Success in the Set Up

One of the concepts I wanted to discuss during this Year of Quilting with Excellence was the set up of any project.  For a lot of quilters – myself included – it’s easy to get excited about a new project.  Either you’ve shopped your stash and found a great new quilt there (and you didn’t have to spend an additional dime – one of my personal favorite feelings in the world), or you have gone shopping and found wonderful fabric and a great pattern – either way, you’re excited and your ready to get started.  Everything goes on the cutting table and you’re ready to roll with it.

Slow down…

Remember way back when you took driver’s education?  Remember that list of things your instructor drilled into you before you pulled out of the drive way:  check the mirrors, check the fuel gauge…etc.  It was like your own personal flight check list before you could throw that car into reverse and ease on down the road.  Well, quilting, at least quilting successfully, has a check list.  And I find it’s a lot easier and makes things go much more smoothly if I do a little prep work before I whip out the rotary cutter or push the pedal to the metal on Big Red.

The first action any quilter should make – beginner or experienced or anywhere in between – is to read through the directions.  Or if you’re using your own design, think through the project.  It is the most helpful advice I can give any of you.  This will help you maybe not completely avoid troublesome spots, but it can make you aware of where some problems may arise and prepare for them.  To illustrate this, we’re going to take a look at my May mini-quilt.

Since my April quilt was themed April Showers, I wanted May to emphasize the flowers in the back half of the quote “April Showers Bring May Flowers.”  Matthew’s challenge for May was to use a technique that we haven’t used before.  I decided to go modern quilt.  I knew I wanted to piece my background with blue batiks, with no two alike and that I would applique my flowers on this pieced background.

Step one was that I would have to consider what I wanted the background to look like.  I had lots of blue batik scraps, so the fabric wasn’t the issue.  I had to take into consideration one primary concept at this point:  I didn’t want a great deal of bulk in my background.  If there were a lot of seams involved, machine appliqueing my flowers would be very difficult, may break a few needles, and the machine stitching would not lie flat and pretty.  With this in mind, I chose a 15-inch block that was all rectangles and squares with no matching seams and corners.  This would allow me to press the seams open – something I don’t normally do when I piece blocks, but since I need to reduce as much bulk as possible to make the machine applique look good, pressing open the seams would be a good idea.

I chose the block Chinese Coins.

Chinese Coins

As you can see, there are no matching intersections.  Originally, this bock was a 6-inch square (finished) block.  I asked EQ8 to enlarge it a 15-inch square block so that my applique would have plenty of room, plus there was still room for some “shrinkage” as I quilted it.  I cut the pieces according to the size EQ indicated and begin to lay it out on my tabletop design board.


I sewed the pieced strips together, pressed those seams open


and then sewed the solid strips onto them.


At this point all the seams were pressed open on the back


and then I gave it a good press on the front.  That good press on front was really important, because seams that are pressed open then to crease on the front, making the block a bit smaller than needed.  A good press on the front eliminates that possibility.


Next, I squared it up, as squaring up with every step makes for a flat quilt when it’s quilted.  Don’t believe it?  Remember the Firenze Quilt I made for Quilt Club?  I finally got it on the longarm this weekend.  Because it was squared up at each step, that baby went on Loretta without a whimper and I’m having a grand time long arming it.


Now comes the fun part, the applique.  At least that’s the most fun for me because I love applique of all kinds.  My applique would need a modern “vibe” to it.  After much searching, I decided on this design.


It’s flowers and definitely has a modern touch.

With that strong blue, batik background, my flowers need to be constructed of equally strong-hued fabric in order to make a stand on their own and not be overshadowed by the background.  I also want the flowers to look two dimensional, which means I need at least two, preferably three, of the same color family for each flower head.  If all the petals were the same color, the applique would look too flat.  The obvious choice for me was to pick other batiks from my stash.


