, I began to use those in my backgrounds. I generally don’t have more than three curvy pieces in the background (because too much of a good thing still can be too much and I don’t want the background to distract from my applique), but having three neutrals sewn together (and with this technique, one of the pieces of fabric could be a solid) definitely adds something special to the applique block.
Let’s look at another way gentle curves can be used in quilting: the quilting itself.
The absolutely great thing about these gentle curves is that they can be made with a walking foot. So, for all you quilters out there who are still just a bit apprehensive about dropping those feed dogs and free-stylin’ it, gentle curves may be just what you need to begin the journey of quilting your own quilt. Besides using the walking foot, quilted gentle curves have some definite advantages. First, they are super-easy. Used either horizontally or vertically, most of the time you don’t even need to mark your quilt.
However, there are also some additional gentle curvy quilting designs which may require a bit of marking, but still use the walking foot.
And if you have a quilt top with a lot of geometric shapes, curvy quilting can help balance the quilt out by offering a total opposite look with the quilting. It can tone down those harsh lines.
**Now, let’s go back to this quilt square:
I breezed over the construction in the first part of the blog. However, I anticipate I may get some questions about how to construct it. I decided to include those instructions at the end of my blog.
Three very important issues to deal with before we begin sewing instructions. First, color placement is everything in this quilt. When the color placement is right, you not only have the gentle curves in the block, but you also have the illusion of large circles. It’s a super-good idea to sketch out this quilt and color it in or use a quilting software program such as EQ 8 to make your color and fabric choices. Second, templates will be used. Fortunately, free templates for this block are readily available on the internet. They can be downloaded and printed on cardstock. Lots of quilt stores have the acrylic templates, also. Missouri Star, Marti Mitchell, John Flynn, and Amazon offer lots of selections for purchase. You can either trace around the templates with a fabric marker, Frixion pen, or pencil and cut the pieces out with scissors or use a rotary cutter. A small rotary cutter is easier to use – it seems to handle the curves better than a larger one. Third, the larger a Winding Ways block is, the easier it is to construct. My rule of thumb is this: If I plan to machine piece my Winding Ways blocks, they’re never smaller than 8 ½-inches unfinished. Any smaller than this and I will hand piece them.
To make one block, you will need to cut four of template A in your focus fabric and four of templates B and C in your background fabric.
On the pieces cut from template A and template B, you will need to find the center. Fold the piece in half and gently finger press it to find the center. You may want to mark the center with a dot made by a water-soluble fabric or a Frixion pen. Then make a dot ¼-inch in on the top of the left and right sides of the pieces. Many time acrylic templates already have holes drilled in them to make marking the fabric units easier.
At this point, pinning these units will seem similar to how we construct a Drunkard’s Path. Piece A is your pie and piece B is the ice cream. As the ice cream goes on top of a piece of pie, so piece B goes on top of piece A. Pin the centers together, and then put a pin in the dots on the sides of the pieces. Now you need to pin the curves just as you do with a Drunkard’s Path block.
Sew A and B together and press.
Repeat this process with Piece C on a long edge of Piece A. Make four of these units and then lay them out to make sure you have everything placed correctly.
Join two of the units together and then repeat for the other two. Be sure to press the seam to the side
Sew these two new, larger units together and press. I admit I press this seam open, as curved seams are difficult to spin in the middle.
There you have it – a beautiful Winding Ways block!
I hope this blog encourages you to embrace gentle curves. They’re so much fun and are so easy to make. They allow you to think a bit outside the box and can add lots of dimensions to a quilt or an applique background or the quilting itself.
The subject of this blog is “Quilter’s Block,” not “Quilt Block.” Don’t get the two phrases confused, they are very different. A quilt block is a quilt block. A unit of a quilt top.
Quilter’s block is not a part of any quilt. It’s that thingie which invades your creative space and keeps you from making the quilt you want. It’s a dam holding back your creativity. It’s the death-knell to your inspiration. I sort of hit on this subject way back in 2019 when I wrote this blog: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2019/06/12/when-your-quilting-mojo-has-left-the-building/comment-page-1/. I talked about when your desire to quilt has left the building. When you have no craving at all to handle fabric, thread, and needle. A bad case of lost quilting mojo means you may never quilt again. A less severe case means it may be a while before you do.
Quilter’s block isn’t quite like that. With quilter’s block, the desire to quilt is there, but you just don’t know what to do. You wander aimless up and down the aisles of a quilt shop, and none of the fabric speaks to you. You hole yourself up in your quilt studio only to spend hours lost on YouTube or Pinterest. You leave without putting in a stitch. If you’re at this place now, or you’ve been there and got the t-shirt from the trip, don’t despair. We’ve all had quilter’s block at one time or another. And instead of giving you a hot, hip list of all the mental exercises you can put yourself through to get rid of quilter’s block, I want to try to explain the creative process (which in many ways is like nailing Jello to a wall), which may in the long run, allow you to understand why creative people think and react the way they do, and how to deal with yourself when the creative spigot is turned off.
In my world, there are three types of quilters:
The ones who follow the pattern to the letter – down to either using the exact same fabrics the designers used or purchasing material as close to the designer’s fabric as possible.
Those quilters who veer from the pattern a bit – they may alter a few of the blocks, enlarge or reduce, make the border their own, etc. Minor alterations, but the pattern is followed about 70 percent of the time.
The quilters who are not even in the same room as the pattern – they consider the directions a jumping off point (such as how much fabric to buy), but overall, the pattern is merely a suggestion, that is if they use a pattern at all.
If you read the above characteristics with broad strokes, it’s easy to think the third category of quilters are not only the most creative, they’re also the smartest quilters – I mean radically altering a quilt pattern or even designing your own is a fairly detailed process, right?
Yes and no. It is a process, but it’s not too complicated. If you have a grasp of basic math skills (and I’m talking addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication and know how to use a calculator), you can alter almost any pattern and can certainly design your own quilt. The fact is creativity has nothing to do with intelligence. Once you get past an IQ of 120 (which is only slightly about average), creativity and intelligence are not related at all. Allow me to give you a personal example.
I taught high school science for years. One of the perks of this (or at least what I considered a perk), was I got to help judge middle and elementary school science fairs.
I loved elementary school science fairs. Crowded gymnasiums filled with kids, their science fair backdrops, cool experiments, and chattering excitement. These students were excited (meh – at least over all excited) about their experiments and projects. After you’ve judged these things a few times, you know the drill. The students who the teachers feel have done a particularly good job with the presentations, the hypothesis, experiments, and reports are strategically placed so you see them first and they’re easy to get to. This allows the judges to spend a bit more time with them before they check their watches and find out they need to hurry along before judging is over. And I’ll be honest with you here – those kids did tend to take home the ribbons and move to the next level of competition.
However, it wasn’t those kids who fascinated me. It was the kid in the corner who honestly, really had a brilliant and probably original idea, but didn’t know quite how to execute it as well as the kids who were now flaunting ribbons. These were the students I spent extra time with after the fair was over because I knew in all probability, it was going to be those kids who grew into the adults who would rock our scientific world.
What does this example tell us? Both groups of kids – the one in the corner and the one with a ribbon pinned to their backdrop – were of at least average intelligence. However, the one with the ribbon was probably more creative. They could execute idea and package it attractively.
So you see, intelligence and creativity actually have very little to do with each other.
Creativity has been defined as “A joyful willingness to engage with the world. It’s a fearless state of alertness to detail.” (Peter Himmelmann, Forbes, April 16, 2018). While our creativity isn’t determined by our intelligence, it is fostered by our openness to a given situation. We’ve seen this played out again and again when fabric shopping with friends. We can look at a piece of fabric and think it’s the ugliest, homeliest, awfullest thing we’ve ever seen. We mutter under our breath “What in the world was the designer thinking? Do they need glasses?” Another quilter in our group will purchase three yards of that fabric, go home, and turn it into one of the prettiest quilts we’ve ever seen. Same fabric, different level of openness.
As quilters, it’s important to keep ourselves open to the possibilities of a pattern and fabric. Found a quilt pattern you like? Great! However, are there a few things you’d like to change about it? Does it have a block unit or technique you really would prefer not to execute? Redraw the blocks or block units to what you want. Better yet, draw a complete quilt top you’d like to make. The sketch doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to reflect what you’d like the quilt to look like. Then break it down into blocks, and then the blocks into block units. Keep yourself open to the possibilities. The one tenant I continually emphasize in my blogs is this: The pattern is merely a suggestion. It’s the place you begin, not necessarily the place you finish. Make your quilt yours.
It’s also important we don’t evaluate while we create. Evaluating while you’re trying to create it is a bit like trying to drive your car forward when it’s in park – it doesn’t work. Creating means you’re playing with new ideas, visualizing what you want to make, planning it, and considering all the possibilities. Evaluating means you’re analyzing and judging. You’re picking apart ideas and sorting them into piles of good or bad, useful or not useful. So as you begin the process of creating your quilt, pull your fabrics with abandon. Audition them. Keep out all the ones you think will work – even if it’s more than you need. Shelve the fabric you won’t use.
Then leave them alone for 24 hours or longer. Go back and narrow the field to what you need. Make your blocks. Lay them out the way the pattern suggests. Then play with the arrangement. Use your phone to take pictures of the different layouts. Then once again, give yourself 24 hours or longer to “stew” over the possibilities. Now begin to evaluate.
In this creative/evaluating process, there is always room for you to catch your breath. Instead of deciding on your fabric and immediately launching into the cutting process, you’re allowing your mind to “breathe.” While you may be moving onto other things, your subconscious mind is still evaluating. When you return to your fabric choices or layout, the creative side of your brain has done remarkable work. Now it’s possible to narrow decisions and decide what really pleases you.
Personally, I think the worst quilting mistakes I’ve ever made (although to the viewers these blunders may not be visible), is rushing the creating/evaluating process. I either evaluate while I’m making my initial choices, or I evaluate too soon. A 24-hour time span works best for me. Yours may be shorter or longer. But the more you allow yourself “breathing” room between creating and evaluating, the more tuned in you become to what works best for you in this process. The important take away here is this: There should be a clear separation between creating and evaluating.
We should also be cautious about how we listen to “experts.” There are many quilters who have plied their art for a long, long time and I truly consider them the “Grand Masters” of our field. These are the quilt teachers, best-selling authors, YouTube stars, and noted fabric and pattern designers of our world. And yes, they are truly worth listening to and taking note of. I’ve taken their classes, read their blogs, and have their books. However, following anyone’s advice to the letter can stifle creativity. Listen to what your gut is telling you about your quilt. Some of the most successful people in the world did what people told them would never work. Some of what I consider the best quilts I ever made are the ones I truly listened to my heart and gut and went with those verses the pattern or the designer. With this thought, we need to be cautious about how we view failure.