So now let’s pause long enough to talk about what kind of fabric should be considered for machine applique – that’s part of the process of planning a project.  Unlike hand applique, the fabric chosen for machine applique does not need a “soft hand.”  It’s going to have to put up with a great deal of abuse, from fusing to sewing.  It needs to have a firm weave.  In this case, batiks are a wonderful choice.  I rarely use batiks in hand applique because they are difficult to work a hand sewing needle through – the weave is tight and often the dying and finishing process makes them too stiff for that artwork.  But for machine applique?  They are awesome.  In addition to being able to handle the wear and tear of this process, they are also brightly dyed, so my choices can stand up to that blue background.

I picked this fabric for the flower centers.  While not a batik, it does “read” as a batik and will work well.



Next, we need to take a good look at the pattern.  An applique pattern should be plotted out like a cross-country road trip.  I like to print two copies of the pattern out that are the exact size of my block.  One copy I prefer to be in color – whether that color is computer generated or one that I color in myself.  This allows me to get a good over-all visual of how my quilt is going to look.  Generally, I already have an idea of what color palette I’m using, but the colored rendition allows me to get a better idea of how the lights and dark fabric should be placed to give the block some depth.

The second copy of the pattern I make is a numbered one.



Each individual applique piece is given a number on this pattern.  When I trace each of the pieces onto the fusible, I also write the corresponding number on each one, so I know exactly where they go.  In this case, EQ has done the numbering for me, so I simply wrote the numbers in on the black and white copy of the pattern. that is the actual size of the block.




Next week, we will begin the process of fusing, cutting and bagging.  And then more cutting.  And more fusing.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri, Sam, and Lou




What a Week….

Soooo much has happened since last Thursday.  Let me recap…

Last Thursday morning Meg had a follow up appointment with her Primary Care Physician for a checkup that started us on this cancer journey.  It was the PCP that discovered the tumor on her cervix and literally got the ball rolling quickly to get her seen at the oncology department at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital.  When Meg was asked how she was feeling at this follow up visit, she mentioned a catch in her side that was bothering her.

That wasn’t supposed to be there.  Long story short, despite the fact that Meg was on some heavy-duty blood thinners, she had developed clots.  The PCP notified the oncology department, who agreed with the even stronger blood thinner prescription, and she was sent home.  All of this took place Thursday morning/afternoon.

My local guild meeting was that evening, and since she was doing fine, I went.  I kind of had to…I was presenting needle turn applique.  I got home about 9:30 to my son-in-law on the phone stating he was taking Meg back to the emergency room because she was in severe pain in her abdomen, legs, and chest.

Long story short on this front, she had developed a large internal abscess.  Since she was a cancer patient, had just had major surgery, and had blood clots, she had to stay at Baptist through the weekend.  They monitored the clots and then took her off the blood thinners on Sunday, so they could put the drain in on Monday.

Needless to say, this week has been a whirlwind on steroids.  So, there is no lengthy “how-to” with this blog.  Instead I have lots of pretty pictures of things I’ve been working on.

First of all, I made these



And to give you some perspective, here’s a dime next to the circles….


These tiny circles will go around my compass ring for Love Entwined (pattern by Esther Aliu).  This is the ring…


And when I get all those teeny-tiny circles stitched down, I will applique it around this compass.


I also am still working on The Halo Medallion.  I have the side flying geese borders made


And am working on the top and bottom borders.  This is wonderful, mindless piecing, which is what I have needed during the last few weeks.

I have also nearly finished Easter Blessing by Ester Aliu.


And yes, if you’re asking, that tiny eye is three separate pieces of applique.


Matthew announced May’s challenge for the monthly mini-quilts.  We have to incorporate a technique we’ve never used before.  And since I’ve never made a modern quilt, mine will lean toward that.  After nearly 32 years of quilting, I still haven’t tried everything that’s out there.  That one of the great things about quilting … there’s always something to learn.  I’m designing it now and am having fun!

Please keep my daughter in your prayers.  Hopefully, we are on the downhill slide of this part of this adventure now.

My Girls


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri, Sam, and Lou


Unfocused Fabric and Answered Prayer

When we began 2018 as the year of Quilting with Excellence I mentioned that part of becoming a really good quilter is focusing on the basics.  As any artist or athlete will tell you, if you can get the basics down pat, that’s more than half-way to the goal of becoming great.  Everything else –all the little flourishes and neat tricks of any art or sport are built on a good knowledge of how to do the basics well.

Quilting is no different.  Whether it’s piecing or appliqueing or quilting, if you have a great working knowledge of the basics, everything else – all the little tricks and trades that make big difference in your quilt – will look better and be easier to do.  With that in mind, I would like to take this blog and discuss focus fabrics.  I know I have hit on this topic before, but it has been a while and there are a few additional techniques I’d like the opportunity to tell you about.

By sheer definition, the focus fabric is the fabric chosen that pulls everything else together in your quilt.  It’s the fabric you base your other color selections on most of the time.  Since quilting is not an exact science, I can honestly tell you there are times when I pick my all of my other fabrics simply because I like a color scheme and then find a focus fabric.  Regardless, your focus fabric is the “glue” for your quilt top – it can make all the other selections work together.  Sometimes finding a focus fabric is pretty easy.  For instance, if you’re pulling together fabric for a Christmas quilt or a one with a patriotic theme, the selection is pretty painless – you’re going to find a fabric with a holiday theme and the chosen Christmas colors or you’re going on the hunt for a fabric with red, white, and blue in it.

That’s easy-peasy.

It gets a bit more complicated after that, but not too much.  Let’s say you’ve found this color scheme on Pinterest:

Color Scheme

That is a terrific color scheme and while you’re shopping your LQS for those particular colors and hues, you can also be on the hunt for something that will pull it all together (and keep in mind that if you can’t find a focus fabric, you can always piece your borders and that will make the quilt top work wonderfully well).  The great thing about textiles producers today is that if you find a line of fabric you like, chances are they’re going to have at least one bolt of something that can work as a focus fabric.


Remember this challenge quilt?  I used the black floral print as the focus fabric in the large cornerstones, the appliqued vase, and one of the outer borders.  This all came from Connecting Threads Firenze Collection.


But let’s say you’re like me, and on occasion while in a LQS, I find a bolt of material that I just have to have.  It’s happened before … don’t judge.  I don’t always know what I’m going to do with it, but regardless it’s got to come home with me.  So at least five yards finds its way into my stash.  Now what?  The first thing I do is that take a picture of it with my phone, so that when I’m shopping in the future, I can find coordinating fabrics.  Then when I get home, I put it in my visible stash.  I have a large book case that holds the majority of my fabric.  I plan on discussing my fabric storage in a future blog, but the bottom half of that book case holds anything over a yard.  It’s flat folded and grouped according to color families.  And I make sure it’s in a place where I can see it.  Since my stash storage is near my primary sewing machine, I can look at it in reference to my other fabric and see what I have on hand that works with it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked over while sewing and discovered I “had a quilt” in that stash.  It’s one of my favorite feelings in the world.

So where does a quilter put this “pulls-it-all-together focus fabric?”  In the past, it was a fairly time-honored tradition to use the focus fabric in the outer borders and perhaps in the sashing cornerstones.  That’s how I was taught, and I think the premise of this theory is that since the outer border works as a frame, if it features the focus fabric, then the quilt top will look pulled together because the color choices are reflected in that border.

That theory worked for me for a while.  And then I decided that plain borders were well…boring.  They seem to resonate with the feeling that by the time you had spent hours and hours piecing the top, either you were too tired to give the borders a lot of thought or you completely lacked imagination.  In the punctuation of quilts, plain borders are a period.  Your borders are truly one of the units that pull your quilt top together and they should be an exclamation point, not a period and this is another blog.

What I recommend is that you use the focus fabric both in the blocks and in the borders (and in the applique if your quilt uses this technique).  If your focus fabric is a print that is relatively small, you can use it in some of the piecing.  Take for instance this fabric that I purchased from Stitch Party Studio in Madison, NC.