Fear of failure – wasting resources and time – is like putting a wet blanket on a burning creative fire. The thought of “What if this doesn’t work, and I’ve wasted all this fabric and time on nothing?” is real. We all face this thought. And none of us want to waste material or time. So with this fear, let me remind you of the wonderful athlete, Babe Ruth. During his athletic career, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. I realize this record has been broken, but it’s still an outstanding number of home runs, and for years he was known as the King of Home Runs.
However, did you know he was also the Master of Strikeouts? See, the Babe never swung for singles or doubles – he only swung that bat with the thought of making another home run. He thought it was worth the risk of failure (striking out) to be successful (homeruns).
If you avoid failure, you won’t be successful in anything. Be okay with your mistakes. If you take more chances, you’ll have more gorgeous, wonderful quilts than you know what to do with. And those quilts with mistakes – don’t toss them. Quilt them up and use them as charity quilts or cuddle quilts or gentle reminders risks are always worth taking. Failure is as much a part of the creative process as successes are.
The creative process also means finding your Zen in the middle of chaos and confusion. Sometimes the best description of my quilt studio is this: There appears to have been a struggle. In the middle of making a quilt (usually several quilts at one time), to the casual observer my studio is a mess. Fabric is everywhere, papers are strewn, and my design board makes no sense at all.
But it all makes sense to me, and that’s the most important thing. While to others (including my long-suffering husband) it may look like a quilt store threw up in my studio, I know exactly what I’m doing. After the project is complete, I will clean it all up and it will return to its former state of tidiness, but when I’m pushing through the process, it often appears quite chaotic. While you’re pulling fabric, designing, and redesigning your quilts, realize your studio may look like mine. But keep in mind there will be time to return everything to its rightful place.
Now, after reading all of this you decide to take the leap and veer from the quilt pattern directions. You’re excited to put your stamp on this quilt but also a little leery you’ll make a huge mess of the whole thing. Let me offer four pieces of advice. First, have confidence in your abilities. I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs making a quilt is like eating an elephant – you can do it as long as you take it one bite at a time. In other words, don’t look at the entire quilt while you construct it. Look at it one unit at a time, one block at a time, and then one row at a time. This way you not only keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed, but also are able to concentrate on only what’s under your needle. If you want to change a block and use half-square triangles instead of set-in seams, you just need to remember a half-square triangle is a half-square triangle no matter what quilt it’s in. You pick your favorite construction method and get down to business. A flying geese is a flying geese. A four-patch is a four-patch. Take it one step at a time and realize you know how to make those units. Yes, a little self-doubt is good for the soul – it does keep you on your toes – but it shouldn’t stop you from changing things up a bit
Second, realize very, very few things are impossible in the world of quilting. You may think your idea seems crazy at first, and you may wonder if your concept will work, but nothing is impossible. Don’t even let the word “impossible” dwell in your mind. Instead divide your quilt world into two categories: Things I’ve Tried and They Worked and Things I Haven’t Tried, but I’m Pretty Sure Will Work. This sounds much more positive and workable. And truthfully, it is accurate. Every quilter has had to back track and change things, but in the end usually a wonderful quilt is the result. Ignore the word impossible and get on with it.
While you’re ignoring the impossible, also ignore the discouragers. This is my third piece of advice. No matter what you do in life, there always will be some people who tell you it’s impossible, it won’t work, or you can’t do it. I’ve quilted over thirty years, and during this time, I’ve discovered most quilters are extremely positive people who encourage each other. But there’s always that one…who no matter what… will find something wrong with everything. Including your quilt or your quilting ideas. Ignore these quilty lemons. Every road to victory is paved with predictions of failure. And keep this little mental tidbit in mind: Once you have a great quilt under your belt, full of your creativity, your ideas, and your skills, those naysayers will probably shut up.
And good riddance to them.
Fourth, avoid analysis paralysis. This means don’t spend so much time thinking about what you want to do and cramming your brain with so much information that you decide the risk is too much and you back out of your decisions. Yes, information is knowledge, but knowing what could possibly go wrong with each step can make attempting the project seem not worth it. Remember, chances are what could go wrong – the mistakes you might possibly make – more than likely won’t happen. The risks are worth the rewards.
The last few thoughts I’d like to leave you with are ideas to nurture your creativity. For quilters, pretty fabric, viewing beautiful quilts, and talking to other quilters are all part of this creativity sustainment. However, there are a few additional, non-quilt-related activities you can undertake which will also help foster your creativity.
Exercise more – Often the more you sit around, the more lethargic and unmotivated you feel. The key is to realize when you actually need rest and when you’re avoiding physical activity. If you’re not really tired, make time to move around more than you normally do. Instead of implementing a strict workout routine (unless that’s your thing), just make sure your day involves some gentle forms of exercise. Take a walk, do some stretching…changing your environment by moving around helps you see things from a different perspective. This is why I encourage you to take a break from quilting after you’ve sewn an hour. Get up. Stretch. Hydrate. You’ll find you’re a better quilter for it.
Cut out mindless entertainment – If you are what you eat, are you also what you watch? If you opt for more creative entertainment, rather than mindless stuff all the time, it will have a positive impact on your creativity. It’s not that you shouldn’t have some completely mindless entertainment at times (because we all do), just balance that with some good movies, good books, and quilty YouTube channels, too.
Follow your inner voice – Listening to your inner voice can be simplest way to overcome stifled creativity. Treat all your “crazy” ideas as valid, rather than immediately dismissing them. You can always dismiss them later if they turn out not to be the best option. But first, give them a chance. Brainstorm how you can follow through on an idea so you can accomplish your goal. It might not look anything like your original quilt idea, but you’ll discover this by taking time to imagine the different possibilities.
I realize I’ve discussed creativity in broad strokes. I’ve touched on quilting with some of these strokes and in others I’ve left the ideas solely up to you. The primary issue I want you to come away with is this: Use all the creativity you have in a quilt. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. There are honestly very few quilting “mistakes” which cannot be fixed. And with every goof, there are valuable lessons learned. You’ll never reach your full potential in anything until you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
This blog is about a subject near and dear to my heart – quilt retreats you thought I would say fabric, didn’t you?
I love quilt retreats. Overnighters, day trippers, you name a quilt retreat and if at all possible you can sign me up. Why am I so crazy about these? For me, a person who still works more than full-time, these are uninterrupted hours of sewing with a group of people who share my same passion and probably the same warped sense of humor. Usually great food and wine involved. Annnnnnd chocolate. What’s not to love? Seriously, if you never heed one other word of my quilty advice, if you have a chance to go on a quilt retreat, do it. It’s so much fun.
You’ll have a great time, but you will also get a great deal accomplished. All those projects you never really have time for – you can start on those at a quilt retreat. However, it’s important to remember a quilt retreat is a little different from a vacation and it’s pretty imperative you plan accordingly. And that’s what this blog is about – how to plan for a quilt retreat and implement that plan. So, without further ado, here’s Sherri’s Plan of Action for Quit Retreats.
Read your registration and keep a copy with you. The registration form usually comes with some key information, such as the address of the location (so you can plug it into your GPS), mealtimes, check-in time, and location of the sewing space. If you worry you might lose this piece of paper or it may be shuffled somewhere you can’t find it, do what I do: Take a picture of it with your phone right before you leave. This way it will be the first picture on your camera roll, and you’ll always have easy access to it.
Start Prepping Early. Just like a retreat is different than a vacation, so is the packing. Besides the clothing and other essentials, you also have to pack your projects. I’ll go over how I pack my projects in a bit, but now I want to talk about how important it is to prep your projects before you pack. There are a couple of ways to approach this subject. If you want to spend a good chunk of your time prepping your applique pieces and cutting things out at the retreat, you may want to breeze over this section. However, if you’re like me and want to maximize your sewing time, try to prep as much as possible at home. My prep plan goes like this:
For machine applique, I have all my applique pieces traced on my fusible web. Time permitting, I will have these fused to the fabric. Ideally, I would like to have all my pieces cut out, bagged and tagged, and ready to fuse once I’m set up at retreat. I also like to have the pattern traced onto the background.
For prepared edge applique, either by hand or machine, minimally I like to have all my applique pieces prepped, bagged and tagged, and ready to sew. Ideally, I would also like to have my pattern traced onto the background fabric. In a perfect world, I would have my applique pieces pinned or glued to the background so I can pick it up and start sewing.
For pieced quilts, I do all my cutting at home. I’m more comfortable in my cutting space. I also bag and tag the units for ease of construction – i.e. all the 2 ½-inch squares for one block unit go in one bag, the squares for HST construction in another. Then I label the bags so I know what I’m grabbing.
If I need to press any fabric (such as backing or other large quilt pieces or fabric before it’s subcut), I do that at home. It’s no fun spending valuable sewing time on pressing fabric.
I begin prep work about a month before the retreat. Why so early? Well, I still work a full-time job, so my time is limited. If I begin early, I can make sure I’ve prepped correctly and well. Also, if I make a mistake, this gives me time to make a mad dash back to my LQS or order additional fabric online and get it before I have to leave.
Once everything is prepped, you can start packing your projects. My favorite way to transport my retreat projects is in project boxes.
I use one box per project and label each box. In this box I place the prepped pieces, the fabric (just in case I make a mistake, I can cut additional pieces out), the pattern, any matching thread or specialty thread, and any special notions or rulers. If I’ve already begun work on the project, I also make a note of exactly where I’m at in the construction process. Usually I mark this on the pattern.
One your projects are prepped and ready to go, now it’s time to think about your machine(s) and the sewing notions you use every time you sit down to quilt. Once you’ve decided which one (or how many) of your sewing machines you want to take with you, do a basic run-though before packing it. This is especially important if you plan to take a machine you don’t use every day. Set the machine up and do a practice sew session. Be sure the machine is cleaned and oiled before packing it (and don’t forget to pack the power cord and foot pedal). You may even want to have it serviced prior to attending a retreat. I normally attend a quilt retreat in October, which is several days long. I make an appointment in September to have my sewing machine serviced, so I know it’s ready for a grueling four-days of non-stop stitching. This has always worked pretty well for me.
Now for notions. It’s easy to forget something you use. I have a plan of action which generally cuts down on my leaving something behind. I put a bucket or plastic bin near my sewing machine a few weeks before the retreat. Every time I use a tool or notion, I drop it in the bin or bucket. When it comes time to pack my regularly used notions and tools, they’re all together.
Make sure you have bobbins for the machine you’re taking. You may want to wind several bobbins in neutral threads and have them ready, or you may want to purchase some prewounds. And it’s a good idea to pack a few empty bobbins, just in case you need them. If hand applique is on your retreat agenda, you may find winding any colored thread on bobbins to be a space saver. Bobbins take up much less room than spools.
Finally take your rotary cutters and scissors for a test drive. If either are dull, it’s a good idea to fix that bothersome issue before you leave. Change the blade in your rotary cutters (and packing a few extra blades is a great idea) and either have your scissors sharpened or replace those.
As you pack, remember these items:
A travel iron and pressing station
Portable lights – the light in the sewing room may be great during the day, but it may be a completely different story at night.
A small ruler stand
Extra feet for your machine – such as a walking foot, quarter-inch foot, free motion foot, and zipper foot.
Extra sewing machine needles in all needed sizes
Some kind of container to keep all your “normal” sewing notions together
Small cutting mat
A mat for your machine to help keep it from vibrating or wobbling on those plastic retreat tables
At least one more project than you think you’ll get completed – you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll finish
Extension cord and power strip
These are standard retreat supplies. However, the following are some items I’ve found pretty handy to have:
Pain reliever. You will be sitting hunched over a machine for much longer stretches than you are at home. You may need something to help with the aches and pains. And while we’re on the subject of our-backs-and-butts-are-not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be, let me encourage you to ALWAYS (not just at retreat), take a break after sewing for an hour. Stand up. Stretch. Hydrate.
A heating pad/extra zip-lock bags for ice. I’ve found both helpful for my neck and shoulders.
Minimally, a cushion for your chair. Ideally your own sewing chair. No matter how wonderful your retreat location and facilities are, chances are the chairs used are not made for people who spend hours at a sewing machine. A cushion can help correct this situation. Your own sewing chair can solve it completely.
A planner/list. By the end of retreat, I want to have some projects complete. The others I really hope to have constructed to a certain point. If you have a general idea of what you want to do, a list can keep you on track – which projects need to be finished, and what stages you’d like the others to be at by the time you leave.
Lastly, as a good friend of mine once told me,“A retreat is for fun – not a four-day sweatshop.” In other words, don’t feel you have to sew every minute. Fellowship. Eat well. Enjoy the time away from home and the opportunity to be with people who share the same passion as you do. Take care of yourself while you’re there. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. It’s so tempting to stay up all night sewing (and it’s not like I haven’t done that before at retreat either), but remember you reap what you sew. If you do this, you won’t feel as well the next day. And eventually retreat has to end – even though we don’t want it to – and we must return to the real world and pick up where we left off.
If you have the opportunity to attend a quilt retreat, I encourage you to give one a try. They’re so much fun and you do get a lot done. Always remember you can plan your own mini-retreat. Talk with some quilty friends and plan an out-of-town get away or a day retreat at a church fellowship hall or some other location – someone’s home works just as well. I promise you won’t regret it.
It’s nearing the end of October. And for some of us, this means we’re almost through with our Christmas shopping. For others of you…well….
There are a couple of things I know for sure. First, money’s a little tighter with a lot of folks in 2022. Heating bills are predicted to be substantially higher than last year, and let’s not even talk about trips to the gas station…
The second thing I’m pretty confident about is at some point in the next few weeks, someone is going to ask you what you want for Christmas. If you have a significant other, I’m thinking they’ll ask you this question before too long (my hubs plays it safe – he marches into Pineapple Fabric/Keepsake Quilting and gets me a gift certificate). Children, parents, and other folks will soon follow suite.
Realizing this, I mulled over all the sewing notions in the marketplace. If you follow blogs or webpages, it seems new quilting tools come out every few weeks and it’s hard to keep up with everything. And I’ll also throw out this Zone of Truth: You don’t need every little new thing. For instance, I’m a bit critical (okay, a lot critical) about specialty rulers. With specialty rulers, most of the time they’re only good for one technique. For instance, there’s a ruler out there for the Hunter’s Star Block:
This is a nice block. It makes a beautiful quilt. But a large Hunter’s Star specialty ruler costs about $27 on Amazon and do you know how many other quilt blocks it works with other than the Hunter’s Star?
I mean sure, you can use it for a straight edge and for measuring, but I like for my quilting tools to at least multi-task to one other job or be used daily. If I wanted to make a Hunter’s Star quilt, I would tough it out and math it out and make one without the specialty ruler. I could spend the $27 on fabric for the quilt. And besides, with all those set-in seams, one Hunter’s Star quilt would be all I made. But that’s beside the point.
Good Thread – I admit, I’m a thread snob. I prefer long staple, cotton thread. It holds up to piecing, machine applique, or quilting. It’s not linty and it doesn’t break easily. I prefer 50 or 60 weight for piecing, and 60 to 100 weight for machine applique (depending on the look I want). I adore 100 weight micro quilting thread, and if it doesn’t come in the color I want, I’ll settle for 80-weight in the desired hue.
I have preferences.
Generally, good thread doesn’t live in Big Box Stores so don’t look in Walmart or Hobby Lobby. Most quilt stores have a great selection of great thread. If you don’t have a LQS near you, I order from Superior Thread (which only carries the Superior Thread brands) or Red Rock Thread (which carries a wide selection of many quality thread brands). If you need thread, ask for a gift certificate from your LQS, or visit one of the aforementioned websites. All of those have gift certificates.
Cutterpillar Light Box – I’ve mentioned this light box before. I’ve owned a Cutterpillar Light Box for almost four years now and I have found it to be the best light box I’ve ever used. It’s wafer-thin, LED, has its own carrying case, and three light settings. This is one of the more expensive quilting notion on this list, coming in at $109 on Amazon. There are other wafer light boxes out there, but the Cutterpillar comes with a clear-cutting board which can safely be used on top of the light box (the price includes the clear-cutting board). It has a self-healing rotary mat and a glass crafting board which can be purchased at an additional price. The entire Cutterpillar set is about $190, depending on where it’s purchased.
I love the Cutterpillar because easily transported to quilting classes or retreats. The only thing I wish I could change about it is its size. I wish I could get one of these about the size of a table. It seems the longer I quilt, the larger my applique blocks are getting!
Electric Quilt 8 (EQ8) – I use this software almost daily. It’s so easy to jump on EQ8 and find just the quilt block you need in its vast block library. It has multiple quilt layouts and even “fabric” you can audition for your quilt. The Electric Quilt Company is constantly producing updates for the program (which are free with the purchase of the software) as well as “add ons” for specialty quilts such as Dear Jane. And they’ve begun offering virtual classes to help you really learn the ins and outs of EQ8. This is another of the pricier notions – it’s currently $239.95 on their website, but this is for the full program. There’s an EQ8 Mini for $150. If you have EQ7, you can upgrade to EQ8 for $99.95. It is less expensive on Amazon, but with this vendor, the software comes in CD-rom form. It’s a download from the EQ website.
If you really want this software but it’s more pennies than you planned on spending (or someone else spending), there are a couple of things you can do. Go to the website and sign up for their weekly email newsletter and blog. Lots of times they offer coupons in these. Next, the closer it gets to Christmas, the more likely they’re to offer a really good sale (and when EQ has a sale, it’s usually pretty good). Keep an eye out in your email for special sales announcements.
Misty Fuse – I wrote about this fusible web in this blog: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/02/09/sticky-situations/. Misty Fuse is unlike other fusible webs because it does not have a paper backing. It’s literally a thin, web-like substance you fuse to the wrong side of your fabric by using a Goddess Sheet or other Teflon-infused pressing sheet. It’s easy to press Misty Fuse to your fabric and then cut out your applique shapes. This fusible web comes in white, black, and ultra-violet (which is used with sheer fabrics). And while all these characteristics are great, the one thing which really sold me about this fusible is it can take a beating from the heat of your iron and still work. With other fusibles, you must be cautious about how long you press them with an iron and your heat settings. Too much of either does not work well. The fusible literally loses its fusibility. Misty Fuse can handle too much of both and its fusing action isn’t affected. Ten yards of this product is about $30 on Amazon. It is also available in lesser yardage.
A Long Cutting Ruler – It’s no secret to my regular readers that the task I like least about quilting is cutting all the fabric. For this reason, I have found investing in some good quality, basic acrylic rulers is a necessity. There are two I work with nearly every day and both of those are 24-inches long. Once my fabric is folded in half on the width, these are perfect for cutting long strips. The ruler width varies – one is 6-inches wide and the other is 8-inches wide. One is an Olfa, which has a lip on one end I can lock under my cutting mat, so the ruler won’t budge. The other is a Creative Grids which has the gripper circles built into the ruler to prevent it from slipping. The 24-inch quilting rulers vary in price from brand name to brand name but generally run between the $20 and $30 range. My advice is to buy the same brand of ruler as your cutting mat so there are fewer measuring mistakes.
Tulip Hand Sewing Needles – I wrote a blog about needles here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2020/10/28/hand-sewing-needles-more-than-meets-the-eye/. Hand sewing needles are one of the least expensive quilting notions on the market. And no matter how much of a sewing machine goddess you are, there will come a time when you’ll need to put in a few stitches by hand. Tulip Needles are spun lengthwise instead of crosswise, meaning they will glide through your fabric with less friction than other brands. These are quality needles which come in super cute packaging. I’m old enough that my eyes aren’t always as sharp as I need them to be. However, I’ve found the eyes of Tulip Needles to be large enough I don’t have to wrestle with threading them. And Tulip has developed a tabletop threader which works specifically with their needles. Tulip Needles come a full range of sizes, and the price points run from $9 to $22 (the more expensive ones are beading needles). The Tulip Needle Threader is about $15.
Glass Head Pins – These are my go-to pins. The heads can withstand the heat of an iron without melting, they are fine enough no residuals holes are left, and are long enough to weave in and out of the fabric or parallel along the edge of fabric and not fall out. These range from $6 to $11. Like needles, pins are a relatively inexpensive quilting notion. Treat yourself to a couple of packages and replace them when they’re bent, or the point becomes dull. My favorite brand is Dritz.
Boxes – Those of you who are long time readers of my blog know my penchant for project boxes. I use these boxes to keep all my quilts together once they’re cut out, as well as keep any notions or specialty rulers with the project. And while any good cardboard box will do, my favorite are the clear, plastic boxes.
You can see through them, and they stack nicely. You will find them in quilt shops and on quilting websites, but honestly the best place to find them is Office Depo, Hobby Lobby, and Walmart. Depending on where you purchase them, the size, and how many you get, prices can run from $19 to $50. My favorite place to buy them is Office Depo. They have a larger variety of sizes – even small ones you can use to corral your needles, pins, or other small notions. Everything you need for a quilt can be tossed in the project box. When a quilt retreat or Sit and Sew opportunity presents itself, all you need to do is grab your box. And this type of organization makes it super-easy to get started on a new project. Everything is together and you don’t have to spend valuable minutes hunting for things. Project Box Alert – I just found them today at Dollar Tree! They cost a bit more than $1 but are perfect for quilting. Advertised as scrapbooking storage, they’re the ideal size for storing fabric, pattern, and notions.
Washi Tape/Painter’s Tape – I’ll be honest here – I use tape for a lot of things in my quilt studio, but the one kind of tape I don’t use is masking tape. It can leave a sticky residue. However, Washi Tape or painter’s tape remove cleanly.
So what do I use it for? If I need to trim quilt blocks down, I use it on rulers to indicate where the fabric edge should be. This way I don’t have to keep measuring and looking for just the right spot. I’ve found this to be super-handy, especially at night when my lighting may not be the best and I’m tired from working all day. There is no guessing or hoping I’m at the right spot. The painter’s tape or Washi Tape is bright and lets me know exactly where to line things up.
I also use it for quilting straight lines on my domestic sewing machine. Simply apply the tape and then stitch on either side of it for great straight-line quilting with a walking foot.
It can also be used to mark where the edge of your fabric needs to be as it travels over your feed dogs for that perfect ¼-inch seam allowance. If your machine doesn’t come with a quilter’s foot, no worries. You can use Washi or painter’s tape to mark where the edge of your fabric should be.
And finally, if you have to cut your fabric strips on an angle, these tapes can be a huge help. The quilting rulers come marked with several different angles on them, and trying to find the right one each time you cut can be confusing – especially after a long day at work or in not-so-great lighting. A piece of tape along the right diagonal line is a lifesaver. You exactly where to line your fabric up in order to make the right cut.
Prices on both of these vary greatly, but both are relatively inexpensive and can be found a big box stores such as Walmart and Hobby Lobby.
Small Rotary Cutters – I promised I wasn’t mentioning rotary cutters per se, but I will add this priceless piece of information here: Small rotary cutters – those 28 mm or less are much easier to control than the larger ones. While the larger ones are great for cutting through multiple layers of fabric, the smaller rotary cutters are way more versatile. They are easier to control, make cutting around templates so much more accurate and easier, and are so much better for trimming. These are available in 14, 16, 18, and 28 mm and run the price gamut of $10 – $12. However, let me add this caveat – a quick search on Amazon for replacement blades yielded only those for the 28 mm cutter. I’m not sure if somewhere like Missouri Star may have replacement blades for the smaller sizes.
Walking Foot and ¼-Inch Foot – First, I realize many sewing machines – especially those designed for quilters – already have these feet included with purchase. However, if your machine didn’t come with either or only one, you will more than likely want both of these as your quilting journey progresses. A walking foot will move all three layers of the quilt together over the feed dogs without any slippage. This means it’s great for quilting and sewing on binding. Many quilters, once they know where the ¼-inch seam allowance is on their walking foot, prefer to piece with this foot.
A ¼-inch foot makes piecing a breeze. Generally these feet have a phalange on the right side, so you know exactly where to line up your fabric as it goes over the feed dogs, producing a perfect ¼-inch seam. Keeping a consistent ¼-inch seam is imperative for perfect seams and perfect piecing.
A walking foot can range from $10 to $24 depending on if you purchase only the foot or the foot with accessories. A ¼-inch foot runs from $8 to $15, again depending on if you purchase only the foot or the foot with accessories. My advice is to order or purchase the foot made by your sewing machine manufacturer. This way you know the foot will work correctly. If your sewing machine manufacturer doesn’t make a walking foot or ¼-inch foot, don’t despair. Find out if your machine takes a high shank foot or a low shank foot and order generic ones. If you’re not sure what shank you have, Google your machine’s make and model or consult your sewing machine manual.
My Frixion Pens and Water-Soluble Markers – I know there’s a bit of controversy about Frixion Pens: the marks will come back if the fabric gets cold, they leave “ghost” marks on dark fabric, etc. However, I love these pens. To me there’s simply nothing better to trace applique templates with, mark block units for Y-seams, and mark applique backgrounds. And since I’ve discovered this:
Which completely removes Frixion ink, I have absolutely no qualms about using them.
I mark my quilt tops for quilting with washable markers. There are the ever-faithful blue water-soluble pens.
And there are these:
Which you may have never considered using. I admit when I first heard about quilters using them to mark fabric, I was very, very skeptical. However, after several quilting teachers (including one who is a quilt judge) mentioned using these with great success, I changed my mind. I purchased a pack and I have to admit, they work great and last a lot longer than the blue makers.
Frixion pens come in black, and a pack of three runs around $5. A box of 12 is about $25. They also come in a range of colors and can run from $6 to $30. The tip size varies from medium to extra fine. They’re even available in white. Blue water-soluble markers cost between $7 and $15 depending on the brand, how many are in a pack, and the tip size. Crayola Washable Markers run from $8 to $16, depending on how many are in a pack. If you want to use the Crayola Washable Markers, make sure the package clearly states they’re the washable kind and you will probably want the ones who can produce a fine line.
Clover Seam Ripper – Clover is a sewing notions company which has consistently produced wonderful products with great quality throughout the years. I’ve used their bias tape makers, stilettoes, and applique pins ever since I began quilting. However, I thought a seam ripper was just a seam ripper until I tried theirs. The tip is thinner than other brands, making it easier to slide under stitches and break the thread without a lot of hassle. The handle is ergonomically designed, too.
Like needles and pins, seam rippers do get dull over time and with continuous use. The rule of thumb is to replace your seam ripper once a year. However, I’ve found Clover’s seam rippers, stay sharper longer than 365 days.
These seam rippers cost about $7, so they’re not terribly expensive. I keep one at my sewing machine, one in my hand sewing kit, and one in my hand applique kit, and one in my sewing bag.
Tweezers/Purple Thang – Tweezers are great, little tools to keep near your sewing machine. They come in handy when you change your sewing machine needle. They can hold the needle in place while you tighten the needle screw. They are perfect for helping to position applique pieces before gluing or fusing them in place (especially the small ones). They are really useful when I use the Apliquick applique method – they can help fold the fabric over the edge of the interfacing – which really comes in hand with the smaller pieces.
However, the place I use both tweezers and the Purple Thang most in is paper piecing. I’ve found if I can score the paper with the tweezers or the pointy end of the Purple Thank, they come out oh-so-easy. Then I can use the business ends of the tweezers to retrieve any tiny papers left in seams and corners.
Tweezers come in all kinds of forms and sizes. Personally, I like the kind with the angled ends. These seem to be able to get in the tiny places better. I think the kind used for putting on eyelashes/eyelash extensions are the BEST. Amazon has these sets in a price range of $9.99 to $29, depending on if you’re happier with only four different kinds of tweezers or absolutely must have the diamond grips. The Purple Thang, which is one of my favorite quilting tools for lots of reasons, has price points between $6 and $12. The more expensive Purple Thang price includes a case and 10 Thangs – which now come in colors other than purple.
Quilting Gloves – For me, if I’m quilting on my domestic sewing machine, I have to have these gloves. They help hold the quilt sandwich in place, flatten the sandwich so I can see the area I’m quilting, and help me keep a firm grip on the sandwich bulk. However, I also use these gloves when I machine applique. They help me steady the background fabric and maneuver it. I also use them when I am sewing my quilt rows together and when I’m putting on the borders. The grippy surface of the gloves really help you tame all the bulk. The quilt market has lots of different kinds of these gloves. My favorite are these:
I like having some of my fingers free – this allows my hand to remain cooler and not sweat. When I need to remove the gloves, I can just slide my fingers out and the band of the gloves keeps them on my wrist, which means I don’t lose them if I just need to make an adjustment or two or answer my phone, etc. These are available on Angela Walter’s website, Quiltingismytherapy.com for $27.99. They are also available on Amazon, but are more expensive on this website. One word of caution, they do run a little small, so you may want to purchase a size larger than you normally wear.
I like the Machinger Gloves, too. Admittedly these do make my hands hot, but they have really good gripping action. Plus the grips are on both sides of the gloves, so if one side gets dirty, you simply flip them over and keep quilting. These range from $6-$13.
Zoom Classes – I’m not revisiting how wonderful Zoom quilting classes are – you can go here https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/09/07/the-zoom-zone-of-truth/ to read about those. If there is something you want to learn how to do in quilting (or almost any other area) or want to learn to do better, there is a Zoom class for it. You can take them in the comfort of your own home, in your own studio. Prices can range from under $50 to several hundred dollars depending on what you want to learn and how many classes are offered in a program. They’re a great way to expand your skill set in the comfort of your own space. Plus you don’t have to pack up all your stuff and then unpack it when you get home.
There. I’ve listed most of my very favorite quilting notions and tools. If someone is in a bind and wondering what exactly the perfect present for you would be, show them this blog. Better yet, print it out and circle the items you want. Not too many of their pennies will be spent, and you’re quilting life will have gotten a lot easier!
The scent from the wood pulp at Domtar Paper Company clung to the humidity, and obviously had no intention of leaving. Despite the fact Plymouth, North Carolina was on the “inner parts” of the Outer Banks, there was no breeze – ocean or otherwise – to send the odor wafting on its way. A woman in an old 1978 Impala paused at the intersection of Main and Adams streets to consult a black and white Quilt Intake Day flyer in the seat beside her. The building she was seeking was up the street about a block, the parking was in the rear. Hesitating for just a second, she finally pressed the gas pedal, and the car took off. Her purse gently rocked back and forth in the seat beside her as Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love for You wafted from the speakers. But in the back — in the backseat the quilts she had dug out of her closets and her momma’s closets remained folded in a neat stack.
Winston-Salem was a tangle of intersections, highways, and streets known only as a number. In 1985, the city was already bursting at the seams and spreading out even further than the city limit signs. Two major hospitals. A women’s college. Old Salem. And Wake Forest University. It boasted a large mall and was the fifth largest city in North Carolina. But tucked back off of Country Club Road, South Fork Community Center had its doors open and the parking lot was full, despite the early hour. Three women, one middle-aged, one in her twenties, and an older one trudged up the sidewalk, their arms full of family heirlooms – quilts – and paused at the doors of the center.
“Here, let me help you,” said a woman, standing up from a table just inside the entrance and she reached for the quilts. On the table was a sign: “Quilt Intake Today!” The woman wore a name tag which said Forsyth Piecers and Quilters. The three women handed off their burden and the middle aged and younger woman reached for the paperwork as the older one settled in a nearby chair. It was hot. And despite the fact she was already tired and sweaty, the woman was resolute. Her quilts needed to be documented before the family forgot how important they were – how each quilt was as much a part of the quilt maker as the air they breathed.
“Momma, we need to make sure we have the stories right,” declared the middle aged one, who along with the young one, filled out the forms, often consulting with seated woman in the process. The oldest woman sighed as she answered questions and gave out dates. She knew those old quilts backwards and forwards – every stitch. She and her momma and her grandma and her aunts had pieced and quilted every one of them.
Scenes such as this twined their way across the United States in the mid-to-late eighties. Supported by history and art museums, quilt bees and quilt guilds, states began a concerted effort to document their quilts. Coming off the “high” from the Bicentennial, a point in time where home crafts and old skills were highlighted and introduced to a new generation, quilters decided their states needed to document their quilts before the textiles fell apart or were ill-used by heirs who didn’t know their worth. The idea spread first from Kentucky to eventually thirty-four of the fifty states during the 1980’s. In the end, approximately 177,000 quilts were photographed, their history taken, and their maker named.
I have wanted to write this blog for a long time – a couple of years actually. However, there is precious little written about the quilt documentation – called the Quilt Projects. It took chasing down some folks for interviews and relying on what little was available on the internet to get the information needed. And since these events took place over 20 years ago, some of the project leaders have since passed away. However, this subject is close to my heart. In 1985, the year North Carolina began its Quilt Project, I was pregnant with my first child. I had just started to sew and had simple blocks cut out for a baby quilt. I remember there was a flyer about the local quilt intake day at Piece Goods. As I read it, I must have wondered how many quilts and what kind of quilts would be documented. By the time I was fully vested in quilting, a friend gave me this book:
Which is the direct result of the North Carolina Quilt Project. Being the nerd I am, I read it cover-to-cover and poured over the pictures. Later, I wondered how this project got started, who started it, and would there be another.
Which brings us to this blog. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it.
In order to understand where the Quilt Projects are historically, you need to put quilts and quilting in a general historical timeline. It’s easy to recognize the important place quilts played in our early ancestors’ lives. They were made for warmth and as a creative outlet. They were primarily bedcovers. Most women sewed then, so quilting was a staple in most families. Quilts could be made to proport a political statement, help raise money for charities, rolled into a bedroll on the back of a soldier, or used simply keep you warm at night. They were given as wedding and going away gifts.
Quilts and quilting received a popularity boost in the 1930’s with the introduction of specialty printed feed sacks and the Chicago World’s Fair, when Sears hosted the Mother of All Quilt Shows. However, World War II curtailed the hobby as more women entered the workforce to cover for the men who were away fighting. Quilting’s popularity waned until the mid-to-late 1960’s (quilt historians don’t all agree on an exact year), when the “Back to Earth” movement began. Young people sought a slower lifestyle, one which lived more in harmony with nature, and cherished handmade items. Quilting once again became popular. As the 1970’s and our national bicentennial loomed, early American folk art gained a huge following, which pushed quilting back into the limelight. By the end of the seventies, the new quilters realized something vitally important: In order to keep the art flourishing, they needed to introduce more folks to quilting as well as develop a supportive network where quilters of all levels could develop their skills, have quilty fellowship, as well as have fun. Thus quilt guilds were born. These guilds were so important. In the 34 states who undertook the Quilt Projects, quilt guilds either spearheaded the effort or provided support to the quilt historians.
As stated earlier, Kentucky was the first state who documented their quilts. Their Quilt Project began in 1981. Word spread not only to other states, but also to Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, who also developed their own Quilt Projects. All this effort developed into the perfect storm for quilt documentation – but in a good way. Women’s studies began to gain a foothold not only on college and university campuses, but also in the general public’s awareness. Couple this with a country-wide interest in local history (somewhat leftover from the Bicentennial), and the media (which at this point consisted of some magazines and your local and national news) felt these Quilt Projects were worthy of coverage. Quilts were a tangible part of women’s history, it was still a vital part of the arts and crafts world, and there were local quilt guilds. The Quilt Projects were perfect for an above-the-fold newspaper article or as a story on the nightly local newscast.
In this blog, I want to review the five states – Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina, Kansas, and Nebraska — which had the most successful quilt projects. I want to discuss what made these Quilt Projects so successful and why these states agreed to take on the documentation. We’ll start with the first state to undertake this momentous task: Kentucky.
Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc.
In early 1980, Kentuckian Bruce Mann, a quilt dealer, became alarmed at the number of Kentucky quilts which were being sold to out-of-state quilt enthusiasts. While he had no particular qualms about these quilts going to good homes where they would be well-taken care of, he was afraid his state was losing a tangible, real part of its history. Since Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof had their quilt exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City, the demand for quilts as artwork, not bed covers, had increased. And while Mann was making good money dealing in quilts, he was concerned that Kentucky history was becoming lost with each quilt sold to out-of-state buyers. He began the initial program but died before he could see it implemented. However, Shelly Zegart, Eleanor Bingham Miller, and Eunice Ray, along with consultant Kathy Christopherson took over and formed the Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. These women created a plan to document quilts owned by Kentucky families. They planned 12 documentation days between July 1981 and March 1982. A total of 1,200 quilts were documented and the organizers published a catalog of a select group of quilts and organized an exhibition for the Louisville Museum of Natural History and Science. The exhibition was popular enough that the Smithsonian Institution of Traveling Exhibit Services picked it up and made it one of theirs. The quilts traveled across the United States and internationally. This traveling exhibit of Kentucky quilts is why the Kentucky Quilt Project is so important. It pushed American quilts and American quilters into the forefront of our country’s and the rest of the world’s consciousness, spurring 33 other states to document their own quilts.
Texas Sesquicentennial Quilt Association
Around the same time Kentucky began organizing its Quilt Project, Texas began planning theirs. This organization was a bit different from the Kentucky project as it was launched as part of Texas’s Sesquicentennial. The primary goal was to document Texas quilts and quilters. An exhibition of the best quilts would be held as part of the Sesquicentennial celebration. Documentation began in February 1983 and ended in March 1985, resulting in two published catalogues and the exhibition hung in the capital’s rotunda for a week. Despite the fact organizers were warned this quilt project had the distinct possibility of being a bust – Texas was a pioneer state and most of the folks settling the area had left their best textiles back on the East Coast, the TSQA was able to document about 3,500 quilts over 27 documentation days.
North Carolina Quilt Project
This is a quilt project which began with a quilt guild. The Forsyth Piecers and Quilters (one of those guilds which formed from the 1970’s quilt revival), began the NCQP in 1983, and incorporated it in 1985. By the end of 1986, the board of directors had organized and overseen more than 73 quilt documentation days (originally they had only planned for 70, but the documentation days were wildly popular), often with several documentation events occurring the same day at different locations. Numerically, this established the NCQP as one of the most successful quilt projects. Additional help was provided by the North Carolina Museum of History, which eventually became a co-sponsor of the NCQP, as well as a repository for all the information gleaned from documentation days. This support, as well as a generous grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, served to “illuminate the ways in which quilts and quilt making have been a part of life in North Carolina.” The NCQP only documented quilts made prior to the 1976 Bicentennial. The final result was permanent archive of more than 10,000 quilts, an exhibition, and the publication of North Carolina Quilts.
Nebraska Quilt Project
This was another Quilt Project which began with a guild. The Lincoln Quilters formed the Nebraska Quilt Project (NQP) committee in 1985 and developed a quilt project unlike any other. Twenty-one members of the guild served as the NQP organizing committee and as the trained documenters. The organizers, along with consultants from local museums and universities, studied Nebraska history, immigration, and demography to create a strategy which would target the rich immigrant history of the state’s settlement prior to 1920. Through this study, they were able to identify 13 areas to host the documentation days which would represent the different immigrant groups.
Held in two phases, the Quilt History Documentation Days followed a pilot documentation held in Lincoln in March 1987. The first phase ran from April through September 1987. This phase included thirteen different locations in rural Nebraska. The second phase ran from March 1988 to May 1989 in the most populated areas of the state. In total, about 5,000 quilts were documented across the span of 28 quilt intake days. The 1991 publication of the project’s book, Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmakers, concluded the project and received the 1993 Smithsonian’s Frost Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Crafts.
Kansas Quilt Project
In 1986, Nancy Hornback and Eleanor Malone spearheaded the Kansas Quilt Project: Documenting Quilts and Quilt Makers (KsQP). Their board of directors was a diverse group which included not only quilters, but also a nationally known quilt historian, an authority on Kansas folklife and folklore, historians, a woman’s studies professor, and museum professionals. This project originally had a five-year plan, but it actually took closer to eight years to complete. Seventy-two quilt documentation days were held over a 16-month period, beginning in 1986. An astounding 13,107 quilts were documented by April 16, 1988. The KsQP records show a well-planned, organized, and executed project. Like the NCQP, there often were several quilt documentation events held the same day. When the documentation was over, the board of directors then chose to conduct a period of extended research. After all the quilt intake was complete, they followed up with oral history interviews and in-depth research on selected quilts and quiltmaker topics. They published their book, Kansas Quilts and Quilters, in 1993.
The idea which may really be difficult for some of my younger readers to wrap their minds around is this: They did all of this – quite successfully – before the internet and before social media. So, how did all these states pull off such wildly effective Quilt Projects?
They used little to no paid advertising. Unlike the NCQP, who received grant money, most Quilt Projects started with what little funds they had. For most, paid advertising was expensive and out of the question.
They did issue press releases to local news stations, local newspapers, and local magazine-type publications. Nowadays, it’s difficult to believe a press release could generate much interest. We’re used to getting news via social media, news apps, and short snips on YouTube. So much of our news consumption has left the local realm and is trending only on national and international levels. But the eighties were a different time, and the Quilt Projects were riding the crest of a quilt revival. Bonnie Leman began publishing Quilters Newsletter. Jean Ray Laury published her first books. Guilds were quickly growing and flourishing. In North Carolina, quilting and guilds had gained such popularity that Ruth Janesick established the North Carolina Quilt Symposium – which also helped with the NCQP and served as an umbrella organization for North Carolina Quilt Guilds. So when a local or state or even national, news outlet received a press release about quilts, it definitely caught their attention.
The Quilt Projects followed up the press releases with additional information about how well the documentation days went. In turn, a great deal of the press did follow up articles, which kept the Quilt Projects in the public’s consciousness.
All of the Projects had human connections which reached far, far beyond the conclusion of the Quilt Projects and any resulting publications. In Kentucky, Bruce Mann kicked off the KQP, Inc. Although he passed away before he could see how his idea bore serious quilty fruit, he did stem the flood of Kentucky-made quilts leaving their home state. Suddenly Kentuckians realized the value of these textiles and their makers. And beyond these folks, the Smithsonian realized it, too, and with their traveling exhibit, the rest of the United States and parts of the world realized it, also.
In Texas, quilting was touted in articles and newscasts. They promoted quilting as a family tradition which was close to becoming extinct but was now experiencing a revival thanks to the increasing number of quilt shops and guilds springing up across the state. With the ground fertile for both, a woman named Karey Bresenham opened a quilt shop called Great Expectations in Houston. Through the support of her guild and her customers, she co-founded the Quilt Festival, now known as the International Quilt Festival. Then in conjunction with the South/Southwest Quilt Association she and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes formed the International Quilt Association.
The Quilt Project leaders knew how to work their resources and their sources. There is no greater example of this than the North Carolina Quilt Project. From the initial idea generated by the Forsyth Piecers and Quilters, the women quickly put into play an organizational map which was amazing – even by today’s standards. The women formed a board of directors, who divided the state into regions and then named regional coordinators. These regional coordinators contacted local guilds and quilt shops to begin organizing in their regions.
Not content with just contacting the local media, they wrote Southern Living Magazine and Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilts. Both of these magazines carried articles about the Quilt Projects – particularly North Carolina’s. Word of the NCQP even reached Germany, and it was highlighted in the German magazine, Deutsches Textiforum. NBC Nightly News was contacted, and they interviewed the directors and had a feature report on their prime-time newscast. Likewise the Voice of America received a press release and featured the NCQP on a broadcast.
Then they pulled in the big gun – Georgia Bonesteel, who as well as having a well-watched PBS quilting show, was a North Carolina Quilter. She featured the project on her show.
All of these sources and resources knew quilting was popular among their readers and viewers during this time period. It didn’t take a lot of “arm twisting” to get coverage. The NCQP simply didn’t stop at the local market. They assumed (rightly so, as it turned out) there would be some interest nationwide.
At this point, you may be asking why I wrote this blog. Yes, quilt documentation, preservation, and history are important. And we can certainly appreciate the books which came out of the Quilt Projects. But is any of this information relevant today? Why would we possibly need additional Quilt Projects during a time when it’s so easy to snap a picture and upload it and its history to social media or some other website for posterity? There certainly are lessons we can take away from the Quilt Projects – lessons which I think do support the need for additional quilt intake and documentation.
Lesson One: States learned the importance of their own quilts.
One of the main objectives of Kentucky’s Quilt Project was to stave off Kentuckians from selling their family heirlooms to out-of-state quilt dealers or enthusiasts. Their Quilt Project brought attention to how closely quilts and Kentucky’s history are linked. When the Smithsonian added the quilts to their traveling exhibit, this only intensified value of Kentucky quilts. This school of thought bled over into the other state’s projects – remember most, if not all of the other Quilt Projects, looked to Kentucky’s as an example.
The Kentucky Quilt Project also had an agreement with the press not to publish the names and whereabouts of the quilts. This prevented quilt owners from being inundated with potential buyers. Every other quilt project also followed suite.
Lesson Two: The Quilt Projects taught people how to take care of their quilts.
Once word was circulated about Quilt Documentation Days, people were pulling their family quilts out of closets, drawers, attics, and basements. Until this point, most quilt owners (unless perhaps they themselves were quilters) didn’t pay any particular attention to how the quilts were stored. The Quilt Projects encouraged families to take care of the quilts. They handed out flyers with information on the proper way to store and clean quilts. In addition, the NCQP, the TSQA, the KSQP, and the NQP also handed out special quilt labels to go on the quilts, if the owner so desired. These labels had the project’s documentation information and location of the archives.
Lesson Three: The Quilt Projects supported the development of the “new” grassroots studies.
The grassroots studies concentrated on the middle- and working-class people, non-whites and minorities, and women as well as men. These studies often used material items and dealt with the relationship of these items to attitudes. Quilts were studied for symbolism, representations, and texts within the world they were made. The grassroots studies pushed for the items to be preserved as they served as documentation of a state’s history and the role women played in this history. Marsha McDowell, head of the Michigan Quilt Study Project, wrote, “A quilt is a textbook of information…Personal or family history, art, community life, religious beliefs and practices, business and political history…this and more can be gleaned from these textiles, their makers, and their owners.” It is interesting to note that for many students with an interest in women’s studies, quilts provide nearly the only record left by pre-suffrage housewives and pioneers.
Lesson Four: Not only were the quilts documented, but many times the Quilt Project served as a permanent home for genealogical records that participants brought with them.
Many of the quilt projects, but especially the NCQP, encouraged participants to bring written or photographic records which documented the quilts, their makers, and the quilt making. Kay Bryant, one of the regional coordinators for the NCQP said, “the older ladies were just dying to tell these old stories.” In many, many ways the NCQP archived not only the women’s creations, but also their voices.
As quilters, we know what goes into making a quilt – the choices, the decisions, the technique, the hours spent behind a needle or with a needle in hand. As quilters, we honor each other by complementing each other’s quilts and encircling our quilting families with love and concern. We value the quilts and the quilters because we know much about each. But for the nonquilter, this is lost. It takes something like the Quilt Projects to show how we worked through the social and cultural upheavals in the sixties and seventies…how we dealt with tragedies like the Challenger Explosion and 9/11…how we took up the challenge of Covid. Quilting, as much as any other art, shows the public how we deal with all life hands us. It shows them who we are, where we came from, and what we do.
And maybe…just maybe quilting shows people what they could be, if they’d join us, listen to our stories, and realize the power behind holding that needle and thread.
This blog is a “Zone of Truth Without Judgement” blog… because today I will be completely honest about some facets of quilting I am not crazy about. You may like these aspects of quilting better than I do. However, consider this blog part confessional, part how-to-fix-what-I-don’t-like information. I hope you use the changes I made as inspiration to alter quilts to suit your taste and your piecing preferences.
Inspiration for this column began with the High Point Quilt Guild’s 2021 Mystery Quilt.
Confession #1 – I hate mystery quilts.
I realize several of my fellow guild members are regular readers of my blog. I am not throwing shade, but after I got really “burned” by a few mystery quilts in my quilting career, I made a promise to myself that A) I wouldn’t begin working on one until all the blocks had been released and I had a chance to read through all the directions or B) if this wasn’t an option, I wouldn’t participate at all. Since the guild wasn’t making us show our completed blocks or block units before receiving the next set of directions, option A was clearly in my path.
Month by month the guild member in charge of this activity faithfully released the block unit directions. I read each set of instructions carefully and after, oh…around month two, I realized something: These blocks were heavily pieced.
Confession #2 – I hate heavily pieced blocks.
Please don’t gasp so loudly. I can hear you all the way in Jamestown, NC. Let me preference this startling statement with a couple of caveats. First, yes, I can piece with the best of them – small blocks, medium-sized blocks, and large blocks. I’ve constructed 6-inch square blocks which contained 48-pieces. So, it’s not that I can’t piece – it’s that I don’t necessarily like to. At least not blocks with lots of parts. My favorite pieced blocks are fairly simple ones, such as Monkey Wrench. If there’s a large number of pieces in a block, I’d much rather use a little extra fabric and paper piece them – which was not an option with this quilt.
Unit after unit was revealed and around the third month, I seriously considered putting the brakes on the entire quilt because….flying geese were involved.
Confession #3 – I hate making flying geese.
There. I said it. I absolutely can’t stand constructing flying geese. And I blame the flying-geese-distain on this quilt:
Yes, this is a beautiful quilt, and is absolutely one of my most favorites. If you can’t tell by looking at it, this is a Judy Neimyer quilt. It’s called Glacier Star, and I had a blast making it. The fabric was such fun and such a departure from any color palate I normally undertake. I loved constructing the center so much I ordered the extensions to make sure the quilt would fit on a bed.
It never occurred to me that between the quilt center and the extensions, I would make fifty-hundred-eleventy-million flying geese. And while these geese turned out perfect because they were paper pieced, once the quilt was completed I knew something with complete certainty: I never, ever wanted to make another flying goose/geese again.
I know, I know. I know all of you are thinking this is impossible because so many quilt blocks contain flying geese. I realize that, too. So I set up a few rules for my flying geese dilemma. First, I would paper piece the geese as much as possible. If you haven’t thought about it before, consider this now: There’s a lot of bias in flying geese. Either you’re cutting a square to expose bias or you’re working with triangles which have exposed bias. This mystery quilt had 60 flying geese and it used the no-waste flying geese method, which was fine except for this fact: No final unit measurements were given. Which brings us to confession number 4.
Confession #4 – I hate quilt patterns which do not give unfinished unit measurements at each step.
This sounds kind of picky, but if I have to make 60 block units of anything – especially flying geese – I need to know what the unit’s unfinished measurements are. If the units are too large, I need to trim them down. If they’re too small, I need to adjust my seam allowances. And since flying geese have all that bias and tend to turn out a little wonky anyway, I would really like to have the option to make them larger and trim them down.
This particular pattern didn’t have this information. Any thoughts of beginning this quilt were quickly looking dubious.
Directions were released each month. I made a list of the units I enjoyed making:
Somewhere in those units, I knew I could make a quilt – just not the 2021 Mystery Quilt. I made up my mind I would only use the block units given in the directions and only make as many as required. I ended up with:
15 nine-patches which were constructed into 15 square-in-a-square blocks
60 quick-corner patches
60 corner post patches
Once the units were made, I did something very uncharacteristic of me: I didn’t make a plan. I didn’t graph out the quilt. I didn’t throw everything into EQ 8 to see how it would pan out. I joined the square-in-a-square blocks to sashing I constructed from opposing quick-corner blocks.
For the horizontal sashing, I used 3 ½-inch strips and added the four-patches for cornerstones.
Which left me with a very small-ish rectangular quilt.
To “calm down” all the piecing and to give the eyes a break, I decided to add a 1 ½-inch finished floater out of the ecru fabric.
Then I added a pieced border.
This pieced border actually used part of one of the blocks in the original quilt (which will be shown later). Between these and some left-over block units, I was pretty satisfied with the look of the quilt. Since this border had a lot of pieced units, I decided to add a four-inch border of solid fabric to round the quilt out. I don’t like sewing on binding to heavily pieced borders (which is what this border is). All those seams add extra bulk and it’s difficult to achieve a smooth binding. Plus, the additional border added some height and width to the quilt.
Here is the finished quilt. It’s a great lap-sized quilt. I will probably tuck this one away and use it as a gift. But I still had tons of leftover units. I had to plan another quilt. I took some leftover four-inch squares and cut those into triangles. I joined the triangles to some leftover four-patches to form square-in-a-square block. Then sewed those together to form a square, and I added a 3-inch border.
At this point, I had a lot of leftover two-patch units. I joined all these together to make additional four-patches and framed the square-in-a-square block with these and added four red cornerstones.
Now the center was taking shape, but it was definitely square. I wanted this quilt to be more rectangular. I knew in order for this to happen I needed to add border to only the top and bottom of the quilt to lengthen the square into a rectangle. I took the corner posts and added them to form a top and bottom piano key boarder.
I looked at my pile of leftover block units and saw I still had a lot to sew. I had 120 2-inch x 3-inch rectangles in my neutral. I sewed these to my four-patch blocks and made enough to border the right and left sides of the center.
However, I was still drowning in four-patch units. After mathing it out, I discovered I had just enough to add one final pieced border to the quilt, and still had four-patches left over.
To cut down on the bulk of a pieced border, I added a 3 ½-inch solid fabric border in the neutral. This assured me the binding would go on easy and it made the smaller quilt match the larger one (as for as the final borders go).
Yet, after all of this I still had a handful of four-patches and small neutral rectangles left. I sewed the rectangles in pairs, which made them the same size as the four-patches. I alternately sewed the blocks together into a quilt square, which I will use as part of the backing for the smaller quilt.
At this point, these were the only units I had left over — a dozen neutral squares made from the rectangles, four corner posts, and two triangles.
I couldn’t think of anything to make out of these, and honestly I was done by then. I tossed these into my circular file.
So now, I have two quilts and one large quilt block.
If I had followed directions, this is the quilt I would have:
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this quilt. It’s really pretty. I just wasn’t into piecing all those large blocks.
After 1,500 words, I’m sure you wonder if this blog has a point, other than I have a few areas of quilting I’m not crazy about and decided to take a creative by-pass with this Mystery Quilt Adventure and took you all along for the ride. Well…yes…I do have a point. Remember the quilt pattern is just your jumping off point. If you make all the block units, they will go together in lots of different ways. I didn’t have to alter any of the original block units in this creative process. I just played with them until I came up with something I liked, then I sewed it all together.
Don’t be afraid to toss the pattern.
Don’t be afraid to change things up.
Don’t be afraid to go with your quilting gut.
There are no quilt police. Just have a good time making your quilts.
Now that we’ve talked about the primary types of pins quilters need, let’s look at when to use them.
We pin the patches together before we sew them into block units.
For this type of pinning, the glass head, silk pins, straight pins, dress maker pins – almost any straight pin will work except applique and fork pins. The pin shaft must be long enough so it can be inserted into the fabric like this:
And the pin won’t shift. To be honest, unless my patches are large-ish, I don’t pin at this point.
We pin block units together before we sew them in to blocks.
Once the block units are constructed, then we begin to sew them into blocks and here’s where your pinning options open up. Typically – or at least as often as we can – we press our seam allowances in opposite directions so the seams will “nest.”
This process allows the seams to fit snugly against each other, lining up perfectly. However, as the fabric travels over the feed dogs and under the needle, it can shift a bit, causing the seams to get a bit out of sync. I will share with you the way I pin my units together.
I start where the seams nest and I pin here. Even if the unit’s top and bottom look a bit off, this can be “fixed.” It’s more important the seams meet correctly. There are three ways this can be pinned at this point.
You can insert one pin in the seam. This is fairly effective.
You can insert one pin in the seam and two on either side of the seam allowance to make sure the seam doesn’t shift, and then remove the pin in the middle. The seam won’t budge, trust me.
You can use U-pin. The seam won’t shift any with this pin.
From the middle, I pin out one way and then the other.
If the top and the bottom of the unit doesn’t exactly come out even, don’t sweat it. If the amount is small enough you can “fudge it” in your seam allowance, do so. If it’s too much of a difference, something went wrong in your seam allowance or cutting. You may want to remake it. Totally up to you.
The situation changes when you must join multiple seams together. Stars, compasses, Stack-and-Whacks, and pinwheels all have lots of seams which come together at one point. It’s easy to have lots of bulk there, making the center impossible to lay flat. For sake of example, let’s use a pinwheel block. Despite all the bulk, this is one of my favorite blocks – they’re just happy! And the first thing to consider with multiple seams isn’t the pinning, it’s the pressing. It’s super important all the seams are pressed in the same direction – towards the darker fabric if at all possible. This will help them “nest” and make the process much easier.
Now start with the sub-units. Join two blocks together. The way the blocks were pressed should make the seams nest together easily.
Pin these together the same way you would any nesting seams (pick one of the three methods mentioned in last week’s blog…decide which is your favorite and go with it). Sew the two blocks together with a ¼-inch seam. Your intersection should look like the picture below.
The stitching lines will cross over each other ¼-inch away from the two raw edges of the unit. Press the seams to one side (towards the darker fabric if possible). The intersection should match up and look nice and neat
Repeat with the other two blocks, again pressing towards the darker fabric.
Now comes the tricky part, but if you’ve pressed and pinned correctly, the intersection matches up pretty close to perfect. Align the two sections together. On the first unit, insert a pin right where the two stitching lines intersect.
Now align the other unit behind the first and insert the tip of the pin right in the intersection for the second unit as shown. Push the two units together on the pin, but do NOT twist the pin around and try to put the tip back into the unit.
Let the pin stick straight up like a flagpole as shown below.
Now insert a pin just to the left and the right of your “flagpole” pin. If your flagpole pin leans one way or another as you insert the side pins, it means your intersection is shifting. Reposition the side pins to keep the center pin straight.
Once you have the left and right pins in place, you can remove the flagpole pin. Continue pinning the remaining seam allowances together.
Now sew the two units together. As your needle approaches the center intersection, the stitches should cross over the previous stitching lines as shown below. If necessary, use a stylus or sewing stiletto to guide the seam allowance and prevent it from flipping over.
At this point, the center should look great, but there’s still a lot of bulk in the middle to deal with. There are a couple of ways to handle this mass of seams coming together. First, you could press the seam open.
This would help distribute the bulk a bit better. In all honesty, this is my least favorite way to deal with it. As someone who quilts my own quilts, I have a preference that seams aren’t pressed open, as the quilting action can weaken open seams. I prefer (as much as possible) to have the seams pressed to one side. So, here’s how I handle it — carefully remove the stitches from the first two-unit assembly steps, leaving only the last seam that joined the two block halves together. This will let us “spin” those seam allowances into a mini star on the back side as well, distributing all the extra bulk evenly.
You’ll now be able to press half of the long joining seam in one direction, and the second half in the other, and the center will lay flat! A perfect center, no lump to quilt over, and the seams stay pressed to one side.
Dresden Plates, Compasses, and some Star blocks can be handled in similar fashion. The trick is to assemble half the block at a time, press the seams in one direction, and pin and sew together. Release the stitches to relax the center and press. This works most of the time. However, with some blocks – especially those with lots of seams coming together like this:
It’s simply better to press the adjoining seam open and deal with any quilting consequences later. If I was in this situation as a long armer, I’d avoid quilting the center of the block.
The option of last resort – If you can’t successfully reduce the bulk in the middle and it poufs out – cut it away. I have used this technique before in times of sheer desperation. Let’s take this block for example:
There are a lot of seams coming together in the middle. Even if you carefully press the seams in one direction and release the stitches where you can, the bulk may be difficult to deal with. When I’m faced with this situation, circles are my saving grace. Determine what sized circle would cover the middle and be in proportion to your quilt block. Construct the circle and sew it over the middle either by hand or machine (if you choose to applique by machine, pin the circle in place or use glue or fusible webbing only on the edges of the circle). The very carefully, from the wrong side of the block, cut away the bulky middle. Your block should now lay nice and flat.
We pin blocks together to make rows (with or without sashing).
Zone of truth right here – if you have vertical sashing between your quilt blocks, sewing the rows together becomes infinitely easier. There are no seams to match. You pin the sashing to the right side of a block, sew it on, then sew the next block to the sashing.
If there is no sashing between the blocks, and seams must match up so the quilt top looks put together correctly, the same rules apply as before. Press the blocks (as much as you are able) so the seams will nest. Then use your preferred pinning method for nesting seams and sew the blocks together.
We pin the rows together to make the quilt center (with or without sashing).
Sewing the rows together to make the quilt center is in many ways similar to sewing the blocks together to make rows. If the horizontal sashing has no corner stones, cut the sashing to fit, pin in place, and sew it together. However, because of the length of the sashing in this case, I tend to use fork-pins or Wonder Clips. Regular pins – such as patchwork – can fall out while sewing on the horizontal sashing. The Wonder Clips or fork pins tend to stay put.
If the horizontal sashing has cornerstones, press the sashing and cornerstones so the seams will nest with the row of blocks and pin. In my opinion (and experience), fork pins work best to sew this type of sashing to the rows. The fork pins will keep the seams nested together, and the pins are better able to support the weight of the rows and sashing without falling out, like patchwork pins would.
We pin borders onto the quilt center. Sometimes there are multiple borders, so we may pin borders to border.
I won’t go into the particulars of how to make sure your borders are the correct size before you cut them out and pin them on to the quilt center. I do have an upcoming blog on this topic, but if you absolutely need to know now, go here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2018/08/15/1959/
Regardless of whether your borders are pieced, solid pieces of fabric, or appliqued, it’s important to follow this process:
Find the center of the quilt top. Put a pin there.
Find the center of the border. Put a pin there.
Place the border and the quilt center right sides together, lining up the center pins and pin them together. Then from this center point, pin the borders on. I find the fork pins hold the bulk and weight of the quilt center and border the best.
If there are multiple borders, repeat the same process, but find the centers of the borders, pin those right sides together, then pin out from the center.
I hope this blog answers questions about pins and how to use them. Truthfully, pins are almost an afterthought with a lot of quilters – as long as they have some kind within arm’s reach, everything is fine. However, having the right pin for the job can make all the difference in the world. It just makes the task at hand easier.
If you have a topic you would like for me to explore, please leave a note in the comments. It may take me a week or two to have a blog about it, but I really do like to write about quilty subjects folks are interested in.
I appreciate everyone who reads my blog. I really do. WordPress let me know how many people read my blog every day and what country these folks are from. For those of you who read regularly, I am super-appreciative. For those of you who read once in a while or find me when you’re researching some quilt issue, I also appreciate you. Last week I had a reader who requested a blog on pins and pinning. I love this. I love when readers ask me to write on certain quilty topics. If there’s some topic you’d like me to blog on, leave a comment and I promise I’ll get to it. Keep in mind I usually have three to four blogs ready to publish ahead of what you want. Your blog topic will come up, but it may be a few weeks.
I wrote about pins way back in 2017. In some respects, pins have changed. I’ve always said one of the best things about quilting is it’s not static. It doesn’t remain the same. The field changes. We get new quilters, new designers, and new tools. And often, old notions are re-worked into something better. Pins are one of the tools which has somewhat changed. However, my theory about non-pinners has not changed.
Let’s begin with a brief history. Pins were first used (as far as archeologists can tell) in the Paleolithic Era. They were made from bone and wood. Lots of these early pins were curved. Bone and wood gave way to brass and steel, then nickel-plated steel. The French made the best and finest pins, even though London, England established the first Pinners Guild in 1356. John Ireland Howe of Connecticut invented the first pin making machine in 1831 and improved it in 1842 to the point three of the machines could spit out 72,000 pins a day. Today we have beading pins, T-pins, U-pins (also called Fork Pins), dressmaker pins, pleating pins, applique pins, lace or bridal pins, patchwork pins, quilting pins, silk pins, pearlized pins, sequin pins, and tidy pins (used to hold things like slipcovers in place). There are other types of pins, but these are the ones folks who sew know well. In this blog, since I write about quilting, we will look at applique pins, patchwork pins, quilting pins, dressmaker pins, silk pins, glass head pins, U-pins. and safety pins. I chose these because they are the ones most used by quilters.
Before we jump into the pointy world of pins, let me offer a couple of pieces of advice. First, pins are not expensive. A quick review of the pin selection on Amazon offers a wide selection, all under $10, and sometimes you get multiple containers of pins for one price. For this reason, don’t purchase cheap pins – you know, the ones which are fifty cents a pack. Pins are an inexpensive quilting notion. You can afford to purchase the “top shelf” brands. Pins are coated with nickel to prevent rusting, and even though the nickel will eventually flake off, since pinning isn’t permanent, this isn’t too much of a concern. However, the cheaper pins may have a thinner nickel coating. They may also not have a sharp point (which is needed for quilting cottons and batiks), and they may be so thick they feel like small nails – which could lead to larger-than-desired pin holes in your quilt.
Second, you will need more than one pin type in your quilting studio. I have one type I use more than others, but you do use different types of pins for different applications. I’ve found giving each type of pin their own pin cushion is a great organizational tool. This way I know what kind of pin I’m reaching for with a quick glance.
Third, pins do need to be replaced. We are pretty conscious our sewing machine needles and rotary blades need to be swapped out regularly. Pins (and hand sewing needles, too) do get dull with use. Every year or so, treat yourself to some new pins. Yes, using that emery strawberry on the side of your tomato pin cushion does help sharpen the point a bit as well as remove rust, but pins still should be replaced. And when you dispose of them, be sure to put them in some kind of container, such as an empty pill bottle. Don’t throw them in the trash loose. Someone could get hurt when they dispose of them. My go-to for this is an empty, clean Parmesan cheese container. I drop old pins, needles, and dull rotary blades in it. When it’s full, I use packing tape around the top of the container to make sure it won’t come off after I toss it in the garbage. Another helpful hint: Keep this container close at hand. As you pull bent pins out of your pin cushion or other pin catcher, go ahead and toss those in the container. Nothing is more aggravating than trying to work with a bent pin.
Fourth, don’t sew over your pins. Most quilting pins are small in diameter, so it’s easy to think they can’t hurt your machine or your needle, but that’s not true. Sewing over pins can bend or break your needle or make a burr. I have seen pins jammed into the feed dogs, caused by a combination of speed and the needle hitting the pin at just the right angle. It’s best to just slow down your sewing, take the pin out, and then continue. All of that said, now let’s take a look at the different pins used in quilting and how to use them.
For those of us who applique, these little pins are a Godsend. While I do use basting glue with some of my applique, there two techniques which are not necessarily basting glue friendly: needle turn and back basting. These little pins are perfect for using with those two methods.
Applique pins are smaller both in length and diameter than other types of pins. In my previous pin blog, I mentioned these pins were generally no longer than ½-inch in length. This has changed. There are now longer applique pins – as long as an inch. Over the course of applique and time, quilters discovered that while the ½-inch pins are great for small-to-medium sized applique pieces, longer pins were needed for larger pieces. The diameter of these pins has not changed. It’s still smaller than other pins.
There’s another characteristic which sets applique pins apart from other pins – their heads. Applique pin heads are tapered, so your thread won’t get caught around them as you’re sewing. And don’t let the size of shank fool you. Despite the fact that these pins look more delicate than standard pins, they can easily go through multiple layers of fabric, making them perfect for multi-layered applications.
One word of warning – don’t mistake sequin pins for applique pins. Sequin pins look a great deal like the smaller applique pins, but they’re not the same. Sequin pins are used for attaching beads and sequins to Styrofoam forms when you’re make Christmas decorations, etc. The shafts are thicker, and the heads are larger – not a good fit for quilting.
There are a couple of different patchwork pins. There’s this kind:
And this kind.
Both are patchwork pins, and both are used for the same purposes – holding fabric in place. These pins are the workhorse of quilters. When in doubt which pin to use, this is your “little black dress” of quilting: It will work for almost anything. Which kind you use is a personal preference issue. Both have long shafts and a relatively small diameter. I use the first kind in small blocks. They’re not quite as long as the other and tend to be easier for me to handle in 6-inch or less blocks.
The second kind – often referred to as “Flat Head Pins” are a little longer than the first kind, although the diameter is equally small. Most of the time the flat, plastic disk is round, but I’ve seen them shaped like cats, puppies, butterflies, and flowers. These pins can serve a couple of other purposes other than holding larger block units or quilt blocks together. Because the shaft is longer (about 1 ¾-inches), you can easily pin all three layers of the quilt together. This is helpful if you need to anchor binding or want to pin the quilt sandwich together before quilting. But this round plastic disk…
Is large enough to write on. I have a set of these pins that I use to pin my quilt top together. I used a fine-tip Sharpie to write the row and block positions on – such as 1-3 – which means row one, block three.
One issue to be careful about when using these pins is heat. Since the disks are plastic, they can melt and make a mess on your block and your iron. However, in researching this blog I did find out some pin manufacturers are now making the plastic heat resistant. Such good news!
In all honestly, there isn’t a great deal of difference between Patchwork Pins and Quilting Pins. Like Patchwork Pins, they have a long shaft, but the diameter is larger, so the pin can handle the bulk of a quilt sandwich without bending. This larger diameter is the chief difference between the two types of pins. Quilting Pins are my go-to pin for my Long Arm. They can handle the bulk of my zippers, the leader, and the quilt back (I float my top) without bending. I always keep them in a magnetic bowl near my long arm.
Dress Maker Pins
Again with the honesty issue – I don’t use these much, but I’m throwing them in because they’re so easy to find. Go out of town and forget your pins? You can find these pins in drugstores, grocery stores, big box stores, and dollar stores. Sometimes even convenience stores. They generally are found on the aisle with the laundry detergent or in the basic sewing sections. They are used to hold light-to-medium weight fabrics together, and they will work fine for quilting if they’re the only pins available. They tend to be shorter in length than Quilting or Patchwork pins, and the diameter is small – meaning if you’re trying to pin through the quilt sandwich, they are prone to bend. Do be aware the quality of this pin can vary. I’ve seen some which could pass for small nails and others whose point wasn’t sharp at all.
Silk Pins and Dress Maker Pins are often lumped in the same category, with the names used interchangeably. The big difference between the two is the shaft’s diameter. Silk Pins have a bit smaller diameter than Dress Maker Pins. Otherwise the length is about the same.
Glass Head Pins
If I was pressed to name a favorite pin, Glass Head Pins would be it. I was introduced to this pin back in the mid-eighties when I did a lot of lace-shaping for my daughter’s French Heirloom dresses. These pins are long and small in diameter, but the head is made of glass. This means the head won’t melt under a hot iron. So, if you’re pre-shaping your stems or other applique shapes before stitching them down, this is the pin to reach for. Compared to the other pins, these are a bit more expensive, but worth every extra penny.
U-Pins or Fork Pins
This pin is one which some quilters always use and must have in their studio. Other quilters could happily avoid for them the rest of their quilting career. The U-pin is like having two pins with one head. It doubles the pinning security because once you pin anything with one a U-pin, it’s not going to move.
U-pins are used in many crafting areas, so as a quilter you must be careful to have the right type – otherwise the pin could leave visible holes or not be sharp enough to go through multiple layers of fabric. I have found these pins handy in two areas. The first is when you pin your quilt rows together. No matter whether you’ve sashed or not, no matter how large or small your quilt blocks are, when it comes time to pin the rows together, you’re dealing with bulk and lots of seams. These pins hold the rows securely together, so there’s virtually no chance of the pins slipping out no matter how long those rows are.
Pinning nested seams are the second reason these pins are pretty handy. The whole premise of nesting seams is to make sure the seams of two units or blocks line up and don’t shift. Placing U-pin so both prongs are on either side of the seam means there will be no fabric shifting at all. Those seams will look perfect every time.
These pins also are great if you have to pin something together on a flat surface – so if you have to match up stripes, plaids, or checks, this is a great little tool to have in your studio.
If you hand quilt or quilt on your domestic machine, you know how handy these pins are. These are used to hold the quilt sandwich (quilt top, batting and backing) together while you quilt. If the three layers aren’t somehow held together, they will shift and this makes the quilting process very difficult, if not impossible. The type of safety pin used doesn’t matter. The size does. It has to be large enough to hold all three layers of the quilt sandwich. So the standard safety pin works fine – usually in size 3.
However, there’s also the quilter’s safety pin.
This has a slightly bent pin which makes it easier to close.
There are also these:
Which I have not tried, but I understand this is a small pin with a thin shaft, but it can hold three layers together well. The unique characteristic of this pin is you can insert and close it with one hand. The Wonder Pins have great reviews on Amazon and several users stated if you have arthritic hands, this is the pin you need.
Typically, I don’t use safety pins for quilting since I have a long arm. Even if I throw a quilt sandwich on my M7 Continental, I generally use basting spray to hold everything together. However, I recently took a class in reverse applique, and I used safety pins to hold two 36-inch squares of fabric together while I basted them. I was exceedingly grateful I still had my old safety pins. The procedure would have been a nightmare if I had to use straight pins – the thread would have caught on the points or pin heads with every stitch. So, even if you don’t use these pins in the quilting process, hang on to them if you still have them. They may just come in handy.
Okay, enough on pins and pinning this week. I realize we’ve hit almost 3,000 words and I haven’t mentioned how to pin anything. We’ll pick that up next week.