It makes a great focus fabric because there is quite a color punch in this yardage.  But the print is still reasonably small enough that it could work in some of the piecing units.  Take this block, for instance:

Large open space block

This is a 10-inch block, so the triangles on the sides are big enough that the print and the various colors will show up well.  But look at that on-point center square – what a place to show off your focus fabric!  And even if the print on the focus fabric is large, this area is still big enough that you could fussy-cut it and show it off to its full potential.

And now I would like to challenge you to do something decidedly different:  Find a focus fabric you really, really love and pick out your supporting fabrics.  Decide what fabrics go where….

Now, don’t use your focus fabric in your quilt top or borders or anywhere else in the quilt.

Ahhhhh….I can see the look on your faces over the internet.  It’s the same look that I saw when I told you that the 1/4-inch seam allowance was not the Holy Grail of Quilting.  Well…neither is having a focus fabric.

Now that another quilting gasket is blown in the quilting part of your brain, let me explain where Sherri’s Theory of You Don’t Necessarily Need No Stinkin’ Focus Fabric came about.  Several years ago, while in Paducah, KY for the Spring AQS Show, I came across a gorgeous piece of fabric that I could only describe as Tuscan.  It has rich purples, greens, burgundies, and blues.


It is beautiful.  I love it dearly.  I can be having an awful day and come home to “pet” this fabric and instantly feel better.  Why can’t I cut it up, aside from the fact that it’s one of my all-time favorite fabric finds?

There’s only a half a yard of it.  I purchased the very end of the bolt.  There really isn’t enough of it to use even in a lap-sized quilt.  So, what’s a girl to do?

I pondered this for awhile and came up with this solution:  It was the colors in this fabric that made my heart sing and my senses tingle.  So instead of cutting this bit of material up, I picked out fabric that matched or coordinated with this half-yard wonder but didn’t use one inch of the focus fabric in my quilt.  My favorite colors were still there, and they all worked together without the focus fabric.

Thus, Sherri’s Theory of You Don’t Necessarily Need No Stinkin’ Focus Fabric was born.  I’ve made three quilts out of this theory and this non-use of focus fabric.  Give it shot.  If nothing else, it’s a great color and design exercise, especially when making borders.

I’d like to introduce a new family member at this time.


Her name is Lilleth, but I call her Lou.  All of my cats have been named for famous American authors except one.  Sam’s full name is Samuel Langhorn Clemmons.  Meet Louisa May Alcott.  She was my daughter’s cat, but when Meagan became ill with cervical cancer, her husband didn’t think she needed to be changing litter boxes.  Since the grand darlings are pretty attached to Miss Lilleth-Lou, I took her in so the girls could still see their cat when they visit me.  If Meagan gets all better and doesn’t need chemo or radiation, then Miss Lilleth-Lou may go back home to her.  Meanwhile, she and Sam are working on their relationship issues with pretty good results.

Until next week…throw that focus fabric out the window and Quilt with Excellence!



My Girls

Early this afternoon we received the final pathology report on her surgery, and I am overwhelmingly grateful, happy, and relieved to report to you that ALL THE MARGINS ARE CLEAR.  This means that the 2 cm of tissue they removed around her reproductive organs is free of cancer-cells.

God is still on His throne and He still answers prayers.

What do we d now?  We breathe.  We linger over “See you laters” and don’t say good-bye.  We hug longer and tighter. We cherish each other.  We no longer take anything for granted.  Future plans include a trip to the North Carolina coast and Disney World.

Meagan will be monitored for five years.  For the first two years she will undergo Pap Smears every three months, because if the cancer does make a return appearance, there is a higher risk of that happening the first year.  Then for three years she will have a Pap Smear every six months.  At the end of this time, if nothing pops, she will be declared cancer-free.  There’s a blessed 90% chance of it not happening. We will take those odds any day.

For those of you that have sent messages, prayed over her and us, texted, called, or emailed, I wish I could hug each of you.  Thank you for your concern and prayers.  Some of you I need to thank for putting up with my panicked texts, conversations, and phone calls.  Thank you for your support and putting arms around me and my daughter.  Thank you for the flowers and meals and a dozen other things that I can’t think of right now.

Quilters are the best.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam and Lou




Pins and Needles

The last couple of blogs have been pretty detail-heavy with the Quilt-It-Before-You-Applique-It technique.  So, this blog is going to be a little less labor intensive for me and a little more of the lighter-reading variety for you.


We’re month four into 2018’s theme of Quilting with Excellence.  We’ve covered some techniques, some quilters, and have blown some quilting myths out of the water (such as you don’t always need a ¼-inch seam).  But anyone that has a real passion for throwing the best part of themselves into any work will tell you that knowing where all your tools are and that they’re in good condition are  big parts of making any project a success.

Unfortunately, quilters aren’t always the best people to do that.  We’ve a creative bunch by nature and making that next quilt is always way more exciting than cleaning up after the last one. And we tend to run to groups – we sew with this bee, quilt with this guild, attend this retreat – and it’s easy to lose track of where everything is at.  Did I leave my rotary cutter in that bag or this box?  Where the heck did I put those applique scissors?

Been there a few times myself…so I’m preaching to the choir here.


Some hard, fast advice I can give here is this:  When you’ve finished a project, simply take the time to put everything away – the pattern, the left-over fabric, notions, etc.  Put them back where they’re supposed to go.  The same thing goes for that sewing bag or box you take with you to class, retreats, or sit-and-sews.  If you use the tools in that bag or box on a daily basis, unpack it when you get home.  Both of these tips serve a two-fold purpose:  First, it keeps you organized because you’re putting your notions back where they go.  Second, it allows you to take a moment to inspect your tools.  Blades may need sharpening or changing.  Needles may need to be replaced.  It’s important to take the time to do this to keep your quilting tools in tip-top shape and make life easier for you – the next time you need to use your scissors or rotary cutter or sewing machine, it will be in the best condition possible.

Let’s park it here and talk about pins and needles.  I’ve written detailed blogs in the past about needles (both hand sewing and machine) and pins.  The one thing that all of these sharp, pointy items have in common is that they grow dull through time and use and need to be replaced.  Regular machine needles should be replaced after eight hours of sewing time.  If they’re titanium needles, you can double that time.  But often they can develop a burr or bend before those hours are up.  If your machine begins to skip stitches or generally just give you a fit, first check to make sure it’s threaded correctly and then check your needle.  A bad needle can bring a great deal of frustration.

Hand sewing needles are  different, but they dull through time and wear as do pins.  Needles and pins aren’t expensive, so do yourself a favor and replace them as often as needed.


But what do you do with the old ones? It’s risky just to throw in them in the garbage can, as they can poke through a liner and hurt your or whoever is taking out your trash.  We don’t want them loose in a landfill.  That could injure people or wild life.  And while you may know where your pins and needles have been, no one else does and that could cause anyone who is poked by one of them some real anxiety.

In the past, I used 35 mm film canisters to dispose of my needles and pins.  When one of those was full, I’d make sure the lid was snapped on securely and then toss it.  But who uses film to take pictures with any longer?  Everything is digital.  However, there still are some options:

  1. Tic Tac Cases. They’re ideal.  Drop them down through the tiny hole and when it’s time, snap it closed and toss it.
  2. Prescription Medication Bottles. Soak the bottle in hot, soapy water to get the label off then use it to store your used needles and pins.  When it’s full, snap on that child-proof lid and toss it.


I know we’ve focused primarily on needles, but remember, pins get dull, too.  Plan on replacing them every 18-24 months if you used them on a regular basis. I know some quilters rarely pin, but I do.  As a matter of fact, I need some more flower head pins now.


Continue to keep Meagan in your thoughts and prayers.    She is recovering well and actually ventured out today for a little while with her husband at the wheel.  She sees her doctor next week and we will get the pathology report on her margins then.

Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam